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People Love Home Improvements - Until...

10 November 2016

Until... it's time to get the builders in

There was some research a while back – we can’t say whose, as it’s not ours and we’re pinching the best bit – which followed the ‘journey’ (as the X Factor would say) of consumers as they imagined, sourced and bought home improvements.

A central outcome of this research was a graphic describing the home improvement ‘stress curve’. This correlated the home improvement purchasing process with consumer stress levels. With a very broad brush, it identified a number of stages in the process and levels of excitement – both good and bad – associated with them.

stress curveFirst, there is the idea. It occurs to people that they might want new windows, a conservatory, a new kitchen, a new bathroom or a loft conversation. This is a period of low, perhaps mild, excitement and certainly one of little stress.

Second is the research stage. This is when people start buying piles of home interest magazines and collecting catalogues as if they're planning to eventually paper the house with them. This is a time of high excitement – all sorts of Ideal Home/ Grand Designs fantasies are now running through the homeowner’s head and they can almost taste their new show home lifestyle. This is also the time, as you might expect, when the stress associated with home improvements is the lowest. If there is just a twinge, it’s a budget one – yet the anticipation of the makeover totally outweighs this.

Third: planning. Tear sheets have been edited down to the key products and looks, and brochures whittled back to a tight shortlist. The floors of Ikea and John Lewis have been worn thin with pacing, touching, testing, trying and costing. No good having new windows, if the curtains / shutters / blinds are old and tired. What’s a new bathroom without new mirrors, soap dishes and toilet roll holders?

Again, excitement is high – palpable – there’s a tension of anticipation, expectation. It’s almost a thrill – this prospect of a life-changing enhancement to home and lifestyle. And, apart from being all a-quiver, the stress factor is low.

All this is, of course, is before the fall. Little do they know it at this stage, but the crash is coming – and when it does, boy; it’s not only down to earth with a bump, it’s the onset of a huge amount of fretting.

What triggers this? It’s been such fun up to now: all the picture gazing, wandering around M&S Home, tearing out pictures and dreaming of dream lives.

It’s the builders.

Up to now, the excitement/ pleasure line of the stress curve has been climbing and, now, it goes off a cliff. It seems that there’s nothing to strike fear into the heart of a home improving hopeful than sourcing a trades person.

Watchdog, Rogue Traders and any other ‘cowboy’ show you can name have a lot to answer for. All those negative stories about the high-pressure double glazing sales person come to mind. All those episodes of where some hapless householder has been taken for £110K, to be left with the back wall of the house hanging off.

"the main concerns were reliability, competency and overcharging"

It’s a crime isn’t’ it? There are tens of thousands of reputable tradespeople out there – as honest yeomen and women of Britain, doing a great job, day in, day out and taking pride in their work 24/7. Yet, the muppets, cowboys and crooks have so (dis)coloured the perception of the homeowner that they veritably freak out at the prospect of having to find one.

We referred to this research as having been conducted a ‘while back’, yet it seems nothing has changed. Only last month, a new survey was published that revealed that a most dispiriting nine out of 10 UK homeowners are still uneasy it comes to finding tradesmen. The word “fear” was even used, and the main concerns were reliability, competency and overcharging.

This survey was promoting another ‘find a tradesperson’ web site which offered credentials, testimonials, referees, insurance-backed guarantees and so on. Like all of them. Which begs the questions: why another one, and how does then the homeowner tell the difference between one ‘introducer’ of reliable trades and another ‘nothing more than a van sticker’ outfit?

The professionalism of the home improvement sector in our industry has improved exponentially in the last 40 years; yet is still dogged by the fears and concerns expressed by consumers above. One wonders when it will ever change, and what, if anything, can be done to allay those fears and underwrite the quality of tradespeople in the interim?

Answers, on a postcard, please.

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