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Remodeling market shows signs of life

Consumer Reports News: May 12, 2011 04:25 PM

Remember back in 2006, when you couldn't walk down the street without hearing the pounding of a hammer or the buzz of a saw? Remodeling activity, like the housing market, has taken its licks of late. That stands to reason, since real estate turnover is a major stimulus for home improvement. First, sellers make minor upgrades to improve a home's marketability, then buyers undergo major ones to make the home their own.

While the housing recovery is proving uneven at best, there are signs that remodeling activity is starting to heat up. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University predicts that remodeling will rebound in 2011 after a three-year downturn. The latest Remodeling Market Index by the National Association of Home Builders reached its highest level in four years. And the most recent Residential BuildFax Remodeling Index rose 20 percent year-over-year in February to 95.1, the highest February number in the index since 2006.

How is remodeling rebounding without a bump from existing home sales? As part of Consumer Reports annual kitchen remodeling package, which will be online and on newsstands in early June, we've been speaking with contractors and designers from around the country to get a sense of who's doing what and why they're doing it.

Pent-up demand is a big part of the equation. When appliances fail and cabinets start falling off walls, remodeling takes on a certain imperative. There's also a small, but growing sense of optimism among consumers about the housing market. “Many of my clients expect to sell again in the next five years,” says Beth Stribling, a kitchen designer in Fort Worth, Texas. “They know they’ll have to do the kitchen sooner or later, so they might as well do it now.”

Then there's the cohort of older homeowners who put off moving to a smaller home after their equity and retirement accounts were wiped out or severely diminished, by the financial crisis. They're having to stay settled without settling for less, according to Duo Dickinson, architect and author of the forthcoming book, Staying Put: Remodel Your House to Get the Home You Want (Taunton Press, 2011).

If you're gearing up for a remodel, for whatever reason, include Consumer Reports in your list of resources. Our online Ratings are updated continuously, so you won't miss out on the latest and greatest appliances, materials, and more. And we'll continue to report on the latest remodeling trends no matter which way they go.

Daniel DiClerico

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