Urban flight means home improvement and DIY trends are more than a pandemic bounce. They’re a new habit

  • The shift of Americans from cities to suburbs could drive long-term home improvement sales, according to Wells Fargo.
  • That could benefit home improvement retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s and auto-focused retailers like Carvana and AutoZone.
  • In the research note, Wells Fargo senior equity analyst Zachary Fadem said cities have lost their luster as people look for more space for working and learning at home and aspects of city life from public transit to high-end restaurants are unavailable or unappealing.



a person standing in front of a building: People walk into a house for sale in Floral Park, Nassau County, New York, the United States, on Sept. 6, 2020. Home buyers eying for cozy backyards and more office space are staging bidding wars in the suburbs surrounding New York City amid the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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People walk into a house for sale in Floral Park, Nassau County, New York, the United States, on Sept. 6, 2020. Home buyers eying for cozy backyards and more office space are staging bidding wars in the suburbs surrounding New York City amid the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As some Americans flee cities and move into suburban or rural areas during the coronavirus pandemic, some analysts are predicting home projects and repairs will shift from a trend to long-term habit.

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That could add up to more sales for Home Depot, Lowe’s and other retailers with a wide variety of home improvement items, from paint and tools to kitchen appliances, according to a Wells Fargo Securities research note. Those retailers have already seen strong sales and growing profits during the pandemic, as Americans spend more time in their homes and dollars they would have otherwise doled out for restaurant bills or summer vacations.

The suburban shift could also benefit auto-focused retailers, such as Carvana, AutoZone, O’Reilly Automotive and Advance Auto Parts, according to the note.

In the research note, Wells Fargo senior equity analyst Zachary Fadem spelled out factors that have driven some people out of cities. Among them, he said, about 65% of early Covid-19 cases were concentrated in dense cities. People have sought out more space as they work and learn at home and as aspects of city life from public transit to high-end restaurants are unavailable or unappealing.

He pointed to recent earnings reports by retailers that soared past Wall Street expectations, citing de-urbanization as one of the causes.

A survey of about 1,000 consumers by the Wells Fargo analysts found that more than 88% planned to increase their retail spending in the second half of the year on items, such as appliances and electronics, with home improvement being the biggest category for that spending. About 14% of the consumers surveyed said they moved or have plans to move because of Covid-19. And more than half said they expect to work from home into 2021.

Even a small increase in moves could translate to a significant uptick in home improvement spending, Fadem said in the note. He estimated there are about 73 million single-family households and about 8 million multifamily households across the country. A 1% shift could add more than $2 billion to the home improvement category and add approximately $700 million in the home furnishings category. 

Some retailers have predicted sustained growth, too. Home Depot CEO Craig Menear said

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For the birds: Simple ways to make your garden take flight for winged friends

Even before spring officially arrives, the sweet coos of mourning doves and the songs of house wrens and common yellowthroat warblers can be heard early in the morning through windows left cracked open the night before. Those first musical trills of prodigal birds, likely exhausted from their migration from as far south as Central and South America, can make us feel simultaneously relaxed and energized — and elated that a new season is within reach.

But spring isn’t the only time of year we need think about birds. Although hundreds of bird species head to warmer climates in the fall, others, black-capped chickadees, cardinals and woodpeckers among them, remain to tough out the winter, trading the perils of migration for the hazards of harsh weather and the food scarcity that accompanies it.

As our perennials go dormant and deciduous trees shed their leaves, fruits and seeds disappear with them, as do insects, most of which either die or hibernate. But birds can adapt; some insect-eaters pivot to a berry-centric diet, and some grow extra feathers, then puff them out — essentially making their own parkas, trapping air between layers to create bubbles of warmth. Still, they can use our help.

Carefully choosing native plants for your garden will beef up the food chain, feeding insects that birds, in turn, will use to feed their chicks come spring. This is important because our native insects and wildlife evolved alongside our native plants, adopting them as diet staples. Many exotic plants, on the other hand, aren’t even recognized as food by North American insects and caterpillars, according to research published by University of Delaware entomologist and author Doug Tallamy.

What to choose

Our native oak trees, for example, support more than 500 species of insects, including butterflies and moths, he asserted in his 2007 book, “Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens,” which has since become the bible of the native plant movement. When in their caterpillar stage, those butterflies and moths are the primary food source for birds. The nonnative ginkgo tree from China, on the other hand, while often prized for being “pest free,” supports fewer than five.

Tallamy, who reminds us that baby birds do not eat seeds but rely solely on insects, has found that one nestful of chickadee hatchlings needs to consume 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars en route to maturity. Without native plants that support those insects, we simply would not have birds.

In addition to trees and perennials, consider including evergreen shrubs and ground covers in your landscape; they’ll provide shelter and cover. And bushes that retain fruit or nuts over winter offer food, as well as something nice to look at when all else is barren.

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