There’s a new home going up on our block. And another going up one block over. And another a few blocks down from that. There aren’t many empty lots left in our neighborhood for new construction like this.
We are deep in the middle of our kitchen renovation. Our neighbors have started their renovation. Walk three houses the other way and you’ve got a pair of homes sitting next to each other that have had pretty extensive remodels (including the kitchens). And on the other end of the block is a house that had a complete gut remodel with a brand new kitchen installed. All of this within the last year.
Our street just isn’t that long. Five (5!) of the 28 homes on our block have had extensive remodels (including kitchens) in 2015. That’s 18%. More than 1 in 6. In our six years of living in our little house, we’ve never seen remodeling and building activity like this in our (mature, but not particularly “aging”) neighborhood. I’m not an expert, but I’m calling what we’re seeing a local “building/remodeling boom”.
This is definitely NOT what it was like the last time we were doing major remodeling projects in 2009-2010 (major repairs after buying our house that had been neglected and foreclosed on) and in 2011 (making our duplex livable/rentable after it had been foreclosed on). We are in one of the worst-hit areas of the country when it came to the real estate bust of a few years ago and until this kitchen remodel, our experiences during that bust had been kindof a baseline for us of what remodeling and home improvement projects look like. Turned out, we’d been looking at one extreme (the “bust”) and I think we’re pretty close (at least locally) to looking at the other extreme (the “boom”).
And they are so very, very different…
Material prices haven’t gone up all that much from what we can tell. Roof shingle prices that we quoted on our permit application in 2010 have changed by 2.3% in the last 5 years. Copper prices (for plumbing) have been trending down since 2011 as well.
Labor is a different story. Back in 2009 and 2010, there were more laborers than there were jobs to go around. Today, it’s the opposite. Tradespeople (especially experienced ones with good reputations!) are highly in demand. And they (rightly so) are adjusting their prices upward accordingly. One particularly labor intensive job (new duct work for our house), we’ve now quoted out twice – in 2010 and in 2015. The 2015 price was 60% higher.
In 2009-2011, it was so easy to find a company that could work on whatever schedule you wanted. If you called for an estimate, they might be able to send someone out that afternoon to meet with you.
Now sometimes it’s a week or two to get an estimate and the best contractors are booked months in advance! (One tile guy we got a quote from in August said that his next available opening would be January…) Sometimes it’s even materials (like our tile) that are out of stock because demand has been through the roof and suppliers can’t keep items on the shelves and we end up waiting a month or more for delivery.
Even dumpster rentals have gotten crazy! When we rented ours back in 2010 to replace our siding and part of our roof, the dumpster rental place let it stay at in our driveway for a couple of months (our neighbors no doubt loved that!) while we finished our projects without paying anything extra. But when our neighbors rented theirs recently, they had a tight 2-week window on their dumpster rental or they’d need to start paying more since the dumpsters are in such high demand these days.
Help and Advice
As primarily DIY-ers, we take all the low-cost help and advice that we can get. And in the bust years it was almost embarrassingly easy to find. When we walked into Lowes as new homeowners, a former contractor (we’ll call him Dave) basically served as our personal shopper on and off for months. We’d walk in with our lists, end up lost and somehow Dave would come rescue us and walk us through the store with our list and cart not only loading us up, but giving us how-to tips and advice along the way. (Dave had to have been seriously underpaid for the level of service we got.)
These days, Dave is long gone (and we presume on to greener pastures, so good for him!). In his place are helpers that can’t even multiply or divide so aren’t always all that helpful…
While loading 20 pieces of 1/2″ ultra-light drywall into a rented Home Depot truck earlier this year…
Home Depot Helper (HDH): We might be getting close to the weight limit of the truck.
Mr PoP: It says the weight limit is 3,500lbs, I think we’re fine.
HDH: It’ll make a really loud beep if we load too much.
Mrs PoP: We’ve only got 20 sheets here. With a limit of 3,500lbs, each would have to weigh over 150lbs before we’re even getting close to the limit. They can’t weigh nearly that much, so I think we’re fine.
HDH: Blank stare… It was like I blew his mind with multiplication.
Mr PoP: We’ll stop if the truck starts to beep, we promise.
After getting in the truck… we both sighed and agreed that Dave would have known exactly how much each piece of drywall weighed. (Turns out the answer is 40 and 48 lbs each for the two different kinds we were getting. We were way under the weight limit.)
Needless to say, we’re not walking in to Lowes or Home Depot these days expecting to be able to talk with someone with years of trades experience under their belt the way we could just a few years ago. And that’s good for those tradespeople because they’ve found higher paying opportunities elsewhere, but it means we need to find our help elsewhere and go to the store knowing exactly what we need and where to find it.
We’re Different Too…
Back in 2009-2010, our income was roughly 1/3 of what it is today. While we weren’t exactly at a “bust” level of income then, we are definitely “booming” today by comparison. Back then we were DIY-ing major repairs because it was pretty much the only way we could afford to do them (and there was no putting off replacement of rotting wood siding and roofing). It was sometimes stressful coming up with the money from month-to-month to pay for the renovations.
Now we’re DIY-ing major cosmetic changes because that’s the only way we choose to pay for them. And it feels very different. Where we were a lone fish swimming upstream through an empty river, now we’re one of many swimming downstream all at once, competing for resources. And while there’s a certain amount of camaraderie that we’ve found in renovating at the same time as so many of our neighbors, friends, and coworkers, I’m not sure that outweighs how hectic it has felt at times trying to do our renovation at the same time as so many others. =P
What’s it like in your neck of the woods? Would you rather remodel in a boom or in a bust?