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Signs suggest an uptick in interest for remodeling projects

Eight-month-old Ethan is entertained by his dad Eric while his mother Jillian (back) visits vendor annual Home Building

Eight-month-old Ethan is entertained by his dad Eric while his mother Jillian (back) visits a vendor at the annual Home Building & Remodeling Expo at the Lake County Fairgrounds. | TINA JOHANSSON/FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: February 21, 2014 6:23AM

Exhibitors voiced a cacophony of optimism for a better year because of the improving economy at the two-day Home Building & Remodeling Expo at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake which ended Sunday.

They based their upbeat outlook on the number of what they called “serious” inquiries, leads and appointments they received. The show, in its sixth year and the largest ever, attracted more than 250 exhibitors in the construction industry, from air-conditioning and heating to solar energy and from windows and sidings to bathroom and kitchen remodeling.

“The economy has been down too long and people have deferred their home improvement,” said Dave Hammerl, president of Stonecrafters in Lakemoor which makes, among other stone products, counter tops.

“Now that the economy is recovering, the next 3-5 years will be tremendous as homeowners start to loosen up,” he added.

“There’s a lot of interest in remodeling,” echoed Bill Shadwell, area sales manager based in Gurnee for Sears Improvement Center, pointing out that more than 10 would-be customers had signed up for appointments on the first day of the show Saturday.

Bill Porter of ReNu Home Remodeler in Libertyville noted that foreclosure is down and construction is up for new homes.

“Everything seems to point upwards,” he said with conviction.

Flipping his appointment book, John Jacobs of Reliable Remodeling & Construction Inc. of Island Lake said, “We made a lot of appointments.”

“I believe the economy is getting better. People want to see their properties upgraded,” he added.

Benjamin Hughes, owner of Hughes Carpentry in Zion, a custom cabinetry maker, was in his third year at the show.

“Things are starting to pick up and homeowners are less afraid to spend their money,” he observed, joining a chorus of the other optimists.

Asked if it pays to participate in the show, he replied succinctly, “I only need one customer to make it worthwhile.”

On the first day of the show, 4,700 came — many of them contractors and do-it-yourselfers, according to Martin Andras, the expo’s floor manager.

“The turnout is excellent despite the cold, snowy weather,” he said. With the sun shining brightly Sunday, Andras expected a even better attendance.

Bruce Whittington, a contractor from Grayslake, came with his wife Kari, he said, “to check out the products, including hardwood flooring material for a client.”

“The people are very knowledgeable and nice,” he said of the exhibitors.

Karen Pumala of Zion said she came “to get some remodeling ideas for the house I just bought.”

Meanwhile, she bought pots and pans as well as packages of Egyptian bed sheets. Not just building products, there were vendors selling chocolates, hot sauces and other consumer goods.

Unlike previous years when the event was free, the expo charged $7 for admission, $5 for seniors and free for those 13-under. Exhibitors lauded the admissions fees because it brought in people serious about remodeling rather than those just wanting to a have a place to go.

“They come to grab a pen or other free gifts. They are not interested in what we say and they give a hoot of what we do or offer,” complained one exhibitor.

New this year were more demonstrations for do-it-yourselfers. In one, Home Depot showed how to install a carpet. Sitting in the audience and watching attentively was Shola Onafeko of Winthrop Harbor.

“This is really a good idea. It’s an education for me because I’m thinking about getting a new carpet,” she said.

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