Saturday, January 17, 2009

Renovators paint uneven picture of job prospects

Some are keeping busy as homeowners fix up their houses, rather than risking a move, but others see 'horrendous' year ahead

In Bruce Resnell's home, near Eglinton Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway, the new year has started with a whimper. His days are quiet - he reads the newspaper, or takes afternoon walks - but mostly, he just searches for something to do.

The 75-year-old general contractor doesn't want it to be this way. He relies on his Mister Renovator business for income, but in October that business started drying up.

The impact of a sputtering economy on home-renovation contractors is uneven: Some are still filling order books as homeowners go ahead with long-delayed renovations rather than risk the sagging real estate market.

But at Mr. Resnell's home-based business, contractors are cold-calling him in a bid to land work. His almost-blank work calendar offers them little.

"This is the first time in, I guess, five years that I haven't been booked two months in advance," Mr. Resnell said. "With everything that's going on, I bet you I don't do 50 per cent of what I did last year."

To help boost the economy in general, and the construction and building products industries in particular, federal officials have reportedly considered introducing a refundable tax credit for home renovations.

In theory, it's an incentive for homeowners to spend money that would mostly stay in Canada. In reality, workers say it could help stabilize a shaky-looking year for hundreds of Toronto labourers, contractors and business owners.

"It has a ripple effect through a large part of the economy," said carpenter Dennis Bryant of Bryant Renovations.

"I know that there are quite a lot of renovators who are not working right now. It would be better off if they were working."

The value of building permits in Toronto fell to $694.5-million for the month of November, according to Statistics Canada. That's well down on the $824.2-million in October, and $1.13-billion last July.

That's part of the economic downturn that has changed renovation trends: Where customers were lining up for aesthetic improvements, they now want extensions and renovations to spare them from moving house.

"We already know residential is going to almost slow down completely. It's going to be horrendous for people," said tile setter Dino Scarola.

His business expects a 30-per-cent increase in business this year, but that's due to a thick roll of commercial and government contracts. Without them, Mr. Scarola said the coming year would be grim.

Back in Mr. Resnell's home, the success of the past two years may not be enough to counter what's ahead. In the last recession, the slump lasted a year, and then it took two more years to climb out of the doldrums.

"I'm worried," he said. "It's not good for me to be sitting at home. Besides that, I don't know what to do with myself. I'm going crazy."

No comments: