By Christie Vogt
When the pandemic shutdowns began in March 2020, Marty Ruddy wasn’t sure how long his business, Terra Firma Building and Remodeling, could survive without work.
As time passed, outdoor projects and other work that allowed for social distancing helped jumpstart the business.
“Then, it really became clear after a year of quarantine that people were like, ‘I want to work on my house.’ That’s when it got real,” said Ruddy, Terra Firma’s president. “People wanted to invest in their house because of all the time they were spending in there.”
Architects function as Terra Firma’s bellwether, Ruddy said, “If they’re busy, then we see what’s coming down the pipeline.”
Last year, when Terra Firma saw that the architects they were working with were suddenly booked out for a year, they knew that “the flood” was coming, Ruddy said.
Demand for home building and remodeling is still high and Terra Firma expects that will continue for at least the next couple years, he noted.
Although there is an abundance of work, Ruddy said it’s unclear whether there will be enough supplies and materials to get jobs done. Windows, for example, used to take three weeks to come in and are now taking six months, he said.
“The nature of projects has shifted from being able to go from design into construction in a couple of months,” Ruddy said, “and now oftentimes we’re going from design into construction over six to 12 months.”
To help with supply chain issues, Terra Firma recently bought a new building in the Creative Enterprise Zone in south St. Anthony Park where it has started a custom cabinet division.
When it comes to the labor challenges that many companies have faced, Ruddy said the 30-person team at Terra Firma has “weathered that a little better than most.” He said being an employee-owned company helps with both attracting and retaining staff.
Some smaller home service operators, like Brushstrokes Painting, have seen fewer disruptions in the past two years. Tom Marron, the one-person team at Brushstrokes, said he has had steady work across all seasons and had no drop in business during the pandemic. Clients typically wait no longer than three weeks, he said, and he expects business to continue at a similar pace. One change Marron has noticed is that the cost of paint has increased by about 8% compared to two years ago and that there is an occasional shortage of materials.
Russ Nelson, of Russ Nelson Painting, has also seen his material costs rise and said that business has been “sporadic over the last few years.” Besides painting, his company offers wall, trim and ceiling repair and basement restoration.
The pandemic has made some customers hesitant to have strangers in their homes, Nelson said, but there have also been periods when he’s so busy that it’s a challenge to keep up. Like Marron, Nelson said clients rarely have to wait more than two to three weeks for work to begin.
For larger projects, Ruddy of Terra Firma urges homeowners to “plan out well in advance.” It could be a year or more before the project starts, he said, and in the meantime, the building company can start putting plans to paper, mobilizing a team and ordering materials.
In addition to supply chain issues, Ruddy predicts there might be a point when high inflation compels customers to delay their projects.
“Most of the studies show that prices are probably not going to go down much,” Ruddy said. “Generally speaking for construction, once prices are at a certain point, it’s not like we’re going back to where they were five years ago. I think that ship has sailed.”
Christie Vogt is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Bugle.