Long Island Home Show upbeat
Brentwood, N.Y. — The timing of the Long Island Home Show, Feb. 20 to 22, couldn’t have been any better for Home Depot’s Tom McDowell. The opening day coincided with President Obama signing into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that made some significant changes to energy-efficiency tax credits. McDowell, a sales consultant with THD At-Home Services, was handing out news releases to consumers at the show detailing the tax credits they could realize for buying windows, doors and attic insulation.
“The stimulus package has put a little energy into the consumer,” said Davis, noting that 60 percent of the products supplied by THD At-Home Services, and virtually all of the windows, already qualify under the new bill.
The $1,500 (maximum) tax credit runs from Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2010. “For a $1,500 window project, consumers can save up to $725 through this credit,” McDowell said. “I get a lot of people asking about it.”
In the weeks before the stimulus package became law, THD At-Home saw a spike in sales for windows and siding, he said.
The news of the stimulus package brightened the day for many of the vendors exhibiting at the annual Long Island Home Show, held at Suffolk Community College.
Many exhibitors are struggling but felt it was necessary to exhibit. “I’ve been doing these shows for years,” said Costas Pappas, owner of LNG Blinds, a Hunter Douglas dealer. “No matter what, you need the exposure.”
He said his business was good until August 2008. “The fourth quarter took everything away, and the beginning of this year has been tough,” he said. “Getting new business is very hard.”
Show exhibitor Alure Home Improvements has been riding a wave of success behind its new “Extreme Kitchen” program, which promises a complete new kitchen in two weeks. Alure has been involved with seven of the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” television shows and decided to extend that brand recognition to kitchens.
“We’ve been very busy with Extreme Kitchen,” said Michael Goldberg, manager, kitchen and baths. “It serves a great purpose, and people need it to get done in a timely manner. Plus it’s priced right.”
Being innovative and adapting to change has served Legacy Builders and Remodelers. The company, which specializes in residential remodeling, recently started focusing on universal design work to meet the needs of all family members, able or disabled.
“People are starting to understand the importance of making houses usable for all ages — it’s aging in place,” said Legacy president Art Donnelly, another exhibitor. “When you’re 50 you need 35 percent more light than when you were 20 years old. We try to increase the light in the house without adding to the utility bill by using natural light and other sources.”
Donnelly said that while “business is a little off,” he was looking forward to securing new business at the show. “The people coming here are serious buyers, they have something in mind,” he said. “They’re tired of the recession talk.”
New home sales drop in January
Sales of newly built, single-family homes fell 10.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 309,000 units in January, a new record low.
The figures were released Thursday by the U.S. Commerce Department.
Home builders continued to reduce their inventories in January, with the number of new homes on the market falling for a 21st consecutive month to 342,000 units. However, due to the historically slow sales pace, the months’ supply continued to rise for a fourth consecutive month, to 13.3.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) suggested a wait-and-see attitude may have taken hold on builders.
“As disturbing as this report sounds, there is reason to believe that some potential home buyers may have purposely delayed action in January as they waited to see how details of the President’s economic stimulus plan could affect a home purchase,” said Joe Robson, chairman of the NAHB and a home builder from Tulsa, Okla. “Now that those details are known – particularly those relating to the new first-time home buyer tax credit and higher loan limits for government-backed mortgages – we are hopeful that many buyers will be looking to take advantage of them in the coming months.”
“Clearly, the downward pressures that have been exerting themselves on the housing market remain in place, including the weakened economy, ongoing job losses and very low consumer confidence,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “But as more home buyers find out about the newly enhanced tax credit, and other parts of the economic stimulus package start kicking in, we expect to see some firming effect on home sales. The hope is that a certain amount of pent-up demand will be released as those who were in a ‘wait-and-see’ mode decide they now have the information they need to proceed.”
Three out of four regions posted declining new-home sales in January. Sales fell 5.6 percent in the Midwest, 6.5 percent in the South and 28 percent in the West. The Northeast was the only exception to the rule, registering a 12.5 percent gain for the month.
G-I-Y retailing: Grow it yourself
A number of factors have converged in a “perfect storm” leading to significant growth in edible gardening, some industry experts said during a Web teleconference.
Edible gardening is on the rise in the United States, not only because of the depressed economy but also because of consumer trends toward “uber-cocooning” and green living, a panel of experts agreed during a Feb. 25 teleconference co-sponsored by the Garden Writers Assocation and Scotts Miracle-Gro.
“Several factors have come together to promote interest in edible gardening, and participation is increasing,” said Craig Humphries, director of consumer research for Scotts Miracle-Gro.
According to the National Gardening Association, 36 million households (or 31 percent of the population) had edible gardens in 2008, a number that is expected to rise to 43 million households (37 percent) this year. This would represent a 19 percent increase in participation.
Humphries pointed to the following reasons for the rise in gardening: Americans trying to save money by growing their own food; the growing trend toward sustainability; and a desire to eat healthier, more natural foods. He also spoke about “uber-cocooning” — a phrase popularized by consumer behavior consultant Faith Popcorn — which means people are spending more time at home and, therefore, sprucing up their outdoor spaces.
“I don’t think there’s much doubt the economy has played a huge role in pushing this trend along. We also saw a jump in edible gardening during the much milder recession in 2001,” Humphries said. “But it’s also about a desire among consumers for fresh, better-tasting, safer food.”
Another theme discussed during the teleconference was community gardening in urban areas. This activity is being promoted by organizations like the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio, as a way to increase nutrition for citizens, relieve depression in senior citizens and teach life skills to children.
“It also has value to communities, increasing property values through beautification, contributing to sustainable development and increasing access to healthy foods,” said Kim J. Brown, PhD, education manager at the Franklin Park Conservatory.
Scotts Miracle-Gro, Feeding America and “Plant a Row for the Hungry,” a community-based program started in 1995 that assists with hunger relief, are partnering this spring to promote a national campaign to inspire more people to grow and donate produce to food banks. Su Lok, director of corporate and community partnerships for Scotts, said the program will include grass roots events and educational outreach.