Hurry up… and wait
Patience is required as demand continues to surge for home renovations and car repairs
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Want new kitchen cabinets installed?
You’ll likely be waiting until 2024, if you book with All Canadian Renovations now.
“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” said Curtis Breslaw, the company’s co-owner.
He’s not alone: wait times continue to surpass the norm in both the home-renovation and auto-repair industries.
Numerous vehicle-repair sites the Free Press spoke to described backlogs, with customers waiting one to three months on average for their cars to be fixed.
Breslaw’s company stopped advertising in March 2020. Still, business has been “non-stop,” he said.
“The way we’re booking, and the way the phone is ringing, I’m estimating another couple years like this,” Breslaw said. “It’s really hard to say.”
The boom began during the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days — people staying home, directing their spending from vacations and activities to house renovations.
Waiting for parts lost in the supply chain slowed some projects’ paces. Now, restrictions have lifted and logistics issues are fewer, but demand isn’t easing.
Some potential home buyers have stopped looking for new property. Instead, they’ve turned to renovating their current digs amid rising interest rates and higher house prices, said Lanny McInnes, president of the Manitoba Home Builders’ Association.
“I think the expectation is that demand (for home renovations) is going to continue to be high for the foreseeable future,” McInnes said.
“We’re seeing (demand) in pretty much every kind of project,” McInnes said, adding projects can range from updated kitchens to revamped bathrooms.
Customers are generally willing to wait, Breslaw said.
“We’re always prefacing it by saying, ‘Look, I’m happy to come and see you. I can’t see you for a few weeks, and just to let you know, we’re booked until the end of 2023 into early 2024,’” Breslaw said. “The majority of customers have just said, ‘That’s fine.’”
Pre-pandemic, projects would begin four to six months after an initial consultation, Breslaw said.
He’s having trouble finding staff, like many in the industry. He said he’s received more than 250 resumés over the last eight months, but people don’t show up for the interview, find another job or aren’t qualified.
“It certainly is a challenge,” Breslaw said.
Manitobans also continue to wait longer than usual for car repairs.
John Vernaus’s auto body shop has been so inundated with service calls, he’s had to buy extra plots of land to keep cars on. Some recent appointments were being booked in April.
“It’s actually fairly crazy right now. It hasn’t been like this ever,” Vernaus said recently. “I’ve been in business 42 years now; it’s never been this busy.”
It’s a high note to end a year of above-average collision and damage claims in Manitoba. Compared to an average year of around 103,000 claims, Vernaus said, Manitoba Public Insurance has gotten close to 140,000. A similar increase is happening at Vernaus Auto Body, where he said sales are up 42 per cent this year.
“Now we’re just full steam ahead — we’re just trying to get as much done as we can,” he said.
Vernaus did notice one slight dip in business during 2021, caused by worker shortages, as in the renovation industry.
Dan Roller, shop manager at Penner Auto Body, said earlier this year that he’d been searching for a mechanical technician for six months.
“Finding someone that we can count on that’s certified is not easy,” Roller said.
Theories abound to explain the spike in demand for auto repairs.
“This is usually our slow season, and we’ve been extremely busy,” said Kelsey Hopman, who orders parts and does administrative work for South Side Auto Body.
South Side is seeing vehicles that had been damaged earlier in the pandemic. Some people waited for restrictions to lift to get their cars fixed, Hopman said. Still, most customers’ rides have been damaged in the past half-year.
“There’s so many people that are getting in car accidents,” Hopman said.
Vernaus said his auto body shop, too, has seen more collisions, as well as vandalism claims, this year.
He also observed that the value of used vehicles has gone up, because car manufacturers are not producing as many new cars as they did pre-pandemic. In the past year or so, he said, MPI hasn’t been as quick to write off a vehicle after an accident. Likewise, more people are willing to pay more to repair their vehicles.
“Normally you go up to about 75 per cent of the value to fix a car. And Autopac, MPI will go a little higher. But I fix cars up to 150 per cent of their value now,” Vernaus said.
Whatever it is, Vernaus said it’s great for business, and he doesn’t see an end in sight.
“We’ve got a record year going here, and I don’t think it’s going to slow down for a couple of years, if it ever does. I don’t know,” he said.
— With files from Malak Abas
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.
Updated on Sunday, January 1, 2023 4:23 PM CST: Adds web headline