5 features that today's homebuyers want most

Consumer Reports News: March 25, 2013 10:08 AM

Homebuyers have become more practical since the housing market crisis—they don't want cavernous entryways but they do want plenty of storage space. They want to be close to their jobs and integrated into their communities. And they want to keep their energy costs low. In today's market, a McMansion in the exburbs may be a tough sell. Price is still primary, but if you're thinking of buying or selling a home, you should learn how buyers' preferences have changed since the last time you were in the market. Here are the five features today's homebuyers want most.

Proximity to work. During the last housing boom, people were willing to move deeper and deeper into suburban sprawl to find a home they could afford. That trend is reversing, especially among first-time homebuyers. "At 30 percent, proximity to work was the most frequently cited reason for choosing a specific neighborhood," said David Crowe, chief economist with the National Association of Home Builders. As you house hunt, pay attention to commute times. The Housing + Transportation Affordability Tool helps you measure a home's true cost based on its location.

Energy efficiency. One of the hallmarks of McMansions from the boom era is the double-height entryway. But it's going away, in part because people realize how expensive the corresponding double-height foyer is to heat and cool. That's indicative of the demand for energy-efficient homes. Nine out of 10 buyers in the 2011 American Housing Survey said they'd rather purchase a home with energy-efficient features that lower utility bills than a home without such features that costs two to three percent less. And in the NAHB's Home Trends & Buyer Preferences survey, Energy Star appliances were the most desired feature, picked by 94 percent of respondents. (Our appliance Ratings will lead you to the most efficient models).

Lots and lots of storage. Forget the whirlpool tub and six-burner stove. A linen closet, walk-in pantry, and other helpful organizers are the new selling points. This change reflects the more realistic mindset of today's homebuyers. These savvy house hunters are thinking honestly about how they really live, day in and day out, rather than falling for some fantasy version of what life might be. In that scenario, having somewhere to stow towels, sheets, and bulk items from the warehouse club is high on their wish list.

Quality of space, not quantity. Smart homebuyers understand that a well-designed 2,000-square-foot home will live larger than a poorly planned one with 3,000 square feet or more. Look for open, yet defined floor plans that foster a connection between rooms while still providing privacy as needed. If you have kids, you don't want to have to go outside or into the garage to have a private conversation. Rooms should be easy to furnish as well. For example, in the master bedroom there should be one wall that's big enough to anchor a king-size bed, preferably away from the door to the bathroom.

Connection outdoors, and to the community beyond. A front porch is another feature desired most by today's homebuyer. That tells you a couple things. First, it says people want to spend time outdoors. But they also want to engage with neighbors and the community at large by hanging out in the front of their house. Backyard patios and decks are also desirable for private meals and parties. But the increased interest in front porches is significant. A block filled with homes with active front porches is going to feel very different from one where all you see driving down the street is a line of garage doors.

Daniel DiClerico

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