Nevada County government, home improvement and real estate representatives talk business during COVID-19
Foot traffic has been higher than expected at Hills Flat Lumber Co.
Kennan Pardini, co-owner of the local lumber and home improvement store, didn’t expect this volume during the current stay-at-home order. He largely credits it to California’s designation of construction as an essential business, saying that contractors are still working and buying materials.
“Construction is pretty strong right now as far as homes and additions, probably about consistent with this time last year,” he said.
However, another phenomenon driving business to Hills Flat has been an increased interest in activities compatible with the stay-at-home order.
“There are quite a few people who are happy that they’re able to go out and purchase things for their home,” said Pardini, explaining that many customers are working on home improvement projects or starting gardens.
He explained that the business has experienced some difficulty with staffing amid coronavirus concerns, with numbers declining as everyone does their best to figure out health and family-related issues.
“We’re hoping to get back to normal as soon as possible,” said Pardini, adding that Hills Flat has been hiring new members to its staff.
With regards to stocking the store with sought-after essentials, he said, “Anything COVID-related is a lot harder to come by, like sanitizer and cleaning products, but we’re doing our best with our supply chain.”
Pardini said that Hills Flat recently donated containers to South Fork Vodka — the local distillery temporarily taking on sanitizer production — which are used to hold the sanitizer. They were distributed to local groups who needed it the most, including health care workers, medical personnel, and others working in high exposure positions.
South Fork Vodka’s hand sanitizer is now also for sale at Hills Flat.
“Hills Flat has been here for almost 100 years, and we’re glad to continue to provide essential supplies and serve the community,” said Pardini.
According to the Nevada County Building Department’s director of building, Craig Griesbach, the department is still performing all usual services — including building inspections, plan reviews, and permit submittals — despite closing its public-facing counter for the time being.
“The good thing for us is we’re essentially fully mobile already,” said Griesbach, referring to the department’s relatively smooth transition to working outside the office.
Building inspectors have begun wearing gloves and masks as they work, as well as taking measures to comply with social distancing.
Griesbach said that inspectors are asking contractors to leave relevant documents set up on site, and conducting inspections alone.
Although staff is continuing to work regularly, the department has also aimed toward social distancing by requesting that only essential building inspections be scheduled at this time.
“An example of an essential inspection could be something like a replacement of electrical service that got hit by a tree, or a final inspection of a house where they need to move in and get financing,” said Griesbach.
He described that, on the other hand, non-essential inspections may include things like already-completed home additions and optional cosmetic remodels which can be finalized at a later date.
Griesbach estimated that the department’s inspection load has decreased by 25%, saying that it is difficult to tell whether this is due to people delaying requests until a safer time, or if the decrease is indicative of any long-term trend.
“We’re here to help,” said Griesbach, in reference to his department’s work. “We’re made to help people stay in business as long as we can, and help the economy prosper here locally.”
Grass Valley resident Haidee Reyes has worked in the area as a licensed real estate agent for 18 years.
Aside from working as an agent and broker, Reyes currently serves as a coach and trainer for her fellow Keller-Williams Realty agents, and serves as the vice-president of the Nevada County Association of Realtors.
In mid-March, real estate was designated a non-essential business in California amid coronavirus-related restrictions.
“We had 10 days where we were considered non-essential, but we were still able to work even as a non-essential group because we have so many pictures and virtual tours,” said Reyes.
However, after those 10 days, the state’s designation on real estate was reversed, and agents were able to resume work to a greater capacity.
“But since we became essential, I became very cognizant of the fact that a lot of our community has really sacrificed,” said Reyes. “So, I’m not wanting to be out in public much — I’m working quietly and respectfully.”
Some aspects of Reyes’ work have changed, including a transition to working from home and reductions to her operating budget.
Agents are, however, currently allowed to show homes — both vacant and occupied — to clients in person, given that they follow newly instituted safety procedure.
Reyes explained that if someone requests to see a property, they are first asked if they have viewed all available photos and other media online, driven by, and pre-qualified.
If that is the case, the agent may show the home to a maximum of two people from the same household at a time, after signing an agreement to use personal protective equipment in the form of masks, gloves, and shoe covers.
Regarding what may be in store for the local housing market, Reyes believes that more people will be moving into Nevada County than previously expected.
She said multiple recent clients have expressed that their move to the area has been precipitated by the experience of sheltering in place in a large city.
“In a quarantine situation, where you can’t leave your property and you’re in an apartment or townhouse without much yard, it’s really changed how people are thinking,” said Reyes.
Victoria Penate is a staff writer with The Union.
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