“The real estate industry helped us to stay above the water compared to other businesses,” said Celeste Rose Monderin of Custom Hardwood Flooring LA, an enterprise she owns and runs with her husband, Chief Executive Uri Vaknin.
Operating out of Chatsworth, where Monderin and her husband also reside, the company has eight employees, which break down to two flooring crews.
In terms of territory, the company covers the Los Angeles and North L.A. market, with clientele including businesses and homeowners in Calabasas, Sherman Oaks, Westlake Village, Palmdale, Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica.
During the pandemic, businesses and dental clinics that are closed as well as people forced to stay at home took advantage of the down time to renovate their interiors.
“Many people are doing home improvements now because they’re home all of the time,” Monderin said.
However, the one part of the business where Custom Hardwood Flooring took a hit is with multifamily landlords.
“The client part from the residential part completely fell off,” Monderin said.
Her business was indirectly impacted by the eviction moratorium. Since multifamily landlords had a state-mandated order not to evict any tenants, there was less unit turnover, and that translated to a dramatic reduction in work orders for new flooring.
“That put a block for us to come in to refresh the floors and have the property owner have a new tenant come in and go into unit,” Monderin said. “The thing that kept us afloat is we had realtors in a sellers’ market. They would have us come in, put in new floors (in single-family homes).”
Monderin grew up in Dasmarinas, located south of Manila in the Cavite Province of the Philippines and arrived in the U.S. in 2007. She initially stayed in Van Nuys as the single mother of two young children and didn’t even drive until five years later.
That changed after she met her husband and entered her business. She added that co-running her own company has been much more satisfying and rewarding than working for a boss.
“As an Asian-American woman, the best part is to be able to empower myself,” she said.
Currently, Custom Hardwood Flooring is digging out of the pandemic.
It may be late this year before her business sees a steady revenue stream from the multifamily sector. Even if the moratorium is lifted by end of June, she said, it will take a while for it to take effect in real time.
“They have to be served 30 days, and if more than a year in that property 60 days,” she said.
But there are signs the market may loosen. Monderin’s company is currently working on 300 units in Hawthorne through a relationship with a property management company. However, she said the amount of work that they were doing for this client decreased 30 percent compared to pre-COVID.
And there are constraints in the present construction industry.
“Workers demand higher pay now compared to the previous years,” she said. “It definitely was more difficult for us to do things in a COVID safe way.”’
The company put in place a testing protocol every two weeks, Moderin explained, in addition to adding masks, hand-sanitizer and social distancing to the work routine.
Overall, general contractors have been “more budget friendly because of the pandemic,”’ she said.
Monderin said that she and her husband love operating their business out of Chatsworth.
“You’re right smack in the center,” she said.
There is also plenty of Filipino culture, and, for three years, Monderin has been an active member of the Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce’s Valley chapter, which she currently serves as deputy of membership.
“It’s very strong in the Valley,” she continued regarding the Filipino cultural scene. “(But also) the good thing is that we can just blend it with everyone else. The Valley is a place of opportunity.”
– Michael Aushenker