Home Innovation Insights

To Park or Not To Park: The Real Value of Garages (Part 1)

April 18, 2013

It’s a common dilemma: household storage inevitably manages to encroach upon space in the garage, previously reserved for vehicles. Boxes, furniture, power equipment, and other things sit on the garage floor in the spot where we’d love to park our cars. Sometimes it’s neatly stacked or organized in piles or bins, but usually it's more disheveled and haphazard. We generally have plans to de-clutter as soon as we get a little extra time or cash to install shelves, cabinets, or hooks on the garage wall, or even until we can convince our adult children or other family and friends to come pick up their stuff and fill their own garage!

As we delay our de-cluttering, the volume of the clutter continues to grow. We tend to have a grander vision of how we can improve the garage once we manage to banish the clutter — paint, refinish the floor, install new lighting, insulate, or add heat and air conditioning to make it a more appealing and comfortable place to park our cars or to use as a work or recreation area. But before the improvements, the all important first step is to de-clutter. A recent study we ran indicates most homeowners never make it past this step.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal commissioned Home innovation Research Labs to conduct a national survey of single-family (SF) homeowners to learn more about their garages including who uses them, how they use them, and what they would do to improve them. (You can see the initial WSJ article that resulted from our survey data, with a focus on luxury garages.) Few of the respondents seemed to be satisfied with the current state of their garage. With more than 70 million garages in the United States, this adds up to a lot of dissatisfaction ... or market opportunity if you take a more optimistic view of the findings. The vast majority of respondents are already eyeing improvements so now is the time to market to that need.

Existing Single-Family Home Garages

A solid majority (84 percent) of owner-occupied SF homes, excluding manufactured homes, have a garage. This percentage has been on the rise in recent years — 92 percent of SF homes built in 2011 were built with a garage. The study also found that four out of five garages are attached to the home.

Income has a large influence on whether a home has a garage or not. Only 53 percent of lower income homeowners (household income of $50K or less per year) reported having a garage compared to 99 percent of those with higher incomes (>$100K). Affordability in terms of a home's purchase price is undoubtedly a key driver for this fact, but an unexpected contributor is that lower income owners are far more likely to convert their garages into living space, leaving those homes without a garage. Type of garage is also related to income. Lower income owners (32%) were about twice as likely to have a detached garage as higher income owners (17%). Carports were vastly more common among lower income homeowners as well — about 20% of lower income respondents reported having carports but almost none of the higher income respondents did.

Garages Sizes in New & Existing Homes

Compared to new homes built in 2011, existing SF homes are about three times more likely to have a single-car garage, nearly three times less likely to have a three or more car garage, and about seven times more likely to have a carport. The table below provides more detail on this breakout.

Shares of Homes with Carports and Garage Configurations

  All Existing SF
   Homes in 2011
New SF
   Homes Built 2011*
No Garage or Carport  8% 8%
Carport 7% 1%
One-Car Garage 15% 6%
Two-Car Garage 57% 55%
Three-Car Garage 10% 28%
More Than Three-Car 3% 1%
TOTAL 100% 100%

* Source:  Home Innovation Research Labs survey, 2013 Annual Builder Practices Reports

Homes in the South and West have the largest garages, and Northeast homes tend to have the smallest garages, and hence, are more likely to have issues with lack of space. The difference in size is most likely attributable to the Northeast’s older housing stock. Interestingly, size of garage is not as closely related to income as you may think — garages of lower income households in the study had an average capacity of 1.8 cars compared to 2.1 for highest income households. This means that the strong majority of garage owners in any income category had a two-car garage.

This is the first of a three-part series providing various details from our recent garage survey. In my next post, I’ll delve deeper into what we found regarding garage usage — including storage on floors, storage on shelves or in cabinets, recreational activities, social events, pet space, workshops, repairing or restoring automobiles, and others — and summarize frequency and importance of these uses by gender, income, and other demographics. Stay tuned to find out what is REALLY the most valued use of the garage, and if the stereotype of the garage as a type of "man cave" still holds true.

If you just can't wait to get your hands on this information and would like to see a complete set of findings from this or other recent Home Innovation surveys, let me know.