Why millennials don’t DIY: a very 21st century problem

The closure of Homebase stores in the UK has helped bring to light a change in DIY culture – the fact that millennials just aren't very keen on it

When Homebase confirmed the closure of dozens more stores last week, the chain cited skyrocketing commercial rent prices and the impact of online retail as contributors to its collapse.

However, The Big Issue has discovered that a familiar whipping boy is also taking the heat for a DIY culture shift. Take a bow millennials.

Tradesmen and sector professionals have spoken out about a significant lack of skills among millennials that keeps them out of home improvement stores like Homebase.

Fraser Osbourne, a Glasgow-based workman who runs Frazman Handyman Services, says that millennials’ DIY knowledge is too poor to manage some of the basic tasks associated with running a household.

“There is a serious lack of knowledge there, and not having the proper tools to do the job. Young people also seem to be quite time poor. That is the most common reason given for asking me to do certain things. Some tasks need patience and proper preparation,” he says.

Fraser explains that the smallest jobs he is called in to do are putting up curtain rails and assembling flat-pack furniture, the latter “almost always” requested by young adults.

  • 43% of millennials can’t wire a plug
  • More than 12% say they can’t change a lightbulb
  • 32% don’t know how to bleed a radiator

His comments reflect a sentiment shared by Home Retail Group, the former owner of Homebase and Argos, in a statement that warned against “the rise of a generation less skilled in DIY projects” when an initial wave of closures was announced for the home improvements retailer in 2015.

Handyman Morgan Slavin says increased focus on technology has been to the detriment of DIY aptitude in millennials.

“I once went into a flooded house and there was water coming from the kitchen, running through the dining room and living room,” he recalls.

“I asked the young guy where the leak was and he said the sink, so I asked why he hadn’t turned it off at the stopcock. He didn’t know they had one… or what it was.”

The issue has been bubbling for some time. Back in 2015 Emma Dicks, insights director of retail marketer HRG, acknowledged a drop in skills among young people. She said then that retailers should focus less on large-scale repairs and more on delivering lighter DIY projects in store to accommodate changing interests. But millennials have struck back.

Rather than a simple lack of skills, the issues are wider and societal. The lack of expertise is symptomatic of long-term renting, with the property ladder far out of reach for many.

Manchester resident Elizabeth Warrington, 28, says she learns DIY skills from online videos, but that she will not feel confident using them until she owns a property. She paid handymen to put up curtain poles and purchase the necessary fixtures as she did not know what was required.

“I wouldn’t feel confident just having a go in a flat that wasn’t mine,” she explains. “I also can’t afford to buy equipment without being absolutely certain that it’ll do the job.

“What I lack is the money for tools. Plus, being a young person who can’t afford a house, I won’t have enough use for these tools to want to purchase them.

“I’ve used websites before where you borrow tools from people in your neighbourhood, which worked well, but I just wanted something done in a hurry so this was more convenient. I wouldn’t buy them anyway because I’m in a little student flat and have nowhere to store them.”

Money was also a factor for Penrith student Emily Heaviside, 22, when she sought out someone skilled to assemble flat-pack furniture.

She says, “My flatmates and I once had a tradesman come round to build a set of drawers for us, and while he was there we had him look at some dodgy lightbulbs.

DID YOU KNOW…

Since 1991 The Big Issue has sold more than 200,000,000 copies – helping the most vulnerable in society earn more than £115 million.

“To be completely honest, we just weren’t confident in our own abilities, and when you’ve forked out for a piece of furniture you can’t really afford to make a mess of it.

“I certainly didn’t have much involvement with household DIY growing up, and it’s not something I have a lot of time to think about now when I’m working to keep the roof over my head. We deal with things as we need to when they come up.”

Emily adds that on a handful of occasions she had visited stores such as Homebase with friends “just for a fun look around” despite acknowledging that they could not afford to make any purchases.

With young adults naming exorbitant property deposits and soaring rent rates as factors behind their lack of practical know-how, buying and letting professional body Propertymark notes that recent research suggests a different pattern.

A spokesman explains, “For owner occupiers, we are seeing a slowdown in the sales market while homeowners choose to upgrade and renovate rather than move.

“The cost of housing and stamp duty puts people off moving and is why we’re seeing the length of time people stay in a property ever-increasing.”

  • 28% of millennials can’t fix a toilet seat
  • 52% of millennials don’t know how to hang wallpaper
  • 1 in 10 millennial men said there is an “unsafe” DIY fix in their home
  • 23% of millennials said they would hire a tradesperson every time instead of attempting jobs themselves

Acknowledging that letting industry numbers continue to rise – both in terms of renters and price – the spokesperson adds, “Best practice is for landlords to bring properties up to scratch at the end of a tenancy eg lick of paint, flooring, potentially a new kitchen or bathroom, general maintenance.

“Now a greater population is renting, there will be more of this activity going on, because the sector has increased.”

Up to 1,500 jobs could be at risk when Homebase shuts the 42 under-performing stores currently marked for closure.

Source: CORGI HomePlan survey, 2017