Americans Kept Fixing Up Their Homes Through the Pandemic
A new report from Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies believes that lifestyle changes could signal a longer-term boon in remodeling spending.
In 2019, four in 10 home improvements were do-it-yourself projects. Yet, despite DIY spending levels remaining relatively stable since 2015, the share of DIY spending that year as it related to all of home improvement fell to a new low, 17% of total home improvement spending.
The coronavirus changed all that, at least temporarily. “Do-it-yourself projects gained new popularity” in 2020, stated Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies in its report “Improving America’s Housing 2021,” which the Center released on March 25. This was partly due to homeowners’ reluctance to have contractors come in their houses. But this trend was also evident among younger urban households—typically the most active DIYers—who took advantage of lower interest rates to purchase houses.
Among the 25 metros tracked by the 2019 American Housing Survey, the share of DIY activity was largest in a mix of both high- and low-cost markets such as Pittsburgh (22%), Seattle (22%), New Orleans (21%), Portland (21%), and Riverside, Calif. (21%). In contrast, the metros with the lowest shares of spending on DIY projects (less than 13%) were mostly expensive housing markets, including Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.
This renewed avidity for DIY work is but one of the byproducts of a pandemic that has been “something of a boon for the remodeling industry, by forcing a variety of housing and lifestyle changes that encourage improvement spending,” the Center asserted.
As the U.S. economy came unglued last year, spending on home improvement and repairs (including rental improvements and maintenance) increased by 3.2% to $419 billion. 2020 was the 10th consecutive year of expansion for the remodeling industry, spurred by pandemic-related nudges that led to a sudden flexibility of remote work, which often created a need for more housing space; and a precautionary migration to larger houses in less-dense and lower-cost areas of the country.
Will this boon outlast the country’s health crisis? The Center thinks so, and expects residential remodeling activity to build steadily in the years ahead. “If the changes in housing choices brought on by the pandemic—the uptick in residential mobility, shifts in household composition, and the focus on home-centered activities—become lasting trends, demand for remodeling projects could be even stronger than currently anticipated.
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