From tech to security: what homebuyers want

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | July 13, 2015

No one needs to know what homebuyers want the most as much as home builders, real estate agents, remodeling contractors, and marketers. They often turn to surveys to get the answers they need.

You, on the other hand, probably already know what features you want in the house you plan to buy or how you'd like to spend your remodeling dollars on the one you currently own. Still, it doesn't hurt to take a peek at what the industry thinks in case you're planning to sell in the next few years. You could be competing against newly built and newly renovated homes when you hang out your "For Sale" sign.

Who's buying makes a difference, too. Some surveys break down who wants what by generation, and it turns out, that could be the key to unraveling your home buying or selling problems.

Those who were young once may remember that they typically didn't - and still don't - want what their parents did. So, while you of earlier generations may think that a home security system accessible from your smart phone just complicates matters, Millennials may find an elevator a complete waste of space and money. Not every survey has as much to tell about Gen X, the 35- to 49-year-olds sandwiched between Boomers and Millennials. As expected, Millennials recently surpassed them as the largest generation of homebuyers and are the ones everyone wants to please.

1. Location

Here's what homeowners want regarding location, according to findings from a National Association of Realtors® (NAR) survey published in March of 2015:

  • Community. An average of 69 percent of all age groups rated neighborhood quality as their top priority, and 74 percent of Millennials led the pack. According to a survey from December 2014 by the National Association of Homebuilders, 66 percent of Millennials - those homebuyers 34 and younger - want a home in the suburbs. NAHB also found that more than 50 percent of these youngest homebuyers "would be seriously influenced to move to a community if it had" a park or play area, or walking and jogging trails.
  • Convenience to work. Millennials were far and away at 74 percent the age group most concerned about buying a home at a convenient commuting distance from work, according to the NAR survey.
  • Affordability. Millennials also comprised the largest generational group - 58 percent - concerned with overall affordability.
  • Proximity to family, friends and shopping. Boomers - and older generations - want to be close to shopping. Only 25 percent of Millennials surveyed care about proximity to stores, but slightly more Millennials than Boomers - 49 percent vs. 47 percent - want to be near friends and family as compared to 52 percent of those between 69 and 89 years old. The oldest group valued nearby health facilities.
  • Schools. When it comes to education, 44 percent of Millennials and 43 percent of Gen-Xers are looking for homes in a quality school district. Convenient location to schools rated higher for Gen X than for Millennials, 41 vs. 34 percent.

2. Home space

Home builders need to know what the newest major player in the housing market wants. The NAHB shared the results of their December 2014 survey, "Home Trends and Millennials' Home Preferences," during the January 2015 International Builders Show. Here are some highlights of what they found out:

  • Size. Three quarters of Millennials surveyed want a 2,475 square feet, single family home. For a more affordable price, 53 percent said they can live with a partially unfinished space; 31 percent with a smaller lot; and 27 percent with a smaller house.
  • Layout. The largest number of Millennials -- 78 percent -- want either a kitchen that's completely open or partially open with a half wall. A two-story home appeals to 52 percent. According to a 2015 survey of real estate brokers by Cartus Corp., a global relocation services provider, Boomers want a first floor master bedroom - no stairs. Most Millennials - 81 percent - want either three, or better yet, four bedrooms, and 64 percent want 2 to 2 1/2 bathrooms.
  • Must-haves. At least 90 percent of Millennial respondents want a dedicated laundry room, and 55 percent consider it essential. Over 40 percent regard ceiling fans, exhaust fans, and a great room as deal-breakers. Exterior lighting ranks as essential for 38 percent, desirable for another 50 percent.
  • Storage. Built-in places to put things ranked highly with linen closets, walk-in pantries, and garage storage on the top 10 most-wanted list.

3. Smart home technology

Smart home technology is making bigger and bigger inroads into our homes each year. Better Homes and Gardens' (BHG) surveyed 1,400 women readers. They noted that younger women had more interest in controlling the whole home with smart phone technology. According to the Cartus Corp. survey, 45 percent of Millennials wanted smart home technology compared with only 8 percent of Boomers.

  • Home entertainment. The BHG results showed that women in general value smart phone technology for turning on and off DVRs, TVs, and music indoors, and for enjoying the same pleasures in another desirable home upgrade - the backyard retreat.
  • Appliances. According to BHG's brand executive editor, Jill Waage, the younger women's growing interest in high-tech extends to controlling all sorts of home appliances and features like washers and dryers, lighting, keyless entry locks, and home security systems.
  • Heating and cooling. Programmable thermostats, especially those that can be accessed by smart phone, can be tied into whole-house, efficient energy management, and smoke and carbon monoxide monitoring. According to the NAHB survey, Millennials place a high value on energy-efficient homes.

Things Millennials desire least that older buyers typically want: gated and golf-course communities, and the aforementioned elevators. One thing both generations do want: upgraded kitchens. At least that's something on which everyone can agree.

Photo credit to Myryah Shea

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.