January 19, 2021

Insight into Consumer Purchasing During Pandemic

For many, 2020 was the year that COVID-19 disrupted their lives in every conceivable way. From the perspective of homeownership, 2020 was the year we improved our outdoor living spaces; caught up on needed home repairs and improvements; organized our stuff; and made our homes more comfortable and functional places to spend time – at least that’s what the findings of our 2021 Consumer Practices Survey suggest. More than 110,000 U.S. and Canadian households participated in the Consumer Practices Survey, which was completed in December 2020, supplying us deep detail on their home and property improvement and repairs projects.

A cursory analysis of the much-anticipated findings reveals how COVID-19 impacted the home improvement industry in numerous project categories. Understanding the new trajectory of the market can help building products manufacturers and suppliers prepare for a successful 2021.

In the analysis, we compared the percentage of households undertaking repair and remodeling projects in 2019 and 2020. Table 1 summarizes the findings. The most striking difference is that remodeling projects seemed to have increased in all categories in our study – anywhere from a few percent to more than 20 percent year-over-year. 

Year Over Year Percentage Increase in Households Undertaking Home Improvement and Repair Projects, 2019 to 2020

Source: Annual Consumer Practices Reports, Home Innovation Research Labs

The top four answers create a tier related (directly or indirectly) to outdoor living. First, Outdoor Living Structures (decks, patios, porches, fences, etc.) are a direct reflection of people wanting to spend more quality time outside. Second, Exterior Doorways are often upgraded when outdoor living space is upgraded. Third, Outdoor Accessories —privacy screens, pergolas, arbors, planter boxes, benches — help make outdoor spaces more functional, comfortable, and/or attractive. Finally, Fireplaces and Stoves, particularly on decks and patios, provide ambience and extend outdoor living into the colder months. There is little doubt that new social distancing norms and recommendations to limit shared indoor spaces with non-household members are responsible for growth on these items with the largest increases, at least in part.

The second tier of responses — those ranging from a 9% to 15% increase — fall into two subgroups. The first are upgrades to the home exterior — which include siding, roofing, and windows – saw a substantial year over year increase. The second are improvements in a home’s functionality or comfort — which include closet and garage storage, appliances, HVAC systems, plumbing fixtures, and wall/ceiling coverings such as drywall, paneling, and tiles. The lowest tier of responses — those ranging from 3% to 6% growth over the previous year – included interior finish surfaces such as paint, cabinets, and flooring.  In the coming weeks, as we analyze the Consumer Practices Survey findings more deeply, we’ll be able to shed more light on the logic behind why some categories within these three tiers grew more extensively than others.

Evolution of Remodeling Projects as 2020 Progressed

In May of 2020, upon completion of last year’s 2020 Consumer Practices Survey, we published a blog on our analysis on changing remodeling behavior in the first month after COVID-19 restrictions were put in place (March - April 2020). The analysis revealed that interior painting projects had grown immensely over the preceding month, holding the top growth spot. Personal experience bears this out — I saw long lines in the paint sections of home improvement stores early in 2020, but they seemed to fade back to normal later in the year. This suggests “waves” of home improvements took place over 2020, and this pattern may extend into 2021. I suspect that the outdoor living sector will be one of these waves as materials shortages and high prices for treated lumber materials the latter half of 2020 has created some pent-up demand — households are still waiting for prices and supply to return to normal before undertaking some of those outdoor projects in 2021.  

As we get deeper into the analysis of this data, we’ll be able to answer questions like:

With some common building materials in short supply or just higher in price in 2020, I anticipate it will become known as a year when product alternatives gained ground. Stay tuned to find out. 

Builder & Consumer Practices Reports: First Come, First Serve

If you are considering subscribing to our Consumer Practices Reports, contact us as quickly as possible to arrange it. As we prepare and publish our 40 remodeling reports and 50 new home construction reports, we make them available principally on a first-come, first-serve basis. Consumer Practices Reports are scheduled to be published beginning early February and Builder Practices reports in mid-March. Contact us today to discuss.