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It’s been a tough year for crystal ball-gazing. I had some predictions for 2020 when the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, and none of them had anything to do with living through New York City’s biggest human tragedy in living memory (as of this writing the death toll in the city is more than four times that of 9/11). Despite my inability to foresee our current situation, I’m going to make a few predictions for the rest of the year. I won’t guess when we will safely return to business as usual, although I hope it’s very soon. But I do have a few thoughts about what the world will look like for residential contracting when that happens.

New Challenges for Contractors: Consumer Changes

In a post-COVID-19 world, we can expect some changes in consumer behavior, such as:

  1. Homeowners are going to be much more concerned about hygiene and much more aware of work practices in the home. Extreme hyper-vigilance will probably fade in time; in twelve months, people won’t wash each individual grape they bring home in vinegar solution. (True story: a friend of mine is doing this.) But they will probably remain conscious about viral transmission in a new way for a long time to come. That means they’ll be evaluating everyone who steps past their front door to see if they’re serious about safe work practices.
  1. Homeowners are going to be more conscious about home comfort issues. Being locked up in a house with kids and animals for days on end is rough; being locked up with the whole gang in a house that’s too hot or cold is much worse. So far, the nation has been lucky that stay-at-home orders have coincided with shoulder season. But as it starts to warm up, many Americans will suddenly realize they need to get that air circulation problem fixed — fast.
  1. Some homeowners are going to have a whole new interest in indoor air quality. Why? One reason among many: 25 million Americans, or about one in 12, have asthma. Since indoor air is typically much worse than outdoor air, an extended home stay may create new problems for them. The result? People with asthma try to preserve their lungs from COVID-19 — and suffer other breathing complications as a result. And then there are the millions of other people who will be newly sensitized to dust, odors and mold issues in their homes. For contractors who help diagnose and solve IAQ issues, this is a huge opportunity.

In many ways, the outlook for contractors when the world returns to normal is going to be tough. Unless the economy rebounds immediately, consumers are going to be very careful with the cash they have. When they’re not deferring purchases, they’ll be bargain shopping. In this environment, many firms are going to struggle to survive, and the industry is likely to see real consolidation.

New Opportunities for Quality, Health-Conscious Contractors

On the upside, high-quality contractors — like our Pearl Network Contractors — have some real opportunities to survive and grow, even in this tough landscape. Consider the following:

  • Contractors are already supposed to adhere to health and safety protocols, from washing hands to disinfecting equipment. Some of these protocols are OSHA requirements and some are just best practices. Unfortunately, not everyone follows these guidelines in real life. At a time when public concern about health is at a peak never seen before, contractors who can clearly demonstrate their commitment health and safety, for example by actually following their own protocols, could gain a real market advantage.
  • Contractors with a whole-home, problem-solving approach (as opposed to box-swapping), and those who address indoor air quality issues, will find an expanded customer base: newly health and comfort-conscious homeowners with a whole new appreciation for the value these kinds of contractors bring.
  • The price conversation is going to be difficult: customers will be looking for bargains and low prices. But there will also be real opportunities for high-quality contractors in this environment. The long-term savings from high-efficiency, properly installed equipment will be attractive to many homeowners. More importantly, the idea that an investment will have a payback at time of sale because it is certified will have resonance for many price-conscious consumers, particularly if a real estate slump drives concerns about resale values.

Over the next few months, Pearl will continue to focus on strategies and tools to support our Network members. Be sure to check our COVID Resource Center often for the latest industry news and updates. And if you have ideas about what else we can do, please feel welcome to share them via email.

Thank you for all you do,

Robin