As seen in Chicago Tribune
Homebuilders, don't touch that luxury tub! Keep your paws off the dining room too.
Despite reports of their imminent demise, free-standing bathtubs and formal dining rooms are much-desired features for people shopping for a new home — not that they'll use either of them very often, but they just like the idea of having them around.
Last fall, more than 20,000 active home shoppers poured their hearts out — electronically, anyway — when asked in an online survey about the kinds of bathroom and kitchen/dining features they would favor in a new dwelling.
The research is intended to help homebuilders figure out how to please their customers, but survey organizer Mollie Carmichael, a principal with John Burns Real Estate Consulting in Irvine, Calif., explained in an edited interview that what the home shoppers said also tells us something about households that are increasingly childless and are eager to have a place at home where they can "disconnect" from a world that they sometimes look upon as just too connected.
Q: So, who's out there looking to build a home these days?
A: This is really interesting. We've been seeing this shift away from the traditional idea of families with young children being in the market for a new home. Today, it's the baby boomers — about 53 percent of new home shoppers are without children, and only 30 percent of new home shoppers have children under 18. And although the numbers of households that are currently multigenerational — say, an elderly parent or an adult child is living in an extended-family arrangement — is very small, we're telling builders that this is a group to get ready for, because anywhere from 10 percent to 49 percent of homebuyers are considering accommodating another family member in the future.
Q: Generally speaking, what are they looking for in a home?
A: Again and again, they told us they were looking for quality more than quantity, and they said that, even when they were looking for a larger home than the one they currently have. One major attitude that was apparent was this huge desire to disconnect when they come home.
This seemed to show up in their interest in a house with an indoor-outdoor connection, where they could entertain and move easily from kitchen to the outdoors. Another way it showed up is, well, I'm not saying that anyone should disconnect their wireless (service), but this expressed need to disconnect suggests a huge trend for making the master bath feel more like a spa. Builders have to ask themselves, how do we help them disconnect from stress every day? Consumers told us they love a big shower but don't lose the tub. We asked, "But will you use the tub?" and they said, "Um, maybe not much." But they want it to be there — 65 percent said they still want a tub in the master bath.
Q: Isn't that also sort of the way they feel about the dining room — that room that builders have said for years that nobody wants or needs any more?
A: They still want a formal dining room. They want their holiday dinners where they can expand out to 10 or 12 people. A lot of builders have been building houses with just a great room (that could accommodate a large dining table), but 59 percent want a great room and one or two more formal spaces.
Q: It's a given that kitchens sell houses. What did your homebuyers say they wanted in theirs? For example, when I was at the International Builders' Show in February, everybody was saying that gray kitchens were the next big thing. Did gray cabinets come out on top?
A: Gray may be emerging, but in our survey, chocolate brown cabinets were the top choice. Statistically, the biggest vote went to cream-colored countertops. Buyers still want granite countertops and will pay extra for them.
The top two kitchen features, by a wide margin, were a large island and a walk-in pantry, and we're telling builders if they can figure out a way to build in a pantry, they should.
They want high-tech appliances, but they're more interested in quality and durability than in how the appliances look.
Big laundry rooms — boy, do people get excited about big laundry rooms that also will accommodate their pets. Remember, these people have more pets than they have children.