Renovating in the midst of Covid-19: Should we do it?

Spring is the time when homeowners begin to take on renovation projects and upgrades. But with the current situation of self-isolating and social distancing, is it safe or smart to have strangers working on your property? And should construction be considered an ”essential” business?

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In these unparalleled times that we find ourselves in, the American people are joining together to fight and severely restrain our normal daily living in order to help stop the rapid rise of the virus spreading. We are being told by the CDC and our governments the need to isolate, stay home and limit our social activity to brief outings only to purchase essentials such as food and staples, and it’s the sacrifice we must all make to avert a national health crisis that can destroy lives and bring our health system down to its’ knees. We’ve all heard and read about it and you can visit the CDC’s web site for updates.

State and local governments have made the difficult and painful decision to shut down businesses and for the most part, they have complied, and have done so graciously, without complaining or whining about the repercussions that are sure to follow. Workers are being laid off wondering how they will survive without a paycheck and many small businesses may not be able to come back from this shutdown.

The mandate to close down businesses across the nation other than essential services also includes construction, both commercial and residential, as they are very much out in the public and do work in close proximity to each other. It Makes sense given what we have been told.

But then, something happened.

Enter the lobbyists for the Building Industry, one of the more powerful lobbying groups in the nation, who immediately rallied together to pressure – pardon me, persuade – state governments to deem construction as an “essential” business.

And it’s working.

In this article from the Sacramento Bee, the reporter shares how the restrictions were lifted on the building industry as a whole, where the industry is citing it as necessary to prevent another crisis as seen in the “Great Depression” which began in late 2008 and went on for several years. They simply cannot afford to go through that again and they need to keep “the engines humming”.

Well, other small businesses also cannot afford the loss and they need to keep their engines humming to survive, but they understand the severity and need to protect themselves and their employees and are abiding by the mandate. Back in 2008 and the years that followed, businesses and individuals who suffered during that era slowly and painfully made their way back, as did those of us who loss large portions of our investments. None of us were immune during those dark times as every sector was getting hit. But come back we did, and we came back even stronger including the building industry.

In a recent webinar I attended hosted by Meyers Research which provides marketing data on housing trends, the moderator described how the building industries’ lobbying groups are working earnestly to petition state governments around the nation to relax restrictions in building and renovating in an effort to keep everyone working and moving forward. Really???

Here’s the problem I have: The restrictions being lifted in response to the lobbyists go against everything the government and the CDC are telling us and mandating other businesses to do, and in my opinion, it is both irresponsible and careless to allow them to continue to work. That’s governments talking out of both sides of their mouth, giving different advice to one group over another. But money talks and when you have millions of dollars given to politicians by special interest groups, no matter what sector, they usually if not always, win. But who is looking after small businesses? Who’s is lobbying for them?

Don’t get me wrong. I agree we need to get businesses and industries back to work as soon as possible to avert an economic depression, but at the expense of lives and our communities and to the exclusion of everyone else? It’s in the very initial phases of this pandemic that we find ourselves in, where we all need to sacrifice some of our freedoms and jobs to saves ourselves and others from a deadly disease no one knows a whole lot about it. At least this is what we are being told and I have no reason to believe otherwise.

Listening to the daily White House Task Force speak on their struggles to respond adequately to bring this “invisible enemy” under control is quite sobering. In a recent interview that Dr. Mehmet Oz conducted with Ian Lipkin, MD, the director for the Center For Infection and Immunity, Columbia University and the medical director and consultant for the movie “Contagion”, and known also as “the virus hunter” is himself ill with the virus. In his description of the disease, he related that he has no idea how or where he contracted it, but that it is “ the most transmissible disease he has ever seen” and that it is “community-acquired” emphasizing the need for self-isolation. That says a lot coming from someone whose life is dedicated to finding cures and vaccines for viruses and infections.

And this gets me back to my point of concern. It’s community-driven and construction workers are not immune to unknowingly carrying the virus. If builders and developers choose to send their workforce to continue working on commercial projects where the public is not directly harmed, who’s to say that those workers who are supposedly practicing social distancing, aren’t unknowingly taking back the virus to their families and communities?

Residential construction in particular, where strangers you don’t know anything about much less their hygiene, come onto your property, touching surfaces and working in close proximity to each other potentially leaving behind the virus and exposing your family is simply dangerous at this time. You’re defeating your efforts to protect yourself and your family in an attempt to reduce the spread and flatten that curve.

I’ve walked my neighborhood the last several days where construction workers are working on new constructions and I see absolutely no social distancing, but do see sharing of tools and working in close proximity to each other. It can’t always be avoided nor do the workers seem to be concerned. And given this mandate to isolate and stay away from each other I have to question the gardeners who are out in full force keeping their customers’ yards neat and beautiful but what are they leaving behind? Are you or your animals going to somehow pick up some sort of remanent in which no one can say definitively, yes or no?

This is simply not the time to begin those projects. It’s risky and I for one have three major outdoor and indoor projects we were to start this Spring but will be waiting to start until mid-summer providing all is well.

And don’t think I’m being ridiculous. What’s ridiculous is this toilet paper frenzy that has left us with shortages and scratching our heads, because of this “herding mentality” where one starts, sees and fears, then suddenly there’s a manic run on toilet paper.

I do hope and pray that by late spring / early summer, we will all be able to breathe and live a little more freely and with much more gratitude for the life and freedoms we have all taken for granted, and use this experience to come back stronger and greater, humbled by the very notion that we are not, after all, in control.

But we can and do have have the capacity to make a difference despite the odds no matter the challenges ahead. And yes, we’re all in this together so let’s ALL do what’s right so that we can finally see some light through this difficult and challenging time.

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