To stay current with the local home building and remodeling industry, every August we invite a select group of local professionals—with expertise in everything from building and landscaping to supply materials—to sit down with us and share what’s on their mind. This year, members tell us how they got started in the industry and give an update on how business was this past year. We also learn about emerging products and trends and how this summer’s dry weather affected landscapes across the region.
The editorial advisory board of Home Remodeling includes: Rich Bryant, vice president of Cape Associates; Rich Capen, co-owner of Capewide Enterprises; Chris Joyce, owner of Joyce Landscaping companies; Rob McPhee, president of McPhee Associates and Tony Shepley, owner of Shepley Wood Products.
Question 1: How did you get started in the building/ landscaping industry?
Tony Shepley: My reason for getting involved was a love of trucks and equipment from the time I could crawl. I had a passion for the scent of fresh-cut lumber, and a desire to help people out with one of their most important investments: their home. And here I am.
Rob McPhee: My family. I grew up working in [the building industry]—a few hours a day. I got dropped off mid-morning to a job site with a lunchbox, and did whatever I was told to do: picking up trash or digging a hole, pulling nails out of lumber so no one would step on it—whatever needed to be done. That was my introduction to it.
Tony: Were you given a choice?
Rob: I was always into trucks, and my son reminds me of myself. He does the same thing—nonstop building things, cutting down trees. It was my own wish. I saw it as an opportunity.
Rich Capen: Well, I grew up on the Cape in a family business in a totally different industry. My great-grandfather started a jewelry store in Falmouth. I was not going to go into my family’s business or come back to Cape Cod. But, after college, I told my father my plans, and he was none too pleased. He enticed me to come back to the Cape to work in the family business, which I did because of the money and to make him happy. But then they closed the business and I switched careers. I decided—wanting to raise my family here on the Cape—I’d look for something here. I studied industrial psychology and business in college; human resources was the actual [degree]. During college, I worked at a couple construction jobs and was always interested in building.
I met my business partner Joao [Junqueira], who is a builder [that was building a house for me at the time], and I expressed some interest in the industry. He was talking to me about septic [services] and he thought that was a great business idea. And I thought it sounded like a great idea and the rest is history. So, we grew the septic service side of the business [together], and continued to build.
Rich Bryant: I got involved in the industry when I was in high school. I got a job with a general contractor, and I was introduced to building from the ground up—sweeping, picking up trash, nailing down subflooring, and eventually getting into more intricate facets of the industry. From high school, I went to college for building/ construction. After that I went back to school for civil engineering, before coming down to the Cape. I got a job with an engineering firm in Orleans and worked as a structural engineer for five years. I collaborated on a lot of jobs with Mike Cole, [president] at Cape Associates. After five years, I created a niche for myself in his company and from there I started to get more into construction, while maintaining my daily use of engineering [skills].
Home Remodeling: What made you want to work for Cape Associates?
Rich Bryant: I wanted to get back to the sticks and bricks and the nuts and bolts of being able to build, manage the building projects, and see these awesome projects evolve from nothing to a beautiful, finished product and then turning that over to the customer.
Chris Joyce: I started as a kid, cutting grass in my neighborhood (in West Hyannis Port) to make some extra money. I really liked it. So when I went to school for one year for business accounting,
and I knew it wasn’t going to be for me, I transferred to UMASS and got a bachelor’s degree in forestry. I would come home on the weekends from school and work landscaping. That was 21 years ago.
Home Remodeling: What did you like about landscaping?
Chris: I liked that fact that you can show up to a place and it can be a mess and you can have a great impact. You can get instant results. We started out doing maintenance. My favorite part is the softscaping, which is dealing with the plant material. I call it the frosting.
Question 2: In late July, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard released its Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) report, which anticipates home improvement and repair spending will continue to grow nationwide, reaching 8 percent by the start of 2017, well above the 4.9 percent historical average. Do you see this trend applying to the local landscape in the coming year?
How was business this year?
Tony: Yes, we are fortunate to be in a desirable market where real estate appreciates and homeowners are happy to invest. There is a lot of pent up demand that was bottled up by the recession and people want to make up for lost time in fixing up their homes. Between deferred maintenance coming due and postponed home improvement coming back on line, demand is good.
Rich B.: Right now, we are seeing that 2016 has been a good year. We are seeing a lot of spending on projects that have been deferred over the years. A lot of smaller scale projects—bathrooms, kitchens, exterior projects with windows and doors, siding and roofing. Our small projects divisions have been quite busy from Provincetown to Falmouth. We are still seeing a great influx of daily inquiries regarding those types of projects, while still getting a fair amount of larger scale building projects. We are seeing a larger volume of smaller to mid-scale projects.
Rich C.: Do you think that’s because people are nervous, so people don’t want to get involved in the larger projects?
Rich B.: I don’t know what it is. We are seeing a lot of smaller additions and renovations, and carving out space in basements and attics, making space for visiting guests and children and grandchildren. I think they are spending their money strategically based on their budget. People are doing their research and spending smartly. Inevitably they are doing projects. I think everybody that has a tool belt and a truck has been busy this year.
Rob: There are a lot of old houses on the Cape that have just deferred maintenance. The Cape attracts people from all over the world, let alone the country and state, and there is a lot of wealth that comes here and enjoys it for a short season. But, there are also a lot of average families that have
had property on the Cape for a long time, and they want to use them for a longer season, or they want today’s amenities in them. Or, like Rich [Bryant] said, the exteriors—you know you can only put it off for so long before you start to have leaks and issues on the inside.
