By Kelly McCall Branson
For New Homes & Ideas, Jodi Sauerbier, Publisher
Increasing energy costs, the slowly recovering economy and a generation of Baby Boomers reaching a new stage in life—all are playing a part in shaping the market for Triangle homes. Buyers in this area and across the country are, more than ever, demanding flexible, efficient houses that make maximum use of every square foot, cater to today’s lifestyles and can accommodate multiple generations. We asked local remodelers and new-home builders what their clients are looking for and we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 most-sought-after and most sellable features for 2012.
1. The Kitchen Grows Up
The kitchen continues to gain prominence as the true heart of the home. “People really do spend a major part of their lives in the kitchen these days,” says Lisa Lenhart, Design Center manager for Eastwood Homes. “It’s a focal point of the house.”
As the kitchen has evolved into a space for casual dining, homework, family gathering and even entertaining, the island has become one of its most important features.
“Islands are getting bigger than ever—literally,” says Lenhart. “They are the place to come together, as a conversational center.” Stephen Vaughn, president of Kitchen & Bath Galleries, concurs: “cooking is moving to the perimeter of the kitchen and, more and more, people are socializing around the island.”
As it evolves into a living and entertaining space, today’s home buyers demand beauty in the kitchen every bit as much as functionality. They are looking for furniture-like cabinets and elegant finishes.
“We are seeing granite in 80 to 90% of mid- to upper-range homes,” reports Vaughn, “along with a real interest in subtle cream colors for a softer feel in cabinets and walnut or cherry for elegant wood character in the island.”
“Custom tile mosaics and glass inserts for cabinets are very popular as a way to personalize the kitchen,” says Don Fraley, division manager with Bill Clark Homes. And appliances are going under cover. “There are panels for refrigerators, dishwashers and warming drawers. Microwaves are going below into islands, and there are all kinds of ways to conceal small appliances,” says Stephen Vaughn. There’s no doubt that homeowners will see the most bang for their buck with a kitchen that’s a showplace, as well as a place to cook.
2. Energy Stars
As energy costs continue to rise, along with environmental awareness, homeowners are looking for more and more energy efficiency in their houses.
“The 2012 Energy Code is so much more efficient than even three or four years ago,” says Bill Clark Homes’ Don Fraley, “more focus than ever is going into energy saving strategies—from attic and wall insulation to higher SEER ratings for air conditioners to caulking and sealing ducts.”
Other hot energy-saving features include super-insulated windows and doors, programmable thermostats and LED lighting. “We are seeing a lot of interest in tankless hot water heaters and spray foam insulation in remodeling existing homes,” says Elliott Kanarek, owner of EMK Construction. And Kitchen & Bath Galleries’ Stephen Vaughn notes that the vast majority of their clients are looking for Energy Star appliances.
The savings in monthly energy costs, as well as the variety of tax incentives and rebates available, make investment in energy-saving features a good value even before considering the resale return on investment.
3. The Bathroom as Retreat
Everyone we spoke with reported a huge demand for the spa-like master bath.
“The master bath has become more of a relaxation chamber than just a functional bathroom,” says Stephen Vaughn, “with Italian tile and steam rooms and sitting areas and shower heads that make you feel like you’re in the rain forest.”
Eastwood Homes’ Lisa Lenhart points out that the new master bath is more about feeling good than being impressive. “The trend is much more toward simplicity, elegance and serenity,” she says, “without all of the pomp and circumstance of recent years.”
Simple soaking tubs are replacing the ornate Roman-columned whirlpool tubs of yesterday. “Oversized showers with seats are integrated into all of our plans,” reports Tim Lantz, marketing manager for Standard Pacific Homes.
A master bath that beckons as a place to relax and recharge is sure to be a hot selling point for years to come.
Home buyers are looking for homes with flexible space that can serve their individual needs and even change as their families and lifestyles change.
“People are very much reconsidering devoting space for no reason,” says Lisa Lenhart.
Single-use rooms that no one uses are out. Formal living rooms and dining rooms are being opened up and incorporated into other spaces or replaced by multi-purpose adaptable rooms. “There’s just a huge draw for rooms that can serve as a study or office or guest room, as well as a living room,” adds Lenhart.
