We believe information is power. So, in terms of property renovations, information and insights from those performing the renovation – General Contractors – is invaluable. We asked a sampling of General Contractors to share their thoughts on renovations in general, as well as how the industry is impacted by COVID-19. Read on for their fascinating (and educational!) answers.
Josh Martinez, President of Excell Contractors
Ken Tarter, Principal at Chapin Residential & Commercial DBA International Wall Designs
Max Larez, President of MAGNA
Sharp Construction, Inc.
What impact is COVID-19 having on construction right now (nearly a year into the pandemic)?
“COVID-19 has affected many areas of construction, including delays due to limiting the amount of personnel on-site to the delivery times of materials/equipment that comes from overseas. There has also been an increase in PPE equipment cost when working in occupied spaces.” – EXCELL
“One of the most notable impacts Sharp has seen thus far is a severe decrease in the amount of work available for general contractors. Prior to the beginning of Covid19, our growth trajectory was consistently increasing as the DC market exploded with opportunity. However, we now see the downsizing of interior office spaces. With less overall expansions occurring as a result of the pandemic, there is a palpable deficit in our workflow.” – SHARPCON
What are some positive things you are seeing related to construction due to COVID-19?
“We see significantly more deal flow. We do a lot of work in condo buildings – residents are taking this opportunity to update/renovate their common areas since they are spending more time working from home.” – CRC
“Probably making some buildings more hygienic by implementing new touchless components.” – MAGNA
“One of the remarkable side effects of this pandemic has been the increased awareness to physical and emotional well-being. We’ve seen tremendous momentum in health and safety efforts to help mitigate potential threats and liabilities for all parties involved in the construction process. It’s affirming to see our partners, subcontractors, and properties placing increased value on human capital.” – SHARPCON
What are some negative things you are seeing related to construction due to COVID-19?
“Personnel have unrealistic expectations in terms of social distances when it comes to tasks that require more than one person. This sometimes becomes a bit difficult to carry out.” – EXCELL
“Some residents in multi-family environments are scared to death and don’t want us working in their building. Others are keen to get the properties updated in order to remain competitive. Once we establish standard protocols, then confidence grows as we move through the project. Additionally – material prices are increasing, and some delivery times are longer than usual.” – CRC
Have lead times on materials started to return to normal, or are you still seeing COVID-19-related delays? Which materials are most impacted?
“Not yet… suppliers are not delivering on time. For us, it is mostly specialty wood lumber and/or manufactured wood components.” – MAGNA
“No – lead times are still impacted – especially items from overseas markets. It is hard to categorize the products because it changes.” – CRC
“At Sharp, we have seen tremendous improvement on lead times from a multitude of suppliers. While still not back to “normal,” we have noticed the greatest shift with lighting fixtures, doors, and appliances. This positive shift in procurement has certainly increased our ability to quickly complete projects on time and on budget.” – SHARPCON
Through this coming year, do you anticipate construction costs holding steady, going up, or going down?
“I expect material costs to continue to increase until suppliers/vendors can normalize their workforce, etc.” – CRC
“Commercial construction cost should go down as the lower volume is going to have a lot of contractors fighting for the same jobs. Low demand and high supply is the principal for lower prices.”– EXCELL
What recommendations would you make to property owners/managers considering a renovation right now?
“If the space is vacant, it’s going to be cheaper to construct now than once the space is occupied again. Having to work in occupied spaces with COVID-19 restrictions and new PPE requirements raises the cost of construction.” – EXCELL
“After assessing annual improvement budgets, consider your renovation focus on common corridors, amenity remodels, and lobby upgrades. Because there is little guarantee that tenants will maintain and/or re-sign their leases, showcasing your commitment to the tenant community at your property can help amplify your investment in the tenant experience. Additionally, consider trade-specific updates like new air filtration systems that promote more holistic health and safety amidst the evolving pandemic.” – SHARPCON
What do you recommend to keep construction timelines in place and avoid delays?
“Specify materials made in the US. Verify the origin of materials before writing specifications. Early procurement of materials.” – MAGNA
“Make sure all materials have been received BEFORE starting the job.” – CRC
“As a general contractor, one of the greatest assets to any project is proactive pre-construction administration. Ensuring that all documentation is correctly labeled and identified, contracted in a timely fashion, delegated to the appropriate parties, and held to realistic timelines for submittals, permitting, etc., is critical to keep the project on target and to avoid delays. Additionally, using readily available materials (e.g., domestic products over foreign imports) can help expedite the process and maintain a standard workflow. “ – SHARPCON
What are some of the most clever solutions you’ve seen to design around/incorporate odd or unsightly existing conditions?
“I can’t point to one example, but a good design firm can take a negative design and mitigate it to some extent.” – CRC
“Clever solutions we have encountered include using the existing space as the central design palette. This can include elements like polished and exposed concrete both on the floor and the walls, painting the ceiling and ductwork to include artistic flair with unexpected visual experiences, using common fixtures like sliding barn doors, and utilizing height in new ways to create multiple spaces within one contained room. Designs that offer an eco-conscious experience, include spaces for physical and emotional well-being, and bring an element of social interaction continue to be at the forefront of clever design in our opinion.” – SHARPCON
What is the most common issue you run into during a renovation? Is there anything that can be done at the start of the project to prevent this issue?
“Having the client understand that sometimes material lead times can change during the course of a project with no control from the supplier or contractor(s). Also, the expectation of the finished product when a lot of finishes depend on existing conditions, i.e., uneven walls or patchy ceilings. The only thing that can be done to avoid this is usually good communication and making sure the contractor lays good eyes on existing conditions. Also making the customer understand that flexibility is important also helps.” – EXCELL
“Unforeseen conditions are the most common. Exploratory methods and or testings are the most efficient ways to resolve future issues.” – MAGNA