D.C.’s Construction Industry and COVID: Where Do Home Improvement Companies Stand?
Home improvements are an industry sector that will always have a demand, but the rate of activity is typically linked to the economy’s health. The D.C. area’s construction industry is “almost entirely” composed of small businesses. Many are family-owned, while others started off that way and grew over the generations, evolving into larger companies.
Let us take a look at how the D.C. region's home improvement sector performed before, during, and what it will likely look like after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Before the pandemic
Prior to COVID-19’s arrival, the greater D.C. area experienced 5 percent spending for home improvement in Q4 2018 and was expected to fall to 2 percent in Q4 2019. “We’ve been calling for 2019 to see a slowdown in remodeling,” Robert Dietz, the chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders, told MarketWatch in June 2019.
Fast-forward nine months, and the arrival of COVID-19 sent the home improvement sector into turmoil as stay-at-home orders came into place and everyone shut down. Ultimately, local officials in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia decided home improvement was an essential service, and businesses were allowed to reopen with safety precautions in place.
During the pandemic
Once home improvement companies were permitted to go back to work, this sector of the construction industry surged. People under stay-at-home orders spent the majority of their time at home and began noticing areas to upgrade, update, or fix. Others invested in home projects to take advantage of low-interest home equity loans. A CNBC report indicated online home remodeling website Houzz said nationally home professionals saw a 58 percent increase in project leads, especially those working in outdoor spaces, such as patios, decks, and pools. Still, kitchen and bath remodels saw a 40 percent jump between June 2019 and June 2020. Home extensions and additions increased 52 percent. Fence installation and repairs saw a boost of 166 percent.
To account for consumer demand, home improvement businesses pivoted to remote work where possible, accommodating social distancing, holding Zoom discussions, and integrating new technologies, such as 3D and virtual modeling. It was a learning curve for small business owners and other sector employees, but largely enabled them to continue working. But supply chain delays, increased lumber prices, appliance shortages, and skilled labor shortages were challenges home improvement companies faced.
Regarding labor, Bethesda-based InSite Builders and Remodeling told Washington Business Journal in May 2021, “This is something that everyone is seeing. Young people aren’t going into the trades like they used to.” Despite challenges, the company experienced a 25 percent revenue increase over what they originally projected pre-pandemic for 2020.
It appears the pandemic negated earlier industry forecasts for 2020. It is too soon to tell what upcoming employment figures look like, but for the immediate future, it is an optimistic picture.
Looking toward the future
How this sector performs in the future will depend on economic conditions, the activity of the residential real estate market, and how residential building construction fares. Currently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the following job forecasts in various industry niches through 2029.
- General maintenance and repair workers growing 4 percent.
- Construction maintenance and painters seeing 0 percent growth.
- Masonry workers declining 3 percent.
- Roofers growing 2 percent.
- Carpenter jobs showing 0 percent change.
- Flooring installers and tile and stone setters growing 3 percent.
- Drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers projecting 0 percent change.
- HVAC-related jobs growing 4 percent.
- Electricians growing 8 percent.
- Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters growing 4 percent.
- Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers to grow (a whopping) 51 percent.
It is clear different skillsets in the home improvement niche show a mixed bag of employment projections. But this year’s home improvement boom may yield new forecasts when BLS publishes its 2020-2030 projections. If demand for home improvement surges, even smaller companies may expand job offerings to accommodate customers. Additionally, BLS projects the categories with little to no growth will be due to people retiring, leaving employment vacancies.
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