[Written 5-2-20] Shortly after the last issue of Remodeling went to press, the world fell apart. As I think back, February not only seems like it happened a long time ago, it seems like it was a completely different era. Then, we were rocking on a strong economy with great expectations of growth and opportunity for 2020. It’s even stranger to think ahead to a post-COVID-19 era. It’s hard, if not impossible, to conceptualize a completely blank future.

Throughout the last two months, the big question for me has been “when?” When will we be past the coronavirus outbreak? When will the number of positive cases stop increasing, begin to fall, and finally drizzle out? When will hospitals return to their usual caseloads and the morgues empty out? When will the stay-at-home orders lift and all businesses, even restaurants and theaters, open again? When will life return to “normal”?

Now, I am convinced that “normal” as we knew it is not ever coming back. That’s not to say business won’t resume. It already has for many contractors and small construction firms. Nothing like the productivity we were enjoying at the beginning of the year, but business is inching forward. Owners and sales staffs are learning to sell on Zoom meetings and devise new ways to reach the marketplace. Managers are trying to keep workers safe by sequencing trades so only one crew is on site at a time, by providing washing stations and new access to jobsites, by working with code officials on remote inspections, and by implementing check-in policies for workers to “self certify” they are healthy. And workers are forging ahead wearing face coverings and gloves, trying to stay 6 feet apart, and in many cases, figuring out how to get jobs done with fewer helpers. Everyone I’ve talked to is adjusting to a new workflow and doing so incredibly well. It almost seems like normal, but of course, it isn’t.

Most remodelers are working now, even if productivity is low, and market activity will increase. There is enormous pent-up demand for remodeling work: Homeowners have been stuck home obsessing on all the work that needs to be done there. This will likely lead to a burst of new remodeling work, especially in outdoor projects, as summer unfolds. But for many, there will be pent-up demand with no means to act on it. Last week, unemployment numbers were rising to 20%, even without April numbers. We do not yet know what repercussions will resound from having the financial rug pulled out from under so many Americans. It could be a rough climb to get back on our feet. Jobs tend to be eliminated much faster than they’re added back. The near-term recovery will be patchy and come in fits and starts, as more markets learn just how resilient buyers may be—or may not be—and adjust accordingly.

The coronavirus outbreak is subsiding, and we will get past this. Eventually. And just like after any momentous historical event, we will be forever changed. Imaging what that change will be, I am heartened by one thing: the readers I serve. I have worked my entire life among builders and contractors who, if anything, have always been driven to do the right thing. We may not always know what the right thing is, but the will is there. That one assurance keeps me going.