New homebuyers are likely to see larger, better-equipped houses when they hit the market later this year.
Based on a survey of consumer preferences by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the average size of a new home could reach 2,750 square feet in 2016, a new record. And the typical sales price could easily go beyond $355,000.
Surveys like this are often dismissed as pie-in-the-sky. If anything else, would-be buyers can compare themselves to their peers. But Rose Quint, an NAHB economist, called the data “exciting,” and said builders will use the data collected to decide what to put into their new models.
Builders aren’t stupid, Quint said. They “don’t build what they want, they build what the market wants. They build what will sell.”
While many observers thought that the size of new homes would have started coming down by now, the preliminary figures from the Census Bureau suggest that the average reached 2,721 square feet in 2015, the most ever. That’s up from 2,660 square feet in 2015 and even larger than an average of 2,499 square feet in 2007 just before the housing recession.
Moreover, Quint doesn’t think the typical house will shrink any time soon, at least not until first-time buyers return to the new-home market in stronger numbers. “We expected the average size to come down in 2015, after being flat in 2014,” she said. “But that all hinged on first-time buyers and they didn’t come back in any significant way. And that’s not going to happen for a while.”
If anything then, house sizes will continue to inch up again this year, as will prices. The average price of all new homes started for sale in last year’s first two quarters was $351,000, $100,000 more than in 2009 and $14,000 more than in 2014, according to Census Bureau figures.
So what can you expect to find inside those four walls? Based on what 4,326 people told NAHB researchers, the “two main themes” were organization and conservation.
A laundry room was rated as either desirable or essential by 92 percent of the respondents, followed by Energy Star appliances and exterior lighting (90 percent each), Energy Star rating for the entire house (88 percent) and Energy Star windows (87 percent).
Other most-wanted items were ceiling fans, patios, a full bathroom on the main level, hardwood floors on the first floor, greater insulation levels than required by code, garage storage, table space in the kitchen and a walk-in pantry. In all cases, these features were most wanted by at least eight out of 10 respondents.
Besides table space and a walk-in pantry, the most popular kitchen features were double sinks, central islands and granite or natural stone countertops, drinking water filtration, recessed lighting, pull-out shelves, customized backsplashes, desks or computer areas, stained-wood cabinets and a breakfast bar.
On the exterior of the house, brick and stone were by far the most popular choices.
Four out of 10 survey respondents said they would accept a smaller lot to get what they want, while 22 percent would give up some amenities and 20 percent would agree to a longer commute to work.
On the least wanted of the 150-plus items respondents were asked to choose from: elevators, pet washing stations, wine cellars, cork flooring, dual toilets in the master bath, two-story family rooms and entry foyers, wet bars and laminate countertops.
The NAHB survey was one of several released at the group’s annual convention in January. One by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) said kitchens are becoming more industrial, with simpler, cleaner lines with white, off-white, beige or gray cabinets. Wall colors, meanwhile, are harking back to the 1970s in blue, green or even orange.
The trend in kitchen storage, meanwhile, is smart and simple with drawers that tilt out, as well as pull out, the NKBA survey found.
In the rest of the house, look for pocket doors that slide between two walls and barn-door-style doors that slide from one side of the other on a rail above the doorway entrance. Each will save tons of floor area that is otherwise useless.
And in the bathroom, the NKBA study found, universal design — no longer hospital-like but now more aesthetically-pleasing — is becoming more popular.
Still, another survey, this one by TecHome Builder magazine, found that 36 percent of builders plan to install leak detection and protection systems in their houses within the next two years; this on top of the 35 percent which already do. Also, 50 percent plan to offer water management and monitory tools, something only two percent do now.
And finally, a survey of 500 architects nationwide by Better Homes and Gardens found that designers are using bathrooms as sculptured items, allowing indoor and outdoor space to converge with the use of disappearing walls that run up to 50 feet, and calling for new railing systems that allow for less-expensive, straight-run stairways.
Lew Sichelman is a nationally syndicated housing and real estate columnist. He has covered the real estate beat for more than 50 years.