Report shows ‘extraordinary’ growth in home improvements

The home improvement market has seen “more winners than losers” in the past couple of years despite the challenges the industry has faced.

That was the conclusion of the Home Improvement Report 2022 from Barbour ABI, which analyses the home renovations market by region, looking at the numbers of planning applications, as well as the types of improvements undertaken by whom.

It kicks off by saying that “it would be hard to describe the performance of the home improvement market over the past couple of years as normal”. However, it points out that all of the setbacks of Covid and its lockdowns and subsequent impact on the supply chain have “not diminished the demand for home improvements as measured by the number of planning applications made”.

The report points out that the home improvement market has benefited from the pot of £200 billion that consumers accumulated over lockdown. It said: “2021 saw extraordinary growth across the whole of Great Britain. The number of applications for home improvement work in 2021 rose by more than a quarter compared with those made pre-pandemic in 2019.”

Highlighting the impact on the market of more people now working from home, the report also showed that applications for home offices increased by a staggering 250% between 2019 and 2021. Three-quarters of these came from the least deprived areas of the UK with a strong bias towards rural areas favoured by commuters.

Applications for both lofts and extensions rose by almost 30%, while for garden buildings the figure was 45%.

In terms of the percentage breakdown of different types of home improvements work undertaken, by far the biggest slice was extensions, which would no doubt include a high proportion of kitchens, with a national average figure of 65%, followed by loft work at 11.6%, garden buildings and works at 10.4% and garages at 6.7%.

It did, however, add that it was “too early to say which of these shifts in popularity for the various types of home improvements will be sustained”.

The hottest spots for home-improvement projects remain the London commuter belt, East of England and the South-East. Seven out of the top 10 performing areas are in Hertfordshire, Essex and Surrey. In terms of percentage growth in applications between 2020 and 2021, however, London was down at 16% compared with the national average of 20%, with the biggest increases seen in the East of England (24%), the North-East and West Midlands (22%) and York & Humberside, the South-West and Scotland (21%).

Top of the table for annual average household spending on home improvements in 2019/20 was the South-East at £9,000, followed by the East of England at £6,000 and the South-West at £4,500. London surprising came in ninth with £3,100. But despite weaker growth, more than half of the home improvement applications over the past three years were in London, the South-East and Eastern England, where there were likely twice the number of applications for each private home.

Figures for the types of residents undertaking home improvements showed that activity in the largest two categories of spender both increased – applications from ‘rural residents’ jumped in 2020 but fell back in 2021 to around 20%, with applications from ‘suburbanites’ steadily rising for some years, rising from 26% in 2016 to 28% in 2021.

The report points to rising house prices as a strong driver of this growth, but strikes a note of caution when looking to the future. It concluded: “With so many factors at play, it may prove hard to discern whether there has been a permanent uplift in home improvement activity, given the welter of inhibiting economic factors.”

Figures from Powered Now show that Brits spent around £110 billion on home improvements over the course of the pandemic, with 15% of them employing tradespeople for a bathroom renovation – 13% for kitchens.

Separate research from NatWest and S&P Global has suggested that, so far, rising living costs are not putting the brakes on home improvements, with as the latest figures showing that the number of people planning home improvements in the next 12 months rose from 16% in Q4 of 2021, to 22% in Q1 of 2022.

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