Tracking homebuyers' fickle tastes

'Green' features in demand, but amenities tied to HOA fees losing appeal

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 26, 2010

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'Green' features in demand, but amenities tied to HOA fees losing appeal

Mary Umberger
Inman News

Goodbye, subdivision clubhouse. Been nice knowin' ya, whirlpool tub. Au revoir, home theater.

Consumers have always been a fickle lot, but the Great Recession seems to have pushed the accelerator pedal on some attitudes about what they want in their future homes and surrounding neighborhoods.

That's according to an annual report from Avid Ratings of Madison, Wis., which recently surveyed (in detail) an unusually large sampling of 22,000 North American consumers about their homebuying preferences.

Avid is primarily a data gatherer for the homebuilding industry, but company CEO Paul Cardis says this particular study of people who live in homes that were built in the past nine years has broad implications for the general housing market.

"They were all newly constructed homes, but some are being rented, some have been flipped or sold," he said. "This data base applies to (attitudes in) both resale and new construction."

(Cardis said his company introduced a new site this month, AvidBuilder.com, that offers public access to some of its data.)

In the company's North American survey, consumers weighed in on everything from the macro (such as access to nearby parks) to the micro (walk-in closets). Five things to know about what real estate consumers want -- or want less than they used to:

1. The elaborate clubhouse that is a fixture in many subdivisions has lost its appeal, as have community association-run swimming pools, health clubs and golf courses, said Cardis, who reports that consumers think of these things as "tradable" items -- they're basically indifferent to whether these amenities come with the deal.

"I think that's all economically driven," he said. "If you were to do a survey of homeowner-association fee increases in the past 24 months, there would be a high percentage that have shortfalls and are raising their fees by significant amounts, sometimes doubling them."

One neighborhood amenity, though, that scored high desirability in the study: walking paths.

2. Green is good -- and getting better.

"I was very surprised," Cardis said. "I had been hearing that green (home features) aren't quite here yet, that people aren't willing to pay for them. But frankly, I was stunned by the increase in demand. This is our fourth year (of this particular study), and we're seeing an increase every year.

"The magnitude of desire (for environmentally friendly home features) is high, considered a must in some categories," he said.

Among the consumer-described environmental "must haves": energy-efficient windows, appliances and insulation. "Desirable" features included recycled building materials, "green" flooring, and tankless water heaters that consume less energy by heating water on demand.

3. Kitchens haven't lost an iota of importance to buyers, Cardis said. In particular, consumers voiced a preference for "big" kitchens, though it's not clear how big is "big."

"I think that's the biggest limitation of the study, that the perception of what is large or energy-efficient isn't defined, and we're planning to do more on that," he said. "But they do want a sizeable kitchen, relative to the house, and that's the important takeaway, rather than (consumers saying), 'Not really, I don't need that.' "

But within that kitchen, it had better have a freestanding island -- 41 percent called it a "must" and 38 percent said they really wanted one.

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