Prior to the housing bubble burst, builders could rely on the majority of new-home buyers following a “bigger is better” mindset. Since then, oversized and inefficient homes sitting idle on the market is a clear indication that bigger is no longer considered better.
But in the new less-is-more era, builders still need to find a way to stand out from their competition. Builders are using a few strategies to impress mid-market homebuyers, without pushing prices too high or margins too low.
Flexible, Efficient Space
As buyers move away from larger inefficient homes with excess square footage, they are discovering the joys of large, multi-use rooms. Discrete spaces with fixed purposes, such as mud rooms, media centers, home offices or theater rooms, are on the way out, and demand has shifted to open spaces that offer more possibilities.
“Buyers are looking to integrate functions across existing rooms, for rooms that can serve multiple purposes and [rooms] that allow for a more flexible use of space,” says Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects and senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. “There’s a growing desire for informality and flexibility. Homeowners now don’t want you to limit the ways they can use the space, so [builders and architects] aren’t using a lot of hard partitions, and are trying to increase more open space.”
The Ability to Upgrade ... Later
Even if homebuyers tighten their belts, they are aware that buying a home is a long-term commitment. New homebuyers are expressing interest in features that don’t cost them anything now, but give them opportunities to upgrade their homes later. One popular example is smart-home wiring, a highly advanced automatic wiring system through which people can control everything — lights, Internet, intercom, temperature, etc. — from one area of the home.
Most mid-market home buyers aren’t willing to spend big on elaborate, multi-room electronics systems, but will be happy to know that their home is wired to accommodate such a system in the future.
“People like knowing that the technology infrastructure is there, because if they want to go wild later on, they don’t have to rip apart the walls,” says Greg Eldridge, a real estate consultant with @properties in Chicago. “The cost of bundling and routing those extra cables is marginal when the walls are studded, but buyers know that it’s a huge number if they want to do it later. So this is something that carries a minimal cost for developers and can yield a tremendous result.”
The clean lines of contemporary style should come as good news for developers, as it means they can present a cutting-edge look without the expense of ornate molding or rough stone, Eldridge says. The standard bearer for affordable high style is porcelain tile. “It’s man-made, so it can be reasonable, cost-wise, and there are so many things you can do with it,” he says. “A lot of the buyers across medium and high price-point segments have migrated toward these very cool, contemporary porcelain looks. If you’re a builder, you can offer a lot of options that are cool and sophisticated, not hugely expensive, and create what’s really important — a sense among buyers that what they encounter in your residence is something they didn’t see anywhere else.”
Wallet-Friendly Energy Efficiency
Buyers are also interested in eco-friendly, energy-efficient features, but only if they make sense financially. A green roof or solar panels may save a homeowner money after a recoupment period of several years, but the high upfront cost could deter buyers, according to the AIA’s Baker. However, features such as spray-in insulation and energy-efficient windows are major selling points, he says.
Selling homes today is challenging because homebuyers have changed the way they shop. Builders who understand how buyers think — and how their concerns can be addressed in a cost-efficient manner — have a head start on the market.