During the early stages of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March and April, shelter-in-place orders and social distancing recommendations left the short-term future of remodeling industry uncertain. However, remodeling activity and spending has increased during the past several months as many homeowners spending more time than normal at home have become attuned to how they can make their homes function better. As a result, homeowners have been embarking on home improvement projects at a more rapid pace than anticipated. The level of DIY activity has been high during the pandemic, but many homeowners are still seeking the services of professionals for their projects. For St. Charles, Mo.-based Liston Design Build, business couldn’t be busier.
“We mostly do kitchens, baths, and lower levels. But I would say the majority of our inquiries and initial calls are for some sort of an outdoor space. Lower levels and additions have [also] been popular,” Keith Liston, president of Liston Design Build, told REMODELING. “I think all that tells us that when people are at home, they’re living differently.”
Kitchen and bath projects, typically the most popular renovation projects, have been less popular during the pandemic. With families spending the majority of their time at home and having limited dining out options, homeowners are less willing to cede access to their kitchens for an extended period of time for a remodel. Demand for bath projects has cooled as well, due to shifting priorities for homeowners.
For Liston Design Build, kitchens and baths have gone from 60-70% of its business pre-COVID to around 30-40% of business post-COVID. Projects such as basements or additions are more popular because they give homeowners versatility and functionality while also limiting disruptions of daily routines during the production cycle. Outdoor projects, including screened-in porches, covered patios, outdoor kitchens, and decks, are popular as homeowners are looking to extend the livable space on their properties.
The increased time spent at home has also given homeowners more time to research projects and contractors. Keith Liston said the majority of incoming leads requesting outdoor living projects and additions have come from online searches by homeowners. However, Liston Design Build owner Jeanne Liston noted the conversion rate of such customers remains low as homeowners are still generally unaware of prices associated with such projects. Factors such as rising lumber prices and labor shortages have caused prices to increase significantly during the pandemic.
“I don’t think [prospects] realize the extent or the cost of a project like [a patio or screened-in porch] until you have a conversation with them,” Jeanne Liston said. “And then once the conversation is had, they kind of pull back the reins because it’s not an inexpensive project. So, yes we’re getting lots of calls [about outdoor projects], but they’re not really turning into a lot of business for us.”
Enhancing the Virtual Experience
Early in the pandemic, Liston quickly adjusted to distancing recommendations and shelter-in-place orders by offering virtual appointments, virtual design meetings, and virtual calls for contract signings. While the company has resumed in-house meetings and visits with proper PPE and distancing practices as restrictions have loosened, Liston Design Build is still offering virtual options for clients. The design process in particular has experienced significant efficiency gains from virtual meetings with clients, according to the Listons.
“I think designers enjoy doing stuff virtually, because when you take [clients] into a sales showroom and a plumbing showroom, there’s so many options,” Keith said. “We help guide them through that, but if you can eliminate a good portion of those options, there’s less confusion from the client and you can keep things on budget because they’re not going after something that wasn’t considered when the initial budget was put together.”
The Listons anticipate keeping both virtual and in-person meeting options in place for clients after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
Supporting Clients and the Community
In addition to forcing quick changes to processes and policies, the pandemic also made communication a more important area for businesses. Instead of decreasing marketing activity, the Listons said they increased their presence on social media to remind followers the company was still open for business and willing to take all measures to keep everyone safe.
“Instead of posting three times a week [on social media], we’re trying to post daily to stay in front of people and let our community know we’re here and are still taking care of our clients,” Jeanne said.
Expanded communication extends beyond marketing messages and social media presence. Communication with clients about production processes during this unprecedented time is also extremely important.
“When folks are living from home, you have to be careful not to assume they know what’s going on just because they’re there,” Keith said. “[Homeowners are] still trying to raise their family, teach kids, and have a career all while you’re trying to make something great in their house. We want the message to our community and clients to be that we’re going to get through this and be there for them during and after [the pandemic].”