Home improvement projects fill the time for Greenville residents amid coronavirus-fueled shutdown
This story is part of a series begun by USA TODAY capturing what America looks like as state economies slowly reopen. The “Rebuilding America” project examines what consumers can expect in key drivers of SC commerce.
With the coronavirus outbreak closing schools, workplaces and recreational activities, people have been stuck at home trying to fill the hours and many in Greenville County have either picked up a hammer or the phone to call in contractors for home improvement projects.
The result has been increased business at home improvement stores and steady business for Upstate contractors.
DIY projects fill time for homeowners
Fountain Inn's Billy Anderson, Jr. is among the many Upstate residents who have been looking for ways to fill the time since the coronavirus has kept him stuck at home.
"Not having something to do is driving me crazy, so I’m creating stuff. Stuff I probably wouldn’t normally do," the James F. Byrnes High School teacher and football coach said.
He's replaced the floors in his hallway, main living room and kitchen and replaced some bushes in his front yard since the coronavirus outbreak forced the closure of his school. He's thinking of moving on to a bathroom renovation next.
“We’ve been wanting new floors for awhile," he said. “I would probably do more, but the money part of it limits me to exactly what I can do."
Anderson, Jr. is not the only one using the increased downtime to improve his home.
"Since more people are working from home and because there are fewer things to do outside of the home, we would expect to see more home improvement and do it yourself projects around the house," said Scott Baier, professor and chair of the Economics Department at Clemson University.
He pointed out the rebound in stock prices of Lowe's Home Improvement and The Home Depot over the past few months since they hit lows in March as an indicator of the popularity of the companies' stores during this period.
“It’s kind of like every day’s 4th of July weekend at those places," said Robert Markel, president of Hadrian Construction Company, who normally would get supplies there for his business fairly frequently.
A spokesperson for The Home Depot declined to provide information on how the company's sales have performed over the past few months and how the company forecasts its sales moving forward. Spokespersons for Lowe's Home Improvement and ACE Hardware did not respond to similar information requests.
Contractors stay busy
On the contractor side, a mid-March slowdown in customer interest in home remodeling work for some Upstate businesses has been followed by a recent resurgence. Overall, they say they've been staying busy.
Markel, as well as Daniel Jachens, co-owner and COO of Daniel Builders, and James Speer, co-owner of CarsonSpeer Builders, said their companies have had experiences like this.
A big part of the "slowdown" Markel noticed had to do with the mindset of his customers, he said. People seemed to be dragging their feet on getting back to him on work that they had lined up.
"People just weren't sure what they wanted to do," Markel said. "They weren't sure whether they wanted to start or not."
Now it feels like things have "loosened up" though in terms of customer comfort level in having work done on their homes and demand has returned to about a normal level for his company, he said.
Jachens said his company is staying busy with a "backlog" of work they had lined up already.
“As far as business overall, we’ve continued to do very well," he said.
Where Daniel Builders has struggled though is lining up new business. This is usually their busiest time of year and they've seen the amount of potential customers contacting the company about new projects drop by 50% compared to last year, Jachens said.
“People are more hesitant to spend money, they're still doing it, it’s just taking them long time to make that decision," he said.
That could potentially mean an overall slowdown in work for the company later in the year with less calls coming in now, but a recent uptick in new business interest has Jachens hopeful that they can make up for the quiet period they've experienced, he said.
Speer said new calls and emails from potential clients and new client meetings had "drastically reduced" until about two weeks ago.
“In the last two weeks, really there’s been no hold-back," he said.
And overall Speer said his company has been doing well still amid the coronavirus' widespread effect on many families' budgets.
Hope for even stronger market on the horizon
While there hasn't been a significant downturn for the home remodeling industry, contractors are holding out hope for even robust residential renovation demand moving forward.
Michael Dey, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Greenville, said he thinks a long-term impact from the coronavirus shutdown could be a heightened demand for home gyms, offices and garage space.
People are sitting at home right now and “they’re seeing their house through different eyes," Dey said.
“I think what we’re seeing is there’s going to be a change in perception in what people want from their home," he said.
Both Markel and Jachens offered similarly rosy outlooks for residential demand for remodeling work moving forward.
“I think people have been sitting at home thinking about all the things they don’t like about their house," Markel said.
And Jachens said he's optimistic they'll see customers wanting to add home offices or gyms or remodel their kitchens as they spend more time at home.
“We feel very confident that things will continue to improve," he said.
What to expect
- Busy home improvement stores as homeowners stack up home improvement projects during increased downtime in their houses
- Heightened demand for home remodeling work from contractors as coronavirus fears ease
- Long-term increase in business for contractors as residents spend more time at home and seek more out of their homes, including home offices and gyms