What's hot and
what's not in housing
What's hot in new homes? Fewer walls, more toys.
Buyers are looking for open spaces in the main area
of the home with oversized kitchens that flow into large family
rooms. When it comes to the master bathroom, buyers are looking
for a little luxury.
"We're basically seeing larger kitchen areas
and more open floor plans with vaulted ceilings," says Dick
Koestner, a regional vice president with the National Association
of Realtors and partner in Koestner McGivern & Associates in
Buyers want something "far less formal and far
more celebratory," says Ron Phipps, a regional vice president
of the National Association of Realtors.
Living rooms are going the way of the powder blue
tuxedo. "The real formal living room is gone," says Joan
Isgro-Grant, an affiliate of Weichert Realtors in Kingston, N.Y.
Homeowners are also demanding more for the money.
And with lower interest rates, they are not afraid of buying more
home. "What they look at isn't the cost, it's the monthly payment,"
says C. D. Boring, president of RE/MAX Realty Plus in Sebring, Fla.
That translates to higher-grade appliances, more wood,
more tile, more solid surface countertops and more designer touches
in mid-priced to high-end homes.
"It amazes me," says Phipps, president of
Phipps Realty and Relocation Services in Warwick, R.I. "Even
in modest homes, you have much more money allocated for cabinets,
countertops, appliances and raw space."
Homeowners may be eating out as much or more than
ever, but they are using their kitchens to entertain and as a gathering
place for the family. As a result, "builders are putting more
money in kitchens," says C. Kent Conine, president of the National
Association of Home Builders, an industry trade group.
Likewise, the master bathroom is the place they get
away from it all. "It needs to be large and needs to have a
feeling of luxuriousness -- and high quality," says Dan Lee,
vice president with First Weber Group Inc., in Madison, Wisc. "Natural
light is important, too."
Here are some of the most popular new home features:
"They are really tricking out the kitchens," says Sean
Degen, vice president of architectural services for Pulte Homes
Inc., which builds everything from $100,000 houses to those priced
well above $1 million.
The amenities will vary, depending on the price range.
But look for solid surface counter-tops such as Corian, granite
or marble. Also hot: professional quality appliances -- side-by-side
refrigerators and stoves with more than four burners or smooth surfaces
with no burners at all -- and cabinetry in maple, cherry and birch
as builders try to tap "the wow factor," says Conine,
president of Conine Residential Group in Dallas.
But the space also has to be practical, says Lee.
Buyers "are looking for the design of the kitchen to flow.
It has to make sense."
Home office space. "Media
rooms and home offices are probably the two most desirable amenities
right now," says Conine. With an office, buyers are looking
for "something pretty generic, so they can customize it to
their own tastes." But touches like window seats and built-in
bookshelves are always appreciated.
Entertainment rooms. In
the entertainment center, buyers want all the toys, says Conine.
"As much as they can afford. And with the lower interest rates,
they can afford a little more."
First floor master suite.
Also known as "master on the main," this style
is especially popular with baby boomers who are planning ahead.
"People are 45 years old and going, 'When I retire I don't
want to climb those steps,'" says Koestner. He sees buyers
looking ahead 15 to 30 years to the time the mortgage is finally
paid off with an eye toward what their needs might be then.
Ranches are hot for the same reason, says Michael
V. Sajdyk, director of marketing for Davis Homes, based in Indianapolis.
Buyers are saying, "Why do I need a second floor if I can do
it all on one floor?"
Luxurious master bathrooms.
Separate tubs and showers are a must. But for many buyers
the emphasis is shifting from a jetted tub to an oversized shower
with two or more heads.
No longer exclusive to high-end homes, "Now you're
seeing them in mid-range homes," says Koestner.
Look for lots of tile, marble and multiple heads in
the shower. "Showers are the big thing right now," says
Degen. "People realize, 'I take a bath four times a year, but
I take a shower every day so I might as well make it nice.'"
Still, especially in some regions, the bathroom is
no longer No. 1 on the buyer's list. "It's still pretty glamorous,"
says Conine. "But I'm sure they've peaked in some areas."
The trade-off: closets.
"You can never have enough storage."
Low maintenance. "We're
seeing empty nesters who want a more carefree lifestyle and less
square footage," says Conine. Many are looking at patio homes,
town houses or houses with less total space but more goodies.
"They want the bells and whistles in the new
house that they had to sacrifice for space when they were younger,"
says Sajdyk, whose company builds largely in the $70,000 to $180,000
And everyone is interested in a house that they don't
have to spend time and money maintaining. Look for lots of floors
made of tile, woods and even colored concrete, says Conine. Buyers
are attracted to the "durability and adaptability" of
these surfaces. "And you can always buy a new rug and throw
it on the floor."
