Thursday 27 April 2017

The death of ?

With tool barns closing and handymen being called out to make flatpacks, Eithne Tynan asks whether we've no more time to do the home improvements ourselves

You know that swish flatpack bookcase you got before Christmas? Not in one piece yet, no? Funny that. You needed a bookcase, so you bought a bookcase, and yet, somehow, things are not better. In fact, they're worse - you now have something else to feel guilty about not doing, and still no bookcase.

When it comes to DIY, people aren't as handy as they used to be - certainly not if certain ailing fortunes of multinational DIY conglomerates are to be believed. British behemoth Homebase recently announced it would close a quarter of its shops across the water, citing "the rise of a generation less skilled in DIY projects".

John Walden, chief executive of Home Retail Group, which owns Homebase, said families were increasingly seeking third-party help on their maintenance and repair projects, instead of doing it themselves.

There's a plethora of surveys to back up Walden's claim. One study found that only 5pc of 18 to 25-year-olds in Britain could unblock a sink and a measly 6pc could bleed a radiator. Only 8pc said they knew how to rewire a plug.

If the data can be believed, they suggest a half-century long DIY boom may indeed be coming to an end - and businesses are taking the hit.

The first DIY superstore in Britain opened almost 46 years ago, when Richard Block and David Quayle (alias B&Q) set up shop in Southampton in 1969.

In the following decades, the market flourished and property makeover programmes took over the TV schedules. A decade ago, inspired by the likes of celebrity TV DIYers like Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and 'Handy' Andy Kane, a generation of homeowners were encouraged to believe there was nothing they couldn't achieve with a few sheets of medium-density fibre board (MDF), a tube of No More Nails and a pot of pink emulsion.

But things have changed. Homebase in Ireland was placed in examinership in 2013, after five years of losses in its 15 outlets in this country. It emerged from the process with the closure of two shops. An examiner was also appointed to Homebase's arch rival B&Q the same year, ending in the closure of B&Q in Waterford.

Native DIY giant Woodies, in business since 1987, was a beneficiary of these closures. But even Woodies' sister firm Atlantic Homecare, also owned by Grafton Group, hit serious trouble. It went into examinership in 2012 after accumulating €21m in losses in the previous five years.

So can these commercial setbacks really be blamed, as Homebase's John Walden suggests, on the rise of a generation that doesn't know which end of a screwdriver is up?

Ted Laverty is chief executive of Onlinetradesmen.ie, where you can engage a specialist tradesman or handyman for almost any job. Ten years ago, when the site was established, there was no demand for flatpack furniture assembly. Now it's a category in itself, with as many as two dozen requests at any one time.

"Five or 10 years ago, there wouldn't have been any," says Laverty. "Flatpack assembly is now a significant category for us, particularly around Christmas time."

If you do have a handyman over to assemble that bookcase, they will charge an hourly rate of "between €30 and €50 an hour", according to Laverty. It's a lot of money to throw at a problem that generally requires a soft-face hammer and some perseverance.

Laverty isn't convinced this is down to a loss of expertise, however. "They might have the skills - there's not a lot of skills required to put together a flatpack - but not a lot of time. I'd say that it's more convenience or laziness, if you want to put it that way. They don't have the time or the inclination."

Laverty says there has also been a huge increase in the number of requests for painters and for other manageable tasks, such as garden work and laying laminate floors. "I guess there's a lot of people out there with soft hands," he says.

Alan Grant was one of the founders of Expert Hardware - the umbrella group of independent hardware shops that combined their might in the mid-2000s to fight the multiples. He also presented a DIY slot on RTE's Today Show.

Grant disputes the claim of a decline in DIY and says customers are attempting more of their own repair and maintenance jobs than ever.

"People are proactive in finding out how to do stuff themselves. They watch YouTube videos, and they come in with printouts and photos and a shopping list from the internet," he says.

But even that suggests a change in the culture. While Grant says people are turning to the internet for guidance, a generation ago they would probably have known what they needed to know already, having learned it from dad.

This begs the question as to whether you should attempt a DIY job if you don't know what you're doing. Can YouTube save you from blowing up the house or doing yourself an injury?

Trustmark is a UK government-backed scheme to support tradespeople. It has done research showing that badly done DIY could cut up to 11pc off the value of your home, with nine out of 10 buyers saying they'd lower their offer if they saw a botched DIY job.

But messy paint or crooked shelving are one thing, but where ambition exceeds ability, the damage can be serious and expensive. "Let's knock through into the dining room," you say, taking a sledgehammer to a load-bearing wall.

"If you want a thing done well, do it yourself," the saying goes.

But remember who said it?

Napoleon.

Indo Property

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