Sal Alfano
David Sharpe Sal Alfano

In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described “five stages of grief.” Originally seen as the means by which people dealt with terminal illness or death of a loved one, the five stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — were later used to describe coping strategies for any kind of meaningful loss — a job, a marriage, even a tradition.

Over the last three years, the housing industry has suffered if not quite a fatal blow then a severely debilitating one. Remodeling has fared better than new construction, but the “good old days” are gone forever. Remodelers are struggling with the loss of not just a way of doing business but a way of life, and the symptoms they exhibit look a lot like grief.

Denial. Remodelers in the “This can’t be happening” stage are nostalgic for the way things used to be and are desperately hoping for a return to “normal.” They have not changed their marketing or selling strategy or tactics and are more likely than others to ignore or remain uninformed on new developments such as the RRP rule.

Anger. Instead of looking for solutions, remodelers in this stage are looking for someone to blame for their plight. They tend to expand a particular gripe into a universal grievance, or in the case of a regulation, for example, to conflate poor execution with misguided intent. Anger is sometimes a catalyst for productive action, but it’s difficult to reason with someone who’s angry, so anger is usually an obstacle to progress.

Bargaining. In an improvement over denial, remodelers with this “OK, but …” mindset recognize the new reality but are looking for a way to postpone its effects. They are slow to adopt new ideas or technology and find excuses not to pursue obvious trends. They justify their position by pointing to rare exceptions to the rule or extreme hypothetical scenarios.

Depression. Hopelessness characterizes this stage, and many remodelers these days seem to be experiencing a sense of futility, particularly those who have been in the business 20 years or more. The sense of disconnection from everything they have known leads them to conclude that making the necessary adjustment at this stage in their career is simply not worth the effort.

Acceptance. Fortunately, this too shall pass, and eventually everyone ends up accepting loss and moving beyond it. For some, acceptance is not much more than passive resignation or reconciliation. But for most, acceptance leads to active engagement and to new ways of thinking and operating that enable them to succeed despite the new reality.

At the moment, it’s possible to find remodelers at any one of these stages in the process of making the transition from the way things were to the way they are. Here’s hoping that we can find a way to let go of the past and start working on the future.

Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING.