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The Home Improvement Index 2024

Methodology and caveats

The home improvement survey is based on the number of planning applications for residential improvements received by each planning authority. These numbers are then compared with the estimate for the number of private homes within that authority to provide an equivalent scale for each borough. They therefore represent intentions to undertake work rather than actual activity. They do not provide a scale of the work, rather the number of potential projects in each region and local authority.

The core data used in this research is collected and processed by Barbour ABI. To contextualise this data multiple external data sources are used. More detail can be found on the data use here:

Barbour ABI data

While the analysis seeks to provide a consistent approach there are limits to consistency, not least because of frequent changes to planning regulations and spatial boundaries. These create inconsistencies over time, between regions and within them. Inevitably the research comes with caveats, the more important of which are covered here:

Caveats

Barbour ABI data

Barbour ABI collects and codes all planning applications. In previous indexes, all applications that applied to improving homes were used. The methodology has since been improved. The process taken is:

  • An initial exclusion of unwanted applications, including amendments and variations, discharge of conditions, and submissions of details plus any duplicated applications. This ensures the most accurate indication of future activity.
  • The operation of a bespoke algorithm that allocates the applications to approximately 80 home-improvement categories, using Barbour ABI’s coded subcategories, key word searches and other planning application data. This provides a fuller assessment of which types of home improvements are being applied for within each of the qualifying applications. These may be multiple types of improvement, for instance, an extension and a basement, or a singular improvement such as a loft conversion.
  • Detailed spatial coding is used to allocate projects a geographical location.

The number of filtered applications can then be compared with the private housing stock to create a ratio for each local authority or region, or in any geography where the number of private homes is recorded. The private housing stock estimates used are those published by MHCLG, Welsh Government and Scottish Government annually. The housing stock figure used is for the year preceding the applications.

The primary ratio used throughout this index is the number of qualifying home improvement applications (irrespective of whether any include multiple changes to the home) for each 1,000 private homes in the local authority, region, or constituent country of Great Britain. This ratio is used to make comparisons between geographies and over time.

Some local authorities are excluded – the Channel Islands, Isles of Scilly, and Isle of Man. Home improvement applications for all the national parks, which act as planning authorities, have been allocated to the local boroughs within which they fall using their geolocation.

Also, while calculations were done for all boroughs, omitted from the lists and rankings are authorities where there are fewer than 10,000 private homes. These are City of London, Orkney, and Shetland. Their contributions do, however, feature in the regional tables.

Because the data tends to be erratic, to get a more stable picture of growth in the latest year, the latest figures may in some circumstances be compared with the average over the previous two years. This can provide a better base for judging relative growth in an area. We have endeavoured to be clear which metrics are used in each instance.

The data for home improvement types is taken from planning applications. A single application will include one, none or many of the types included in the index. They should be regarded as indicative of trends rather than accurate as the level of detail provided will vary application to application.

Given the new methodology adopted there will be apparent discrepancies with figures published in previous years. This is inevitable as the historical time series has been revised. Constant refinements to the series should be expected, given the complexity and constant changes to planning rules, the changes to boundaries, changes to government policy, and changing demands for information from those active in the home improvement sector. This means that where appropriate the back data used will change and so not necessarily match series used in previous years.

Notes on external data sources

The home improvement analysis uses external data to support its analysis. This is noted when used.

Importantly the key data in creating the primary ratios for this analysis (home improvement applications per 1,000 private homes) is the housing stock numbers. These are taken from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, StatsWales, and the Scottish Government Housing Statistics. Therefore, revisions to these data will create changes within the key variable used within this analysis. It should also be noted that the level of private stock may vary irrespective of the level of building or demolitions occurring in each year. The housing data are taken for the previous year to the home improvement applications.

The spending data used comes from the Office for National Statistics Family Spending data. This fluctuates greatly so two-year averages are generally used. ONS data, taken from the Nomis website, is used for population and household comparisons.

For house prices figures, the analysis uses the Office for National Statistics UK House Price Index. This is derived from HM Land Registry, Registers of Scotland data.

Caveats

The level of applications for home improvement is not a direct measure of the level of work done. This level will be influenced by the mix of work and the size of the projects. It will also be influenced by the proportion of applications that are granted, the proportion that are withdrawn or are resubmissions to accommodate a significant change in the project, and the proportion of those granted permission that are subsequently built out.

The approach of measuring applications, however, does give an indication of future demand, as it is a clear signal from homeowners of an intention to improve their home. There are, however, issues to note about planning applications, especially when examining the differing types of work that might be permitted.

Most important to note is that legislation changes may be applied differently across the areas of the UK, given that housing is devolved to the nations of Britain and that different rules apply in designated areas such as national parks and conservation areas.

Furthermore, the impact of changes to legislation will vary from location to location, given that the blend of types of home improvement will be different – more outbuildings in rural locations, more loft conversions, and basements in expensive urban areas. A notable recent change to permitted development rights in England was introduced in May 2013. This allowed for larger single-storey rear extensions to be built without planning permission, although subject to neighbourhood consultation.

Examining Barbour ABI planning data from 2011 to 2019, there appears to be little evidence of any major impact on the proportion of all applications for single-storey rear extensions which have continued to grow within the total number of extension applications since 2013.

Had the regulatory change greatly altered the choices made by homeowners we would have expected to see a distinct break in this relationship. It may be that the extension of permitted rights prompted the construction of additional single-storey extensions that would not otherwise have been built. This we cannot measure. There does however appear to be a steady decline in the number of planning applications for conservatories. This was expected, as manufacturers and installers of prefabricated systems will seek to avoid the planning process as far as possible.

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