Buyers’ tastes have changed after the recession; accessibility, sustainability and practicality rank high on wish lists

2012-12-15T00:00:00Z Buyers’ tastes have changed after the recession; accessibility, sustainability and practicality rank high on wish listsBy Madhusmita Bora CTW Features
December 15, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The recession and the housing downturn didn’t just drag down home prices and home values. They also turned consumer expectations upside down.

Buyers now prefer efficiency, accessibility and sustainability over luxury and specialty rooms. They prefer informality, practical features and functionality over a formal and posh lifestyle.

“Seven years ago when I bought my house, I wanted a big house with a media room and all the good stuff,” says Beenu Sikand, an Indianapolis-based real estate agent. “Now when I look back, my maintenance and property taxes are killing me.”

Sikand says she’s looking at downsizing next year to a smaller, more energy-efficient home. Her clients have similar preferences.

“In my market, people are asking for custom-made homes, which are smaller, more energy-efficient and have better bathrooms, kitchens and insulation,” she says.

According to a recent American Institute of Architects Home Design Trends Survey, specialty spaces such as sauna, greenhouses, exercise rooms or the big media rooms of the past are out. What’s in are mud rooms, home office spaces and outdoor living areas.

These changes in expectations and design reflect the sluggish economy. With unemployment plaguing the market, many people are freelancing, telecommuting or starting home businesses. Thus, more than one third of the architects participating in the survey identified home offices as the most popular specialty function room.

One in five architects selected mud rooms or drop zones for items such as backpacks, coats and personal electronics as the most popular special function room. Compared to that, almost 40 percent of survey respondents reported that media rooms or home theaters are declining in popularity. Twenty-eight percent said exercise, fitness and sauna spaces are also on the downslide.

Energy efficiency has become a key mantra for homebuyers, along with accessibility for an aging population. With dwindling discretionary income, consumers want to cut spending as much as possible. They want low utility bills and homes where they can grow old.

First-floor master bedrooms, non-slip floor surfaces and extra insulation in the attics are now sought-after features. Solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling systems have also become hip features, along with low-maintenance materials.

Now that the market is looking up once again, home sellers are searching for ways to entice buyers. These upgrades will appeal to the new needs and desires of homebuyers during the real estate recovery:

• Insulate the attic: That’s the first step toward decreasing utility bills, says Scott Frank, AIA spokesman. “After years and years of mansion expansion, people have realized that big spaces come with bigger heating and cooling costs,” Frank says. “Maximize your space and bring down utility costs.”

• Jazz up the kitchen and bathrooms: Upgrades for these two areas always get good returns on investment, says Rose Quint, assistant vice president of research at the National Association of Home Builders. Granite countertops and energy-efficient cooking appliances score with buyers.

“The kitchen is the nerve center of a home,” Frank says. “Buyers now prefer it to be an extension of the family area, where cooking can be done in an island on an L-shaped counter looking into the family room.”

In the bathroom, doorless showers are in demand, as are water-saving toilets and heated floors.

• Accessibility: People these days opt for homes where they can live for a long time. Also, with an aging Baby Boomer population, accessibility and mobility have become key issues for homebuyers. Locate the master bedroom in the main floor area, and install grips in the shower area to prevent falls, Frank suggests.

• Outdoor living space: The AIA survey found that outdoor living areas are very popular now. If you have the means and patience to embark on a Goliath renovation, invest in an outdoor kitchen area, a fire pit or a living room outdoors. “It can be as extravagant or spartan as you wish to make it,” Frank says. “But it will have good resale appeal.”

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