How Renters are Remodeling, and What Happens When They Buy?

By Brad Hunter

Published August 27, 2018

Renters are Having Two Distinct Impacts

A new study finds that renters are making two notable impacts on home improvement demand.

  • They are taking on small projects in their rental units — installing closet systems, painting, wall-mounting the TV and hiding wires from their computer and surround sound systems.
  • They are finally becoming homeowners in larger numbers and that often involves putting some work into a fixer-upper.

In both of these ways, the population that is currently renting or transitioning from being renters to owners is a part of the massive boom in home improvement activity that is underway nationwide.

What Renters Like to Fix Up

Most renters try to avoid spending money to improve somebody else’s property, but some renters will invest in improvements or help the landlord with a fix. Often renters want to personalize the space, so painting is common because it is relatively inexpensive and quick.

Nearly half (42%) of renters surveyed have completed a home project in the past 12 months. The most popular projects include:

Installation of smart-home technology, like smart thermostats and smart doorbells, is an up-and-coming trend.

Many renters, when they do want to improve their home, try to tackle projects on their own rather than hiring help, but there are many important instances when they call a pro.

A recent HomeAdvisor study looking at renter trends shows that the top projects where renters hire a pro include:

In a case like the leaking pipe, they need to get it fixed immediately, so they often get the repair done and get the landlord to pay the bill.  Similarly, a renovation job will typically be funded by the property owner, even though the tenant might help interact with the contractors on a day-to-day basis.

Across the generations surveyed, here is how their top projects compared:

  • Millennials
    • cleaning (88%)
    • home organization (61%)
    • fixing a clogged drain (60%).
  • Gen X’ers
    • cleaning (83%)
    • fixing a clogged drain (68%)
    • landscaping and yard work (50%).
  • Baby boomers
    • cleaning (79%)
    • fixing a clogged drain (58%)
    • painting (54%).
  • Silent generation 
    • fixing a clogged drain (69%)
    • cleaning (65%)
    • landscaping or yard work (44%).

Millennials: Most Likely to Be Renovating

The HomeAdvisor survey showed that millennial renters are more likely than other generations of renters to have completed a home project in the last year. This reflects the fact that they have been “out on their own” for a shorter span of time than older generations, and they therefore need to do more things (install closet systems, mount the TV, hook up surround sound, computer wiring, etc.).  In addition, renters as a group tend to move from place to place much more often than owners, increasing their need to paint or add personal touches.

Renters Are Increasingly Planning to Become Homeowners

When HomeAdvisor asked renters whether they plan to purchase a home in the next year, 35% of millennial renters, 35% of Gen X’ers, 14% of baby boomers, and 8% of silent generation renters said they are planning on purchasing.

Spotlight on the Millennials:

The top reasons why millennial renters DO plan to purchase a home in the next year include:

  • to raise a family (60%),
  • paying rent is not a good investment (56%),
  • to have more space (53%),
  • stability (50%).

The leading edge of the millennial wave (those in their 30s) are having children at about the same rate as the generation before them. This is driving their housing choices, many times to the suburbs.

According to the HomeAdvisor survey, 35% of millennial renters surveyed plan to buy a home in the next year. As more and more millennials get their first home, there will be a marked pickup in home improvement activity among that group.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. When anybody buys a home, they typically do some work to customize it to their taste.
  2. Millennials typically buy older homes that need more work.

There will be a massive surge in home improvement spending on the part of members of the millennial generation and Gen X.

As the Millennials and Gen X’ers Buy Homes, Remodeling Will Accelerate

Millennials are increasingly becoming homeowners, and this will drive much more spending on home projects. The typical millennial household today spends more on home improvement than average. This is partly a reflection of having recently become homeowners, which means there are a lot of improvements still on their to-do list. This is amplified by the fact that first-time home buyers often buy homes that have had some neglect (a key strategy for finding a home that they can afford). And HomeAdvisor’s research shows that 5 out of 6 are going to spend the same or more next year than they spent last year.

Renters generally limit their home projects to those that meet their needs (fixing clogged drains) or that add to the looks and organization of the home or apartment without spending a large amount of money. As the younger groups move into homeownership, the ongoing boom in home improvement will become even larger.


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