Before Minnesota’s stay-at-home order was issued, Lori Schmidt and her husband had made up their minds to remodel their home in Blaine.
The couple recently signed a contract and put down a deposit with New Spaces, a Burnsville-based design build remodeling contractor.
COVID-19 safety was one factor in their choice of contractor, according to Schmidt.
“They [New Spaces] are taking COVID seriously,” she said, including an all-virtual-design process. “I talked to other remodelers and they were fine wanting to come in our home, measuring, some even wanting to shake hands. No!”
When the job requires workers to be in her home, they’ll be wearing face masks, as will Schmidt and her husband. “It will work well until everything is lifted,” she said.
With construction designated an essential industry, home remodeling projects can — and are — going forward. But some Minnesota builders are dramatically changing the way they operate, staging Zoom meetings instead of in-person consultations, having homeowners take their own photos and ramping up job-site safety protocols, from sanitizing doorknobs to limiting the number of subcontractors allowed inside the home at one time.
“Never in my 20-plus years in the industry did I imagine that we would be meeting with people virtually,” said Bjorn Freudenthal, homeowner adviser and vice president of business development for New Spaces.
Homeowners have a wide array of new concerns about remodeling.
“There’s fear and confusion,” he said. “Some want to move forward and view this [the coronavirus] as a speed bump. Some are saying, ‘Let’s pause. Life has been thrown upside down.’ We’re trying to meet people where they’re at.”
After the spring Parade of Homes and Remodelers Showcase were canceled due to the pandemic, New Spaces developed a virtual consultation process, including worksheets to help clients identify their “needs, wants and wishes.”
“It’s more collaborative,” Freudenthal said of working with homeowners without entering their homes. “Homeowners need to send pictures, walk around with their phone. We have to rely on technology.”
JKath Design Build + Reinvent, St. Paul, also has dramatically changed the way it works with clients.
In-person client meetings have been replaced by Zoom meetings, and samples are delivered directly to homes, without personal interaction, said Katie Kath, co-owner and designer.
There’s increased communication about what clients need to feel safe, Kath said.
“It feels like a lot more work,” said Kath. “I have a little bit of Zoom fatigue right now.”
For New Spaces, job-site protocols have changed dramatically, including more temporary barrier walls to create separation, stringent tool cleaning and allowing only one trade in a home at a time.
“We’ve tried to create an environment of client safety and vendor safety,” said Freudenthal. “People ask, ‘Is it even possible?’ The reality is, yes, if it’s planned properly.”
Safety isn’t a new challenge for builders, Kath noted.
“We’ve always been in the business of protecting ourselves and our clients — from lead, from asbestos,” she said. “That’s not on the level of the coronavirus, but we always protect the job site.”
Virtual home tours
Connecting with prospective clients also is more of a challenge in the coronavirus era.
Two years ago, when JKath had a home on the Remodelers Showcase tour, it led to 50 inquiries that resulted in 30 in-home consultations, said Kath.
After this year’s Remodelers Showcase was canceled, JKath had to look for another way to showcase the project it had planned to feature on the tour, a whole-house makeover in Edina.
“It was going to be one of the Dream Homes,” said Kath. Instead, the home was staged for a photo shoot.
New Spaces created virtual tours of the two homes it had planned to have open during the Remodelers Showcase, and invited people to take part in a Zoom happy hour during which they could ask questions. It plans to continue the series with other featured projects, a kitchen makeover on April 23, a lower-level makeover on April 30, and a kitchen/main level and master suite on May 7, all from 4 to 5 p.m. (Contact New Spaces, newspaces.com, to participate.)
For those who missed touring homes during the Parade of Homes and Remodelers Showcase, several contractors produced virtual tours of their featured homes that can be viewed on the Builders Association of the Twin Cities website, paradeofhomes.org (select “Has Virtual Tour”).
Amy Haugen, Minnetonka, took part in one of New Spaces’ virtual tours before deciding to proceed with a remodeling of her main level and creating a master suite, a project she’s been thinking about for 17 years.
While she’s concerned about the coronavirus, she was reassured by the safety protocols that have been put in place. “Everything is so uncertain,” she said. “But it took me so many years to decide, I need to just do it.”