If you think “What is the meaning of life?” is the eternal question, you haven’t been hanging around with homebuilders lately.
No, for the people who design and construct our homes, here is the eternal question: “What do they want?”
That is, in the world of homebuilding, trying to get a handle on the household preferences and dreams of buyers is all-consuming. At two recent trade events — the International Builders Show and the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show held jointly in Las Vegas in mid-January — there was no shortage of soothsaying and survey-sharing for industry attendees. And if the crystal balls of the researchers are right, among the features you might be seeing in your new (or newly remodeled) home:
- A backyard built for lots and lots of casual living;
- Garage doors, locks, furnaces, security systems and plenty of other features that can be controlled by your phone;
- A brightly colored front door; and
- An unfinished, bare-bones room in an otherwise all-new house.
Better Homes and Gardens magazine and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) weighed in on what they perceive that people want in their homes. And a lot of consumers’ dreams revolve around expressing their personal style, according to Jill Waage, brand executive editor for BHG, which has been surveying its readers for years.
Perhaps surprisingly, many are focused on the exteriors of their homes — how to make them “livable” and how to design them to make a “statement,” Waage said.
“There’s a little bit of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ in this,” said Waage, whose magazine surveyed 1,400 women (half of whom are regular BHG readers) and found a very strong interest in patios, decks and other ways to make the exteriors of their properties into showplaces.
“Women overall want their yards to feel like a relaxing retreat,” she said. “It — the yard — is a room to them.”
It’s not just barbecue grills and swimming pools, she said: Look for homeowners to want to bring their technology outdoors, Waage said. They want it to be easy to enjoy music, television and movies in their outdoor retreats.
Smarter Homes and Gardens
That’s part of a broader interest in cramming the home with appliances and features that can be controlled by mobile devices, she said. While women, overall, in the survey readily see the advantage of managing such things as televisions, DVRs and heating and cooling systems via smartphone, younger homeowners anticipate many more applications — in garage doors, in laundry rooms, for indoor and outdoor lighting and elsewhere, Waage said. She adds that they see it as a good investment and aren’t particularly worried about their “smart home” technology becoming obsolete.
“They are going to make (tech inclusions and upgrades) part of the norm, Waage said. “Don’t forget, (this generation) is used to a new iPhone coming out every couple of years.”
If all this tech and outdoor luxury seems a little high-end, Waage said those features likely represent the dreams — as opposed to a gotta-have-it-now agenda — of younger homeowners, who are likely to approach their home-exterior upgrades with something as simple and inexpensive as a bit of paint.
Look for their self-expression to manifest itself more commonly in brightly colored doors — just a pop of color that makes a good first impression, which is important to them, she said.
Inside the house, buyers have a fairly simple want list, according to Rose Quint, who conducts survey research for the NAHB. She presented the trade group’s own data on what consumers want in their homes.
The NAHB gave consumers a list of 50 features that might be included in a new home and asked them to pick their favorites. Top choices included a walk-in closet in the master bedroom, a separate laundry room, low-E (energy-saving) windows, a great room and Energy Star-rated appliances, she said. The long-running dream of granite countertops held on, snagging 10th place on the list, she said.
What they say they don’t want indicates some evolution from former “musts” of a few years ago, she said. Not desirable: wall-to-wall carpeting on the first floor, two-story “volume” spaces and laminate countertops, Quint said.
What Millennials Want
Homebuilders are almost obsessively interested in the attitudes of so-called Millennial buyers, who are generally in their mid-20s and represent the next wave of likely entry-level buyers. Quint said the NAHB surveyed 1,500 people in that age range who had purchased homes recently and found a decidedly suburban bent — 66 percent preferred suburban locations versus 24 percent rural and 10 in the central city of metro areas. About three-quarters preferred single-family homes and, though they currently live in about 1,700 square feet of space, what they’d really like to have is 2,400 square feet, she said.
What kinds of things would they trade away in order to get that bigger house? About half of them said they’d accept a space or room in a newly built house that the buyers could finish later, in order to save money, she said. Forty-three percent said they’d live farther from shopping and entertainment if it would cut costs.
About one-third said they’d settle for a smaller yard, though how that would square with Waage’s analysis that emphasized a lot of yard love wasn’t addressed. Perhaps the community itself would compensate for the smaller yard — a majority of those surveyed by Quint’s group said such things as parks, walking trails, playgrounds and community outdoor pools would positively influence their decision to buy.
Most unwanted household features? Skip the home elevator, please, and they’re not partial to golf-course and gated communities, she said.