HIRI takes the industry’s pulse

Since the beginning of the economic downturn, forecasts on housing starts, real estate sales and remodeling have gathered like a convention of fortune tellers. But only one crystal ball is focused solely on the home improvement industry and how consumers are spending — or not spending — money on their homes.

The Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI), headquartered in Tampa, Fla., is an independent, not-for-profit organization comprised of about 80 manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and allied organizations in the home improvement industry. Once a month, HIRI holds its “Pulse of the Industry” webinar to provide the latest data and what implications it might have on its members. Listed below is a summary of August’s report, which bases its conclusions on statistics from various government agencies, trade groups, marketing research firms and academic think tanks. For more, visit HIRI.org.

Green lights

• Low mortgage rates and strong housing affordability could boost home sales.

• Backlog of remodeling jobs, low financing costs, stronger consumer confidence and stabilizing home prices point to an uptick in remodeling. Harvard Joint Center for Housing predicts double-digit growth by the first quarter of 2013.

• Retail sales are showing good growth for 14 straight months — with the exception of June.


Yellow lights

• Overall economic growth still at a modest pace

• Moderate rate of inflation

• Are housing prices truly stabilizing?


Red lights

• Consumer confidence up one month, down the next. “Consumers are very prone to the latest headlines,” said Fred Miller, HIRI’s managing director.

• There is no end in sight for foreclosures.

• Global instability — particularity events in Europe and the Middle East — could push the U.S. economy into another recession.

• Employment is growing, but not fast enough. “It continues to have an impact on the consumer psyche,” Miller said.