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Remodeling Exhibiting ‘Unexpected Strength,’ Report Finds

CAMBRIDGE, MA — While the U.S. economy shrank by 3.5% in 2020, spending on home improvements and repairs grew more than 3%, to nearly $420 billion, as households modified living spaces for work, school and leisure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is the key conclusion of a major new report released today by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. The report, Improving America’s Housing 2021, found that although many professional remodeling projects came to a halt when the pandemic hit, do-it-yourself renovations surged while the sudden flexibility of remote work also increased demand for larger homes and yards in lower-cost and less-dense areas of the country.

Although the unexpected strength of the home remodeling market made 2020 the tenth consecutive year of expansion for the industry, the pandemic disrupted several long-term trends, according to researchers.

“From 2010 to 2019, homeowners largely relied on professional contractors, and remodeling activity was heavily concentrated in coastal metros,” said Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Cambridge, MA-based 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 do-it-yourselfers – could afford to own homes,” Baker noted.

While there are still large segments of the U.S. population that have not yet recovered from the steep economic recession caused by the pandemic, sustained growth in home remodeling is expected, according to the Harvard report.

“In the short term, many homeowners who deferred projects, both large and small, in 2020 are expected to complete those renovations once the pandemic is over,” said Baker. “Additionally, there has been an upturn in homeownership as younger households look to purchase homes, the number of multigenerational households has been growing, and remote work has given people more locational flexibility and the desire to modify their homes.”

All of these factors “have boosted the home improvement market and may become lasting trends that, in turn, fuel remodeling activity in the U.S. for years to come, Baker said.

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