Rich C.: I am seeing the same thing with the smaller projects. There was a greater influx of calls this year with people who had just purchased homes and the house is 30 or 40 years old. People are not fixing things up to sell because houses are being sold so fast. Right now, three of my larger jobs I am working on are just that—somebody who has just purchased a home.
Rich B.: I think because interest rates have been extremely low, it’s giving people the ability to get some extra cash, by way of refinancing, to put into their house to do these projects. I’m sure that has injected quite a bit into the economy.
Home Remodeling: What about landscaping, Chris?
Chris: So 2016, from the end of the winter to the middle of July, was extremely busy. We had a bunch of large projects and a bunch of smaller projects.
We saw a traditional summer slowdown, which I never saw last year because the winter pushed the [landscaping season] out so far. Last year, we never slowed because we had a much later start; we went straight through August. We’ve seen a slowdown [this year] from the middle of July to end of mid-August, and then we’ll get busy again. For us, 2016 has been a phenomenal year. June was the best month we’ve ever had.
Tony: It’s been crazy with no rain days all summer.
Chris: It is crazy. Even in March, we came out of the gates flying. Because of the weather, the landscapes needed more babysitting. But that’s part of the marketplace. When it’s a drought, we can’t shut down. You have to work. We don’t have that option. We had to figure out how to get around it. It took a lot of water and a lot of manpower and hours, but it all worked out.
Home Remodeling: Did you see more people requesting irrigation systems?
Chris: We saw more people fixing their irrigation. We saw more work upgrading irrigation. There are a lot of bad systems out there, and you can’t tell until the weather is bad.
Rich B.: I’ve been seeing a lot of bathroom remodels.
Rich C.: It’s crazy how many people are redoing their bathrooms! We’ve probably done three times as many bathroom remodels as we did last year.
Question 3: Did the sunny yet abnormally dry summer have an affect on landscaping projects? What were some of the more common issues caused by this summer’s weather?
Chris: Yes, from the maintenance part of our business; anyone with a marginal irrigation system saw their lawn dry up. From fertilization to insect and disease control, the drought was causing issues. In the landscape construction side, when we installed projects it took more to properly manage the watering, because you can also overwater. If you put in a hydrangea this year, without a second watering, it would shrivel up. You’ve got to combat it, educate the customer—anything you can do for those tough situations—and try to manage the landscape the best way you can.
Rich B.: I think the guys who really suffered this summer were the guys on the roof. I felt bad for them because of the heat and humidity.
Rich C.: I delivered more water and Gatorade to job sites this summer than I can remember.
Question 4: Interest in energy efficiency and sustainability continues to grow as more people see the benefits of both lowering utility bills and their impact on the environment. Are there any new “green” home products that seem particularly promising?
Rich B.: For the building end of it, we are seeing a lot of smart thermostats that enable an offsite homeowner to look at and manage the heat and air temperature. Thermostats can also talk to other things in the house that are integrated, like a coffee maker, a smoke detector or a security system. We are also seeing more composting toilets, gray-water recycling, and lots of LED lighting, which is cooler in temperature and lasts longer. Tony can attest to the advance in materials made from byproducts.
Tony: Once we get past the first generation, they start to work pretty well. Actually there is one that we are having some fun with, and people are watching to see how it plays out. Boral clapboard is recycled fly ash, which is the byproduct of incineration. It’s 70 percent fly ash and 30 bonding agents. We just redid the whole outside of our office using this product.
Rich B.: Manufacturers of the products in our industry over the last 15 or 20 years have just gone crazy with redevelopment. And we are getting these products coming at us faster than we can ascertain if they actually work or not. I think, in a way, the idea of sustainable products, composites and all that, is great, but nothing beats wood long-term because you know how it is going to age.
Tony: All these products are evolutionary. So, with any manufacturer they are going to make some duds that don’t work. But how do they move on from there? Do they take care of you as a customer? You have to do your homework on these products and that is what a good supplier and builder does; they can tell you if a product works the way it’s supposed to.
Chris: [In landscaping], we have people with big properties that are carving out smaller and smaller lawn areas and doing the perimeter with fescue-blended seeds that use less fertilizer, water and maintenance, [which is more eco-friendly]. Three years ago, we might’ve done one project a year like this and now we are doing it all the time.
Rich B.: We’ve worked on a few projects with rain gardens. And we are seeing a lot of permeable pavers, where grass can grow through.
Chris: Yes! We are doing a lot of permeable pavers now; we call it grass pave. We’ve done more of that this year than any other year. It’s green space with a structural surface. We are lowering the amount of manicured lawn. It’s good for the environment and its aesthetically pleasing.
Tony: I wanted to make a point that one thing to watch out for is the desire to mandate some of these items that should be available by choice rather than by law. For instance, electric car-charging stations should not be required in every new house because not every driver can fully use EV technology. If you want one, by all means choose one, but let’s not force a technology on people if they aren’t going to benefit from it. This just drives construction costs unnecessarily high.
Rich B.: I’ve only had two clients who wanted to have a car-charging station put in.
Tony: Trying to legislate “one size fits all” drives up costs for everyone.