The arrival of spring foreshadows a blooming of business in residential real estate — and not just for Realtors. As listings sprout, many designers and builders see demand peak at this time of year, with the high volume reflecting the recovery of the real estate sector. Contractors and suppliers said they are encouraged by the uptick, but also mindful of the need for long-term growth.
“The biggest time in the market is in the spring, when people get out of the holiday mode and start to focus on projects, whether it’s new construction, renovations or additions,” said Pete Deane, principal and CEO of home-design firm Deane Inc., in an interview at the firm’s Stamford 1267 E. Main St. showroom. “A lot of times, they want to be working on these projects during these warmer months.”
Market for improvements
In its latest annual survey of about 100,000 people who use its website to scout renovation vendors, Houzz found first-time homebuyers spent nearly $34,000 last year, a 22 percent increase from 2015.
Louis Van Leeuwen, CEO of Greenwich Construction and the new kitchen and cabinetry brand Curry & Kingston, said he sees auspicious trends for his businesses. Greenwich Construction is working on three projects worth several hundred thousand dollars in Greenwich.
“There are a lot more renovations lately and home construction is up across the country,” Van Leeuwen said.
Express Kitchens, which has locations in Bridgeport and Norwalk and will soon open a showroom in Stamford, also sees an increase in business during the temperate months. “Generally the spring and fall are the busiest times,” said Karen Roy, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. It is the same story for Karen Bradbury, whose Closet & Storage Concepts has a showroom and manufacturing facility in Norwalk. “We are extremely busy right now. I am on the road almost constantly,” Bradbury said. “The size of the jobs we are doing are bigger. We are doing a lot more work for designers and builders.” Davin Therriault, owner of Kitchen Cabinet Resurfacing, which has locations in Bridgeport and Milford, said he does not see much business from new construction, with most of the demand coming from kitchen remodeling.
“I’m not seeing a lot of new houses right now … but from what I understand, it’s happening,” Therriault said. Many customers look to make renovations to boost their homes’ market value.
“A lot of clients will come to us and talk about whether they want to make that investment to assure that their home looks more up to date or roll the dice and have an outdated kitchen and hope a consumer will come through the house wanting to take on that project,” Deane said. “That’s a very personal decision people need to make.”
As the residential market has recovered, builders and designers aim for growth that can withstand future fluctuations.Brendon Southard, owner of Grays Bridge Farm and Earth Products and Delgado Stone Distributors in Brookfield, said builders now exercise more caution. Many contractors who once built five homes at a time start a new build only after the sale of their previous project.
But he sees a stable outlook for his businesses, with sales of stone and masonry products holding steady. “What I see more than ever is people are fixing what they have and making it better,” Southard said. “After five or seven years, people get bored and want to change something. Instead of moving, they are making improvements. That’s been their satisfaction of the change.”
Deane described 2016 as an “exceptional” year for his firm, which also has a showroom in downtown New Canaan. It took on about 120 projects, reflecting a steady increase in its workload in recent years. A few key decisions have contributed to much of the company’s success, Deane said. About five years ago, the firm rebranded itself from Kitchens by Deane to simply Deane to emphasize its custom-cabinetry expertise beyond the kitchen. About a decade ago, Deane changed its business model to offer customers a “Deane Experience,” which consists of a designer, project-design manager and field supervisor for each project.
“It gives them a level of comfort that if the designer is sick, somebody else is available to answer questions,” Deane said. “There’s a level of expertise that each person brings to the project.” Cindy Bernier, owner of Connecticut Closet & Shelf in Norwalk, also expressed optimism about her business’ prospects.
“I’ve seen the ebb and flow over the past 30 years that we’ve been in business — this is a good year for us … (and) I think a lot of that correlates to the housing market,” Bernier said. “We have a lot of people moving into houses that don’t have their closets done.”