The pandemic’s lockdowns, shelter-in-place rules, and general lack of anything to do outside of one’s own residence led many people to look at their homes in a new harsh light. Kitchens were less than ideal. Makeshift home offices were ergonomic wrecks. Outdoor spaces failed to offer the respite people suddenly needed. Almost immediately, people started wishing their homes were just a little—or maybe a whole lot—different.
According to the home renovation platform Houzz, many people decided to act on those impulses and invest in minor and major home renovation projects. Its recently released 2021 Houzz & Home Study puts some of these trends into numbers. Based on a survey of more than 70,000 U.S. respondents, the report found that, overall, home renovation projects were up in 2020, with much of the work focused on kitchens, home offices, and outdoor spaces. And these trends look likely to continue in 2021. Respondents report planning similar renovation projects this year as well.
The amount of money people spent on home renovation projects grew 15% in 2020, according to the report, jumping to a median expense of $15,000. Across the country, people invested in small and big ways, buying home technologies such as smart thermometers and security cameras, remodeling guest bedrooms, and upgrading plumbing systems.
The biggest area of focus was the kitchen. The median investment on major remodels of large kitchens increased 14% in 2020 compared to recent years, growing to $40,000.
“Kitchen projects are consistently the most popular among renovating homeowners, and while median spend has been flat on these projects for the past three years, it has been interesting to see investment on major remodels of large kitchens jump so significantly in the past year,” says Marine Sargsyan, Houzz senior economist.
Part of the increase in expense, Sargsyan says, is due to an increase in the price of labor and materials. Pandemic travel restrictions and business shutdowns created supply chain issues around the world, causing shortages of many building materials and sending consumer costs skyrocketing. “But the pandemic also put a significant amount of stress on the home as people spent more time there and decided to invest in new ways to make their spaces work better for them,” she says.
Home offices were a space that more homeowners invested in over the course of the year, too. According to the report, the amount of home office projects increased by 4 percentage points in 2020, and people spent 10% more on them compared with the previous year. Closet upgrades also saw a big jump in the amount people spent, rising 43% to $1,000, raising the possibility that some of those closets have been turned into home offices.
“While data from our 2021 Houzz & Home Study cannot confirm a connection between the increased spend on home offices and closets with the ‘cloffice’ trend, it is a possibility as homeowners searched for more functional work space,” Sargsyan says.
Compared to the past two years, outdoor projects also saw a relatively large increase, rising 6 percentage points in 2020. Homeowners also spent 25% more on porch and deck upgrades. And yards also saw more attention in 2020, with an 8 percentage point increase in projects focused on planting beds and the borders around them.
The survey found that the pandemic likely pushed many people to make these changes to their homes, but also that many projects had been simply waiting for the right time. In terms of what triggered people to get projects going, 36% of respondents said it was because they finally had the financial means to move forward, a slight jump from 34% the year before. Forty-four percent of respondents said they moved ahead with projects in 2020 because they actually had the time to do them, a significant jump from 38% in 2019.
Somewhat surprisingly, the challenges posed by the pandemic didn’t prevent most of these projects from moving forward. The survey measures nine major challenges that hold back renovation projects, from finding the right service providers and products to defining the style and collaborating with a spouse. In 2020, all nine metrics saw a reduction compared to 2018.
“Considering the potential pandemic-related challenges like meeting in person and implementing new on-site safety guidelines, the decline in reported challenges among homeowners was surprising,” Sargsyan says. “One possible explanation for this is that people were spending more time at home last year, so they may have been able to manage projects more closely.”
The work may just be getting started. More than half of survey respondents say they plan to start or make further renovations. The trends seen in 2020 are expected to continue in 2021. “Considering the shift we’re seeing in hybrid work models, we anticipate the focus on home offices and outdoor projects to continue, albeit not at the growth rates we’ve seen over the past year,” Sargsyan says.
The worst of the pandemic may be over in the United States, and people are beginning to spend more of their time beyond the walls of their homes. But in the near term, the impacts of the pandemic seem likely to continue to influence the way people revamp their homes.