DIY Drives U.S. Home Improvement Spend

While the U.S. economy shrank by 3.5 per cent in 2020, spending on home improvements and repairs grew more than three per cent, to nearly $420 billion, as households modified living spaces for work, school, and leisure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, says ‘Improving America's Housing 2021,’ a report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. Although many professional remodeling projects came to a halt when the pandemic hit, DIY (do-it-yourself) renovations surged. The sudden flexibility of remote work also increased demand for larger homes and yards in lower-cost and less dense areas of the country. The unexpected strength of the home remodeling market made 2020 the 10th consecutive year of expansion for the industry, but the pandemic disrupted several long-term trends. “From 2010 to 2019, homeowners largely relied on professional contractors, and remodeling activity was heavily concentrated in coastal metros,” says Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies. “But in 2020, amid concerns about having contractors in the home, DIY projects gained new popularity and remodeling activity shifted to lower-cost metros where larger shares of younger households – traditionally the most active DIYers – could afford to own homes.” In late March of last year, 60 per cent of respondents to one homeowner survey had begun at least one DIY maintenance or improvement project in the previous two to three weeks; by early May, the share had jumped to nearly 80 per cent. Additionally, during the pandemic, many urban renters purchased homes ‒ a transition that often begins a new cycle of improvement projects ‒ in outlying communities in search of safer living conditions, more space, and lower housing costs.