Prospective home buyers want style— and function

Okay, so nobody's buying a house right now — that's another story — but when they do start buying, what will they want?

Basically, a restaurant, a hotel and an office.

Buyers want kitchens that show the restaurant influence, with banquettes and commercial-look appliances.

They want master bedrooms that remind them of getaway hotel suites.

And they want workable, efficient home offices. In the next five to 10 years, 50 percent of buyers under age 43 say a home office may be "my principal full-time work space," said Gayle Butler, editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. If builders and their designers understood that, they'd make these rooms look like inviting offices where you could get real work done, not like silly treaty-signing rooms.

Buyers "want homes that are part of the solution, not part of the problem," Butler said recently at the International Builders Show in Orlando, and "the yard and outdoor living spaces are as important as the inside of the house."

"We're past the tipping point" on green construction," Butler said. Fifty-seven percent of respondents to a survey said they wanted green options presented to them, and 19 percent said builders should offer highly energy-efficient homes.

Respondents said their neighbors "will buy a green home when the price is within 3 to 5 percent of the price of a conventional home," Butler said.

That day may come sooner than later. Estimates of how much more it costs to build green, rather than with conventional materials and practices, range from 2 percent to 10 percent or more, but most hover in the range of 3 to 6 percent. That doesn't figure in the lower operating costs of an energy-efficient home.

The consumer preferences came from a survey conducted by the magazine of 2,000 people who had built a home within the past 10 years or expect to do so within the next 10.

Builders, here's what the respondents said you can offer to get them to buy your homes:

• Offer bonus space or amenities, 44 percent

• Discount the price, 42 percent

• Buy my old house, 37 percent

• Offer decorating and landscaping advice, 41 percent

A reasonable size

Meanwhile, the relentless increase in home size may be topping out, according to a survey conducted last year by the National Association of Home Builders of 2,300 Americans who bought a home in the past three years or intend to do so in the next three.

Respondents to that survey said they now live in homes with a median size of 1,835 square feet. The home of their dreams would have 2,354 square feet. They were willing to pay a median of $241,699. That's just 6 percent more than the median value of their current homes, $227,500.

The average size of homes completed last year was 2,512 square feet, said Gopal Ahluwalia, NAHB's chief statistician, "and they don't want more than that," he said. "The size won't rise."

But buyers do want their high ceilings. In modestly priced homes the desired ceiling height is up from 8 to 9 or 9 1/2 feet, and in upscale homes it's 10 to 12 feet, Ahluwalia said.

The living room, however, "is on the chopping block," Ahluwalia predicted. Although buyers of higher-priced homes insist on keeping a formal living room, a third said they'd rather have a larger family room or great room than a living room.

These buyers, too, put a premium on green amenities. A list of Top 10 "must-have" features included high levels of insulation, Energy Star-rated windows and equipment-based energy-saving measures (such as air conditioners and water heaters). Half of them said they'd be willing to spend $5,000 to $11,000 upfront to save on utility costs.

And in the quantity vs. quality debate, 42 percent said they'd opt for a bigger home with fewer amenities, but 58 percent said they'd rather have a smaller home with higher-quality products and amenities.

Judy Stark can be reached at (727) 893-8446 or jstark@sptimes.com.

>> fast facts

A better home . . .

Respondents to a survey by Better Homes and Gardens said these are the features they want in their homes:

• Physical connection between the kitchen and the outdoors

• Access to grilling area

• An organizing center: not a tiny desk, but a big desk with a computer and a message board

• Under-counter laundry equipment

• Built-in ironing board

• "Just-right storage, right where I need it"

• Separation between kitchen and family room

• Flexibility in wiring "so I can use what I need wherever I need it"

Prospective home buyers want style— and function 04/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 10, 2008 4:31pm]

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