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Covid-19: Renovations were key for property owners during challenging time

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Many homeowners took the lockdown opportunity to improve their residences so they could fulfil their new functions as offices, classrooms and even gyms

Many South African homeowners have been hard at work over the past year, renovating their homes, undertaking necessary maintenance, and making their spaces work better for them.

This increase in activity was first spurred by the hard 2020 lockdown, which saw people confined to their properties for most of the year and then further encouraged by the drastic lifestyle changes that followed.

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Areas of particular focus have been the garden and outdoors, work-from-home spaces, and multi-functional areas to suit all household members.

It is therefore unsurprising that hardware stores reported above-average levels of confidence last year which, although now slowing, still indicates steady levels of home renovation and upgrades.

Siphamandla Mkhwanazi, senior economist at FNB, says building manufacturer confidence increased during the first three months of 2021 because of “a continued rise in production and domestic sales”. The plausible reason for this, he says, is still-strong retail hardware sales which saw the business confidence of hardware retailers reach 64 in Q42020 – much higher than its long-term average of 49.

However, he cautions: “Most of the positive effect of working from home and increased disposable income – for those who managed to keep their jobs last year and did not take a pay cut – on hardware sales is likely behind us. Going forward, growth may come under pressure here too.”

Reflecting on the past year, Graeme Steen, chief executive of Kandua.com – a South African online home services marketplace – says trends showed people increasingly investing in home improvements, with the number of monthly requests posted on the portal increasing by 750% as compared to April last year.

“Renovation requests have doubled… During the initial weeks of strict lockdown, only emergency home repair services could operate. When lockdown eased, there was not only pent-up demand but also an overall increase in improvements and fixes that people wanted to conduct in their homes.”

Echoing this, Cedric Sennepin, chief executive of Leroy Merlin South Africa, which partners with Kandua, says it has experienced an ongoing increase in sales since reopening on May 1, 2020.

“We’re spending more time at home than ever before. This means more wear and tear around the home and also the fact you’re more likely to notice issues or have ideas for home improvement.”

At first, many homeowners took on relatively simple DIY projects as a stress reliever or a fulfilling way to spend their idle time at home.

“We saw a massive increase in sales for interior paint, decorative, gardening and organisational products.”

As the demands on time and homes increased though, more people turned to professionals to get the job done.

The pair attributes the increase in home improvement to several factors, including that homes have become multifunctional spaces.

“Over the past year, our homes have also become our offices, classrooms, gyms, movie theatres and even restaurants,” Steen says.

“This is reflected in the increased demand for renovation services. People are transforming their spaces to adapt to their changing lifestyles, and are investing money into their homes that would normally be spent on things like travel and entertainment.”

Homeowners are, however, cautioned against overcapitalising on their renovations, especially if they are planning to sell in the near future. In addition to spending no more than 5% to 10% of the total value of the property on renovations, Steen says owners need to research the average selling price of properties in their area.

“Not every improvement or upgrade is necessarily going to boost the value of your home. Be strategic: upgraded kitchens and bathrooms add the most value. Renovations that make the house ‘greener’, increasing efficiency, reducing energy bills, and benefiting the environment, are becoming increasingly popular.”

Outdoor entertainment areas and landscaped gardens are also “guaranteed to add value” if they are renovated and updated well, says Alen Ribic, chief technology officer of SweepSouth, a mobile app that connects homeowners and professionals like plumbers, painters, handymen and electricians.

“Carefully consider what to spend money on. In a kitchen, for example, it pays to invest in gorgeous, functional items, such as a gas hob, a centre island and new counters, and save money by revamping cabinets and giving the walls a fresh coat of paint.”

For owners looking to make wise home upgrades that will appeal to buyers, Pearl Scheltema, chief executive of Fitzanne Estates says: “Buyers are looking for spaces that offer convenience, value, and room for all the new roles a home should play…

“Opportunity also knocks for those willing to invest in sustainable buildings, with a renewed emphasis being placed on homes that offer independence from load shedding.”

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