• Wed. May 18th, 2022

With lots of people working at home, a rush for renovations

ARLINGTON — The COVID-19 lockdown closed Dillon Carlson’s home remodeling and construction business for two months last spring.

“We’re a small business, and I was concerned that this could potentially put us out of business,” said Carlson, whose two-year-old company, Carlson Construction, employs four people.

But when Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide ban on non-essential construction was lifted May 18, the Arlington contractor’s appointment book filled up, and it’s been that way ever since, he said.

“Business over the last six months has been crazy,” Carlson said.

A surge in the hours people spend at home and low interest rates have boosted the demand for home renovations, industry experts say.

“There’s usually a significant drop-off during the holidays — this year there hasn’t been,” Carlson said.

Carlson is guessing that work-from-homers who’ve been staring at old cabinets, old fixtures and scratched counters for months are finally pulling the trigger on renovations.

In the first nine months of 2020, 74 million Americans opted to remodel their home, up 20{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb} over the same period a year ago, according to a study by Comscore, a data gathering firm.

Dillon Carlson breaks down an old fence that will be replaced at a home in Lynnwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

They’re also buying a lot more new stuff. Money that might have been spent on entertainment and travel is now going toward home improvement.

In the first half of 2020, online spending for appliances and home furnishings totaled $12 billion, 50{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb} more than during the first six months of 2019, Comscore said.

With interest rates for standard term mortgages, refinances and cash-out loans (which can be used for home improvement) at all-time lows, the rush is on to remodel, local contractors say.

In December, interest rates for a standard 30-year fixed mortgage and refinancing loans were below 3{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb}, according to Bankrate.com.

Tens of millions of Americans say they plan to purchase a home in the next six months, which is expected to further drive home renovations and sales of home furnishings, Comscore reported.

But while they may be itching for a makeover, they’ll have to wait a few more months, contractors say.

Work on new concrete steps at a home in Lynnwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Work on new concrete steps at a home in Lynnwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Carlson, which does big and small remodeling jobs — from building new fences and decks to gutting entire houses — advises customers to book their projects early.

Minor projects are taking 60 days to get under way, Carlson said, while larger projects that involve engineering and multiple permits are being booked 90 to 120 days out, Carlson said.

Mike and Sharon Carter, the owners of Carter Construction in Everett, are telling customers to schedule remodeling projects at least two or three months in advance.

“You would be hard-pressed to find contractors right now,” said Sharon Carter. “Most are booking a couple months out.”

Carter Construction specializes in remodeling kitchens and bathrooms, including heritage and early 20th century craftsman homes in north Everett.

“Once we get them an estimate, it can be a couple of months to get on the schedule and then three to six weeks to complete the work, depending on the scope of the work,” Carter said.

The pandemic is also creating delays.

The permit process, for one thing, is taking longer than normal, Carlson said.

Pre-pandemic, much of it could be done in-person. Now, with government offices closed, it plays out more slowly across phone calls and emails, Carlson said.

The ability to work from home is prompting some city-dwellers to relocate to suburbs and small towns, where they can acquire more square-footage.

Real estate agents call it the move to “Zoom towns,” referring to the virtual meeting platform and others like it that allow millions of Americans to work remotely.

Dillon Carlson saws a piece of rebar for concrete being installed at a home in Lynnwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Dillon Carlson saws a piece of rebar for concrete being installed at a home in Lynnwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“You have all these Amazon and Microsoft employees buying houses in this area, Lynnwood, Everett, Marysville and Arlington,” Carlson said. “Now they want to update them and make them more modern.”

Minus a commute, “they want their home to be nice because they spend all their time there,” Carlson said.

Carlson just completed a local remodeling project for a Facebook employee who wanted a top-to-bottom renovation of an older, run-down home he’d purchased.

“We opened up the space, made the bedroom bigger and added a nice big office,” said Carlson, “He works 100{911ea05452e114f1778c76ca86733b6032c246f8f651bb1f01d12abf04b54efb} from home.”

Janice Podsada; [email protected]; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods