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How the Coronavirus has changed the way we use contractors

Jamie QuadrosNovember 5, 202012 min

By this point in 2020, the broad beats of this pandemic have been pretty thoroughly played out. While we face continued uncertainty about how much longer we’ll have to live with this virus, the changes it has wrought on our lifestyles and living situations are quite apparent. We now know working and learning remotely are likely going to be prominent parts of the months (perhaps years) to come, even once we’re out of the woods. We’re spending more time at home than ever before, and discovering that it could be enjoyable. In light of that, plenty of folks have looked into sprucing up their homes to accommodate this new state of affairs.

You’d be forgiven for thinking quarantines, mandated social distancing, and widespread self-isolation are hardly ideal circumstances for a home renovation. However, it appears that despite complications and concerns stemming from the coronavirus, people have been perfectly willing to proceed with making changes to their living spaces.

Assuming you’re one of these people, you might be wondering how working with contractors has changed, if at all, before you take the plunge. After all – having people working in and on your home when we’re all being told to avoid unnecessary contact seems counterproductive.

Is it safe to have contractors working in your home?

Like the rest of the economy, the home renovation sector has had to adapt to new ways of doing business. Although contracting companies (and individuals) have seen their services remain in demand, they’ve needed to account for health regulations and social distancing in order to continue to operate safely.

Some of these adaptations include:

  • Moving consultations and quotes to a digital format, eliminating the need for in-person meetings and paperwork flowing back-and-forth
  • Ensuring all workers follow social distancing, hand-washing, and mask regulations
  • Following strict protocol on sanitizing communal areas, and ensuring workers have access to dedicated (or separate) washroom facilities while on the job to reduce interaction
  • Carefully planning the number of workers on-site at a given time, and screening their health daily when they visit a site

For those vendors able to adhere to those changes, there has certainly been enough demand to keep them busy for a good portion of this year.

Has it become harder to find contractors?

Well, that depends. On the contractor side, it’s been challenging to accommodate different comfort levels with social distancing from their employees. This has impacted the availability of workers, especially as many opted to go on CERB earlier in the year rather than risk infection.

Moreover, both contractors and customers have had to contend with shortages in building material. Manufacturing slowdowns in the early phases of the outbreak limited the supply of material being produced, which was further exacerbated by a surge in demand for those precise materials from both the home renovation sector and DIY enthusiasts taking on new projects while in lockdown. Notably, lumber shortages during the summer stretched timelines for renovations considerably.

How affordable is the whole process?

Before we get to the COVID-19 considerations, it’s worth noting: the usual caveats for undertaking a home renovation and working with contractors still apply. As a client, you’ll need to be careful about who you sign up with while maintaining a clear idea of what you want and how much you want to spend on it.

Getting a renovation now doesn’t have to be more expensive than normal, if you’re not pressed for time. While demand for contractors is high (for a pandemic), it’s not as high as it would be during a regular year. That being the case, you have the ability to evaluate different quotes and work with folks who are transparent about costs and timelines. During times like this, having confidence in trust in your contractors is imperative.

In general, here are some aspects you should consider when evaluating the affordability of a home renovation:

  • It can cost up to 50% more, and take 50% longer than usual. Depending on where you live, limited competition for contractors as well as limited building supplies can easily run up your costs and time projections. As we said – it’s not a given thing, but you shouldn’t bank on it being a cheap endeavour.
  • Ensure your renovation contracts contain clauses for delayed/late work completion. Essentially, make sure you and your contractor agree on some manner of credit or price reduction for any time the project takes beyond the date you both agreed upon. Given current circumstances, it’s not a bad idea to include language covering how you’ll both handle COVID-19 related delays, as well.
  • Don’t forget to factor in how your renovation will affect your home insurance. It’s never fun to have your premiums increase, but it’s even less fun to be left with a bill for something you didn’t know your policy didn’t cover. Your costs don’t have to increase substantially though – certain kinds of upgrades (such as upgrading your electrical, heating, or plumbing) can lower the risk of damage to your home, and commensurately lower your premium.
  • Will you need to relocate during the renovation? Depending on the scale of the project, that might be an inevitability. However, even for smaller work, you might consider temporarily relocating to minimize infection risk – especially if you or your family members are immunocompromised.

Bottom line: is it a good idea?

Ultimately, if you can afford to get a renovation at a price you’re comfortable with, it should be safe enough to do so with the proper precautions. You’re the best judge of just how much renovated or expanded space will positively affect your life. If it’s something you think will be worthwhile for the months and years to come, don’t let the pandemic dissuade you.

In fact, it might even be a good time to do so – lobbyists are currently trying to get temporary home renovation tax credits greenlit, to encourage people to spend and help out the affected industries. If that comes to pass, it would definitely make the prospect more appealing. Flexibility in both your expectations and patience will be key going forward, as will good relationships with your contractors. Now more than ever, clear communication and trust will play pivotal roles in the smooth completion of these projects, and giving you peace of mind!

Have you used a contractor during the pandemic? Let us know in the comments.

Jamie Quadros profile picture

Jamie Quadros

Freelance writer and communications professional at the University of Toronto. He’s an avid cinephile, voracious reader, and a terror at karaoke bars.

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