Remodels up as home prices climb

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Claudia Brown, a kitchen and bathroom designer for Home Depot, is witnessing what she’s rarely seen in the past six years: customers knocking down walls again.

“People aren’t hesitant; they’re getting what they want,” Brown said earlier this month.

Spurred by rising home prices, homeowners who spent the worst housing downturn since the Great Depression taking on only must-do repairs or minor upgrades are again starting wish-list projects. Those revamps, even in the face of still-tight lending conditions, include additions costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Spending for U.S. remodeling in the 12 months through Sept. 30 may climb 20 percent from a year earlier to $145.5 billion, according to a forecast by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“When the sky is no longer falling, when prices are improving, homeowners are willing to invest,” said Scott Mosby, co-owner of St. Louis-based Mosby Building Arts, an architectural and remodeling company.

After years of trimming costs, firing workers and slowing store openings, Home Depot and Lowe’s recently shifted to preparing for the wave of remodeling. Both retailers have improved online services allowing homeowners to design projects and communicate with employees as work progresses.

Homeowners are giving themselves “the psychological permission to spend it and feel good about it,” Lowe’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Niblock said.

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