On the House: BHG survey suggests a bit of wishful thinking

Posted: March 03, 2013

'This place should be on the cover of Better Homes & Garbage."

I forget whose joke that is. It might have been a comedian, or maybe someone who visited an apartment in White Plains, N.Y., that I shared with a sloppy roommate in the mid-1970s. But every time I see the cover of Better Homes & Gardens magazine, it comes to mind.

Each year, BHG presents the household hopes and aspirations of readers still willing to spend $41.88 a year for a legacy medium.

Let me say that since I started following its annual survey, the magazine's name has become attached to a real estate company. So when the survey says 59 percent of readers believe now is the time to buy or build a house, I wonder: How did they phrase the question?

Although the real estate market is showing consistent signs of recovery, if 59 percent of anyone got off the fence and bought, we'd be in really good shape.

Twenty-one hundred out of 23,000 readers polled completed the survey, less than 10 percent. And what interests me more about it is what the readers say they want in their houses, whether they think now is the time to buy or not.

"When we look at all the aspects of home that are rising in consumer priority, we see efficiency and comfort as leading themes on multiple levels," said Jill Waage, the magazine's editorial director for home content. She identified three trends defining the new era of home buyer:

Neighborhood, energy-saving appliances, and large/spacious rooms are important for enduring home value.

The increased priority given to outdoor living/entertaining areas and upgraded kitchen/bath finishes and features indicates that ongoing value is placed on time spent at home with family and friends in those spaces.

Rising numbers on bath upgrades, ample storage space, and functional home offices or mudrooms shows that the woman in the household is ready to think about herself, the home's efficiency, and how she can better go about her day.

Among those respondents planning home-improvement projects in the next 12 months, 30 percent "highly agree" that "now is the right time to spend" on home improvements, nearly double the number that agreed with that statement in 2009 (16 percent).

Consumers' determination to squeeze the most value out of every dollar they spend appears to be easing up slightly in 2012.

Respondents said they were currently doing or planning projects including:

Painting rooms (other than kitchen/bath), 48 percent.

Replacing/adding flooring (other than kitchen/bath), 37 percent.

Decorating/redecorating room(s) with furniture and accessories, 36 percent.

Surveys, like to-do lists, often contain a bit of wishful thinking. I can't tell you how many lists I've made that I could never begin to finish.

Perhaps this should be the question posed: Which projects have you accomplished, and would you like to tell us about them?

Talk to me.

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.

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