Putting the ‘boom’ in home improvement
Local experts say baby boomers leading a real estate resurgence

By KIRSTEN KLAHN - Special to The Milwaukee Post

March 15, 2013

Pekel Construction and Remodeling recently completed this interior remodeling project of a Wauwatosa home. Area experts say that baby boomers who want to stay in their homes longer are generating more remodeling projects for local contractors.
Submitted photo

MILWAUKEE – Baby boomers are leading a resurgence in the local home improvement market.

The home improvement industry is steadily building itself back up after years of struggling in a poor economy. And baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are to thank for the boost in business, said David Pekel, president of Wauwatosa-based Pekel Construction and Remodeling.

“There has been an increase in business,” he said. “Older homeowners have been an increasing segment of our business.”

David Pekel

According to a recent report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, baby boomers nearing or in retirement are making the call to upgrade their homes, whether it be to make it more energy-efficient or more usable for the age group.

The report states that homeowners presently over 55 account for more than 45 percent of home improvement spending, compared with 10 years ago when they accounted for less than one-third of it.

Pekel said he started to notice the increase in business a few years ago.

“These baby boomers want to stay in their homes longer,” he said. “They’re a vibrant percentage of the population, and they want to put in that money to upgrade their homes.”

Reasons vary for why baby boomers are choosing to invest, Pekel said. But they include factors such as not wanting to sell their homes and take a loss, as well as wanting to remain in their homes for as long as possible, he said.

According to a survey completed by the AARP, more than nine in 10 respondents 65 and older said they want to remain in their homes. Furthermore, 67 percent said they believe making home improvement
changes will allow them to live there longer than they otherwise would have been able to.

When baby boomers make the decision to invest in their homes, they should be looking for a specific type of certification, said Chris Egner, who is the owner of Four Seasons Sunrooms and serves on the
board of directors for the Milwaukee chapter on the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Chris Egner

There are many certifications, including universal design and aging in place certifications, that show that contractors will specialize in helping baby boomers improve their homes.

The aging in place certification was developed by the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers Council to help train the home improvement industry to better meet the needs of people 50 and older by
educating workers on what older homeowners need to continue aging in their homes.

“These certifications show that contractors know how to, for example, find a way to put the laundry on the main floor, or redo a bathroom so it has more space,” Egner said. “It can also be things such as needing to install a shower with no barriers so someone can roll into the shower.”

A universal design certification is similar, Egner said, but applies to a broader audience, including people with disabilities or special needs.

The demand for these types of home improvement started to increase last year, Egner said. And it pays to have those specialized certifications, he said.

Energy efficiency is also playing a huge role in the home improvement industry, said Mark Meiling, president of Wauwatosa-based ForeSight Home Performance.

Going green to save green

The Harvard report showed that energy-related projects made a jump from 23 percent in 2007 to 33 percent in 2011. About one-fourth of households undertaking home improvement projects in 2011 did it for
energy-efficiency purposes.

Meiling, who specializes in making homes energy efficient, said some of the important changes people are making include things such as insulating ceilings and walls, as well as air sealing.

Mark Meiling

“All of these efforts, like insulation and sealing, do have some cash savings,” Meiling said. “But they’re also all designed around reducing energy use. We’re looking at things and asking: ‘What is our carbon

Baby boomers are also leading the way in energy efficiency, Pekel said. “They’re looking at their homes and saying not only what do we have to do,” he said, “but also what do we want to do. They want to enjoy their homes and have a peace of mind that they’re continuing to invest in it. They want to do nice things for themselves.”

It’s a trend that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, Egner said. “Baby boomers are a growing market,” he said. “As that section of the  population increases, (home improvement is) going to become even bigger. It’s just the beginning of the real growth.”