- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

The bathroom of Candy Marriott’s house can only handle one person at a time, making the morning routine a daily struggle for her family.

But the Marriotts are very satisfied with the rest of their house, its Fairfax location and their daughter’s high school.

The Marriotts, like other homeowners in the Washington area, are choosing to remodel rather than move, providing steady growth in the home remodeling industry.

The amount homeowners spend on remodeling has been climbing in the United States since 1996, according to U.S. Census figures. Homeowners spent $109.5 billion last year on improvements, not including repairs, up from $97.5 billion in 2003 and double the $53.5 billion they spent in 1996.

The Washington area is no exception.

“Remodeling is booming,” said Callie Schmidt, spokeswoman for the Northern Virginia Association of Home Builders, which represents both home construction and remodeling contractors.

“It used to be that if you outgrew a house, you could buy a new one further out [of the city]. Now people are tied to their neighborhoods, there’s not a lot of available land because of so many people, and there are constraints on lot supply,” Ms. Schmidt said.

“There’s not a lot of places to build anymore. People are staying put and hiring remodelers,” she said.

Anywhere from 77 percent to 88 percent of the money spent on home improvement is paid to contractors each year, according to census figures. Homeowners spend the rest on supplies for projects they complete themselves.

The Marriotts are hiring a contractor to expand their bathroom into one of their unused bedrooms.

“We wanted to do something nice and improve our quality of life,” Mrs. Marriott said.

The Marriotts took out a home equity loan to complete the extensive $60,000 project.

Contractors have found that low interest rates are giving homeowners an opportunity to make the improvements they have always wanted but couldn’t afford.

“Several customers tell me, ‘Well, we’re going to sign the contract, we just have to get the home equity line of credit,’” said Don Sever, owner of Sever Construction, an Oakton kitchen and bathroom remodeling company.

Mr. Sever said low interest rates are part of the reason his business has grown from a one-man operation 18 years ago to a company with 10 employees now. For the past 13 years, he has been turning down jobs to keep the company’s sales at a manageable $1 million per year.

“We’ve been busy for years, we’re busy all the time,” Mr. Sever said. “The last two years it’s just been very, very busy.”

Painting and decorating companies report robust business, too.

Richard Bright, director of marketing, sales and development for the Painting & Decorating Contractors of America, said painters are busy all over the country.

“People don’t want to do it themselves anymore,” Mr. Bright said. “They would rather hire a professional.”

“People have more money and are more able to do improvements,” said Ted Hall, owner of Hallco Enterprises, a Clarksburg, painting and decorating company.

Mr. Hall said customers tell him they don’t want to leave their neighborhood.

“Location is very [important] in this area due to traffic congestion, schools, the convenience of being close to Bethesda or being close to D.C. It’s very attractive,” Mr. Hall said.

Hallco has grown from two painters in 1999 to about 20 employees today.

“The market is very good and most remodelers are very thankful for that,” Mr. Hall said.

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