Kitchen and Bath Opportunities Abound

My paternal grandparents were Iowa farmers who didn’t have a bathroom in their home until my father was a senior in high school. That was 1970. They probably thought an indoor bathroom was frivolous, considering they always had been without such an indulgence. Still, someone in 1970 living without an indoor bathroom stuns me—maybe because I can’t imagine living without the bathroom I appreciate every day.

I’m not alone in my adoration of my bathroom. When the U.S. Census Bureau conducted its first National Housing Census in 1940, it found 44 percent of homes had little or no plumbing facilities. Of the new homes built in 2009, only 8 percent had one and one-half baths or less; 37 percent had two baths; 31 percent had two and one-half baths; and 24 percent had three baths or more.

Perhaps because homes now are built with so many amenities, including additional bathrooms and kitchens that feature what once had been upgrades, the U.S. has entered a stage of fashionable rather than functional remodeling. I recently chatted with Mark Richardson, co-chairman of Bethesda, Md.-based Case Design/Remodeling Inc., about today’s kitchens and baths having life cycles of 10 to 15 years. Their short lives translate to a 70 percent share of remodeling companies’ business (from approximately 30 percent five years ago). Richardson said this provides ample opportunities for reputable remodeling firms, despite the competition from builders and others who have entered the remodeling business.

First, remodelers must remember homeowners consider kitchens and baths high-risk projects. “This is in part because of the media and also because homeowners consider these spaces the crown jewels of their homes,” Richardson explained. “For example, if your transmission blows up, you’re probably not going to have your neighbor fix your car; you’ll take it to your dealership. With any high-risk project, homeowners want reputable companies.”

Second, Richardson noted established remodeling businesses have strategic relationships with dealers and distributors, which allow them to get deeper discounts and better training on products. “If I’m one of these guys who just floated into the remodeling industry from the outside, I don’t have those relationships,” he said. “Therefore, I’m going to gravitate to my comfort zone where I can make things happen in the short term. Home builders will focus on large-scale renovations, like additions, and craftsmen will focus on handyman and other small-scale projects.”

Because kitchens and baths offer so many opportunities for business right now, this issue of Qualified Remodeler focuses on the trends, ideas and products that can be used to ensure these spaces meet the needs of today’s homeowners. For example, discover the latest kitchen and bath design trends in “Master Design Solutions.” Learn how to design a kitchen for a “foodie” in the “Kitchen/Bath Education Series.” See how a remodeler turned two tiny kitchens in a divided home into one dream kitchen for under $60,000 in “Realistic Remodel.” And, when focusing on kitchens and baths, it doesn’t hurt to know the seven secrets to improve sales to female homeowners, which can be found in “Sales Solutions.”

As I edited the articles in this issue, I learned that even though my grandparents still are a bit behind the times—they don’t have a shower in their one bathroom—they still are trendy in the fact that their bathroom meets their needs for right now. My grandfather prefers baths.

I can’t blame him after years of going without such a luxury.