Rebuilding America: Metro Phoenix has seen more people doing DIY and other home improvements, creating an economic ‘bright spot’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For years, Guadalupe resident Carlos Valencia had the desire to expand his home improvement skills.

But until the new coronavirus pandemic forced him to work from home — and to limit contact with those outside of his family — he never had the time. 

“When my father-in-law first moved to north Phoenix (two years ago), I’d told him, ‘If you guys are ever going to do any projects, I’m more than willing to help,'” said Valencia. “The last couple weekends, we’ve finally been doing it.” 

The pair has started an ambitious patio project, which will require woodworking, masonry and roofing skills, among others. Valencia said he’s invested in new equipment and supplies, making frequent, masked trips to Lowe’s — and one socially distanced home visit to buy a miter saw. He also plans to build a wall at his own home after helping his father-in-law. 

“I’ve always had so many ideas,” he said. “This time has allowed me to think about them and be able to move on it.” 

If home improvement stores’ surging sales numbers are any indication, thousands of Americans are doing the same.

The Farnsworth Group — which, along with the Home Improvement Research Institute, analyzes renovation activity weekly — called DIY projects a “bright spot during COVID-19 for March and April” and said research “suggests the strong activity will continue in May.”

“Intent remains strong as many homeowners continue to be at home and have disposable income being shifted to home improvement in lieu of entertainment, travel or retail,” the research team’s mid-May report said.

Reliable systems priority for customers

That’s exactly what Ken Goodrich, CEO of Tempe-based Goettl Air Conditioning and Plumbing, has observed.

He said his company has seen a more than 35{3e0544090c75b66d16c3eca4d142e2092ea98ee5f79f18046a1f13abafab9023} spike in business over this time last year, leading to an expansion in hiring. It’s also struggling to keep parts for indoor air quality systems on hand, “because there’s such a high demand right now.”

“People are at home, they have time, and they feel like, ‘While I have this time, let’s get this fixed or that fixed,'” Goodrich said. “I think that’s where our uptick is coming from — people just wanting to do these projects they’ve neglected.”

Of course, on-site visits look a bit different these days. Technicians wear masks and gloves, and customers who prefer not to interact with a technician directly can use a contactless invoice and payment system.

The company also offers a FaceTime option for consultations. 

“A lot of our customers indicate that they want to make sure that their HVAC and plumbing systems are reliable, so that just in case somebody, God forbid, gets sick in the house, those two essential systems are the best they can be,” he said.  

“It’s interesting, because that’s something we’ve been preaching for 81 years at Goettl, and now everyone’s starting to get it. Air conditioning in Phoenix is not a luxury; it’s a life support.”

Jesus Martinez (left) applies a skim coat of cement on a waterfalls/slide n a pool in Chandler on May 19, 2020. Assisting is Martinez’s son, Jose. (Photo: Mark Henle, Mark Henle/The Republic)

Pools are bright spot in reno market

Though repairs and DIY projects seem to be holding strong, the outlook isn’t so rosy for more substantial remodeling projects.

The Houzz Renovation Barometer, which surveyed more than 2,000 construction, architecture and design companies nationwide, had more than half report canceled projects and three-quarters report project delays and drops in initial inquiries. 

In some cases, clients pointed to financial worries, given the abrupt economic downturn. Safety risks concerned others, given that contractors and other home improvement professionals often need to access a home’s interior. 

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University has predicted major renovation spending will decline through early 2021 “due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

There seems to be at least one exception in Arizona, however — perhaps a predictable one, given looming triple-digit months.

Pool builders and installers have done “crazy” business lately, according to Michael Conley, owner of Queen Creek-based Boundary Waters Pools and Spas.

That’s despite projects sometimes taking longer to complete, since some contractors are limiting the number of employees on-site at a given time as a precaution.

“There’s been a pretty big increase from last year during this time for us, and for all the guys I’ve talked to (in the industry),” he said. “I think it’s just, people are home, and they see these projects that they’ve been meaning to do — in some cases, for years.”

Conley said he received a call from a client who’d first inquired about a new pool four years ago, for instance, wanting to move ahead now that he works from home full-time.

“He called me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got the funds, can we go ahead and do this?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely,'” he said. “I’m dealing with a lot of projects like that.”

Safety tips for home services

Consumer Reports has outlined a series of steps homeowners can take if they need to make a service call that can’t wait, or if they’re considering proceeding with a renovation. 

  1. Ask about precautions before an appointment. This could include asking a representative whether workers are required to wear masks and maintain 6 feet of distance from clients and whether they will bring disinfectants to clean tools or supplies.
  2. Be transparent about your own exposure. Many companies are using screening questions prior to appointments to avoid sending their employees to homes where someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is being quarantined.
  3. Request a contactless transaction. This could involve a mobile payment method or any approach that doesn’t require exchanging pens or paper. 
  4. Chart a path. Plan how you’ll direct the worker through the home, so that he or she doesn’t isn’t entering rooms or touching surfaces unnecessarily. 
  5. Disinfect the work area before and after the professional visits.
  6. Stand 6 feet away when you interact with workers.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-653-6807. Follow her on Twitter @mpolletta.

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Friday May 29, 2020