Keeping Up with the Joneses

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The competitive urge doesn’t just compel athletes and rival companies to try harder. New research suggests that, when it comes to home improvement, homeowners are driven by the need to compete with the folks next door.

Results of a recent survey of consumers, conducted by Wakefield Research for Home Depot, reveal that:

- More than 50 percent of Americans feel the urge to upgrade their homes’ appearance after seeing neighbors do so first.

- Seven in 10 millennials fess up to feeling this pressure, and nearly half of Gen Y responds to this pressure by finishing a home improvement project in order to outdo adjacent residents.

- Parents tend to be more home improvement-competitive than those without children.

- Outdoor upgrades and indoor projects were undertaken by 89 percent and 62 percent, respectively, among those seeking to outshine a neighbor.

Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design for The Home Depot in Atlanta, says she didn’t expect some of these findings—particularly the high percentage of respondents who admitted to feeling the need to outclass their neighbors’ home improvements.

“I was also surprised that this is truer of families with kids,” she says. “But it makes sense when you think about it. A home is usually the most expensive thing we own, and we really have a lot of pride in our homes. We want it to be a reflection of our personality, and we want to show it off.”

Javier Nunez-Jusino, agent with The Hopkins Team at Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Plantation, Florida, agrees.

“Human beings are competitive by nature, and we don’t like to stay behind. While I’ve learned that most people do not like to buy the nicest house in the neighborhood for many reasons, we do see homeowners upgrading their properties in order to keep up with the overall look of the community and the value of their property,” says Nunez-Jusino.

Shame and culpability can be influencing factors, too.

“Especially on the exterior, owners can feel guilt for having a home they think is not as nice as their neighbors,” says Derek Christian, owner of Blue Ash, Ohio-based Handyman Connection. “You can feel like you’re letting your neighbors down by not keeping up. Consider that a bad looking house in the neighborhood can hurt those around them trying to sell.”

Many believe these motivational emotions are healthy and constructive.

“I think the urge to keep pace with your neighbors is a very good thing,” Christian says. “Homes go through life cycles and need to be renewed or the home and neighborhood can degrade.”

Plus, when it’s time for you to list it, “you want your house to appraise and sell for the highest price. If you’re not maintaining your home and staying up on shifts in styles and trends, this will hurt the value of your home,” adds Fishburne.

Régine Labossière, author of home renovation blog, recommends using this motivation productively and channeling this improvement impulse to produce desired results.

“Have a plan for what you want out of your home and what changes you need to make in the short- and long-term. Then, work on a strategy to achieve those goals, which should include researching renovation costs, creating a project timeline, and exploring alternative options to achieve your objectives,” says Labossière. “The most useful projects are ones that improve the function or safety of your home, will make you happy, and serve your long-term goals.”

Nunez-Jusino says you’ll get the best return on your investment by pursuing projects that most increase resale value, including painting, building a deck, upgrading the kitchen and/or bathroom, updating the floor, enhancing landscaping/curb appeal, and replacing windows and siding.

“Also, don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors for advice about their home improvement projects and experiences. Chances are your homes were built around the same time period, so there’s a good chance they can share helpful tips and recommend professionals to hire,” says Christian.

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