Updated: Aug 15
During the lockdown months at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the sound of power tools roared in neighborhoods across Guam, where many households began embarking on do-it-yourself projects.
Most businesses, all schools and fitness facilities were closed. Community events were suspended. Homes became offices, classrooms, daycares, yoga studios, gyms, bars, restaurants and entertainment centers. Hence the motivation for home improvements.
Home Depot, Benson’s Best and hardware shops became the residents’ Disneyland. Shoppers crowded the aisles, picking up pieces of new furniture, construction materials, lighting supplies and gardening items.
Nadia Holm’s pool is now nearly complete. Her patio sports a new bar and an outdoor kitchen. The garden is filled with ornamental plants, herbs and fruit trees.
Holm and her husband, Brian, planned the home renovation when they moved to their Tamuning house in October 2019. “Although we loved the house and the location, it did not really check all our boxes. We wanted a more inviting outdoor space to relax and entertain,” Holm said.
When the pandemic hit, the project suddenly became a much bigger project. “Our focus has mainly been on improving the outdoor space,” she said. “We started with landscaping and gardening, upgrading the sprinkler system, landscape lights and edging, retiling the patio and adding a bar and island.”
The construction industry on Guam survived the Covid-19 pandemic, mildly scathed. Since the construction sector was considered essential, related businesses were allowed to operate for the better part of 2020, except on a few occasions when the government ordered a pause on all construction work due to Covid clusters involving construction workers.
While microprojects thrived, the military construction activity was challenged by the scarcity of labor “caused by the denial of H-2B labor visas for contractors in Guam,” according to the University of Guam’s economic report in March.
Some construction companies also experienced delays in their ongoing projects due to some workers’ refusal to work. “Either they were too scared to work around other people or they just chose to sit at home and collect their PUA,” said Soraya Vongjalorn, president of Vertex Guam.
Holm and her husband both work in a construction company, allowing them to undertake a big portion of the project themselves — with a little help from some construction workers who worked in their spare time.
With nothing much to do during the community shutdown, it was the perfect time to upgrade homes. At the same time, however, it proved to be a challenging time to start a project.
“Because of the pandemic, the process of getting a building permit was probably longer than usual,” Holm said.
The availability of construction materials was another story. The pandemic caused occasional delays in shipments of containers.
“Some materials were not readily available on island and finding a suitable replacement or special ordering proved to be a challenge,” Holm said.
Just the same, the Holms eventually managed to transform their residence into a resort-like abode.
In Agana Heights, Tes Venzon oversaw the renovation of a rental home she and her husband Mikel bought in 2019. The property was a rundown bungalow that needed to be updated before being placed on the market.
“It needed general refurbishment including repainting, retiling, replacing fixtures and appliances,” Venzon said. “Finding the right contractor, I think, has always been a challenge on Guam. Finding the right materials was equally hard.”
With or without the pandemic, designing homes on Guam always has its limitations. “Initially, I had a vision. Then reality set in and I had to compromise,” she said. “In the end, my design decisions were driven not so much by choice but by whatever was available.”
Something had to give— even her garden idea. She abandoned her initial porch design accentuated with an Italian Cypress tree and made do with planting ixora and red hibiscus around the house.
Sourcing the right materials for a home project requires patience, according to Phillip Gilbert, who is renovating his new home in Sinajana. “If Home Depot doesn’t carry a specific item, I’d go to Benson’s, and vice versa,” he said.
Price gouging is another malady one has to deal with during the pandemic. “Prices of wood, for example, went up,” Gilbert said.
For furniture and other home accessories, Rubyjane Buhain Redila said, “Ross is everything.”
Redila said she designed her new home based on materials available on island.
“We lack options for a specific design I want and most online stores will not ship materials and furniture to Guam,” she said.
Redila and her husband Mark renovated the new home they bought in Yigo last year. “It’s mainly home improvements to help increase home value. We renovated the kitchen, upgraded the baseboards and installed light fixtures,” she said. “Renovating is addicting for a design enthusiast like me. It was also time-consuming and exhausting! Sticking to a plan and budget is key.”