Business is good for Bakersfield contractors in the home remodeling business. They are seeing a steady flow of customers wanting improvements and upgrades in their kitchens and bathrooms.
“Business is booming for me,” said Joel Darrah, who operates the small, family owned Darrah Construction. “I can’t take a new job until next year.”
Although Darrah specializes in custom door installations, he says about 40 percent of his business now comes from kitchen and bathroom remodeling.
“I’m seeing a lot of baby boomers,” he said, noting that his typical customers are people who have lived in a house for a couple of decades, like where they are living, but want upgrades.
“I would say about 30 percent of my remodels also are the result of a life change,” he said, explaining that younger clients may have inherited property and want to make improvements that will fit their lifestyles. Older clients may be making changes that will allow them to live longer in their homes and enjoy modern amenities.
The uptick in business Darrah and other local remodeling contractors are reporting is consistent with the findings of a recent study by the Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Titled “Demographic Change and the Remodeling Outlook,” the study predicts owner improvements by all age groups will increase by about 2 percent every year through 2025 — increasing nationwide from $221 billion in 2015 to $269 billion in 2025. The growth will be driven by the baby boomer generation’s desire to age in their own homes.
The oldest of the 76.4 million boomers, the U.S. generation born after World War II, are turning 71 this year. As they retire, they are making decisions about where to live. And that is leading to an increased demand for accessible housing.
“People are staying put and improving their homes,” concurred Michelle Hardt, who heads design services for Hardt Construction Services, the family owned company she operates with her husband, Tim.
“We break down our customer base into three age groups: 18 to 32; 33 to 54; and 55-up,” said Tim Hardt. The first group — millennials — “don’t seem to have much saved cash and are either receiving support from parents or are leveraged to the hilt.
“The 33 to 54 age group seems to be the ones with the most resources. What I mean by this is that they are, generally speaking, entering into or are in the midst of their highest income-earning years. They are generally educated, are looking for quality at a reasonable price and generally know what they want.
“This is the group we focus on most. They have saved their money, made smart financial decisions in the past and still have time to make more money. So they are not afraid to spend it now for a better life style.
“The last group — personally my favorite — is [comprised of people who are] not looking to move into new homes or take on more/new debt. They are slower to make decisions; however, when they make their minds up, they rarely change. They have plenty of financial resources, but are very frugal. [That’s] probably why they have the cash reserves. They tend to make smaller changes on their homes, mostly facelifts on kitchens or bathrooms, and not add square footage for growing families.”
From his company’s experience, Tim Hardt summarized the following trends: 77 percent of customers making contact with Hardt Construction for the first time are women between the ages of 42 and 54; the average upgrade to a home has risen for his company to $67,000; kitchen remodels are the No. 1 requested at 44 percent; bathrooms are second at 36 percent; room additions are third at 11 percent; rear yard remodels are fourth at 7 percent; and house facade facelifts are fifth at 2 percent.
“People often call us to remodel a kitchen,” said Michelle Hardt. “But when I go out to their home to see what changes they want to make, the conversation can expand to include adjacent rooms or maybe the entire house.”
Brian Sorci, the owner of Sorci Construction Services, stressed the need to listen to customers and determine their remodeling goals. How long do they plan on living in a house? Why are improvements being made?
And, of course, cost is a factor.
“Every day we get calls from people asking us how much a kitchen or bathroom remodel would cost,” said Sorci, noting costs depend on many factors, including how extensive the remodel will be and the quality of the materials used. “What kind of cabinets do they want? Tens of thousands of dollars can be added to a remodeling just by the selection of appliances.
“We do custom remodeling,” he explained. “They are unique, one of a kind. Everyone has their own slant as to what they want. Some people know exactly what they want. Others need help seeing it. Our budgets are pretty sophisticated. We try to give the client the ability to control the budget.”
Sorci said he views every home in Bakersfield — whether it was just recently constructed or is 100 years old — as a potential client. Homeowners are always adding, repairing or changing styles. New families move in. Others move out. It’s the reality of life.
“We have been in the business for nearly 30 years,” he said. “I have never looked [at any project] as a single client. I look at them as lifelong clients. That may be the life of the house or of the person. They will call us back for additional remodels or repairs.”
Remodeling trends vary, as do customers’ tastes. But local contractors report “hot styles” include modern, rustic designs in both kitchens and bathrooms. While being able to “age in place” may be a big motivation to remodel, customers want safety and comfort features to be subtly included.
Often this is referred to as “universal design,” meaning the features appeal to people of all ages. These features include lever handles, rather than doorknobs; motion-sensor light switches; nonslip flooring; European showers, which lack entry dams to allow access by wheelchairs; grab bars in bathrooms; ADA-height toilets, which is now called “comfort height”; and wider doorways and airy rooms, which enhance safety and access.
And while researchers give much of the credit for the present spike in remodeling to boomers, they urge contractors to pay attention to millennial customers.
According to HomeAdvisor’s 2017 True Cost Report, the millennial generation, which is most likely to invest in “fixer-upper” homes, is closely trailing behind boomers in home improvement spending. Millennials like to customize and personalize their living space.
The Harvard study predicts in the next decade, millennials will account for more than 25 percent of all home improvement spending.