Home-improvement bug bites as economy improves

The official start of summer 2013 finds a lot of homeowners ready to make improvements inside and outside their castles.

The Zillow summer home improvement trend and spending survey finds 60 percent of homeowners plan to make improvements or additions this summer. At the top of the list are improvements to outdoor spaces and bathrooms.

“As we head into the long days of summer, we are seeing increased interest in outdoor spaces with very natural elements such as stone fireplaces, as well as bringing more light into bathrooms with clear glass on the walls and shower enclosures,” said Zillow trend expert Cynthia Nowalk.

Homeowners plan to spend an average of $1,200 on summer projects with younger, and presumably first-time, homeowners more likely to take on the improvement task. The survey found 71 percent of homeowners in the 18-34 age bracket plan projects and 61 percent of those 35-54 will also get to work.

This, of course, is great news for the big box home improvement companies like Home Depot (NYSE: HD) and Lowe’s (NYSE: LOW). Activity at these stores and their websites saw momentum building in the past month.

“Purchases of power tools, auto parts and car maintenance products, as well as DIY home improvement needs have risen sharply by more than 65 percent since 2010. Stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears and other hardware-focused retailers have taken notice of rejuvenated consumer spending by increasing cash-back rewards and offering hard-to-resist storewide discounts of 30 to 70 percent off, free shipping and other bonuses and rebates this time of the year,” cites a report from FatWallet, an online retail service.

Home Depot, the largest of the home improvement companies with 2,257 outlets, reported sales in the first three months of 2013 grew to $19.1 billion, an increase of 7.4 percent from the same period a year earlier.

“In the first quarter, we saw less favorable weather compared to last year, but we continued to see benefit from a recovering housing market that drove a better-than-expected start to the year for our business,” said CEO Frank Blake.

Lowe’s Companies, which operates 1,755 stores, saw a similar trend in its performance in the first half of the year.

“Cooler-than-normal temperatures and greater precipitation resulted in a delayed spring selling season, which impacted our results in exterior categories. While overall performance in the month of March was particularly soft, April improved significantly and we have maintained that positive momentum,” said Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock.

Not all improvements are being done by do-it-yourselfers. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry said recently current and future remodeling business conditions are reaching new highs.

“Homeowners are tired of waiting to make improvements. Many have chosen to stay put and better financial positioning has made them actively approaching professionals to get work done and enhance the long-term livability of the home,” said Tom O’Grady, chairman of the NARI planning and research committee.

The group found improvements in the housing and stock markets as well as low-interest rates have provided the impetus for homeowners to move on projects that were put on the back burner during the recession.

“We knew that several things had to turn around in order for business to get better, and NARI members are finally feeling a holistic economic recovery outside and inside the housing market,” O’Grady said.

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