The Economics of Taking a Dip

By Jonathan Starkey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 15, 2009

With home equity lost to a burst housing bubble and homeowners strapped for cash, backyard swimming pools aren't making quite the splash they were three or four years ago.

Contractors say sales of pools -- similar to other big-ticket items -- are off 15 percent or more compared with last year. As a result, companies are cutting prices and offering other incentives.

"We're willing to take a little less to get things going," said Frank Firetti, sales manager at the Manassas office of Blue Haven Pools.

Locally, the contractor is cutting $2,000 to $4,000 off the price of an in-ground pool, which can cost $40,000 to $60,000, Firetti said.

Firetti said the company built, or at least began work on, 391 pools in Virginia, Maryland and the panhandle of West Virginia in the boom year of 2005. It has finished or begun work on about 60 so far this year, with 20 more or so in the works.

Anthony & Sylvan Pools is offering 5 percent discounts to customers in the northeast who make payments online, said Tom Casey, the national chain's vice president of sales. Other deals are being offered across the country to stimulate sales, Casey said. Pool sales at Anthony & Sylvan have suffered with the downturn but have begun to stabilize this summer, he added.

"Deals for our swimming pools right now are very aggressive," Casey said. "There's a lot of trepidation. People are concerned."

Not everyone is taking a pass. Some families are opting to build a pool instead of spending money on passing extravagances.

Larry Ruggeri, owner of Calm Water Pools in Clarksburg, said he has built 13 pools so far this year -- with two more on the way.

"They are telling me they are cutting out their vacations," Ruggeri said. "They're not taking exotic vacations; they're investing in their homes."

Still, buying a pool is hardly an inexpensive alternative to vacationing. But if the pool is already there, homeowners seem more comfortable spending to keep it going over the summer.

"We've seen a tremendous increase as far as service work goes," said Jeff Kessler, owner of Pooltek, a pool service and repair company in Rockville.

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