What's hot and what's not in new-home amenities

An upscale kitchen and an upgraded bathroom can practically sell a home. But a few other “must-have” amenities might surprise builders. So will a handful of new-home staples that today’s house hunters are saying they won’t waste their money on.

Must-haves

Huge closets. In a recent survey by the National Association of Home Builders, builders and remodelers said the single, most-requested amenity is a walk-in closet in the master bedroom. In a PulteGroup survey of 1,000 homeowners, 31% said they would happily sacrifice some other household feature for his-and-hers closets in the master bedroom.

Most new homes feature at least a couple of walk-in closets, but house hunters want them bigger and more elaborate.

An efficient laundry room. Second on the house-hunters’ wish list is a state-of-the-art laundry room, according to the NAHB survey of 400 homebuilders. "A good walk-in closet or laundry room might not be sexy, but they do make a household run better—and what's the point of moving to a [newly built] home if it's not going to make your life easier?" asked Stephen Melman of the National Association of Home Builders’ surveys and housing research division.

Homebuyers are looking for laundry rooms with skylights, built-in ironing boards, room for folding clothes, storage and upgraded appliances.

Energy-efficient everything. That includes low-e windows, programmable thermostats and Energy Star appliances, which will save the homebuyer money on future energy bills.

A great room. Much more than a dining room, the absence of a great room is a deal-breaker for many would-be homebuyers. The bigger and brighter, the better, the NAHB study revealed, especially for couples with children who live at home.

Nine-foot ceilings. This family favorite is only for the first floor. Buyers are asking their builders for the elevated ceilings—the standard is eight feet high—to open up living rooms, dining rooms and other shared spaces.

Outside the box

Most builders wouldn’t think of designing a prayer room a safe room into a home, but those features are gaining popularity, especially in diverse neighborhoods.

Here are three design changes for homebuilders to consider as they market their product to nontraditional buyers with once-uncommon needs:

Mother-in-law suites. About one in six Americans lives in a multigenerational home, according to the public policy group Generations United. Builders are responding by designing homes to include small apartments or extra-large suites so middle-age homeowners can invite their older parents or adult children to live with them.

Prayer rooms. The homes in Houston builder Partners in Building’s newest development feature domed roofs, Arabic-style arches and optional prayer rooms.

Safe rooms. In Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas and other tornado- and hurricane-torn states, storm shelters are becoming so common that many builders offer them as standard fare.

The rooms’ walls often are made from brick or concrete, have no windows and feature steel doors.  

In Washington, IL, population 15,000, a November 2013 tornado damaged or destroyed  more than 250 buildings and injured 120 people. The city estimates that at least 10% of the replacement homes will have safe rooms.

Worth the sacrifice

Homebuyers told PulteGroup that they would sacrifice a location near public transportation, or better schools or proximity to entertainment and shopping—and would gladly pay more—for these five home features:

  • His-and-hers closets in the master bedroom.
  • A spa-like master bathroom.
  • A large eat-in kitchen.
  • A kitchen island.
  • A bathtub.

"Consumers today aren't just looking for the biggest house on the block,” Ryan Marshall , PulteGroup's executive vice president of homebuilding operations, marketing and sales, told Realtor Magazine. “They're looking for more efficient use of space and a greater area allocated to 'workhorse' spaces, like the kitchen."

In a separate survey by the National Association of Home Builders, most buyers said they would pay more for an environmentally friendly home, once surveyors explained how much less the home’s utility bills would cost. That’s a switch from typical surveys, which have shown that homeowners say they want “green” features in their new homes—until they’re asked how much more they would pay for them. Then, the amenities become less important.

Can live without

What’s hot and what’s not can change as quickly as the weather. Here are five expensive features that house hunters once believed they couldn’t live without—and now wouldn’t spend a dime extra to get them, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

1. The cathedral ceiling over a family room. Too costly to heat and cool, the high-ceilinged rooms lost favor with homebuyers looking for something a bit warmer and cozier.

2. The sunroom. Nice to have but not necessary, sunrooms still have their place in cold-weather climates because they let a lot of light into the house on dark days. But elsewhere, they’ve fallen out of favor.

3. The outdoor fireplace. In warm climates, where it’s comfortable to hang out on the patio for nine months out of every year, fireplaces once made crisp fall evenings outdoors even more appealing. Still, it’s an easy feature to cut when budgets are tight.

4. The outdoor kitchen. Among the most lavish upgrades to a home, the fully equipped second kitchen—located outside on an oversized patio—doubled as a convenience and a status symbol. But the indoor kitchen works just as well when money is tight.

5. Laminate kitchen countertops. This amenity is much more affordable than its natural-stone competitors—yet it’s as “out” as a feature can be. Today’s homeowners want natural, more upscale materials in their kitchens, the NAHB survey of builders revealed.

"A lot of it has to do with the bottom line," says NAHB’s Melman. "Consumers are asking: 'Is this something I can cross out and still enjoy my new home?'"


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Residential Building