NEW YORK — Glenn Bridges can tell that the market for home remodeling is picking up — when he's hanging cabinets or laying a floor in a customer's house, a next-door neighbor is bound to knock on the door and ask if he's available for another project.
They'll look at his handiwork and then say, "we have something we're interested in doing," Bridges says. "It's quite uplifting."
The collapse of the housing market decimated contractors like Bridges, most of whom are small businesses with just a handful of employees. But many are seeing business improve as home sales slowly recover and homeowners who had put off projects during the recession are feeling better about the economy. Still, the improvement is gradual and projects aren't typically as lucrative as they were back when homeowners were able to borrow against a large amount of equity in their houses.
Bridges was so optimistic about the remodeling market that in February that he restarted the contracting business he was forced to shut down in 2007. When he closed, he had to lay off his three full-time workers. But at the start of 2012, things began to change.
"I had people that needed work done and all in one weekend they said to me, ‘why don't you help me ... why don't you get active again?'" says Bridges, owner of Eagle Ridge Contractor Services in Naples, Fla. He had spent the intervening years working on projects with other business owners.
He's worked steadily since February, installing new kitchens and bathrooms that range from $10,000 to $25,000. He hired one full-time worker when he started his business again and says he may take on as many as three more if business is good enough. And he's optimistic that it will be, because he's getting more requests for bids on projects.
Bridges isn't alone. Sales of previously occupied homes are up more than 9 percent this year, and spending on residential construction has risen 16 percent. People who track housing trends see signs that remodeling is on the rise — and that the improvement will continue. Harvard University's Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity suggests that annual homeowner improvement spending could rise 12.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013, up from levels reached in the first three months of 2012.