Can't travel, will renovate

Friday 17 Jul 2020

At the start of the pandemic, home renovator and designer Sarah Tilley was worried her business would go bust, thinking people would hold off renovating and spending money while the virus was raging.

But then her phone started ringing, and never seemed to stop.

"People are calling us non-stop to get quotes, to install new kitchens, extra bedrooms, formal offices or even do the whole house because they can't travel overseas or to some states in Australia, so they're using their travel money to renovate instead," Ms Tilley, owner of Mi Designer, said.

"We have clients who would have been spending money travelling to Europe for the summer or visiting family in South Africa, who have now decided to put that money into their homes instead.

"A ski trip later this year is off, so clients are calling and saying, 'I want a new kitchen.'"

Avid travellers Justin and Nikki Coss have also called in to get a new bedroom and study installed after their family trip booked for April was forcibly cancelled due to the border shutdown.

"We booked a couple of weeks' family trip to WA to visit friends, explore Margaret River and dive with the wild sharks, but with the border being closed, we were not able to go," Mr Coss said.

"So we decided to pour that $40,000 or so that we were going to spend travelling, to do a bit of renovation.

"We travel a fair bit generally and we try to get away as often as possible. Last year, we went to East Timor and Vietnam in Easter, went skiing in Canada and chased the northern lights in Yellowstone in December last year."

Welcome boost

While the housing construction industry continued to wobble as new housing projects got cancelled, the boom in home renovation was a welcome boost for the sector.

Builders who were losing contracts at the start of the pandemic said they have seen a surge in new work, fuelled by homebound travellers.

"We normally get three or more inquiries each week before COVID-19, but in April and May, no one was calling," said Trent Clark, owner of Red Cedar Construction.

"So we probably lost about $1.6 million worth of work at the start, so I had to let go some of my staff.

Sarah Tilley, left, with Trent Clark and Lucy Ward at a client's home. Ms Tilley says a boom in home office renovation is being fuelled by Zoom envy. 

"But now, we're inundated with inquiries and new work has picked up so I've been able to pull my guys back."

Driven by Zoom envy

Ms Tilley said her work pipeline has doubled since April and expected revenue to grow twice as fast this year.

"We're now looking to bring in more staff as we feel it's a good opportunity for us to pick up some pretty amazing talents who were let go," she said.

"At the moment, we're getting so much work, we're hardly keeping up with our current projects."

With most people continuing to work from home, demand for formal home offices has risen strongly, said Ms Tilley.

"People want home offices set up in a more permanent way, not just a desk and dining room chair but proper formal studies with built-in joinery and beautiful desks," she said.

"I think there's a bit of Zoom envy, or Zoom competition going on. Probably because a lot of people were suddenly forced to show what's inside their living room and people were paying attention to what's their background.

"So we've really seen a big pick-up in converting bedrooms into home offices especially from lawyers, doctors or consultants who need a professional backdrop for their Zoom calls."

- Nila Sweeney