Picture: ISTOCK

Picture: ISTOCK

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Damsels in distress are a relic of the past, as a growing number of women empower themselves with do-it-yourself (DIY) skills. From changing lightbulbs to installing cupboards, women are getting more confident in tackling home improvement tasks.

Recent data from Lightstone Property shows a rise in the number of women buying property. The split between individual male and female property buyers is now almost equal, a change from little less than 10 years ago. Women are also more likely to be the sole buyers of properties than men in the affordable market, where most DIY projects are done. This might explain why the market for DIY goods such as paint, plaster and plywood is growing despite the slowdown in the local economy.

Janice Anderssen, founder of DIY Divas, which offers workshops and training in all things DIY related, says many women are interested in learning how to use power tools and in acquiring basic woodworking techniques. DIY Divas has a site called Home Dzine for DIY enthusiasts.

"The numbers of ladies attending our workshops has increased exponentially as access to lightweight, portable power tools and materials increases. More women are realising DIY doesn’t have to be hard work, and that they can save hundreds, if not thousands, of rand by understanding home maintenance and repair projects."

DIY Divas operates in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Anderssen says the women attending the workshops range in age. "We have them all. From early 20s up to late 50s. There is a good mix of married, single and widowed."

Google search trends show that interest in DIY in SA began to pick up in early 2014. By December 2015, searches for DIY had more than doubled. According to Stats SA, hardware retail sales grew 3.2% between May and March last year, and have contributed 0.2 percentage points to total retail sales this year. Most other subsections of retail sales have contracted in that period.

On any day the Builders Warehouse in Fourways is buzzing with people.

Isabella Pringiers, a shopper there, says DIY is a necessity for "a modern city girl".

"There are a range of projects I like to do. My partner isn’t good with his hands so it falls to me." she says.

One Builders Warehouse sales representative says it used to be a shock to see women in the store, and more of a shock to be asked how to do things, but this is becoming the norm. "Maybe five years ago, the store was full of men. But lately we are getting more couples and women. We are also employing more women on the floor."

Builders, one of Massmart’s Massbuild stores, is homing in on this market, with a segment of its website dedicated solely to DIY projects. The site offers step-by-step tutorials and the exact tools and materials that will be needed for specific projects.

Cashbuild has a similar offering on its website, and so does CTM. With the proliferation of home improvement retailers, the competition in both offerings and service is stiff. A big win for consumers has been the price war these retailers have been engaging in to draw foot traffic. This trend is set to continue with the entrance of French-based hardware store Leroy Merlin, which is expected to open its doors in 2018. The added competition will likely bring prices down further.

Anderssen says that while DIY has always had its place for repairs and minor improvements in and around the home, what is more interesting locally is the need to gain the skills required to make furniture and décor accessories.

"Inspired by DIY television programmes and social media, South Africans are realising decorating a home doesn’t have to mean buying new things. Buying secondhand or making your own means you spend far less to have a home that reflects personal style and flair, and you can design furniture and accessories suited to your individual tastes," she says.