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Storm trackers: HIRI follows Hurricane Sandy

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When Hurricane Sandy slammed into the northeastern part of the United States, the level of damage was clearly devastating. It was the start of a tremendously difficult time for many residents of this highly populous region. When bad things happen, a silver lining often emerges. In this case, that is a positive impact on the home improvement industry.

A significant portion of the damage caused by Sandy will require demolition of the old and building of new homes. While these activities are beyond the scope of the home improvement industry, the balance of the work to repair and revitalize damaged homes is exactly what the industry is about. Therefore, there should be a significant impact to home improvement sales in this portion of the country. In recent public statements, both The Home Depot and Lowe's attributed a favorable impact on fourth-quarter 2012 results to Sandy. These positive impacts should continue into 2013.

As the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI) prepared its March forecast of home improvement sales, we considered the impact Sandy will have on our industry.

To gain further insight into the impact of Sandy, HIRI has conducted a special analysis of its first-quarter consumer sentiment tracking study. The study was conducted the week of Jan. 7. Other study facts:

  • Included more than 5,000 U.S. adults;
  • Asked about the next three-month plans for work in 29 project areas around the home;
  • Measured agreement levels with a bank of 12 statements about homes and home improvement; and
  • Collected demographic details of each respondent, including his or her zip code.

Utilizing a list of FEMA-declared disaster areas by zip code, 5,089 respondents have been categorized as either being in Sandy's Zone (an area impacted by Sandy) or Not in Sandy's Zone. This database of responses was further refined by focusing in on the 3,422 in the study who were homeowners (the balance being renters).

An examination of the results of this analysis has many indicators that those in Sandy's Zone are planning much more home improvement work than those Not in Sandy's Zone.

While most homeowners plan to do some work in the next three months, those in Sandy's Zone are significantly more likely to be planning one or more projects at an 80% incidence level compared with 71% in the Not in Sandy Zone. Looking at the average number of project areas planned in the next three months, we also see a sharp difference. The mean number of project areas was 4.6 for those in the Sandy Zone, while it was only 3.5 for those Not in Sandy's Zone.

Besides their higher levels of project planning, those in Sandy's Zone have more favorable attitudes toward home improvement and are more inclined to use contractors. Full information on these attitudes and information on specific project areas are available in a special report for HIRI members. Also available is the full report on the quarterly sentiment tracking at HIRI.org.

What does this all mean for the industry? First of all, business should be stronger in the Northeast for a good portion of 2013. Since homeowners in this area have higher incomes and have homes that are more expensive than in many other areas of the country, we can expect spending to be on high-quality repairs. In addition, with the significant amount of damage in many cases, these homeowners may take this opportunity to do upgrades rather than to just replace what was damaged. The fact that they are more oriented to use contractors should indicate that outlets that serve professionals will see a disproportionate amount of business.

No one wishes for the kind of devastation brought by one of these storms, but the home improvement industry can be prepared to help make things right again.

A 24-year industry veteran, Fred Miller is the managing director of the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI), online at HIRI.org. He can be reached at ConsumerSp@aol.com.

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