ATLANTA — Homeowners typically postpone expensive remodeling projects in the kitchen and bathroom during a recession, but manufacturers say they are seeing a slow increase in sales.
"In many parts of the country, people are starting to feel the thaw" in business, said Suzie Williford, president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association.
With so many homes for sale, some homeowners are sprucing up their interiors to make them stand out. At the same time, the housing market is so bad in many areas, more homeowners are upgrading rooms because they can't or won't sell their properties now. On top of that, a growing number of homeowners are ready to spend on eco-friendly toilets, showers and the like.
At the association's four-day trade show in Atlanta last week, industry executives were more optimistic than last year, although attendance was only about 30,000 — half of last year's number.
Williford says homeowners understand how slow the real estate market is, so they feel the need to make their homes look better than their neighbors' if they want to sell.
"When building goes down for us, even when it's flat, remodeling goes up," she said. "People might ask, 'How can someone afford to remodel their house right now?' Well, people don't want their homes to take the same precedence as the next. It'll give you the competitive edge when you need to sell your home."
That's especially true in this market.
Last year, the number of Americans who moved declined sharply, reaching the lowest percentage in 60 years, according to census data released last month. There are several reasons why people are staying put, notably rising unemployment, tighter mortgage standards, and, of course, the worst housing market in a generation.
"People want to stay where they are and update," said John Kellerstrass, vice president of the Oklahoma company D'Vontz, which offers luxury bath and kitchen decor.
He said the company's sales hit their lowest point between September and December of last year, but started to see a turn in mid February.
Another way interior and furniture designers have been trying to evolve with the market is by going green.
Mike Chandler, a vice president at Kohler, the faucet and fixture maker, was skeptical at first. But he has had a change of heart after noticing how most consumers are conscious about the environment.
To stay relevant, Chandler said, Kohler introduced new lower-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets at the show.
"If (customers) can find something that's good for the planet, looks great and saves money, they're all over it."