Modification? Don’t let the pandemic hold you back from your dream plans

Photos by Jessica Overcash

A 12-week waiting period for Windows. Closet deliveries are always delayed. Contractors who are fully booked and (maybe) won’t be able to start their project until June.

Setbacks related to COVID-19 and supply chain issues have contributed to significant delays in most renovation projects as local designers, contractors and suppliers struggle to recover from the pandemic and keep up with demand.

The Alexandria region, just like the rest of the country, has seen a dramatic increase in demand for home remodeling projects since the outbreak of the pandemic. In fact, a recent study found that more than half of Americans say making their homes more useful and comfortable is extremely important.

Still, many Alexandria homeowners are finding ways to further their plans.

“My kitchen is too small.”

“We need more storage.”

“I would like a real home office, separate sinks in the bathroom and how about a bathtub?!”

From new countertops and hardwood floors to updated fireplace surrounds and fresh coats of paint, we all have a “wish list” for renovations, says Kaki Ernst, an Alexandria-based interior design consultant and owner of TruleyHome. Ernst says she’s heard these “questions” almost daily since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I love what I do and I’m fortunate to be as busy as I am,” says Ernst. “I want all my clients to be happy not only with the end result but also with the process… but that’s the challenge today.”

Alexandria is experiencing an incandescent housing market where buyers are willing to pay premiums for what they want and builders are paying above average prices for materials to meet, or at least come close to, deadlines.

As demand for renovations, ranging from simple bathroom upgrades to complete kitchen makeovers, continues to soar, designers and contractors say it will continue to struggle to provide their products and services efficiently, particularly due to the severe shortage of Construction materials. This, along with other factors, is due to a “perfect storm” of obstacles including a shortage of skilled workers, unanticipated weather, tariffs and port congestion – there simply isn’t enough inventory and labor to keep up with current demand.

According to a spokesman for Ferguson, a local bathroom, kitchen and lighting gallery, in today’s evolving supply chain there is no quick and easy fix and it is difficult to do it alone. From shipping delays and lost product to raw material shortages, the most seasoned homeowners dive into their renovation projects thinking the same rules apply. But that is no longer the case, and consulting with a trusted partner is the secret ingredient to overcoming supply chain challenges.

Rebuilding in a COVID-19 World: The Local Perspective

Ernst says she has been working on a kitchen remodel in Alexandria since January 2021. She ordered devices last April, with an original delivery date of August. The kitchen work, she said, was mostly complete when they finally received the refrigerator in October. However, they are still waiting for the arrival of the wall oven.

“The construction and remodeling business is changing every day and I believe my job more than ever is about communicating with my customers, suppliers and contractors so that we all work together and set expectations for this ‘new’ type of remodeling . ” She said. “The normal excitement and anticipation of a customer’s first call is now coupled with the need to deliver news they don’t want to hear. We can do that, but it won’t be quick. It’s like a rain cloud on a sunny day to share the news of material delays and how this will affect the planning of their dream projects.”

Cindy Beckham, a TruleyHome customer, says that while she didn’t have to change her original kitchen design, she did have to adjust her family’s schedule over time.

“Our expectation was that the project would be complete by early September, and for the most part it was,” Beckham said. “Kaki and our contractor worked hard to meet our deadline, but in the end our fridge and oven were delayed due to the pandemic. I feel sorry for our contractor who divided his team based on original delivery dates. The most unfortunate part of the process was the lack of transparency and clear communication about realistic equipment delivery dates and the impact this had on our contractor’s scheduling for his team.”

According to Ernst, before the pandemic, planning consultants and contractors could rely on projected delivery dates, but recently that’s just not the case. “This has become a major timing issue for everyone from contractors and suppliers to designers and homeowners. Everyone is juggling new delivery dates and rescheduling the next supplier or subcontractor in line,” she noted.

It’s hard to find anyone in the construction industry who isn’t struggling with supply chain issues. One challenge, says Matt Burton, a Northern Virginia project consultant, is “keeping up with changes in availability and cost increases that are changing daily.”

“Our suppliers do a great job of keeping us informed, but I have to go back and trace a lot to the customers,” says Burton. “It’s gotten to the point now where I use a lot of ‘ifs’ in my conversations as opposed to making promises or giving hope.”

Elisa Baber, owner of SweetSpace, says sourcing furniture at her local design store has been a challenge during the pandemic.

“In a perfect world, as designers, we select furniture, source it, and then have it installed with a big reveal,” Baber said. “Now everything feels very piecemeal and we are taking items as they come due to increased lead times. In addition, between procurement and presentation to the customer, there is at least one item that is backordered or no longer available. This often leads to frustration for the client and more work for the designer.”

Referring to some of the biggest pandemic headaches, Baber adds that the cargo has been a big challenge to avoid. Items that are “in stock and ready to ship” are often quoted at over six weeks on top of the time it takes to make and receive them. “These delays make it difficult to plan for installations, which typically have to happen weeks in advance. Really, the only thing we can do is keep communication open with our customers and set expectations for the unpredictable.”

Tina Trumbo, an Alexandria homeowner who had recently worked with Ernst on a bathroom and laundry room makeover, had to change her ideas and plans due to a lack of materials for her project. “We had to make different decisions about the cabinets so as not to delay the project for months. We sacrificed quality for punctuality.”

Initially, Trumbo explained, she worried about being forced to rotate. However, it turned out that the less expensive cabinets were perfect for her family’s purpose. “Even with the extra time and delays, it was worth it. We’ve spent so much time in our homes during the pandemic that investing in new, fresh spaces will continue to bring us peace of mind and less anxiety,” she says.

Trumbo advises other homeowners looking for remodeling opportunities now to work with an attentive designer who can help not only choose materials, but source them as well. “Our designer [Ernst], was able to source new products when those originally requested were no longer available. For me, investing in a designer who can do that for me was the best decision of our redesign.”

Tips to consider before diving into a makeover amid the pandemic

Ernst offers several tips if you’re willing to participate in a remodeling project in the current situation:

  • Create “look books” to communicate your vision and desires for your spaces. These can be images from magazines, Pinterest boards, or even a folder on your computer where you store images.
  • Make decisions about finishes earlier to secure costs, especially for appliances, cabinetry, tiling, and flooring. The pandemic has impacted the cost and timing of these items the most.
  • Take your time, sit back and enjoy the ride. Don’t start a project until you know you have all the materials in hand. And if you love it, buy it (in stock today, may be gone tomorrow).

Ernst adds: “Building or renovating a house is exciting and stressful at the same time. Balancing budget, design and timing is a huge undertaking. Surround yourself with people you trust and who you know will work hard for your interests. I build my business around building those relationships not only with my customers, but also with my suppliers and contractors.”

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