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What home buyers really want

Home buyers want the basics. But they also demand the best. Or at least the best their money can buy.

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The features most in-demand by buyers? According to the National Association of Realtors, or NAR, the top five are:

  • Centralized air conditioning
  • Walk-in closet in the master bedroom
  • Bedroom on the main floor
  • Patio
  • Oversized garage
  • But Realtors caution that the association's 2004 profile of buyers' home-feature preferences study only tells part of the story. Buyers might be seeking common features, but they want high quality. The findings were based on almost 1,500 responses to a six-page questionnaire sent to 25,000 home buyers who purchased their homes between mid-2003 and mid-2004.

    In years past, square footage was the major factor. "What was in the box was less important than the size of the box," says Ron Phipps, the organization's presidential liaison for housing and diversity, and broker with Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I.

    "The intriguing thing now is that people will focus on quality over quantity, because values have gone up," says Phipps. "They are so much less willing to compromise."

    Instead of just a walk-in closet, they look for indications that the seller or builder has put some thought, and money, into the feature. They want an air-conditioning system that's going to cool the house and help them save money. And the patio no longer means a cement slab off the den but instead some actual outdoor living space.

    Buyers are also looking behind the walls. Phipps recently had one potential buyer show up for a walk-through with a compass. On the shopping list: a southern exposure. Buyers are also looking for more eco-friendly treatments, more environmentally smart building plans and more efficient use of energy -- especially as the price of oil and gas escalate.

    "The greening of our consciousness is something that I think you're going to find a lot more conversations about," Phipps says.

    Buyers are also looking for homes to fit specific lifestyle needs, like bedrooms on the main floor for aging parents or extra large gathering areas for larger, blended families.

    "Life's needs are driving family decisions more than they have for quite some time," says Phipps.

    Buyers are also willing to pay more to get what they want. Two-thirds of the people who bought a home last year without a walk-in closet in the master bedroom said they'd be willing to pay extra to get one. (Half admit they'd shell out $825 or more.) Fifty-four percent of buyers were willing to pay extra to have a patio, too. (And half would pay $1,075 or more.)

    Favorite rooms
    More buyers want a garage than a living room. Seventy-eight percent of home buyers rank a garage as very important, compared to 74 percent for a living room, according to the survey. And a laundry room, say 71 percent, is more critical than a family room, 63 percent.

    Next: Kitchens and bathrooms can still sell a house.
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