The return of the renovator

Back in the ‘glory days’ of property, suburbs across the country were constantly serenaded in a song of hammers hammering and buzz saws buzzing. Then as the GFC hit, an eerie silence fell over middle Australia. Are there hints that the renovation melody is set to play again?

Businesses in the arena of home improvement, do-it-yourself (DIY) or hardware have had a bumper run of late, according to figures released late last year. There was a surge in trade, revenue and profits across the sector in the September quarter. At the time, I remember being fairly surprised by the result.

For the past few years, people have seemed reluctant to do much of anything when it comes to property. Investors retreated to wherever it is they go when the real estate landscape becomes uncertain, first homebuyers stuck around at mum and dad’s house a bit longer and upgraders, well, didn’t upgrade.

Everyone seemed to be sitting on their hands and waiting out the proverbial poo-storm. Trust me – I had a burl at selling two properties during this particularly character-building period. My life morphed into one long, nightmarish open house and I spent a small fortune on fresh flowers and scented candles that give the impression you’ve just baked a cake.

As 2012 rolled on, hordes of Australians began descending on mega-warehouses, corner hardware stores and home supply showrooms to stock up on stuff to makeover their properties.

Why? Did these savvy renovators sense a renewed interest in bricks and mortar on the horizon? Did they see the bottom of the market before the rest of us? Were they simply bored and keen for a project?

Loan Market spokesman Paul Smith says a recent survey of the brokerage’s customers found 37 per cent plan to carry out a major renovation this year. In fact, it’s the number one thing they’re saving for.

Another 23 per cent of respondents are keen to revamp their yards with some landscaping works, Smith says, and 30 per cent of gen-Y homeowners want to replace appliances and upgrade their furniture.

It’s that last group, the younger cohort, who tend to buy properties with potential to be given a new lease on life, he says. Plus, he reckons they’re more likely to take on DIY projects.

“Many first-time buyers who purchase with the intent of living in the unit for a short six to 12-month period often undertake renovation projects to not only add value to the property but increase the likelihood of finding renters and maximising their returns,” Smith told me.

I’m a sucker for a project so I watch those TV makeover shows religiously. Pre-GFC, I was one of millions of Australians who’d tune in to watch semi-amateur DIYers take on mammoth tasks with gusto and enjoy obscene profits when all was said and done. Then, one by one, these shows fell off our screens. The scant few that remained made for sad viewing – failed auction results and all.

Reality series The Block rated its behind off last year and the finale saw each contestant achieve auction sales above and beyond expectations. Sure, there were some claims of under-quoting, but even I sat there in near-shock as the hammer fell on each of the four renovated dwellings.

It proved so popular that producers are giving us two version of the show this year – a new lot of contestants as well as an ‘all stars’ version. Five or six nights a week of dramatised renovating spread across half of 2013 might fuel even greater interest in breathing new life into our homes.

Or the sheer televisual saturation will turn us all off completely. Only time will tell.

Shannon Molloy is the deputy editor of Australian Property Investor magazine,