Houzz: Poster Child of the Post-Recession Renovation Frenzy

With shows like Design on a Dime and Million Dollar Decorators, we’re a country officially obsessed with renovating, decorating and DIY-ing whatever space we occupy

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With shows like Design on a Dime and Million Dollar Decorators, we’re a country officially obsessed with renovating, decorating and DIY-ing whatever space we occupy.

In the last five years there have been more than a dozen new remodeling and redecorating shows on television. With millions of viewers, these programs are aspirational catering to both luxury homeowners and budget-conscious apartment dwellers. But seeing others come up with creative ways to redo their space is one thing. Figuring out the logistics enough to create a picture perfect space on our own—without the wallet and expertise of a television network and reality show crew—is a totally different challenge.

Which is exactly what Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen discovered when they decided to renovate their home in 2006. The perfect world of HGTV remodeling projects didn’t apply to the Palo Alto house that they wanted to transform from a cramped space with a 1950s layout to one with larger, light-filled areas. Contractors couldn’t be trusted, they quickly learned, and it proved impossible to compare prices or find the best vendor. “We were hoping it was going to be a lot of fun remodeling this house, [but it] was pretty much a nightmare,” says Tatarko.

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Several years later, they channeled their experience to launch Houzz.com, a photo-driven site that’s become the poster-child of the post-recession renovation frenzy. The business was born out the couple’s need to find contractors and others in the home remodeling industry willing to be transparent (and tech-savvy) about the convoluted process of home renovation. It now has 9 million site visitors per month and 55 employees.

The more than 800,000 photos on the site is the initial attraction for visitors, who quickly get a visual idea of design possibilities. There are endless keywords and categories to search by; typing in “exposed brick living room” yields 8,272 photos of exquisitely decorated room photos that feature exposed bricks.

Similar to Pinterest, Houzz offers remodelers thousands of visual possibilities. Users can compile virtual “ideabooks” (or browse existing ones) as a way for home remodelers to show contractors what they are thinking (a shortcut to endlessly ripping out the pages of a shelter mag). The photo-jammed design makes it simple for even the pickiest decorators. But the site also comes to a tangible end for many users (unlike on Pinterest where visual browsing and gathering is the main idea). Part of the site’s success can be attributed to the economic environment and the growing obsession with renovation, both DIY and otherwise. Remodeling expenditure is predicted to grow 3.5% annually in the coming years, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Post recession, the way we approach home repairs and decoration has changed, says Tatarko. Many of the users are people who are now looking to connect to their home in ways that didn’t seem important before the real estate crisis. Rather than remodeling kitchens and bathrooms because those two fixes increase resale value, for example, they are focusing on other rooms that may fit their lifestyle. “Before the priority was how do you improve your home’s resale value,” says Tatarko. “Now the number one priority for people is to make the home from functional and beautiful for themselves.”

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With sluggish real estate sales and property values down, it means people are increasingly turning to Houzz, as well as competitors such as Remodelista and DecorPad, for renovations to their existing homes that they aren’t planning to sell. But users researching renovations are also more conservative with their spending than before. The renovations are now self-financed, with only 10% of homeowners taking out loans to foot the bill, according to Houzz.com research.

As users get more comfortable with the site, they can begin to network with the 100,000 home professionals on Houzz who, in addition to shilling their services, are also participating in forums and giving advice. Users can log onto the site to read “Architect Lingo Decoded for the Average Homeowner” by a professional architect based in Tampa Bay, Fla., who can then be easily reached for services. And where Houzz gets the most praise is making it easier to negotiate and find deals with vendors—simply learning the price of a service has become easier because there are so many vendors in one spot.