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Home Improvement 2006  

Planning it out

  The success of any remodeling or improving project may depend on planning from start to finish.
Remodeling trends stick to the script

Americans are breaking new ground with the amounts of money they're spending on remodeling and home improvements, but the projects they choose fit a familiar pattern.

Total home improvement product sales rose to a new record of $291 billion in 2005, a 7.5 percent increase over previous years, reports the Home Improvement Research Institute, or HIRI, based in Tampa, Fla. Thanks to hurricane rebuilding efforts throughout the South, combined with new housing starts and existing home sales numbers, home improvement product sales are expected to increase yet another 4.6 percent, to reach $305 billion, by the end of 2006.

"Ultimately, we've had growth in spending that exceeded the 2-percent population growth, so it clearly means folks now are spending more per household than they did in the past," says Fred Miller, managing director of HIRI. He says that recent statistics indicate the Census Bureau's figures for building materials, supply dealers and home centers shot up more than 20 percent in February 2006 compared to February 2005.

"We haven't seen a down year in the home improvement industry in a long time. I'd be surprised if the scope of Hurricane Katrina was enough to boost the whole country that much," he says.

But while the dollars exchanged increased, little else in the home improvement market changed. In 1999, the American Express Retail Index indicated that 41 percent of American households would invest in interior decorating, 32 percent planned a renovation or remodel, 23 percent ordered landscaping, and 22 percent tackled exterior decorating. If they could remodel any room, 42 percent of households would start over in their kitchens, 25 percent would pick the bathroom, and 15 percent would redo their master bedrooms.

Fast-forward to 2003, and a survey by the International Communications Research on behalf of Champion Mortgage revealed that landscaping, a kitchen renovation and room addition topped homeowners' wish lists. Both sexes agreed on those top three, but after that most men preferred to build a deck or patio, while women voted to redo a bathroom.

"Today the most significant thing is that we don't really have anything revolutionary happening," says Vince Butler, chairman of the Remodelers Council at the National Association of Home Builders and owner of Butler Brothers Corp., in Clifton, Va.

Indeed, experts, such as Holly Slaughter, brand manager for based in Charlotte, N.C., still list the kitchen as the No. 1 priority, followed by the bathroom and then the master bedroom.

"We are seeing a continuation of some popular trends -- these aren't fads that come and go. Only the scope of most projects is creeping up because of the type of products available," Butler says.

For instance, merely replacing a front door requires weighing decorative glass options, fiberglass choices and "what used to be a few hundred dollars is now a few thousand dollars," he says. "It's more of a rarity today to have a project that is strictly focused. If a customer buys a door, he inevitably includes the foyer and the powder room while he's at it."

-- Posted: April 12, 2006
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