When Melanie Beck and T.J. Gaffney started their kitchen reconfiguration project, they had a couple of concerns: Preserving the 1922 home’s original buffet which seemed too fragile to move and preserving their sanity during construction.
Nervous about supply chain issues, they insisted that the exact-match specialty windows they wanted for the dining room be on site before demolition began, a six-month wait. At least their house wasn’t torn apart, important to the couple who continued to work from home once the approximately five-month project started.
Their home (#9) will be on the Minneapolis & Saint Paul Home Tour April 30-May 1, just one example of what smart consumers are doing to make their remodeling experiences more predictable in this age of global uncertainties and rising prices.
Scott Talbot, product manager at Northeast-based Siwek Lumber (he deals in everything except their hardware and paint) has a good network up and down the supply chain. He said the economy is in very good shape, even though COVID has disrupted many links in the chain with a lack of workers everywhere that had already started before the pandemic.
“Now, there’s a consumer confidence issue because of the war, which has allowed the market to correct a bit; we’re seeing a drop-off in pricing. Call volume is still tremendous. We added two to our sales [floor] staff and we’re still very busy.” Other indicators Talbot looks at: Bankruptcies are very low, people got stimulus checks and “working remotely saves money – people are in good shape.”
Siwek makes a point of not selling what they don’t have on hand or can easily get. They buy a half-year’s worth of predicted volume ahead of time (factoring in natural disasters), supplemented by spot buys throughout the year.
Trends specific to the Northeast area? “A lot of property becomes rental. Values have really increased,” Talbot said. He’s seeing people in their mid-20s and 30s renting and then when they find something they like, buying. Family retirements and deaths leaving homes to the children or grandchildren drive repairs and renovations. “We’ve seen about a 5% to 8% increase in remodeling.”
Talbot also said interest in redwood has come back, and they are getting lots of Northeast calls about matching siding or renovating decks using this naturally rot-resistant, pest-resistant wood. “They’ve been managing forests well; this is second-growth lumber. It’s actually a fast-growing tree that is almost impossible to kill.”
Buy local, buy unique
Beck and Gaffney used handmade tile from local artisan Mercury Mosaics in Northeast’s Thorp Building. Buying local for elements and fixtures, hiring or buying off the shelf from local craftspeople – these are obvious ways to avoid having imported materials stuck on a boat in a harbor somewhere. The result can be unique to the region and as stunning as something exotic.
The Northeast Minneapolis Arts District is full of makers of home elements such as lighting sconces and pendants, and glass bowls for bathroom sinks at Potekglass. Custom-glazed patterns over multiple tiles for cooktop backsplashes from Clay Squared to Infinity. Furniture from various woodworkers, textiles from weavers. Custom metal for fences and gates, wire systems for open staircase railings — are all available in Northeast.
A design-builder, architect, or designer may have favorite suppliers they work with, but consumers who bring their own ideas for custom products may introduce and educate their professionals to new possibilities. Willingness to be creative and explore new sources was key to the relationship between Steve Modrow of Biota Landscapes and contractor Minnesota Fine Homes.
Their project, #1 on the April 30-May 1 Minneapolis & Saint Paul Home Tour (Victory neighborhood) won multiple local, regional and national Contractor of the Year awards in National Association of the Remodeling Industry competitions. For a video about how they approached their project, see: https://bit.ly/3GD3TUR
Grow more workers
Short of growing your own (getting your offspring to go into the trades so she/he/they can remodel your house someday), what can you do about worker shortages?
When checking references on a remodeler, probe for how they treat their workers, subs and suppliers. Relationships are key to keeping reliable people on the job, being creative and problem-solving proactively.
As many remodelers are retiring, there’s room for nontraditional sources and pathways for new remodelers. Women are being hired or are starting their own companies in greater numbers. Forward-thinking companies find new ways to communicate in order to hire non-English speakers.
Career changers who can work with their hands find plenty to do, good money and overtime, industry sources say. Students not sure about college can work their way up, making good money for future schooling, exiting the business when they see fit. So actually consider growing your own remodelers/builders!