Buried deep within all the grim, boo-hoo statistics about the current housing industry crisis lies a sparkling little diamond. A mere 13 lines into the downbeat findings out last June from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, something sparkles: “Home improvement spending set a record for the fifth consecutive year, up $6.2 billion in real terms to $228 billion.”

Huh? How can that be, in this housing market? In an active housing market, people spend money to fix up houses they’re selling and buying. Moving and home improvement go hand in hand. But, as it turns out, so do not moving and home improvement. Right after people haul in their For Sale signs because they can’t make the killing in real estate they’d hoped to—at least not yet—they run to their home improvement stores like bargain hunters to a Nordstrom sale. They put in home theaters, gourmet kitchens, spa baths and underground casinos. They are dancing to an updated refrain of an old hit: “If you can’t live in the house you love, honey, love the house you’re in.”

Life is too short to live by the housing index. People—and as usual I’m talking about myself here—don’t look to interest rates or housing sales to decide whether to remodel the family room. They look at their family room and say: Who vandalized this place?

What housing pundits also don’t play up is that while the housing market fell in 2006 and more in 2007, that’s compared to 2005, the year that saw record highs in home sales, home starts and house appreciation. Compared to more normal years, this year’s figures look, well, normal. So we can all stop hyperventilating.

Markets aside, people get it that life goes fast, and that where they live and how matters. Why else would we spend so much energy and money covering the gray? People want books to help them make the spaces they live in great, but not in the way home improvement books have in the past. They don’t want more house porn. People have realized that lusting over books and magazines filled with stylized photos of fabulous but unattainable homes amounts to futile frustration.

Instead, they want home improvement books that will give them this: a leg up, a running start, a road map and a shot of courage; an expensive look with a bargain budget; real advice from the trenches; and tips for dealing with taste-challenged mates, flaky contractors, too many choices, kid chaos, havoc-wreaking pets and drained bank accounts.

People want to overcome the paralysis that hits them on their thresholds as they contemplate redecorating. It starts with I need new carpet. And leads to But if I change the carpet, I’d like a new color. But if I get a new color carpet, I’ll need to change the drapes, sofa and paint. And what color would I paint? Or should I faux finish? And if I change the sofa, should I recover it or buy that sectional? If I go with the sectional, my coffee table won’t work. And so it goes. Confidence unravels like a cheap throw rug. Courage freezes like a cadaver in a cryogenics lab. And good people do nothing.

They want books that tell them how to create a killer home, not because they’ll get a great return on their investment, though they likely could, but because they want to love the house they’re in.

Why more home improvement books? Because home improvement is like self-improvement: you can always get better; you will never be perfect. Wherever there is striving, there are readers. So, yes, amid all those sad statistics, booksellers should be smiling. Why? Because people are spending $228 billion on home improvement this year, and probably more next. That’s why.

Author Information
Jameson, author of The House Always Wins (Da Capo), writes a nationally syndicated home design column. A self-confessed serial remodeler, she attempts to survive various household projects in her Denver home.