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What home buyers really want
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But more repeat buyers want a shower that's separate from the tub, an oversized garage and lawn sprinklers. They are less likely to value a finished basement, proximity to schools or access to public transportation.

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A bedroom on the main floor is very important. And 81 percent of buyers 65 and older ranked it as "very important."

The age of the house also makes a difference. New homes make up 29 percent of last year's sales, according to estimates from the NAR. Those buyers place a higher importance on features like high ceilings, cable or satellite readiness, oversized garages and security systems.

Location can influence choices, too. In the South, nearly 90 percent of home buyers want central air conditioning. In the Northeast, only 37 percent rank it as a very important feature. Similarly, urban buyers want floors, finished basements and access to public transportation. Suburban buyers tend to prefer sprinkler systems, eat-in kitchens and homes less than 10 years old.

Bigger and better
It's not your imagination. Homes are getting bigger. According to the Realtors survey, half the houses sold last year were bigger than 1,727 square feet and more than one-third were larger than 2,000. Nearly 10 percent topped 3,000 square feet.

Houses get bigger with successive purchases, too, the study found. For first-time buyers, the median size was 1,451 square feet, while it was 1,920 square feet for repeat buyers.

If you were to average the square footage of all the homes sold last year, the typical house would be between 2,300 and 2,400 square feet, estimates Paul C. Bishop, manager of real estate research for NAR.

So what's the average buyer paying? That depends on how you define "average." The median price indicated in the survey was $212,000 -- meaning half the homes sold for more than $212,000 and half for less. But if you average the cost of the homes sold, the "average" price would be about $260,000, says Bishop. Many realtors feel that a few bigger homes on the high end skew the average, so the group prefers to use the halfway marker or "median price."

In the third quarter of 2005 the national median price has climbed to $216,000, according to the association's most recent figures.

But one of the biggest changes Realtors are seeing is in the buyers themselves, says Bishop. Buyers are doing their homework before they start to shop. "They are continuing to make greater use of the Internet in their home search," he says. "They are gathering information about property for sale and doing legwork in advance of working with a Realtor."

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.'s corrections policy-- Posted: Nov. 28, 2005
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