Remodels and retrofits

Remodels and retrofits

Fresno sees boom in building projects as homeowners gain confidence in the economy.

The uptick in the Fresno housing market is helping to revive another sector of the wounded industry—home remodeling.

“Building permits for home additions, alterations and repairs were up 28% in July compared with the same time a year ago, according to the city of Fresno building department. From February through July of this year, permits in Fresno are up 15% over the same period last year. Visalia reports a similar increase over the same period.

A combination of homeowner confidence in the economy and the desire to modernize, retrofit or customize is driving the number of remodeling jobs up to a level not seen in at least five years, contractors say.

The demand even has homebuilders like de Young Properties creating new companies to specialize in renovation work.

“I think we’ve seen the light and it’s shining right now,” said Ken Dye, chief executive officer and president of Nelson Dye Remodeling Specialists in Fresno. “We’re hoping it doesn’t fade.”
Kitchen and bathroom remodels remain popular, followed by energy-saving upgrades such as replacing old heating and cooling equipment and solar panels. Then come the wants: custom closets, garage storage or home offices.

Dye, whose family has owned and operated the company for 57 years, is relieved to see business picking up. Like homebuilders, renovation companies saw business sliced in half during the recession. The road to recovery since then has been a tough one.

Between 2009 and 2011, the company only had about half the work it normally sees, Dye said. That changed in 2012 when the economy slowly started improving. This year, the work has more than doubled.

“We’re doing much better this year,” said Dye, whose company specializes in kitchen and bathroom remodels. “It seems like people are starting to spend money.”

Custom Drywall Service in Fresno slipped into the dumps in 2008 when new homebuilding came to a standstill. Back then, 80% of the company’s work was in new construction. The other 20% was in renovations.

But in the years that followed, the ratio of work flipped as homeowners remained in their houses. Remodeling work has steadily grown and finally is making gains of up to 30% this year, owner Matt Ploy said. Custom home work also is increasing.

“To me this indicates that the market is hopefully starting to level out and slope upwards,” Ploy said. “Things are coming back to somewhat of a normalcy now. I saw this starting for us specifically the last quarter of 2012 whereas before things were a rollercoaster.”

The phone in Ploy’s office is ringing more often these days with calls from homeowners who sought bids for a project two years ago and finally are ready to start. Others want to add rooms to their homes, make kitchens bigger, remove wallpaper or retexture walls for a modern look.

There also has been an increase in homeowners looking for ways to retrofit their homes to save money on energy bills. De Young Properties started two new businesses to help homeowners with insulation, roofing, heating and cooling, window replacements and solar.

“We have definitely seen an increase in homeowners interested in reducing their carbon footprint, lowering their PG&E bills and living more comfortably,” said vice president Ryan De Young. “The recovering economy really seems to have played a role in this increase in demand.”

Homeowners Ellie and Don Huston decided to remodel their 1,624-square-foot home on 3 acres in northeast Clovis instead of downsizing to a smaller property like many aging homeowners these days. “Neither one of us want to leave here so we decided to update,” Ellie Huston said.

The Hustons hired Diversified Builders in Fresno to renovate the entire house. They had the windows replaced, new floors installed, new kitchen cabinets and countertops, new light fixtures, new paint, refaced the brick fireplace with stone and had another closet built. Ellie Huston declined to say how much the couple spent, but noted it was more than what they spent to have the home built 35 years ago.

This year is a more positive environment for home renovations than in years past, said Diversified Builders owner Jason Peters, who has seen his business grow 50% since 2010. “2013 volume-wise has been my best year,” he said.

People who have stayed in their houses probably “figured the value in their home was down, but they have the funds to remodel so they’re saying let’s enjoy what we have,” Peters said.

But even owners of new homes are doing some renovation work now. Tiffany Gunsorek thought about buying a closet kit from a home improvement store for the master bedroom in her newly built Clovis home. But she had a custom closet built instead.

Picture from the Fresno Bee/Mark Crosse

Gunsorek and her boyfriend sold their previous home at a profit, enabling them to buy a new home this year and to pay for personal touches such as the closet and eventually a pool, she said. “I have a shoe problem,” Gunsorek said. “I needed something that allows for all of my shoes to have a home and one where I could see all the shoes.”

The two-day installation from Closets by Design in Fresno included crown molding and lots of shoe shelves, Gunsorek said.

Mike Andes started the Fresno franchise of Closets by Design a year ago after spending years in the residential and commercial construction industry. He saw the business as an opportunity in something that could prove popular when the economy turned around, Andes said.

So far it has worked out. Activity in the third quarter of this year already is 15% better than the second quarter, Andes said. And the second quarter of the year was 40% better than the first.
“Not everybody was affected by the economy, but (everybody) was worried. Even if they had some money, they were waiting to see where things were going.” Andes said. “Now, they see the economy is picking up—not as quickly here as in other places, but now people are willing to do those projects.”

by BoNhia Lee

Originally printed in the Fresno Bee | September 15, 2013

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