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Recession means more do-it-yourself home improvement projects for the 109’s homeowners

Carrie Wall hasn’t had doors on her cabinets for six months.

She and her husband took the doors down to paint them and the Walls haven’t gotten around to finishing the project.

Wall, 36, moved into her home 18 months ago knowing it would be a huge time commitment and a great deal of work, starting on move-in day.

The Walls’ house, on the 3900 block of Lynncrest Drive, was built in 1955 and she said it needed a lot of work when she, her husband, Kenny, and their two sons moved in.

The house in Tanglewood needed a new refrigerator, dishwasher, water heater and air conditioning unit (both chosen after an amazing Ecosmart review we read). These the Walls replaced right away.

But most of the cosmetic repairs like the Walls’ planned new kitchen will have to wait.

She hopes to have the cabinet doors back up sometime soon, but the kitchen could still use a facelift, including new countertops, for which the Walls simply don’t have the cash lying around.

The Walls are much like many families in the 109. They aren’t taking on big repair or renovation projects. They’re taking it one small project at a time.

Lazaro Pedraza, store manager at Ace Hardware on South Hills Drive, said he’d seen a string of people who were doing the same.

Pedraza, 29, said though the projects had gotten smaller, cosmetic renovations had not stopped altogether.

“I think since the recession, everyone is—instead of doing a big project—they do maybe one room at a time,” Pedraza said.

Even during a period of economic downturn homeowners still find the funds to keep their homes beautiful.

Homeowners choose repairs over vacations

Pedraza said he thought many families might choose to do home renovation projects during the time in which they might normally take a vacation. He said during the recession many people aren’t going out of town, so they use the time to renovate their homes.

Pedraza, who has worked at the hardware store for 11 years, also said he has seen an increase in customers doing necessary repairs themselves rather than hire a contractor, but many who visit his store have always done their own repairs. Specifically, many shoppers have begun doing their own plumbing because of the high cost of hiring a plumber.

The aisle that was home to plumbing supplies was, indeed, running a little low on stock. Several pegs and baskets had been emptied of product.

Pedraza’s observations were supported by a press release distributed by the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. The report stated that the housing renovations market had faced a three-year decline.

The center releases a quarterly report projecting the expected expenditures for the upcoming quarter and the three subsequent quarters. This release reported projections for the quarter beginning in January 2011.

According to the release, expenditures are expected to increase in the first half of 2011.

As Pedraza observed, the report reflected a three-year trend of lowered expenditures for home repairs as homeowners completed repairs or renovations themselves and put off some unnecessary repairs for later.

But even a recession couldn’t keep homeowners in the 109 and surrounding areas from giving their homes a facelift.

Though it was not a necessary repair, Chris Bellomy visited the store to buy supplies to replace the flooring in his home on the 5600 block of Wonder Drive just across the street from the 109 in neighboring 76133.

He did his shopping in the 109 because of a 20 percent off sale at Ace Hardware, and what he considers the store’s superior service.

Since Bellomy, 45, lost his job in July, doing his own home repair was his only option.

Bellomy described himself as “an IT, computer-type guy,” but he said he didn’t mind doing repairs for himself because it gives him a sense of satisfaction to do the job himself.

Home projects give ‘a sense of ownership’

“There’s definitely a sense of ownership you get from putting your labor into something that you do not get from handing over a check,” he said.

He described the feeling as something his parents always seemed to understand — that a sense of satisfaction comes from completing a repair himself.

It’s something akin to the loss of many stores like the Ace Hardware that pride themselves on their customer service.

“I miss neighborhood stores where folks in the store knew their neighbors,” he said, “Something has been lost in our bottomless quest for the low price,” he said.

Homeowners have lost more than that in this quest. They have also lost the opportunity to complete projects themselves in a timely manner.

He said before losing his job, he had the money but not the time to do repairs himself.

“If I had the money and didn’t have the time, I probably would have been better off hiring someone to do this for us,” Bellomy said. “ If the floor actually ends up being in there flat and straight and doesn’t trip people then I’ll be happy, but I’m not sure it’ll be anywhere near as good as if a professional did it.”

Before the recession began, Bellomy said, he hired a contractor to resolve plumbing issues in his home. He said he was fortunate to be able to afford it at the time. He thought the repairs his home had needed would have been beyond his ability.

Like many homes in the 109, Bellomy’s was built more than 50 years ago, and at some point repairs are needed to fix issues that arise from old pipes, appliances or air conditioning units.

Some homeowners purchase repair warranties

All are repairs covered under a home repair warranty sold by American Home Shield. Carrie Wall said her family initially paid out of pocket to make these replacements, but has since then purchased a warranty to cover the cost of future repairs.

According to the American Home Shield website, the company sells warranties to cover plumbing, air conditioning, ovens, water heaters and electrical systems, among other items and systems that commonly wear out with age.

Boyd Avenue resident Becky McKenzie, 52, said she also purchased a warranty for her home built in the 1940s.
McKenzie, who moved into her University West home in May, has already had to replace some items. She said having the warranty saved her from paying out of pocket to hire expensive contractors. She compared the warranty to dental insurance.

“If you’re buying an older home in an older neighborhood,” she said. “And you don’t get that, and you’re not a multimillionaire, then that’s a big mistake.”

Still, some 109 residents like Robyn Walton of Country Club Circle still prefer to hire contractors rather than rely on the purchased warranties. She said she would rather be able to choose her own contractor rather than use one approved by the agency.

For both her private residence and a rental property Walton, 52, owns, she has hired the same contractor, but that doesn’t stop her from completing projects herself.

Carrie Wall shared the same philosophy. Both Wall and Walton said their families often preferred to complete projects themselves.

Wall said her family often gets distracted in the middle of one project and begins a second. They have to do their renovations on vacations and in spare time, so during the busy times in between weekends and vacations, it’s easy to get excited about and start a new project without completing the last one.

“We’ve had no kitchen cabinets, but we’ve painted the den,” she said.

The home needs a lot of work and the Walls plan to replace countertops in the kitchen and replace all old carpeting in the house with hardwood flooring as well as find a new place for the washer and dryer currently located across from her refrigerator.

The Walls don’t have the money at this time to hire contractors to redo their entire house, so she’s thankful they like to do projects themselves, Carrie Wall said.

“It’s a good thing we’re not going anywhere and we’re not on a time limitation,” she said.

Residents of the 109 might be doing fun remodeling projects one piece at a time, but they haven’t let harsher economic times keep them from recreating the look of their homes.

For many necessary repairs, many residents simply call in reinforcements either on their own or through a home warranty.

Like the economy as a whole, it may take a while, but eventually, homes in the 109 may be rebuilt as they always have been. Even if it is one kitchen cabinet at a time.

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