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What home buyers really want
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Remember the days of the formal seldom-used living room and the everyday family room? Over, says Phipps. Instead, families are looking for one large area where they can congregate, live and entertain. But what is hanging in there is the idea of a formal dining room for those festive, special occasions. "Holidays matter," says Phipps. "And I think that's likely to continue."

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Buyers also want multiple bathrooms, according to the survey. Nearly three-quarters want two or more. And the figure jumps to 80 percent for repeat buyers.

Kitchens and bathrooms can still sell a house.

Buyers are looking for a little luxury and features and treatments that are the highest quality the price range will permit.

Investing in stainless-steel kitchen appliances, fine wood cabinets and marble or similar quality counters "would be money well-spent," says Charles McMillan, board member with the National Association of Realtors and director of realty relations for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. "These are the types of amenities expected to be found in homes that command the additional dollars."

In bathrooms, hot items include high-quality fixtures and good tile. Also popular: pedestal sinks and free-standing (think claw-foot) tubs, he says. "The separate tub and shower has been a kind of standard for some time."

The lifestyle equation
The survey also shows that buyers' tastes aren't uniform. Such factors as the buyer's age, whether it's a first-home purchase and even the region of the country alter the shopping list. And buyers who are scouting new houses set different priorities than those looking at existing homes.

Buyers age 44 and less tend to want homes in the suburbs or in subdivisions, along with access to schools, parks and playgrounds. Older buyers are more likely to want a home that is one story, less than 10 years old, and have a flat lot and lawn sprinkler system. They care more about proximity to a golf course and less about the distance to parks or schools.

First-time buyers are less likely to place a lot of value on some of the "extras," like walk-in closets in the master bedroom, separate showers in the master bath, lawn sprinklers, granite counters or oversized garages. They are also less likely to include a single-story home or bedroom, on the main floor, on their list of "must haves."

 
 
Next: A bedroom on the main floor is very important.
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