Home improvement companies are only doing a fraction of their normal workload and are dealing with customers who don’t wanted them inside their homes despite taking safety precautions against spreading the coronavirus. 4/1/20
Delaware News Journal
EDITOR’S NOTE: A prior version of this article misclassified real estate businesses. They are not considered essential under the governor’s state of emergency decree.
In the 14 years Marcin Jodko has been in the home improvement business, he has never seen something quite like the coronavirus pandemic.
He never expected to be turned away by his customers, who fear having someone potentially infecting their family with the virus. He never expected that he would be working only about 20% of the jobs he normally would be this time of year.
Yet, this is exactly what he is doing.
The home improvement industry and all those who depend on it have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic spreading through Delaware. Though these business owners and their employees are deemed essential by the governor’s orders, the allowance doesn’t necessarily mean home owners are willing to open their doors to the work.
Richard Losuewicz cuts a brick for a new walkway Wednesday morning in Brandywine Hundred. (Photo: Damian Giletto/Delaware News Journal)
“I just want to survive,” said Jodko, who owns Martin’s Home Improvement, a Delaware-based business that specializes in both interior and exterior improvements. “We have to finish the jobs that we’re working on. We don’t want to leave people hanging in the air for who knows how long.”
He, and many other business owners, are worried about what the next few weeks will look like if business doesn’t pick up. Jodko has already had to let go of a number of his staff, which he said was already only 10 people.
Due to COVID-19 fears, he said 4 out of his 5 customers have already postponed their home improvement projects.
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Though he wants to keep working, Jodko said he is also worried for the safety of his staff. The rapid spread of the virus is what freaks him out the most.
His workers are taking precautions by wearing protective gear like face masks and shoe covers.
“This whole thing is crazy,” Jodko said.
Newer to the business, Beans’ Home Improvements, Inc. is also struggling during this time, according to owner Michael Beans.
“Everything thus far has been postponed,” said Beans, who has owned the business for just under three years.
He said business has slowed since the pandemic started over three weeks ago. He’s doing a lot more virtual visits through FaceTime and increased health measures like touching fewer spaces while working, along with wiping everything down.
If business doesn’t pick up in the next couple weeks, however, he will have to close for a bit, he said.
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“I don’t know the exact phrase but there’s the shoemaker that typically doesn’t have good shoes,” Beans said. “This will give me an opportunity to actually work on my own home, which is long overdue.”
Ultimately, he’s hopeful that when the pandemic passes, he will be able to recover.
“They are still going to be in need and want my services when things are back to normal,” he said.
Others are turning to different avenues to make up for the loss of business that requires going into people’s homes.
Gregory Dant of Dant Enterprises LLC has been working with real estate agents to do repairs on homes that are just about to be closed on, but are currently unoccupied. Even then, things are slower than they have been and he anticipates it will be this way for a little while.
Home remodeling companies, like Martin’s Home Improvement in Penny Hill, are only doing a fraction of their normal workload due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo: Damian Giletto/Delaware News Journal)
“This is not going away until they get a vaccine,” said Gregory Dant of Dant Enterprises LLC. “So people are still going to need us to take care of their properties.”
But when it comes to business, it “could be better,” the 30-year veteran of home improvement said.
Dant is also working on other vacant homes so as not to interact with people too too much. But when he does, he said, he’s extra careful.
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He’s also been doing more virtual visits. As a small business, he usually works alone or gets contractors to help out.
“I miss dealing with the customers,” Dant said. “Most of the time I have a very good rapport with customers and it’s a little bit more of a lonely situation.”
One of the people Dant works with is Realtor Monica Hill at RE/MAX in Wilmington.
She said this situation has been hard on everyone in the homeowner business. Though real estate agents are not on the list of essential businesses, they are still able to work from home and show properties, but they cannot hold open houses.
But they can do everything necessary to complete sales in their final states prior to the state of emergency announcement, according to state guidelines.
Andrew Logan works on an office building renovation project for Martin’s Home Improvement Wednesday morning in Penny Hill. (Photo: Damian Giletto/Delaware News Journal)
Realtors are subjected to the same rules of social distancing though, so many, like Hill, are working from home. They’re using teleconference programs like Zoom and FaceTime to conduct their normal business.
“We’re definitely seeing a reaction from people.” she said. “Because it’s caught everybody off guard.”
Despite the current situation though, she is hopeful that the market will be just fine when the pandemic begins to subside.
“Real estate drives the economy. When real estate suffers, the economy suffers,” she said. “We have people in the midst of completing transactions. That needs to happen. People still need to move, they still need to buy and sell houses in the midst of this. So to put a halt to that has huge ramifications.”
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Other parts of the homeowner business are changing their procedures. Home improvement business PJ Fitzpatrick, Inc said on its website it will remain open but will be increasing safety procedures like avoiding doorknobs.
The Delaware Valley business is also doing a lot more virtual estimates.
Hardware stores like Lowe’s, which has multiple locations throughout Delaware, are limiting their hours to give their workers more time to clean the store overnight.
The store is also changing their curbside drop-off procedures. Associates are now leaving products by garage doors, front doors or alternate locations.
Additionally, they will also be asking if someone has contracted COVID-19 before delivering products.
Contact Marina Affo at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @marina_affo.
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