Improving homes

With spring just around the corner, work is piling up for the home remodeling and construction businesses.

The home remodeling market should see strong growth in 2014, according to the Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity released by the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

The LIRA study predicts double-digit gains in annual home improvement spending for the first half of the year.

“The ongoing growth that we’ve seen in home prices, housing starts and existing home sales is also being reflected in home improvement activity,” said Eric S. Belsky, managing director of the center. “As owners gain more confidence in the housing market, they are likely to undertake home improvements that they have deferred.”

Local contractors also expect new home construction to be on the rise this spring.

“New homes are starting to come back now. I am bidding on projects in Johnstown, Huntingdon, Altoona and Hollidaysburg,” said Jim Brown, owner of J.R. Brown Construction, Hollidaysburg. “I’ve had quite a few inquiries about new homes, a few additions and remodeling.”

Mark Metz, president and owner of Metz Builders Inc., Hollidaysburg, said he is off to go a good start.

“I have three new homes under construction and also am doing some remodeling work. The overall climate has improved,” Metz said.

Adam Clark, owner of Adam Clark Construction, Tyrone, is expecting to be very busy.

“I think business in the Altoona area will pick up. I expect to see an increase in new homes. I already have two lined up. I usually only do one every two years,” Clark said.

However, most local contractors said the market is geared toward remodeling.

“The houses that were built 20 years ago … we are starting to redo the kitchens and bathrooms,” said Pete Morina, owner of Pete Morina Construction, Duncansville. “As far as new homes, we are not building them like 15 to 20 years ago.”

“More people are staying in their homes instead of moving,” said Jeff Weyer, owner of On the Level Remodeling of Altoona.

“We are getting lots of calls for additions. People are adding on instead of moving,” said Weyer, who said that he noticed a different trend at the recent Blair County Home and Garden Show.

“I didn’t have as many people as usual looking at outside projects like decks and siding. I am getting more roofing customers with the hard winter. If roofs are near the end of their lives, the winter may finish them off. That is causing the roofing business to pick up,” Weyer said.

Some contractors said they were able to stay busy despite the long, cold winter.

Melvin Dixon, owner of Integrity Construction, which specializes in windows, doors and siding, said the cold winter actually benefited his business. He said his business was up 47 percent over the previous year.

“The winter was phenomenal. We specialize in energy efficiency. People’s fuel bills skyrocketed – I don’t like it personally, but it does help out,” Dixon said. “The winter also hurts the exterior of homes real bad. You see a lot of weathering to the exteriors. There will be a lot of people whose homes have cracked paint, and their siding will be weathered.”

David McCloskey, owner of David E. McCloskey Remodeling and Building, Altoona, and Cordell Ebersole, owner of Cordell Construction, Martinsburg, also had a busy winter.

“I have been busy all winter, and I am now getting pounded with people seeking estimates,” McCloskey said. “It looks real good. I have been doing bathrooms and offices. I turned a garage into a living space. Every contractor’s dream is to find inside work.”

“We work in any kind of conditions,” Ebersole said. “We work year round. We did a complete exterior remodel on Cove Lane in the middle of January.”

“That is our mentality. We are farmers. In the Cove, we work in any conditions. We stay busy year round. If work is not available inside, we work outside,” Ebersole said.

The winter can have a negative impact on business, though, some said.

“We can’t do outside jobs. The ground is frozen. We can’t get our equipment in to do a whole lot. It has been a setback for sure,” Brown said.

“It slows everything down,” Morina said.

“You are busy shoveling snow, and you can’t do roofing when there are 8 to 10 inches of snow on the roof.

“There is a profit loss in the winter. You have to pay for shoveling, plowing and heating. I’d rather be in North Carolina,” Morina said.

Clark said the cold winter had an impact on his business.

“When it was zero outside, I was sitting at home. It was just too cold to work outside. The weather has an effect on everything,” Clark said.

While most contractors are optimistic about the upcoming season, Doug Cruse, owner of Cruse Construction of Altoona, admits he isn’t sure what to expect.

“It seems like people will do what they have to do, such as roof repairs,” he said. “In the next couple of weeks we will start to get more calls.”

“Some years you don’t think you will be busy and it takes off, and some years you think you will be busy, [and] you get nothing,” Cruse said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.