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What Do Home Buyers WANT?

For the first time since 2004, the National Association of Realtors® has just released its Profile of Buyers’ Home Feature Preferences (2007). Within days of the Profile’s release, several daily news sources published articles touching on the same topic. As housing markets across the country continue to brace themselves against the gloomy predictions regarding the future of real estate in the U.S., as lenders stiffen their requirements for home mortgage loans and as real estate agents compete for a shrinking number of true, honest, qualified buyers, information on what dedicated buyers are looking for is vital. Let’s take a look at what they’re saying.

The NAR’s survey was based on responses from home buyers who completed purchases in 2006. It actually includes more information than just home feature preferences. It tells us, for example, that over half of home buyers still believe their home has high investment potential (http://www.realtor.org/press_room/news_releases/2007/home_buyers_want_oversized_ garages.html, 07 Aug 2007). The survey also reported that within three months of their home purchase, six out of ten buyers embarked upon remodeling and home improvement projects. What types of improvements were they making? Mostly kitchen and bathroom updates. This fact alone tells residential real estate agents that kitchen areas and bathroom areas are key in the search for a home.

The survey doesn’t stop there. It asked home buyers about 75 different home features and gave them the opportunity to rate the importance of each. According to the surveyed home buyers, the following items were rated most important to their home purchase decision: oversize garages (besides the standard two-cars, most families need more space for bikes and general storage); central air conditioning (especially to buyers in the South and Midwest regions); and a walk in closet in the master bedroom. The number of buyers looking for granite countertops and hardwood floors saw an increase since the 2004 survey. Also interesting was the fact that purchasers of new homes rated energy-efficiency as very important; older buyers tended to give this item more importance than younger buyers.

Speaking of “older” buyers (let’s just say, more “seasoned”), they are becoming a quickly-developing market of their own. Two separate pieces in local news sources, released only two days after the NAR’s Profile, reported on the housing features most influential to senior buyers’ purchasing decisions. With the baby boomer generation reaching the point where they are downsizing or moving into assisted living communities, there remains a large population of prospective home buyers that may still be untapped. Standard building practices have largely ignored the kinds of features that seniors find crucial if they wish to live independently (and many of them still do). Their options in many housing markets have become (1) homes that are too large and unaccommodating; or (2) small apartments in facilities designed for the aging. An agent who knows to look for the types of home features that most appeal to this market, stands to do very well for him/herself. And will be performing a valuable service to a sector of our population that has worked hard, saved and invested well, for many years.

Macon, Georgia’s local paper, The Telegraph, posted an Associated Press article in its online “Home and Garden” section regarding the call for senior-friendly homes (“Baby Boomers lead surge of interest in making homes senior-friendly”, Melissa Rayworth, 09 Aug 2007). It discusses the increasing call for homes suited to seniors and how many are choosing the cost of updating existing homes over the higher cost of assisted living. Perhaps most interesting, it also makes the point that many of the features considered desirable for seniors are also beneficial to homebuyers with children and so will add value to the real estate itself. Among these features are wider hallways and doorways (good for wheelchairs and strollers), lower light switches (for someone in a motorized scooter or a child) and medical alert systems. Other notable items mentioned by experts as being especially desirable to those in the 50+ range are: raised dishwashers and washer/dryer sets (for less bending), flat kitchen cook tops (easy to clean), gas-burning fireplaces (cleaner, safer than wood burning) and easy-access tubs. Even these accommodations would be valuable to families.

The Hattiesburg American published another article online the same day, featuring the search of one seasoned couple for senior-friendly housing (“Housing with no steps, low counters, wide doors”, Royce Armstrong, 09 Aug 2007). Focusing on the term “universal design”, the article discusses the growing demand for the types of home customizations mentioned above. The piece makes note of the formal definition of “universal design”, as stated by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University: “The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. It has: equitable use; flexibility in use; simplicity and intuition; perceptible information; tolerance for error; low physical effort; and size and space for approach and use.” This, of course, sounds like the type of housing that any buyer could appreciate.

Realtors® should be experts when it comes to knowing what their buyers want. By targeting the growing market of 50+ seniors who still want to live in a home of their own, by understanding what is important to buyers in general as you prepare a tour of possible homes for a client, any real estate agent will add immense value to her/his service and increase the likelihood of being referred to others.

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