Fires and relocations keep Northern California contractors busy
Between the year after year of major wildfires and more San Francisco Bay Area urban dwellers moving to the suburbs in the coronavirus pandemic, North Bay firms that design, install and renovate high-end entertainment systems and outdoor spaces for entertaining report they are busier than ever — and almost too busy.
Windsor-based Johnson Pool & Spa is booked through August of next year for new construction, and half the coming winter is already full of jobs for renovations, according to Matt Perezchica, president and second-generation co-owner. Revenues have tripled in the past eight years, with 15% growth expected this year, reaching an estimated $11 million–$12 million.
“In the 32 years we’ve been in business, we’ve never been this busy,” he said. “Since COVID, our lead generation is up at least five-fold, and the worst part is that we just can’t hire a night shift.” That’s because of the noise from running excavation equipment and power tools.
Of the 40 or so pool inspections the company has conducted in the past month and a half, about three-quarters of them are for homeowners who are moving up from the Bay Area, some because their employers have told them they won’t be returning to the office until sometime next year.
Ryan Granko, owner of Sonoma-based high-tech-equipment installer Granko Inc., said his crews have been busy prepping secondary homes for primary use and for long-term commitments on short-term rentals.
“There is more demand demand from rental companies to increase AV and internet for homes that instead of renting for a week are now renting for a month or two months, allowing spouses to work remotely,” he said.
That means upgrading modems to the fastest models and setting up higher-speed wireless networks, usually with mesh WiFi that extends coverage outside.
“That’s the first thing people come to us for,” Granko said. Creating outdoor working spaces has been particularly in demand, he said.
That’s a common refrain Jeff Schween hears several times a week while wearing his hats as a Compass real estate agent specializing in higher-end areas of Sonoma County and as a partner in a home construction company that’s doing wildfire rebuilds.
“We’re seeing a real push to our marketplace from San Carlos or San Francisco, because people have gotten clearances from their employers where they do not have to be back in the office for a while,” Schween said. “Rather than spending $8,000 a month renting, they want to spend $5,000 a month to own.”
One San Carlos couple referred from an agent on the Peninsula a little over a month ago just moved into a Healdsburg home, moving from a 1,200-square-foot home to a 1,400-square-foot house with four bedrooms plus an office and a work-from-home space created in the garage.
Another couple, who had just moved from Boston to San Francisco in February, just put an offer on a home in the Skyfarm development of Santa Rosa when they got the go-ahead to work remotely, and dividing walls to add another office has been part of the sale conversation, Schween said.
Also coming into conversations during the escrow process are the ability to convert space in the existing home square footage to “Zoom rooms” for videoconferencing privacy or outfitting accessory buildings such as a pool cabana for multiple uses such as a spare bedroom and office, he said.
Need for more skilled technicians
But it’s not just transplants from higher-cost or denser parts of the Bay Area who are keeping the specialty trades busy with projects. Santa Rosa-based Summit Technology Group could use five to 10 more qualified technicians to handle all the home theater and audio installation and upgrade projects, some for those relocating to newly purchased Napa County estates and others for second homes that have become primary homes during the pandemic, according to owner and CEO Larry Dashiell.
These projects include more outdoor entertainment, such as rigging outdoor patios with large TVs for evening viewing, and beefing up data networking to handle videoconferencing and streaming entertainment.
“It puts a different stress on the company, because there are a lot more projects instead of larger projects,” he said. “That calls for more project management. For projects on big houses, we used to be able to have a lead superintendent then have those under them to run the job, but now we need to have qualified technicians for all these smaller jobs. It’s better than the alternative — not having work.”
Granko also has seen a surge in small jobs, versus the whole-house prewiring and equipment installations and service his company has thrived on with new construction.