Re-Weighting the Number of Households Undertaking Home Improvements in the 2013 American Housing Survey to Correct for Shifting Data Collection Periods

Abbe Will

N15-1: The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sponsors a biennial longitudinal survey of the U.S. housing stock and its inhabitants known as the American Housing Survey (AHS). One of the topics covered in the AHS is home improvement projects and spending by homeowners during the two years prior to the interview date. According to a User Note issued by the Census Bureau in December 2014, the home improvement estimates in the 2011 and 2013 American Housing Surveys (AHS) were adversely impacted by shifting data collection periods, which resulted in a likely overestimation of improvement spending in the 2011 survey and underestimation of spending in the 2013 survey. The Bureau warns that “researchers comparing remodeling data between 2009 and 2011, and between 2011 and 2013, need to exercise caution in their interpretation of trends” and “should not derive trends in home improvement project completions (or other associated measures) between 2009, 2011, and 2013 due to the shift in data collection periods.”

The Census Bureau explains that in a typical survey year, the AHS interview period is from late April through September, and the 2013 data collection period was characteristic of a typical year. However, the 2011 AHS data collection period was delayed three months due to budgetary reasons, and data were collected from late July through December 2011. The implication of these shifting data collection periods is that the 2013 survey is likely not reflecting 24 months of remodeling activity, but probably closer to 18-21 months of activity.

Indeed, analysis of the 2013 AHS home improvement module by the Joint Center found the data to be inconsistent with historical AHS trends, as well as other industry measures for remodeling activity during 2012-13. Namely, the project incidence share, or share of homeowners undertaking one or more home improvement projects, in the survey is significantly lower than any previous survey since the remodeling module was last overhauled with the 1995 AHS.