Waveline 78: Boom Times

Jun 15, 2020 | Waveline™

Has Covid-19 really been good for business? Let’s find out.

By now, we’ve all heard the stories – builders everywhere are writing more business than they can handle, and the leads keep pouring in.

Despite its tragic ramifications, the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have ignited the pool construction business. Thanks to shelter in place restrictions, families everywhere are despairing over a potentially monotonous summer. A new backyard pool would seem the perfect solution.

But did the pandemic really inspire a burst of new inground pool starts? To find out, we looked at permit data from 15 bellwether jurisdictions throughout the Sunbelt. Here’s what we found.

Two theories

Y​For several years, Pkdata has collected pool construction permit data from numerous key jurisdictions across the country. We use this information in conjunction with our builder surveys to inform our estimates of new pool activity. To reach some conclusion about the impact of the pandemic on pool starts, we tested two theories:

  • Theory 1 – The pandemic has been good for business. If this were true, then we should see a meaningful spike in new permits during the period March – April, when the impact of the pandemic was initially the greatest.
  • Theory 2 – Absent theory 1, the alternative says something like, builders were busy with leads in March, closed a bunch of new business in April, and scooped up a lot of new permits in May. In other words, builders were so busy writing new business the first two months they couldn’t start digging until the third month.

The thirteen jurisdictions below were selected because they serve as reliable predictors for the entire year, sort of like the key Congressional districts that influence predictions on election night. If there was a significant change in the market, it would most likely show up here. (Note that the following narrative considers the current year in the context of 2018 and 2019.)


​Promising start – yes.

Likely Covid boost – no.

Likely May theory – somewhat.

​Dallas got off to a slow start compared to the last two years and then began to rally in February. March, April and May were all substantially down compared to 2018 and 2019.

Promising start – no.

Likely Covid boost – no.

Likely May theory – no.

​During the first three months of the year in Fort Worth, pool permit activity was unexceptional. There was a comparative decline in April followed by a steeper decline in May.

Promising start – yes.

Likely Covid boost – no.

​Likely May theory – maybe.

​Houston got off to a good start in January, strong in February, and then began to sink in March and tanked in April. The May theory seems likely here except that Houston’s 97 permits last month are actually fairly normal for the month.

Promising start – wildly so.

Likely Covid boost – no.

Likely May theory – no.

​As of the end of March, Austin was up nearly 70% over the previous two years. April permits reversed to about half and then May closed out even with 2018 and 2019.

Promising start – no.

Likely Covid boost – absolutely not.

Likely May theory – no.

​L.A. is having a tough year (as is much of Southern California). The first two months were somewhat comparable but that’s where the resemblance ends. March was down about 40% and we won’t even discuss April. May did rally somewhat but still finished substantially down from previous years.

​Promising start – yes.

​Likely Covid boost – no.

Likely May theory – no way.

​Through April, permits in Phoenix were tracking nicely with the previous two years. Then came May and a 45% decline.

Promising start – meh.

Likely Covid boost – no.

Likely May theory – no.

​Just kind of business as usual in this normally busy Phoenix suburb. 

Promising start – kinda.

Likely Covid boost – maybe.

Likely May theory – probably not.

​Maricopa County, the unincorporated area surrounding Phoenix, has been seeing growth in new pool starts the past few years owing to population increases. So, it’s hard to say how much of their April/May increases would have occurred anyway.

Promising start – yes.

Likely Covid boost – no.

Likely May theory – no.

​Thanks largely to more favorable weather, Miami’s January fared much better than last year. February and March are solid, and then April and May both slipped by roughly a third.

Promising start – not especially.

Likely Covid boost – no.

Likely May theory – no.

​Hillsborough County (Tampa area) is seeing pretty much the same business they have for the past two years – just building lots of new pools every month.

Promising start – yes.

Likely Covid boost – no.

Likely May theory – no.

​Sarasota is another growing pool market on Florida’s southwest coast. Save for a strong February, numbers through May are largely undifferentiated from the previous two years.

Promising start – very.

Likely Covid boost – possible.

Likely May theory – yes.

​The greater St. Augustine area, south of Jacksonville on Florida’s northeast coast, has been experiencing significant growth for the past several years. New pool construction has grown commensurately. Yet this year there has been a greater increase in March and April and a substantial boost in May. Score one for the May theory.

​Promising start – yes.

Likely Covid boost – no.

Likely May theory – probably not.

​We saved the hottest for the last. Over the past two years the Naples area has averaged nearly 2,000 annual pool construction permits with roughly a third being issued through May. This year is no different. Pandemic or not, business is always booming here.


​Where did all the leads go?

To be clear: We talk to builders every day who are seeing major increases in their dollar volume since early March. They’re the ones that have been able to capitalize on the opportunity. For others, perhaps not so much.

The phones did ring a lot last month. But a lead is not a pool. Some of those prospects probably went with a competitor. But we also suspect that many would-be customers, knowing nothing of pools, were unpleasantly surprised by either the price or the time to installation, or both. They just wanted a pool for the summer and they wanted it now. So they bought an aboveground pool instead – all the apparent benefits of an inground pool for a tenth the price. Best of all, no commitment – if it doesn’t get used, take it down at the end of the season and haul it off. So we made a few phone calls to aboveground pool retailers around the country and, sure enough, they say that they can’t keep them in stock.

It appears to be boom times everywhere.

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