On the exterior, this translates to low maintenance
building products like brick and certain types of siding. And sometimes
even to a smaller yard.
"That's why so many couples today are looking
at townhouses or row houses," says Richard F. Gaylord, a Realtor
with RE/MAX Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach, Calif. "They
want a place to eat [outside] and let the dog out, but they don't
want a lot of work attached to it."
Both inside and out, buyers are looking for attractive light sources
in kitchens, baths and family rooms, and lots of them.
Natural products. Wood
floors, granite, marble or stone countertops, solid wood doors and
wider molding are all popular features, says Lee. "People are
looking for higher quality natural products. These things are getting
more and more important."
So, too, are "green" building materials.
"There's a big push for green-built homes where we aren't pillaging
the environment to supply our housing needs," says Lee.
Places to play. Buyers
are willing to make do with small lots, provided there are parks
or recreation facilities nearby. If not, they will want "a
pool in the yard, a spa in the yard or a play area for [the] children,"
says Gaylord, a regional vice president with the National Association
pretty much expected," says Lee. "For the most part, people
want that option." Depending on where you live and how much
your home is worth, a double-sided fireplace, especially in the
kitchen/great room area, is trendy.
Buyers are returning to the comfortable, familiar styles
of their youth. "The post modern styling is gone," says
Degen. In the South and Southwest, traditional might mean stucco
or adobe. In the rest of the country, Colonial, Victorian, Greek
Revival and Colonial Revival are big, he says.
So what is today's version of shag carpet and avocado
green kitchen? What's "out" varies with the climate and
price range. Some trends definitely seem to be waning, including
formal living rooms, whirlpool tubs, wall-to-wall carpet throughout
the whole house and any garage not big enough for at least two cars.
"A place for storing the toys is really important," says
Strangely enough, even though living styles have gotten
much more casual, formal dining rooms are a must for many buyers.
"They still have grandma's dining room set and they don't want
to get rid of it," says Isgro-Grant, a regional vice president
of the National Association of Realtors.
Homes have gotten bigger, says Degen. One industry
survey found that from 1980 to 1999, square footage increased by
about 16 percent. That means the average home went from about 2,000
square feet to a little more than 2,300 square feet.
But during that same period, the average lot size
decreased by 6 percent -- from about one-third of an acre down to
about one-quarter of an acre, Degen says.
In northern Virginia, F. Gary Garczynski has seen
lots shrink from a minimum of a quarter acre in the 1970s to "half
"I think that's occurring in a lot of areas where
ground is at a premium, says Garczynski, a developer and the immediate
past president of the National Association of Home Builders. He's
also noticed a wider interest "in environmentally sensitive
Some real estate watchers make the connection between
ever larger homes and ever shrinking interest rates. "Twenty
years ago, interest rates were 18 to 20 percent and smaller houses
were in," says Myra Zollinger, partner with Coldwell Banker
Realty Center in Chapel Hill. Today, she says, people want a large
kitchen, large bathrooms and "lots of light."
That is probably one reason eight to 10-foot ceilings
are popular. But they are also being more careful with the space
they buy. In many regions, vaulted ceilings -- except for the great
room -- are on their way out, according to real estate professionals
and builders. Instead, home buyers opt for plans that take that
space and give them an extra room.
Trends in new homes can vary widely, depending on
the region. In New England, Yankee buyers are less impressed with
elaborate bathrooms, says Phipps. Instead, they'd rather have closet
space. "I think that in New England, sensibility of function
[is] above all else," he says. But, especially as outsiders
move to the area, he adds, "it is changing."
Likewise, in the northeast a wide open lot with no
trees could be a tough sell, while in the Midwest, it might not
be an issue.
But when buyers desire trees, they want them full-grown,
says Lee. "They aren't willing to wait any longer," he
says. "They want trees that are already 15 to 20 feet high
-- an instant neighborhood."
And while detached garages are cold and unpopular
in the northern climes, they are flying off the market in the West
and Southwest, where buyers often turn them into studio or office
space, says Degen.
And in the Midwest and Southern California, whirlpool
tubs in the master bath are still popular, while the trend in the
rest of the country seems to favor oversized showers.
In the South -- and especially Florida -- buyers are
looking for self-contained communities that offer recreation, such
as a golf course, pool, tennis and a clubhouse. And gated communities
are big. "If they have families, they want to feel comfortable
that their kids can ride their bikes," says Boring.
Dana Dratch is a freelance writer
based in Atlanta.