Old-fashioned starter homes were designed decades ago to offer homebuyers just the basics: two or three small bedrooms, one or two bathrooms, a functional kitchen, minimal living space and a large backyard that needed a lot of maintenance.
Today’s buyers want more than a shoebox that will meet their needs for a few years before they have to trade up. They want a home that’s nicer, bigger and has enough features not just for today, but for many years down the road.
This new desire for a home that’s “forever” isn’t just anecdotal. The federal government recently reported that the proportion of people moving to a new residence over a one-year period fell to an all-time low of 11.2 percent in 2016. The percentage has trended steadily downward since 1985, when it was 20.2, almost double today’s rate.
As U.S. Census Bureau Survey Statistician David Ihrke explained in a statement, “People in the United States are still moving, just not to the same extent as they did in the past.”
Builders have taken note. Rather than offer buyers starter, trade-up and downsizing homes, they’ve begun to offer buyers homes that are designed to meet their needs for much longer timeframes.
“In the last 10 years, new-home construction has now more than ever addressed requirements for buyers of all ages looking for long-term homes,” says Brian McHugh, owner of McHugh Construction. Located in Frederick, Colo., the company builds homes primarily in the greater Denver metro area.
Low Maintenance, Energy-Efficient
Tips on How to Buy a Forever HomeThe requirements for a long-term home include low maintenance and energy efficiency, features that appeal to a broad range of buyers today.
“People aren’t interested in a lot of home maintenance anymore, so not just the home, but the yards have to become low-maintenance,” McHugh says. “Stucco finishes on the exterior, better roofs and more brick — things that don’t have to be maintained long term are definitely a trend.”
Buyers have come to expect dual-paned windows with low-e coatings and a high-efficiency furnace and water heater at a minimum, McHugh says.
Higher-quality appliances are also an important feature for a home’s long-term value. “The better you go, theoretically, the longer you’ll be able to put off replacing it,” McHugh says.
Planning for Future Wants and Needs
Short-term homeowners don’t plan ahead for major home improvements. Long-term buyers start thinking about upgrades and improvements when they shop for a home even if they might not make those changes for 10 years or more.
McHugh says, “When we sell a new home, we talk about things that the buyers aren’t going to do for a long time, but we will plan for now.”
Buyers purchasing a custom-built home are especially likely to focus on long-term benefits. These buyers have chosen a location and lot that they love and are thinking they will stay in their home “forever,” McHugh says.
Brett Whitmore, co-owner of Whitmore Homes, a custom home builder in Grand Rapids, Mich., says buyers who are planning for the long term also appreciate features that make a home more accessible.
Examples of such features include wider doorways, enhancing lighting, larger showers, zero-step entrances and living spaces for visiting adult children or, eventually, caregivers.
“Don’t think about just the now,” Whitmore says. “Think about the future, too.”
Right Size, Right Quality
Square footage is also a consideration. Buyers’ needs vary and a home’s design can have a big impact on how large or small it feels. Still, most long-term-thinking buyers probably prefer a home that has 2,000 to 4,000 square feet of space.
Dennis Ouellette, vice president of operations at national home builder Taylor Morrison in Dallas, says buyers who’ve already owned several homes tend to want at least 2,200 square feet.
“They have a good understanding of how they live and what’s important to them,” Ouellette says.
Tom Page, vice president of iStar, a community developer in Richmond, Va., and general manager of Magnolia Green, a residential community in Moseley, Va., says it’s “very rare” these days for buyers to purchase a home that’s 5,000 or 7,000 square feet or larger.
Selecting the right builder is important whenever a buyer purchases a new-construction home. That importance is magnified when the buyer has a longer time horizon.
Page emphasizes the need for buyers to choose a quality builder.
“Get referrals from other people the builder built homes for to make sure that not only did they build the home in a quality matter, but that if, six months down the road, some things happen, they do come back and fix it,” he says.
Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, writer and editor in Ventura, California. In the last decade, she has penned more than 1,000 published stories about residential and commercial real estate, banking, credit cards, computer security, health insurance and small business, among other subjects. Editors describe her as “detail-driven,” “conscientious,” “smart” and “incredibly versatile.” Her award-winning reporting has been lauded as “rock solid,” “spot-on relevant,” “informative,” “engaging,” “interesting” and “nuanced.” Her stories have been cited in seven published nonfiction books and two U.S. Congressional hearings.
Prior to her freelance career, Geffner was senior editor of California Real Estate magazine. Later, she became managing editor of Inman.com, an independent real estate news website. She also has prior employment experience in technical writing, corporate communications and employee communications. She received a bachelor’s degree in English with high honors from UCLA and master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. She enjoys reading, home improvement projects and watching seagulls at the beach.