Photos by Jessica Overcash
12 week waiting time for windows. Cabinet deliveries delayed again and again. Contractors who are booked up and can only start your project in June (maybe).
COVID-19-related setbacks and supply chain issues have contributed to major delays for most renovation projects as local designers, contractors and suppliers struggle to recover from the pandemic and keep up with demand.
The Alexandria area, like the rest of the country, saw a dramatic increase in demand for home remodeling projects since the pandemic hit. In fact, a recent survey revealed that more than half of Americans say that making their home more useful and comfortable is extremely important.
Still, plenty of Alexandria homeowners are finding ways to forward with plans.
“My kitchen is too small.”
“We need more storage space.”
“I would love to have a proper home office, separate sinks in the bathroom, and how about a bathtub?!”
From new countertops and hardwood floors to updated fireplace surrounds and fresh paint colors, we all have a “wish list,” says Kaki Ernst, an Alexandria-based interior design consultant and owner of TruleyHome. Ernst says she has heard these “questions” almost daily since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I love what I do and I’m lucky to be as busy as I am,” says Ernst. “I want all of my clients to be satisfied with not only the end result, but the process as well … but that’s where the challenge lies today.”
Alexandria is experiencing a white-hot housing market, with buyers willing to pay premiums for what they want and contractors paying above market rates for materials to meet or at least come close to deadlines.
As long as demand for renovations, from simple bathroom upgrades to complete kitchen renovations, continues to skyrocket, designers and contractors say it will continue to be difficult to deliver their products and services efficiently, especially due to the severe shortage of building materials. This, along with other factors, stems from a “perfect storm” of obstacles, including a lack of skilled labor, unexpected weather, tariffs and port congestion – there simply isn’t enough inventory and labor to keep up with current demand.
In today’s evolving supply chain, there’s no quick and easy fix, and it’s hard to go it alone, according to a spokesperson for Ferguson, a local bath, kitchen and lighting gallery. From shipping delays and lost products to raw material shortages, the most experienced homeowners dive into their renovation projects thinking the same rules apply. But that’s no longer the case, and consulting with a trusted partner is the secret ingredient to navigating supply chain challenges.
Rebuilding in a COVID-19 world: The local perspective
Ernst says she has been working on a kitchen remodel in Alexandria since January 2021. She ordered appliances last April, with an original delivery date set for August. The kitchen work, she said, was mostly complete when they finally received the refrigerator in October. However, they are still waiting for the wall oven to arrive.
“The building and remodeling business is changing daily and I feel that my job, now more than ever, is to communicate with my clients, suppliers and contractors to get us all working together and set expectations for this ‘new’ way to rebuild,” she said. “The normal excitement and anticipation of receiving the first call from a client is now combined with the need to deliver news they don’t want to hear. We can do that, but it doesn’t happen quickly. Sharing the news of significant delays and how this will affect the planning of their dream projects is like a rain cloud on a sunny day.”
Cindy Beckham, a TruleyHome customer, says that while she didn’t have to change their original kitchen design, she had to accommodate her family’s schedule along the way.
“Our expectation was that the project would be completed by early September, and for the most part it was,” Beckham said. “Kaki and our contractor worked hard to meet our deadline, but in the end our refrigerator and oven were delayed due to the pandemic. I feel sorry for our contractor who scheduled his team based on original delivery dates. The most unfortunate part of the process was the lack of transparency and clear communication about realistic appliance delivery dates and the impact it had on our contractor planning his team.”
According to Ernst, pre-pandemic, design consultants and contractors could rely on scheduled delivery dates, but lately that’s just not the case anymore. “This has become a huge timing issue, from contractors and suppliers to designers and the homeowner. Everyone is juggling new delivery dates and rescheduling the next vendor or subcontractor in line,” she noted.
It’s hard to find anyone in the construction industry who doesn’t struggle with supply chain issues. One challenge, says Matt Burton, a project consultant in Northern Virginia, is “keeping up with changes in availability and cost increases that change daily.”
“Our suppliers do a good job of keeping us up to date, but I have to do a lot of going back to the customers and going back,” says Burton. “It’s to the point now where I use a lot of ‘ifs’ in my conversations in terms of making promises or giving hope.”
Elisa Baber, owner of SweetSpace, says sourcing furniture for her local design business during the pandemic has been challenging.
“In a perfect world, as designers we select furniture, procure it and then have an installation with a grand reveal,” Baber said. “Now everything feels very piecemeal and we accept items as they come in due to the increasing lead times. There is also at least one item that is back-ordered or no longer available between purchase and presenting it to the customer. This often leads to frustration for the customer and more work for the designer.”
As for some of the biggest pandemic headaches, Baber adds that shipping has been a big challenge to work around. Items that are “available and ready to ship” often add an additional six weeks on top of the time it takes to manufacture and receive them. “These delays make it difficult to schedule installations, which typically have to be done weeks in advance. In truth, all we can do is keep communication open with our customers and set expectations for the unpredictable.”
Tina Trumbo, an Alexandria homeowner who worked with Ernst on a recent bathroom and laundry remodel, had to change her ideas and plans due to a lack of materials for her project. “We had to make different decisions about cabinets so as not to push the project out for months. We sacrificed quality for timeliness.”
At first, Trumbo explained, she was worried about being forced to turn. However, it turns out that the more affordable cabinets were perfect for her family’s purposes. “Even with the extra time and delays, it’s been worth it. We’ve spent so much time in our homes during the pandemic, so investing in new, fresh spaces will continue to give us peace of mind and reduce anxiety,” she says.
Trumbo advises other homeowners exploring remodeling options right now to work with a designer who is attentive and can help not only select materials, but also procure them. “Our designer [Ernst], was able to source new products when the ones we originally wanted were no longer available. For me, investing in a designer to take that off my plate was the best decision in our redesign.”
Tips to consider before diving into a pandemic mid-pandemic remodel
Ernst offers several tips if you’re ready to embark on a remodeling project in the current climate:
- Create “look books” to help communicate your vision and desires for your spaces. This can be in the form of pictures from magazines, Pinterest boards or even a folder on your computer where you store pictures.
- Make finishing decisions faster to lock in costs, especially items like appliances, cabinets, tile and flooring. The pandemic has affected the cost and timing of these items the most.
- Give yourself plenty of time, sit back and enjoy the ride. Don’t start a project until you know you have all the materials in hand. And if you love it, buy it (in stock today may be gone tomorrow).
Ernst adds: “Building or remodeling your home is exciting and stressful all in one. Balancing budget, design and timing is a big task. Surround yourself with people you trust and know are working hard for your best interests. I build my business on forming these relationships with not only my customers, but also my suppliers and contractors.”