Outdoor projects gain popularity

More than half of Americans are planning to start one or more home improvement projects in the next three months, according to new research from the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI), a member-owned research group that focuses on how homeowners maintain and improve their homes.

According to the research -- presented exclusively in a webinar (click here) aired June 4 on homechannelnews.com -- 51.1 percent of Americans surveyed in the February/March time period were planning to embark on projects this spring, compared to 62.7 percent during the same period last year.

“It is probably not a surprise to most people that the chart is trending down,” said Fred Miller, managing director of HIRI, whose membership includes dozens of major manufacturers, home centers, hardware co-ops and other media and investment companies. “It goes along with most measures in the industry.”

HIRI is conducting ongoing research in this area of consumer trends with the help of NPD Group, the Port Washington, N.Y.-based provider of consumer and retail market research information. NPD Group surveys about 14,000 American homeowners each month about whether they plan to start home projects and which area/areas of the home they’re planning to focus on. In total, almost 42,000 people responded during the first quarter of 2008.

The research found that outdoor projects -- including lawn, landscaping/fencing and deck/patio/porch -- are the most popular, followed by kitchen, living room, bedroom and master bath remodels. The emphasis on work outside the home did not surprise Miller, who said, “We’re talking about the January through March time period, when the warmer weather is starting to come and people are planning to go outside and do things.”

Also significant was the fact that women are more likely to plan projects than men (52 percent to 49 percent) and that people ages 45 to 54 (59 percent) and ages 55 to 64 (58 percent) were more likely to embark on projects than people under age 25 (32 percent) and ages 25 to 34 (42 percent).

Regionally, the Pacific was the weakest market surveyed, with just 46 percent planning to start projects, while the East North Central (53 percent), West North Central (54 percent) and East South Central (55 percent) were the strongest.

Another part of the research measured “reasons” for improving the home. The results showed energy savings is the most important consideration, followed by “making the home more attractive” and “getting a good return on the investment.” Far fewer respondents agreed that it was a good time to sell their home or that they’d prefer to live in a smaller home. On a related note, a small percentage of respondents reported that “it’s easy to find a contractor.”

Miller also shared some of HIRI’s conclusions on the implications of the research. They included: be prepared for more tough months ahead before the market turns upward and focus on the prime spenders -- middle to upper income people ages 35 to 64.

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