“Reorganizing the house is a very cost-effective way to make it feel bigger without the higher expense of actually adding on,” says EMK’s Elliot Kanarek. “I take out a lot of walls to open up the house and make it more livable.”
An investment in achieving a floor plan that lives and changes with its owners can result in big returns down the road.
5. Claiming Space
Triangle contractors report that the slowly recovering economy doesn’t have people downsizing so much as squeezing every big of usable space from under their roof as they can. Building out attic space has become a popular choice with many.
“Our homes are intentionally designed to incorporate a third floor option,” says Standard Pacific Homes’ Tim Lantz. “People are increasingly using the space for a media room, a game room, a guest suite—there’s just a lot of flexibility.”
“It’s far more cost effective per square foot to finish an attic,” says Don Fraley. “You’re not spending more on foundation or roof.” More room, minimal expense—that’s a value proposition.
6. The Downstairs Suite
A variety of factors have made the downstairs bedroom suite a highly sellable feature in homes today. Multi-generational households are becoming more and more common as older parents come to live with children and grown children are sticking around the house a little longer. It makes a more private guest room, and aging baby boomers see the downstairs bedroom as an attractive option for remaining in their homes well into their golden years.
“I would say that the downstairs bedroom, with a full bath—especially a master suite—is pretty important to most of our buyers,” says Standard Pacific’s Lantz.
Don Fraley agrees: “our most popular plan includes a separate bedroom downstairs with an adjacent full bath.” The downstairs bedroom and bath is a trend that promises remain popular for years to come.
7. Aging in Place
As more than 70 million baby boomers pass the age of 50, the notion of being able to stay in one’s homes as long as possible comes to the forefront. Homes that incorporate Universal Design features that allow for greater accessibility and facilitate aging in place will become increasingly in demand.
“I’m seeing clients in their 40s and 50s really thinking about what they need in their home to allow them to stay put as they age,” says EMK’s Kanarek.
Bill Clark Homes already incorporates accessibility features into many of their homes. “Comfort height toilets, wider doors, rollout cabinet drawers, all hardwood flooring and large, roll-in showers with benches are just some of the features that allow retirees to remain in their homes.” With so many millions of potential buyers looking for accessibility, incorporating it into the home just makes sense.
8. Outdoor Living
Just as today’s homeowners are seeking solace in their spa-like master baths, they also want the serenity of the great outdoors. The outdoor space as an extension of the home is a trend that has been growing for the past decade. “All of our home plans offer a front porch,” says Don Fraley, “and there is huge demand for screened porches.”
Outdoor rooms that function as true living space are more popular than ever. “People want to stay home and relax on the weekend,” says EMK’s Kanarek. “They are building outdoor kitchens and living rooms that flow right from the indoor spaces and have seating areas to watch TV and fire pits and places to eat dinner.”
Carefully planned outdoor space can add curb appeal and real value to your home.
9. Garages Aren’t Just for Cars Anymore
The multi-purpose garage is another feature that is trending in Triangle homes. “We’re seeing new demand for 3-car garages that can accommodate more than just cars,” says Fraley. “People are looking for more storage—especially retirees moving down from up north who are used to having a basement.”
Along with general storage, people want space to keep Riding mowers, jet skis and motorcycles and a workshop area for tools and do-it-yourself projects. “I call it the garage-mahal,” says Kanarek. The flexible garage, outfitted for a variety of uses can be a very cost effective strategy for enhancing your home’s appeal.
10. The Drop Zone
It’s not just the big things that can bring real value to your home. Sometimes a simple little element can make a big difference. The so-called “drop zone” is just such a feature. A tucked away little space near the home’s most used entrance, with a place to sit and some clever storage to corral the clutter of shoes and coats, book bags, briefcases and maybe even a cell charging station.
“I swear a drop zone can sell a house,” says Bill Clark Homes’ Fraley. “I have had people take one look and fall in love.”
Standard Pacific’s Lantz concurs: “It’s just about livability, about thinking through what people need to make the house actually work for them.” So it’s true then—the simple things do really count.
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