From the sound of things in some neighborhoods, you might not think the economic downturn has been all that severe in Massachusetts.
Saw blades are buzzing, nail guns are popping, and drills are spinning as contractors descend on home renovation projects in huge numbers. It’s a striking aberration in an economy where many businesses continue to suffer and unemployment remains high.
The activity is also another indication of how unevenly the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has been distributed. Some homeowners ― often those whose incomes have not taken a hit ― have reduced costs for commuting, travel and other expenses, giving them more discretionary income. At the same time, interest rates for home equity loans and mortgages are historically low, making it cheap to borrow money.
And many people have spent an unprecedented number of hours at home, giving them a clear-eyed understanding about what they love — and hate — about their homes.
“The pandemic, especially for people in the middle class and the upper middle class has created this bubble,” said Chris Parish, a Franklin homeowner searching for a contractor who’s not too busy to take on a small bathroom renovation sometime soon. “We’re all thinking the same thing at the same time, which is, we can’t go anywhere, so we should get the most out of the space.”
Contractors around Boston say they experienced a huge demand for services this summer that has extended into fall — especially for modest projects such as adding a backyard deck or fence. The trend is helping to offset the loss of work builders suffered earlier in the year when larger commercial jobs were put on hold because of the pandemic lockdown.
So many homeowners are seeking quotes that some renovation pros say the main limitation on their business right now is time, or the lack of it. Work isn’t hard to come by, but fitting it all into the schedule is another challenge.
Tomasa Pujol, president of Golden Builder Construction in Quincy, has a piece of advice for people seeking home improvement services now: “You’ve got to be patient.”
Pujol said she’s booking a lot of residential work, inside and outside homes around the Boston area. But some factors out of her control are getting in the way. Building permits are arriving slowly in many municipalities, she said, and materials — particularly lumber — are in short supply. That’s true in other fields, as well, because COVID-19 precautions have slowed factory work. A South Shore glass company, for example, said window orders that used to be filled in about 10 days are now taking six weeks or longer.
For homeowners who have decided to pull the trigger on long-put-off projects, the reality can be jarring.
Chris Parish said he’s been talking to contractors about having work done on the 170-year old A-frame colonial that he