The Remodeling Industry Needs Better Data

Data reported on the remodeling industry has never been solid, but it has gotten considerably worse over the recent years. For a nearly $300 billion industry, data is essential for smart, efficient decision making. Editorial Director Paul Deffenbaugh calls on the industry to push for more data collection.

July 31, 2009

Paul Deffenbaugh
Editorial Director

Data reported on the remodeling industry has never been solid.

Permit reporting by the U.S. Census Bureau was hampered by wildly divergent permitting requirements in different states and localities. Eventually, the permit tracking was dropped because of its unreliability.

The famous “C50 Expenditures for Residential Improvements and Repairs” report the Census Bureau produced quarterly was based on the same survey that generated the Consumer Price Index, so it focused primarily on small purchases, such as toothpaste. Consequently, the numbers reported on remodeling repairs and improvements were highly volatile. Even so, the “C50” would come out long after the end of the quarter — sometimes as long as 6 months after — so its usefulness in getting a true picture of the remodeling industry was suspect.

Much more accurate is the biannual American Housing Survey. This is a detailed study of all the spending American households commit. Very accurate. Very detailed. An excellent study. The downside? It’s only done every other year and requires another year of number crunching to report the details. So, we get a very nice picture of the remodeling industry from 3 years ago.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University’s Remodeling Futures program has developed a leading indicator of remodeling activity that imputes a considerable amount of information in a weighted and balanced index number. It is very useful for a high-level assessment of the industry but lacks significant breadth or subtlety. Knowing the industry is trending up over the next three months is valuable but does not give anyone in the industry — remodelers, manufacturers or other service providers — the details they need to make decisions about where to commit resources.

The remodeling industry lacks reliable, consistent, deep data.

In contrast, we have detailed information about the housing industry from June. We know the number of permits for new homes; new homes sold by market and type; and existing home sales. Everyone has a smart sense of what’s going on and where we’re going.

So, what can we do? As a professional industry, we need this information to conduct our business, operate more efficiently and attract capital investments. The Census Bureau steadfastly refuses to serve as a marketing arm for private enterprise.

Nonetheless, we need to pressure our Commerce Department to fulfill its role of providing reliable information about a nearly $300 billion industry.

At Professional Remodeler, we’re doing a small part by making surveying and data collection a larger element of our own enterprise. Check out soon for our monthly surveys of the industry. These short, quick-to-complete surveys focus on business issues and product information. Be a part of the solution. Put our surveys on your monthly to-do list.

Contact me at or 630/288-8190

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