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The walls were closing in, so Lori Green brought them down.

“We were tired of a house we didn’t love,” Green said. For a decade, she and her husband debated how and when to renovate the outdated kitchen and dysfunctional mudroom in their Northbrook home. Their COVID-19-induced lockdown in the spring of 2020 pushed them over the edge.

Rising home values ​​and a pandemic-propelled appreciation of being at home are fueling a home improvement boom, despite COVID complications.

Designers, contractors, and homeowners in northern Illinois have adjusted their expectations and budgets to account for the availability and erratic prices of labor, fixtures, and building materials during the pandemic. Meanwhile, rapid appreciation in real estate values ​​has reaffirmed many homeowners’ commitment to their current neighborhoods and homes. And like the Greens, many homeowners would rather stay put than try their luck in a rapidly changing and unforgiving real estate market.

Single family Home building permit of all types were 41% higher in August 2021 than in August 2020 in the Chicago area, according to census data. Permitting activity jumped 31% in Racine, Wis., and 20% in Milwaukee over the same 12-month period.

Nationwide, single family home improvement permits have increased 30% over the past two years, according to Naperville-based building board maker Omnis.

Owners must navigate an obstacle course to convert their visions into reality. Irregular availability of materials and labor made projects unpredictable. In October, the National Association of Home Builders reported that 28% of home remodelers were raising prices “significantly” and 57% were raising prices “slightly”. Still, remodeling activity shows no signs of slowing down, according to the NAHB quarterly survey.

Igor Jokanovic, president of Chicago-based Arete Renovators, said the usual choreography of sourcing materials had turned into a traffic jam. “We may have to do three or four times the pricing with different styles and sizes of cabinets, in the customer’s wish list, and it takes longer to design and costs more on our end,” he said. -he declares. Jokanovic and other Chicago-area contractors report that standard renovation costs have increased by about 25% over the past two years.

Manufacturers, professionals, and outsourcing teams are constantly delaying and reassigning assignments related to COVID-19 infections and quarantines, and global supply chain issues are delaying manufacturing and delivery of everything from concrete to refrigerators.

Even seasoned owners need to align project budgets and timelines with flexibility and last-minute changes, not the traditional march of project milestones. Today, homeowners buy and save tile, cabinetry, flooring, and other materials before planning the job.

“From the beginning, we set an expectation that you have the critical components on hand so your project doesn’t drag on for months,” said John Yun, a designer at Mr. Floor, Kitchen & Bath, a general contractor. based in Skokie. , and President of the Chicago Midwest Chapter of the National Kitchen & Bath Association.

Arete began stocking cabinets and materials for upcoming client projects. Other contractors advise homeowners to convert their garages, dining rooms or hallways into material storage areas.

Designers and contractors say patience and flexibility are key.

“Everything is a little more complicated right now,” Nancy Jacobson of Kitchen Design Partners told Northbrook.

“You have to wait months instead of weeks” for materials, said Elgin resident Paul Bednar. “Cabinets, counters and appliances – all of those things have been delayed.”

A seasoned investor whose latest landmark renovation to a late Victorian home won an award from the Chicago Paint & Coatings Association for its meticulously restored facade, Bednar is now immersed in renovating his own kitchen.

He used the downtime to refine electrical, plumbing and trim upgrades. Now a veteran of two pandemic renovation projects, Bednar said the current conditions hammer home a classic lesson. “Don’t wait until the last minute to make salable improvements,” he said.

Like other owners, Bednar had to constantly choose between the ideal and the expedient: use what is available to do the job or wait for the best long-term solution? When the local paint store ran out of the ceiling paint shade that matched the rest of the ceilings in his home, Bednar decided to wait — for nine months, ultimately — for the right paint to become available.

Availability and delivery issues add additional checkpoints to the project schedule, Jacobson said. Homeowners should be prepared to trade in a second choice if their most wanted fixture or fixture is not available. And when materials are delivered well in advance, owners should immediately inspect the goods so they can report any damages within the allotted time, she said. And owners must collaborate with contractors on every new arrival, delay and notification.

“You have to work with a super-organized contractor,” Jacobsen said, including written documentation of every step of the job, no matter how small, and assigning a staff member to track incremental progress so teams are ready to go. work as soon as possible. that the materials are in hand.

Contracts now include price adjustment clauses. In order not to be blinded by price trends that drive higher costs, owners can track commodity prices on industry sites and check manufacturers’ product catalogs to see when items might be available, said Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of New York. referral service.

Near North resident Jill Lowe finished renovating a condo she had just purchased just days before the building closed in March 2020. She and her husband moved in hours after the new floors were completed. His early-pandemic project fell through when the contractor discovered that an earlier renovation had neglected to update outdated wiring, as required by code. Lowe helped make up for lost time by keeping pre-made components for her custom closet, though she kept her top pick of kitchen cabinets.

Technical competence is half the equation for successful collaboration with an entrepreneur, she said; the other half is communication. “Speaking your language is terribly important,” Lowe said. “It’s how well you understand each other.”

Despite the headaches, the owners who decided to stay are determined to personalize their own style, not for potential resale, the designers say. “The white and gray kitchen is less popular than it used to be,” Jacobsen said. “Now people want texture and color – blue or green cabinets or kitchens. They don’t want the formula. They want it to be different.”

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