These days, it's difficult to feel gung ho about our business decisions. If you review the past several years, we've been thrown a major curve ball about every six months. It all seems to have started about three years ago, with Y2K -- remember that? Then, the technology bubble burst, followed by the downturn in the rest of the stock market. Next came September 11, the scandals at Enron and Arthur Andersen, the sniper attacks in the Washington area, and, most recently, the war in Iraq.
Wow. In the face of all of that, we need a break to regroup and gain some confidence and courage for the future. As human beings, we can't help being guided in part by our fears when it comes to making business decisions. We're constantly being torn between being optimistic and pessimistic, and that makes it hard to reconcile our emotions with the facts about remodeling trends and real business opportunities.
Imagine trying to decide whether to invest in technology for the growth of your business or whether to spend money on a marketing campaign that will increase lead flow. If you let fear and emotion take the upper hand, you'll be paralyzed, unable to act one way or another. But if you set emotion aside, the facts are encouraging. Consider the following:
* Home improvement spending continues to grow. According to the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies, the total was $214 billion in 2001.
* Americans lack the time and, often, the skills to tackle home improvement projects themselves. And because they have more disposable income than in years past, particularly aging baby boomers, they're hiring professional contractors at a record pace.
* Home values and equity continue to rise at record rates, and any worries about a housing "bubble" have been all but dismissed.
* Interest rates are at 40-year lows, making mortgages more affordable. In fact, the Housing Affordability Index hit a 30-year high of 144 in the first quarter of this year, according to the National Association of Realtors, meaning the typical U.S. household had 144% of the income to buy a median-priced home.
* Mortgage refinancing has also surged in the past few years, rising from $207 billion in 2000 to $1.16 trillion in 2001 and $1.42 trillion in 2002. According to Harvard's Joint Center, cash out rose proportionately, reaching $90 billion in 2002, about 35% of which was plowed back into remodeling projects.
* Homeowners are spending more than ever on maintenance. In fact, 30% of all residential remodeling expenditures are for upkeep and maintenance.
* Remodeling takes place whenever houses are sold, whether it's new homes or existing housing stock. With both of these categories selling at record rates, the climate for remodeling has never been better.
Not all the news has been good, but the facts show that the overall trend in housing is positive. I'm not suggesting we wear blinders, but it's very difficult to be successful at anything you do without conviction and confidence. You have important business decisions to make, and you should be guided by the facts, not by fears surrounding horrifying and disheartening world events. Knee-jerk business decisions are rarely effective or successful.
We're in an industry where the opportunities are boundless, so we don't need to invent or create them. But we're still faced with the difficult challenge of choosing from among several options. If you listen carefully to the marketplace and your clients, you'll be guided to the right decisions. Your success will be determined more by how well you master this business than by the political or economic climate in which you operate. But it depends on whether you follow your fears or the facts. I recommend the facts.
--Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling, Bethesda, Md., and the author of 30 Day Remodeling Fitness Program . He can be reached at (301) 229-4600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.