You Can Still Get Renovation Estimates While Sheltering in Place

Social distancing doesn't have to stop you from hiring contractors to maintain your home, discuss future renovations or get started on a new project.

Sump pumps fail. Grass grows. Paint peels. Maintenance demands on your home don’t go dormant during social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines. The same goes for any dreams you have for renovation projects or new construction. Your local contractors have found ways to safely provide services through challenging circumstances, particularly consultations and estimates.

Virtual Estimates On the Rise

Nick Slavik of Nick Slavik Painting and Restoration Co. in New Prague, Minn., switched to online consultations several years ago, so he was ready when the COVID-19 pandemic changed business conditions.

With 27 years in the trade and 400-plus jobs each year, he has seen a lot and knows what to expect from most situations. From his perspective, estimating a job based on a few pictures snapped by the homeowner and a brief video or phone call has proven reliable for all but one or two jobs a year.

When a client expressed surprise about his process, Slavik draws a familiar parallel to help ease them into the idea: People often buy expensive items like a $1,700 TV online. “You’re already doing this on,” he says. “It showed up at your house 22 days later and you weren’t surprised by the process. It looks exactly like what you bought and people trust that.”

Other home renovation companies began offering virtual estimates to safely meet customer needs during the pandemic. Window manufacturer Pella Corporation, of Pella, Ia. announced a virtual appointment program in March 2020. During a 60-minute appointment, homeowners video chat with a Pella representative to review their door and window options, see product demos, choose colors and materials and get a quote. If the call ends in a purchase, Pella sends a rep to your home for a follow-up review.

Different Companies, Different Adaptations

Estimates aren’t the only service where companies devised safe alternatives to traditional face-to-face interactions. When APEX Construction Management in St. Paul, Minn. closed its showrooms, where clients typically made choices for their home-remodeling projects, because of COVID-19, it pivoted to digital technology. That meant video calls to screen-share 3-D designs and communicating with clients via APEX’s hub. APEX spokesman Tom Sweeney calls “like Instagram for design,” and views its role not as a process concession, but an enhancement.

“Using only words, it’s hard for the designer to really understand what homeowners are looking for,” Sweeney says. “If, on the other hand, the homeowner says, ‘Here is my Houzz idea book,’ and shares that idea book with the designer, that can be very helpful. It’s collaborative, it’s digital and you don’t have to be sitting at a kitchen table to do that.”

For some in the renovation industry, distancing is inherent in on-site consultations. Tadlock Roofing in Tallahassee, Fla. sends a representative to examine and shoot video of your roof, which is shared with the homeowner during an online meeting. There they discuss solutions and pricing, and make plans for completing the work.

Similarly, Jeff Rossen of Virginia-based Rossen Landscape, in the Washington D.C. area, says social distancing hasn’t altered his regular consultation procedures. “You can pretty much maintain social distancing without too much problem,” he explains. “A lot of people are very receptive to just meet with us in their yards and add the appropriate distance for a walk-through.” He also consults virtually with anyone hesitant to meet face-to-face. Rossen relies on well-constructed proposals with pictures and detailed scope-of-work descriptions, so both parties understand the bid and feel comfortable with the process.

The Way of the Future?

Although virtual client communication has been available for some time, contractors have been latecomers to the party. Slavik, the Minnesota-based painter, attributes some of that to trust issues. Clients feel more comfortable with someone who can look you in the eye. However, no one can discount how convenient and efficient virtual consultations can be for all involved.

The more clients get used to conducting business this way, the more they’ll likely see that trust can be built virtually. Reputable contractors, Slavik says, will have a seamless process in place. “They’ll ask for a couple of images to ship you back a super-detailed estimate and won’t be asking for another thing and another thing,” he says.

If you don’t get a good vibe from a particular contractor, Slavik offers a simple, tried-and-true solution: Get an estimate from another contractor.