Configured for Easy Living

Builders deliver size, flexibility, and high-tech. Are you ready to sell today’s new home?

June 1, 2000

Today's new-home buyers are demanding much—and receiving much—from builders.

Dual master suites, movable walls, three-car garages, high-speed wiring—these are just some of the design trends builders say consumers want.

If you sell new construction be prepared to speak to these lifestyle needs. And if you sell resale houses, know that consumers may need help conceptualizing a home's potential.

Here are some of the design trends you'll find in the new-home market today.

Two's company

Builders are catering to Baby Boomer buyers (roughly ages 35-55) with homes designed with dual master suites—one on the first floor, another on the second. Today, the first-floor bedroom could be an in-law suite for aging parents. Tomorrow, it could become the boomers’ primary bedroom.

Alternatively, the suite could be a sunroom and converted to a bedroom later for guests or adult children who return home to roost.

Livin’ large

Naturally, a house with two master suites demands square footage. Not surprisingly then, “size is probably the greatest change [in buyer wants that] we've seen over the last three years,” says Tom Tylutki, president of the Chicago division of Kimball Hill Homes, Rolling Meadows, Ill. “People are looking for large homes and are opting for 3,000 square feet and above.”

Janet Howell, vice president, sales and marketing, for Brookfield Homes, Vienna, Va., sees the same trend, particularly among high-end buyers. Her company is developing some 5,000- to 6,000-square-foot homes with three-car garages.

What are people doing with all that space? They're stretching out, working at home, and giving kids more room.

With a humming economy, consumers realize that they don't have to opt for either family space or formal space; they can have both. In some Brookfield developments, for instance, the front of the house is still home to the traditional formal living room, dining room, and guest bathroom. But the back is reserved for grand, laid-back family living. These spaces are likely to be configured as great rooms,open to the kitchen and dining and family rooms.

Another option Brookfield offers size-minded buyers is a second-floor kids’ retreat--a spacious place for recreation and study that some families equip with juke boxes and computer stations that meet the demands of modern tots and teens.

In addition, people no longer want to remove coats and bootsin a cramped mud room. In fact, Howell says the idea of a generous family foyer has caught on. It features big closets and cubbyholes where kids can stash backpacks.

It's not just families pursuing square footage and the comforts that accompany it. “Gen Xers, [ages 25 to 35] have grown up with a lot of luxury. To them, soaking tubs, self-cleaning ranges, and ceiling fans are customary, not luxury, and they expect to find them,” comments Howell.

Modular interiors

Speaking of luxury, low maintenance and flexibility are other items on consumers’ wish lists.

Where convenience and amenities once were luxuries, today people-on-the-go expect them. "Fewer people are looking at wall-to-wall carpeting, and more are opting for hard surface flooring—wood, ceramic or laminates—for speedy clean up and maintenance,” says Austin, Texas-based Larry Ogelsby, division president for the Los Angeles-based builder Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation.

In addition, Tylutki says builders are crafting houses that grow with their inhabitants. These homes offer flexible floorplans, which can change--without structural modifications--through the addition or subtraction of a wall or door. For example, first-floor dens can be configured into offices or bedrooms, or, by removing a wall, into a large family area.

Digital dens

With more techno-savvy people becoming part of the bunny slipper crowd—either working as telecommuters or running home-based businesses—another buyer must-have is a home office.

The traditional den or library off the formal front entrance that used to be a showplace for leather-bound books, has been moved to the back of the house closer to family living areas. Many buyers use the room for spacious family offices, where both parents and kids can have computers and workspaces.

Don Faught, broker associate with Prudential California Realty, Fremont, Calif., who has sold both new and resale property, confirms that the buyers he works with have two key requirements: dedicated office space and high-speed Internet access.

Because “people are so used to having technology in their workplace, they expect it at home,” says Scott Elliott, associate broker with the Hasson Company, REALTORS®, Portland, Ore. He's involved in selling a 102-house development, Turner Creek, where T1 high-speed fiber optic Internet access is standard in every property.

Elliott has even adjusted his marketing to appeal to tech heads by advertising in local computer publications. Turner Creek's tagline: “You wouldn't put a home on a highway, but we've put the highway in your home.”

“Real estate professionals have to be cognizant about how to market wired properties,” he says.

Or, for that matter, how to market a retreat for kids.

In the end, whether you're selling new or resale homes, you need to know what the latest trends are and how to market them to your prospects. Otherwise, you won't know your mudroom from your foyer, and that could make for a bad entrance into today's marketing world.

Home of the Future Arrives

Smart homes promise homeowners heightened security, convenience, and gadgetry found only on The Jetsons TV show or in James Bond flicks. Although that potential is awe inspiring, it remains to be seen if smart appliances will produce a gasp or a sigh among buyers.

It may soon be possible to have new-age appliances, such as refrigerators that scan the contents within and make a shopping list when supplies run short and curtains programmed to swing open at 7 a.m. But the demand for such wizardry, so far, seems limited. As one salesperson says of the new generation of smart refrigerators, "Big deal. I can shake the milk carton myself and figure out that it's time to visit the store."

Both Janet Howell of Brookfield Homes, Vienna, Va., and Tom Tylutki, Kimball Hill Homes, Rolling Meadows, Ill., say people—even in the high-tech areas where they build--aren't clamoring for the whistles and bells and fancy gadgetry that's available. “No one comes in and asks for a fridge that talks to you,” observes Howell, “But they are interested in pre-wiring the house so they're prepared for whatever comes along.”

High-tech houses have the power to change lives, believe some. Although “having a fridge that calls a repairman doesn't add much to life, we're trying to enhance the lives of people moving into our community—Centennial--by enabling them with technology," says Mark Flagg, director of special projects for Indianapolis homebuilder the Estridge Co., and director of national strategy for First Mile Technologies. First Mile, owned byNortel Networks and other venture capital companies, provides bundled technology services in new home communities.

The Estridge Company is building Centennial, a high-tech planned community outside Indianapolis, and First Mile is providing local phone, high speed Internet access, security monitoring, and cable TV to each house as a standard feature.

By equipping everyone with a bandwidth that can provide up to T1 speeds, Flagg sees unlimited possibilities, and envisions a time where distance learning, glitch-free telecommuting, and even telemedicine are possible directly from home. It's in these areas, he thinks, where techno-wizardry changes from a mere flight of fancy to something practical and beneficial.

He acknowledges that his company may be a bit ahead of the curve and says even those already living in Centennial don't fully use what's available. “It's a learning thing, and when people get used to it and experience how it can work, people will start demanding it,” he predicts.

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