The Home Improvement Research Institute, an industry trade group, conducts surveys of 13,000 homeowners nationwide per month. In February, respondents said they expected work done by a contractor at their home to account for about 60 percent of the total cost of pending projects. That's down 4.5 percent from the same time last year. Overall, the group projects a 6.4 percent decrease in money spent on home improvement in 2009 compared with 2008.
Rick Kadien, owner of Home Hardware in Waldwick, said he recalled a frequent customer who he knew had always hired landscapers for garden and lawn work. Not long ago, the guy came in and bought a leaf blower.
"He said they had let their landscaper go and figured he could buy the equipment once and do the spring cleaning himself," Kadien said. Overall, he said his sales are down about 7 percent. He sees homeowners doing more maintenance projects and fewer improvement jobs.
Mark Gatto, who owns Ramsey Hardware, said more customers are asking about simple jobs like a clogged sink or leaky toilet.
"We have had customers come in and say they lost a job or a bonus," Gatto said. "You figure if you have a leaky toilet you can buy $15 worth of parts and fix it yourself or pay a plumber $125."
Gatto said he's seen a particularly steep increase in sales of paint to homeowners versus contractors.
We have often felt that the maid services and landscapers will be some of the hardest hit. These are pretty routine jobs until recently were done by most homeowners. The phenomenon of having someone cut the grass in a middle class home with 50 x 100 lot does not make a lot of financial sense. An investment into a decent lawnmower would pay for itself many times over.