As essential services during the pandemic, the real estate industry and attendant construction trades have been buoyed by the influx of homebuyers to Santa Barbara. These days, living in a densely populated hotspot, such as the Bay Area or Los Angeles doesn’t seem as safe as Santa Barbara, which also boasts a more active outdoor lifestyle than the concrete confines of bigger cities. And it’s fairly common for a newly arrived homebuyer to invest in a remodel right away.
“For sure, we’ve gotten busier [during the pandemic],” says Jerry DeHoog, a finish carpenter and owner of Trim Works, a company he launched in Santa Barbara in 2003 to focus on interior finish carpentry, mainly windows, doors, baseboard, and crown molding. (Recently, he also took on an oceanfront fence job, featuring teak, stainless steel, and copper.)
DeHoog explains that one of the main reasons there’s been an uptick in business is that clients in the middle of a remodel have requested that their projects finish ahead of schedule so they can self-isolate and shelter in place.
“The market is hot right now,” added Derek Shue, an executive vice president with Giffin & Crane General Contractors. “People are finding ways to get out of the cities. Sales are way up.”
And it’s not just in Santa Barbara. Giffin & Crane is part of a peer group of homebuilders from across the country, including Seattle, Bakersfield, Austin, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Boston, among other areas. “Everyone is busy,” Shue said.
DeHoog, who grew up on job sites surrounded by a family of builders before branching out on his own, has been in the trades long enough to see the cycles firsthand. He’s a big fan of staying busy, of course, but he’s also felt the downside. “In the past, whenever we’ve had a boom, it’s followed by a crash,” he says. “We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. My crew is always in the back of my mind.”
In the meantime, the pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for all the trades, from disruptions in supply chains to workers staying home to help care for young kids taking all their classes via Zoom.
“Access [to a job site] can also be a challenge when clients are living on the property,” DeHoog said, “especially if they’re elderly or high-risk.” And as soon as he arrives with his crew, he added, “It’s all about distancing and making sure everybody is wearing a face covering.” A few years back, DeHoog noticed laborers wearing the gator-style face coverings — that fit entirely around the face, ears, and neck — to protect against dust and sawdust. Back in March, as COVID-19 first started closing in on Santa Barbara, he bought a bunch for his crew.
As the other shoe has yet to drop, DeHoog is cranking ahead with “very little free time,” he says. He’s also wondering what’s to become of his annual teaching workshop in Santa Barbara City College’s Construction Technology Program. “I bring my trailer, the students help unload it, and I break out all the tools to give them a hands-on sense of the trade and show them really what it takes to do these big custom homes,” he says.
This fall, however, he’s thinking it may not happen, at least not in person. He’ll know more later this month or early next. Until then — just like with a lot of things in the time of COVID-19 — it’s wait and see.
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