Home improvement contractor Harold Kaufman left Manchester Star Hardware Thursday with a fresh supply of sandpaper as he tried to keep pace with one of his busiest years ever.
Kaufman said he’s had to turn down $20,000 worth of work just in the past few months during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s insane,” he said.
Inside the Main Street store, manager Britney Keune said she’s having trouble keeping spray paint on the shelves, along with grass seed, fertilizer and other hot items.
“We’ve probably almost doubled our customer base since May,” Keune said.
Spending on home improvements, everything from do-it-yourself projects to contracted additions, is a bright spot amid the suffering the virus has wrought on lives and livelihoods. People are home more, taking a closer look at their surroundings and acting on long-deferred repairs and enhancements. Across Connecticut and the nation, building permits are hot tickets and sales of hardware, lumber, sheet rock and other materials has surged.
“We’ve seen a 20% increase between June and October,” Rocky Hill building official Michael Violette said of permit applications.
Homeowners also are doing a lot of work that doesn’t require permits, Violette said, such as painting, flooring and landscaping.
“They’re home, not going on vacations and looking around at what they can do,” he said.
Bristol officials reported a sharp rise in both building permit fees and conveyance taxes on property sales. The city planned to take in $1.2 million in construction fees for the fiscal year that began July 1. But as of mid-October — less than a third of the way into the fiscal year — it has already collected $532,000.
“We should be about 30% now, but we’re already at 44%,” comptroller Diane Waldron reported.
“The conveyance fees also have been significantly higher because of the real estate market,” Waldron said. “This year we budgeted $825,000 — we’re already at $473,990, or 57%.”
In Manchester, the building department reported costs of home alterations and additions along with new home construction totaled $7.3 million in the first quarter of this fiscal year (July through September), compared with about $6 million in the same period in the last fiscal year and $4.3 million the year before. In Vernon, 944 permits were issued from March 1 to Oct. 21, 30 more than in the same period last year.
Nationally, building permit applications rose 5.2% in September to 1.55 million units, the Associated Press reported. After a plunge in the spring due to pandemic-related lockdowns, housing has staged a solid rebound as demand for homes with more space has grown and mortgage rates have stayed at ultralow levels.
Construction of single-family homes in September surged by 7.8% nationally, offsetting a 14.7% drop in the smaller apartment sector. Construction soared 66.7% in the Northeast with smaller gains of 6.2% in the South and 1.4% in the West, the AP reported.
Marisa and Bryan Demankowski have contributed to both the red-hot housing market and the spike in building permits. The couple, who have one child, recently moved to West Hartford from North Carolina and hired general contractor Jason Clatterbuck for a major renovation of their Sulgrave Road home. The project includes a new family room, mud room, kitchen and first-floor powder room.
Owner of Homestead Builders and Homestead Improvement & Design, Clatterbuck said this project and one other he and his four employees are working on have a total value of $500,000. After those jobs, he has signed contracts through 2022, Clatterbuck said.
Customers tell him they don’t know how long the pandemic will affect their lives and travels, so they’re concentrating on renewing their homes and yards, he said.
A few houses up on Sulgrave Road, Matt Mattoon and another worker from the Barn Yard & Great Country Garages of Ellington were installing a 12×16-foot, Amish-built pool house beside a new pool. Mattoon said business is booming and he echoed Clatterbuck and other contractors on the reasons why.
“They’re not going on vacations,” he said of customers, “so they’re investing in their own backyards.”
Big box profits
Big box home improvement retailer Home Depot is raking the rewards of the trend. The company posted net earnings of $4.3 billion for the second quarter of fiscal 2020, up from $3.5 billion for the same period a year ago, according to news reports. Net sales for the quarter hit $38.1, a 23.4% year-over-year gain.
“The investments we have made across the business have significantly increased our agility, allowing us to respond quickly to changes while continuing to promote a safe operating environment,” President and CEO Craig Menear told investors in August. “This enhanced our team’s ability to work cross-functionally to better serve our customers and deliver record-breaking sales in the quarter.”
The company spent about $480 million during the second quarter on additional benefits for employees, including weekly bonuses for hourly employees in stores and distribution centers, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported. Year-to-date, Home Depot has spent approximately $1.3 billion on enhanced pay and benefits in response to COVID-19. Additionally, the company’s first half performance resulted in a record payout for the company’s profit-sharing program for hourly associates, according to an August report in the Chronicle.
Home Depot’s chief competitor, Lowe’s, reported second quarter net earnings of $2.8 billion, compared with $1.7 billion in the same period last year. Second quarter sales totaled $27.3 billion, compared with $21 billion in the second quarter of 2019, the company reported.
Courant reporters Steve Goode and Don Stacom contributed to this report.
Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at [email protected]
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