The home as a creative enterprise

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) -- You may think from the advertisements that the primary objective of Americans is to relax in a hammock or take a long vacation or idle away free time.

You are wrong. They are busy fixing up the house.

If there is any one all-American pursuit, engaged in by young and old, new owners and old, urbanites and suburbanites, immigrants and native born, it likely has something to do with the house.

And the preoccupation seems likely to evolve into an obsession. While projects might be simple as replacing a faucet, the costs add up to nearly $180 billion a year, and might eventually even surpass new-home building.

That, at least, is the view of scholars at Harvard Univeristy's Joint Center for Housing Studies, who marvel at the phenomenon which, they say, has helped to dramatically upgrade the quality of the nation's housing.

The Joint Center, which examines a phase of the housing industry each year, has most recently focused on remodeling and repairs, recognizing its enormous financial and sociological impact on the entire economy.

That $180 billion figure, for example, is a catalyst, the report's authors state, for stimulating another $100 billion or so a year in spending for furnishings, appliances and lawn and garden projects.

Those are federal budget-size figures, and in recent years they've been growing larger each year. Now, with existing home sales reaching an annual rate of 5.44 million units, there likely to continue rising.

With each ownership transfer of an existing home there usually comes a spurt of spending, much of it for renovations, furniture and appliances. Then come additions when a new family member -- parent, spouse or child -- is added. Now, technological innovations are becoming a major force.

This is not news to homeowners, who are well aware of the money and labor they put into redefining their homes. It is the aggregate effect of all these projects that has such an enormous impact on economic society.

It also helps explain why housing is so important to the economy, studied for clues to the future by economists at the Federal Reserve and examined by stock analysts for indications of corporate health.

While it booms along with the economy, remodeling and repairing is far less likely to collapse when the overall economy tanks. It might decline, but far less precipitously; then, it might even substitute for a vacation.

With average household incomes 150 percent higher than in 1940, adjusted for inflation, improving the home increasingly has become an outlet for creativity as well a place with a roof over one's head.

Viewed in its broadest perspective, the seldom interrupted activity in the American homestead is like a vast anthill, with owners coming and going, getting and spending and forever upgrading and improving.

And so long as young people marry and have kids, houses deteriorate, owners become bored with decor, breadwinners get transfered, oldsters retire to smaller digs and the population increases, it will remain so.

End Adv PMs Thursday, April 26.

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