David Gilberto, owner of South Shore-based Finishing Touch Building & Remodeling, said he’s booking jobs months in advance. The projects keep flowing in and show no signs of slowing down.
When the world shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction industry ramped up. Construction workers, deemed essential workers in Massachusetts, remained on the job and homeowners took advantage of historically low interest rates to borrow money and invest in home improvement, Gilberto said.
His clients spent ample hours in their homes when businesses shut down and work was done remotely, and many decided it was the appropriate time to make the changes they’d always imagined.
“The demand for remodeling has been probably the strongest it’s been in years,” Gilberto said. “Once the pandemic hit, and everybody was home, it just kind of leaped the whole construction industry into fast forward. It’s been, and still is right now, just extremely busy.”
Some South Shore towns have reported a sharp increase in residential renovations, alterations and additions in the last two years, while other towns have remained relatively steady.
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In Canton, the number of alterations and repairs to homes increased by 182 projects from 2020 to 2021. The number of residential alteration permits issued in Weymouth rose by over 1,000 from 2019 to 2021, town records show.
Jeffrey E. Richards, director of the Weymouth Department of Municipal Licenses and Inspections, said residential alterations in the town over the past two years have differed from previous projects.
“We got more bathroom and kitchen renovations than we did large additions,” he said.
Mike Taylor, president of Weymouth-based Taylor Made Contracting LLC, said his biggest demand for home renovations in the last two years involved bathrooms, followed by kitchens and then major additions. Taylor Made Contracting has been in business for 19 years and Taylor said he has seen an increase in projects.
“I think from people being home with COVID, spending more time in their houses and with the interest rates as low as they are, people decided to pull a little bit of equity out and fix up that bathroom that they’ve been looking at for 10 years that they’ve always want to update,” Taylor said. “The same kind of goes for the kitchen.”
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Steve Buccigross, of Weymouth, is among those who took in the renovation boom. He did two home renovations amid the pandemic: the kitchen last spring and the basement this winter. Buccigross has lived in his house with his family for about seven or eight years, and said many factors aligned that allowed him to renovate, including his employment and the cost of the renovation.
“I think we were spending more time in the house, so it kind of brought on the desire to do some of that stuff,” Buccigross said. “Both of those things we wanted to do for a while and we really just had the opportunity to do it.”
They put in new flooring, countertops and cabinets; painted existing cabinets; and elevated the island, Buccigross said. He did not consider moving instead of renovating, he said, because he loves his house and the neighborhood.
Supply chain and cost hurdles
One of the first things Tabetha O’Connor was told when starting her full-home renovation project in Quincy in September 2021 was to order the appliances. So that’s what she did.
“I was told, ‘You should order them like immediately for a yearlong project,’ or … ‘These can take upwards of nine months to come in,’ ” O’Connor said. “The impression that I got from everybody I’ve worked with is, you need to kind of order them as far ahead as you can.”
O’Connor decided to renovate before the pandemic and put a hold on the project until it felt safe and manageable again. She later paused her renovation due to the increase in lumber prices.
John Leeman, owner of Milton-based NABC, O’Connor’s contractor, said multiple clients halted their renovations due to rising prices and supply chain issues.
“For instance, Tabetha’s house, we had it all framed, the roof was on, the electrical was done and we had no windows,” Leeman said. “And to this day, we still don’t have two of the windows. And that’s been months and months.”
Gilberto said none of his clients have been deterred from a project due to rising prices,and he said prices will only increase because of the current lack of petroleum.
“The products have pretty much steadily increased, whether it’s building lumber, vinyl products, petroleum products, like roofing, siding … About every four months, it seems like windows go up about 7% (in price).”
Gilberto said a client with an otherwise complete kitchen waited 28 weeks for cabinets from Canada. Some of his clients stick with their existing appliances, at least until the new ones arrive.
“It’s a whole other way of kind of working and running a company,” Gilberto said. “Now, you’re going to really try to think ahead of what you’re going to need before you start a project.”
Rising prices, low supply run the real estate market
With the cost of South Shore homes increasing 27% in two years, some homeowners preferred to renovate instead of move. Last month, Alison Sheerin, a Scituate real estate agent, said people are renovating instead of moving due to the lack of houses on the market.
Gilberto said some of his clients wanted to move but decided to pursue home improvements instead because of the lack of affordable houses.
“Some of our work is Weymouth, Hingham, Braintree, Scituate, Cohasset, that area, so most of those people, to get what they have, they’d either have to pay 40% higher or they’d have to move more south,” Gilberto said.
Sherman Law real estate lawyer Anthony Farrington said he has a Milton-based client who, after searching for a bigger home and not getting an offer accepted, decided to add a second story to their current home.
“It’s not uncommon in this market for buyers to make offers in the double digits and not win out. After a while, that takes an emotional toll on the buyer so they start to reevaluate what it is they need or what it is they’re looking for,” Farrington said.
Gilberto and Farrington said inexpensive refinancing contributed to the renovation rush. Farrington said cash-out refinances for home renovations were popular until about the end of 2021, but due to rising interest rates, have phased out.
“They’d be getting $75,000 to $125,000 cash out,” Farrington said. “And, whenever I see a number that big, for me, it’s always a trigger that this person’s putting on an addition or they’re doing a substantial home renovation … because if you’re taking out that amount of money, you’re probably reinvesting it back into your home.”
Those involved in the renovation process agree that the renovation craze is not yet a thing of the past. Canton Building Commissioner Edward Walsh said the town is already reaching the same number of renovations as years prior, and the “spring rush” has yet to occur.
Gilberto said, “Everybody wants something done, renovated on their house, whether it’s kitchens, baths, decks, windows. So it’s constantly busy, and I think we’ll stay busy for a while.”
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Reach Alyssa Fell at [email protected].