From 1991 to 1999, Tim Allen–familiar to moviegoers as the voice of Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story”–starred in a TV sitcom called “Home Improvement.” Allen’s amusing and self-assured character, Tim Taylor, hosted a fictional TV show called “Tool Time.”
These days, millions of Americans are starring in their own home improvement shows.
In 2013 alone, Americans are expected to spend more than $551 billion–that’s not a typo–on home improvement projects, according to the Remodeling Futures Program at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. By comparison, Americans forked over $476.4 billion for home improvement in 2012, the center says.
Home Improvement Boom
A survey from American Express indicates 72 percent of Americans will put at least one home improvement project on their to-do lists this year, with average spending of $4,000. That’s up from $3,500 in 2012.
(By the way, home improvement projects are one of the mean reasons that Americans rent self-storage units, letting them stash some of their stuff while the work is under way.)
So, why are Americans plunking down this much money to spruce up their homes? Here’s one answer:
“Existing home sales were up almost 9 percent last year, and house prices are increasing in most markets across the country,” Eric Belsky, managing director of the Harvard center, said in a news release. “This has increased the home equity levels for most homeowners, encouraging them to reinvest in their homes.”
Roofs and Rugs
OK, that makes perfect sense. Now, what sorts of home improvement projects are Americans tackling?
If figures from 2009-11 are any indication, the biggest pile of cash is going toward roofing. During that period, Americans spent $43.7 billion on home roofs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Next in line for home improvement spending was the kitchen ($35.7 billion), followed by HVAC ($34 billion) and flooring/paneling/ceilings ($33.2 billion). These numbers exclude routine maintenance projects.
Based on the Census Bureau/HUD data, the average roofing project cost $4,559 in 2009-11; kitchen, $5,000; HVAC, $3,600; and flooring/paneling/ceilings, $1,200.
And who’s actually ripping out the flooring and pounding the nails for these projects? The Census Bureau/HUD data show 63 percent of Americans who’ve plunged into home improvement projects left them to the pros, while 37 percent went the DIY route.
Home Improvement on the Map
Now that we know how much dough is being plunked down for home improvement and how that money is being spent, let’s look at where home improvement is happening in a big way, based on project spending per owner. Here’s the Harvard center’s list of the hot-spot metro areas (as of 2011):
“Consumers are investing in their homes this year across nearly every category from DIY to new home furnishings,” David Rabkin, senior vice president of U.S. consumer lending products at American Express, said in a news release. “Whether they’re redoing one room or the whole house, there is a significant bump in spending … .”
A Helping Hand for Home Improvement
Whether you’re redoing one room or the whole house, here are six tips from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry that can help improve the home improvement process:
- Manage your budget by starting small and adding to your project in phases.
- Look around to see whether you can achieve a similar look with a cheaper product. For instance, a chrome faucet costs less than a brass or porcelain faucet.
- Make decisions based on value and quality, not just price.
- Pay attention to how much labor is needed for some elements of your project, such as laying ceramic tile on kitchen countertops and the backsplash.
- If a room just needs a facelift, consider applying paint rather than tinkering with the structure. “Changing the color of a room can revitalize it. This is the easiest way to bring life to a room on a budget,” the association says.
- For a kitchen re-do, try to reuse existing appliances and build new cabinets around them. This can chop $1,500 to $5,000 off the price tag.
Now that you’ve got all of that data and advice, be sure to keep an eye on your finances and your fingers (if you’re wielding a hammer).
Images courtesy of FanPop.com, GlobalGoodGroup.com, ShowtimeRoofing.com