What Buyers (Still) Want in New Home Design
November 16, 2021
Today’s “build it and they’ll buy it” new home marketplace has seemingly minimized the urgency for new, creative plan design. Unfortunately, white-hot markets can cause complacency as builders get comfortable building (and selling, and profiting from) the same plans again and again. The risk may not be immediately evident, but as buyers, the economy and the new home marketplace continue to evolve over the next five years, design will prove to be the difference maker.
On the flip side, some design elements are – and have always been – essential in giving buyers the kind of living experience they want in a new home. Consider these non-negotiable, and work to develop new plans that introduce even better solutions for these four key components of the floor plan. Even as markets cool, plans that successfully deliver what buyers have always wanted will maintain sales velocity and separate forward-thinking builders from the rest of the pack.
Kitchens have become more about entertaining and gathering than just cooking and eating. In particular, kitchen design now revolves heavily around the utility of the kitchen island. Although trends indicate that a simple, single-level kitchen island (with or without a sink) is most preferred, the way that island will be used is anything but simple. Designs must enable more flexibility at the kitchen island, which will likely serve a variety of uses ranging from home office, study station, crafting table, Zoom meeting location, and cutout cookie making zone. In smaller footprints, dry islands (without sinks) maximize counter space and become focal points for social gathering. Counter areas that are comfortably spaced make kitchen activities much more functional, even with multiple people working on different tasks. It also provides room for additional storage beneath the island to hide away appliances and other potential distractions.
Kitchen storage is still critical, and the trend toward home grocery delivery has predicated a new age of pantry design. Starter homes should offer a minimum 4’ by 4’ pantry, and at higher price points, multiple pantries or massive walk-ins are the new norm. Rear kitchens (sometimes called “messy kitchens”) provide a great opportunity to double down on pantry storage. Organization, color coding and labeling is all the rage, so give buyers the space to explore this trend. Cabinets, including under the island, will always provide the decorative flair for most kitchens, but pantries are where the real magic happens.
Additional designated storage throughout the home will go a long way with buyers. Especially for those working from home, well-designed storage helps keep distractions to a minimum. Storage must give homeowners the opportunity to declutter, which has been proven to increase productivity and decrease stress. This includes designing ample room to be able to “hide” work at the end of the day, which contributes to that 9 to 5 office routine and helps keep home separate from work. Storage solutions go hand-in-hand with flex spaces, so plan accordingly.
Buyers still prefer open concept floor plans more than anything else, but many consumers now want the ability to manage those open spaces to best meet their needs on any given day. This means floor plans still need to provide a basic open concept for casual living, easy entertaining and resident connectivity. From there, designing multiple flex spaces in a variety of configurations (without modifying the primary building footprint or construction) enables new homes to be configured in a multitude of ways that will satisfy nearly every buyer profile. From exercise rooms to home offices, hobby rooms or TV/reading lounges, each family can effectively personalize the space to meet their specific needs. For years, floor plans have optioned smaller secondary bedrooms as flex spaces, but tomorrow’s plans are finding creative ways to use every square inch of space – for example, 6’ by 9’ nooks tucked into the corner of the great room or under a stair – to carve out unique, highly functional flex areas. Utilizing unused square footage is a great option for smaller flex add-ons.
It’s no secret that fresh air and sunshine can have a huge impact on your health and well-being. Even in the smallest floor plans (including townhomes) having a thoughtfully designed area to spend time outside in the privacy and safety of your home is critical to today’s buyers. Outdoor living is no longer optional; it has become an essential design element at every price point.
The days of the 10’ x 10’ concrete slab patio are dwindling. Assuming that’s all the market will bear is a sure way to get left behind. Builders that offer more, even just a small awning or covered area, will quickly rise above the fray. The best solutions are integrated into the footprint of the home, including front porches, side yard patios and rear balconies under roof. Connect these spaces to interior family gathering areas for a true indoor/outdoor experience. Add outdoor living to primary suites or multi-gen apartments to introduce a whole new level of luxury. Then merchandise the outdoor living to demonstrate how amazing it can really be. Outdoor kitchens, gaming areas, pools and even accessory dwelling units will prove well worth their investment, elevating the model complex experience to show buyers the full potential.
MOVING PLANS FORWARD
Continuous improvement is an unspoken rule of new home design. Architects and builders must constantly assess plan layouts, consumer trends and product innovations to ensure tomorrow’s new homes are giving buyers anything and everything they could possibly want. Although some of the basic preferences have remained unchanged for years, how those elements are incorporated (either successfully or not) into a new floor plan can make or break the design. Win more buyers by creating stellar kitchens, maximizing underutilized square footage, getting creative with storage and flexing spaces inside and out.