Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What do home buyers really want? Real estate trends for 2014 and beyond.

As the real estate market roars back, this spring and summer will heat up with plenty of motivated buyers pounding the pavement and putting offers down.  But if you’re selling your home, the pressing question is: what are they looking for? 

Thankfully, there is plenty of research as to what features are most important to buyers.  Post-recession, home shoppers are smarter, more cautious, and increasingly discerning, and homebuilders have shifted their approach to studying – and building – what buyer’s want. 

These trends come from varied sources – the National Association of Home Builders, Better Home and Gardens Real Estate, AVID ratings, the Design Driver study, so the information is comprehensive.  Of course, different demographics of home buyers want different things – the first time buyer, the young family, Gen X and Y buyers, and high-end buyers all prioritize certain features, but the overall trends are remarkably similar. 

If you’re a seller, you may want to make a few home improvements (or realistically price your home) based on what would be desirable to a buyer, not just what you think was nice when you bought it.  Even buyers should choose their next home conscious of how their home’s design features will measure up to the test of time. 

Green is good: 
Home buyers across the board want green homes, with considerations for energy efficiency and built with natural materials whenever possible.  That could be details as small as incandescent light bulbs, efficient appliances, or as big as solar panels and new-age heating and cooling systems, but green is on everyone’s list.

Size doesn’t matter (as much):
At the height of the real estate market, the mantra was always “the bigger the better,” and the square footage of your home was a bragging point at fancy parties.  Now, smart buyers from all demographics are taking a step back and choosing slightly smaller homes in exchange for better location, amenities, and the sense of community it belongs to.  Five or ten years ago the ideal house size was about 2,400 square feet when buyers were polled, but not that’s down to 1,000-1,999 square feet. 

Wired for life:
One trend that is popular among buyers of all ages and places in life is they want a home that is wired for technology.  This is hardly a trend at all (it will never go away) but a fundamental way in how we live our lives.  Buyers want man caves with high-tech sound systems, home cinemas, flawless Internet wired throughout, cool lighting, high-tech security systems, and super-efficient heat and AC, all controlled from their iPad or even virtually, online.  In fact, 77% of Gen X and Gen Y buyers want homes “equipped with the technological capabilities they have grown accustomed to,” and 90% of luxury home buyers wouldn’t even consider a home that isn’t tech friendly.  

Open floor plans:
Although square footage isn’t as important as it used to be, buyers want homes that make better use of it.  Instead of a maze of separate rooms, they want open, communal spaces where the whole family can enjoy themselves at once.  Formal dining rooms are definitely out, and instead huge, open kitchens that merge with great rooms are a key feature to the perfect home. 

Belong to a community:
Gone are the days where buyers wanted a huge house on a huge plot of land, far away from other people.  Instead of those isolating (and high-maintenance) abodes, buyers these days want to be part of a community, connected to the human beings around them.  It’s interesting that the data diverges from there – evidence still remains that people want a safe home in a desirable neighborhood with good schools in the suburbs, but also that many buyers are looking to return to cities, particularly small or mid-sized urban centers.  But whether the trend points at an increase in population density or suburban dwelling, home owners want to know their neighbors, as well as have access to public transportation, community gardens, parks, bike trails, water ways, etc.

Indoor/Outdoor enjoyment:
Nearly 50% of high-end home buyers wanted an outdoor kitchen, and the same number expressed desire for an outdoor fire pit or fireplace.  Interestingly, having a swimming pool isn’t seen as the ultimate home status symbol anymore (probably because of the cost, liability, and upkeep) but people still want outdoor spaces where they can relax, entertain, and enjoy a sanctuary in natural settings - while still staying at home. 

What else is “in” with home buyers?  Here’s a short list of features that are HOT!

Walk-in closest.  Floor plans may be shrinking, but HUGE, elaborate closets are more important than ever!

Buyers want a large bathtub but not a whirlpool or Jacuzzi tub. 

Master bedrooms on the first floor are ideal.

Hardwood is THE flooring surface of choice – wall-to-wall carpet, linoleum, and even outdated tile are seen as negatives.

Buyers want that large, open kitchen instead of a formal dining room, and they also want kitchen islands, high-end refrigerators and dishwashers, and plenty of linen or storage closets to make smart, efficient use of their square footage.  

In the kitchen, laminate cabinets is OUT – buyers want solid wood.  Likewise, laminate or tile countertops are passé, and granite or solid natural surfaces are attractive.

Interestingly enough, buyers no longer want cavernous garages.  The desire for a 3-car garage has shrunken drastically, but still most people see a 1-car garage as too small.

Of course people expect modern heat and AC systems that save them money and are easy on the environment, and new, energy efficient windows are a huge plus as well.

Ceiling fans are desirable.

Buyers want a home office/study. 

On the exterior of the home, vinyl siding is out and brick or stone are in.

A wine cellar is a huge bonus for high-end buyers, as well as an exercise room, and 42% say they’d like a wet-bar as well. 

What do you think about these trends in real estate?  Are those features you’d look for in a house?  We’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions! 


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