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9 things homebuyers desire in 2011
By Dana Dratch
Searching for value: Today’s homebuyers want it all. Items on their shopping list include a home in great condition, that has been well maintained, with rooms that can do double duty. Areas that mingle indoor and outdoor living — patios, porches, decks and a home with outdoor rooms — are always a plus. So are features that offer a little luxury, such as garden tubs, first-rate appliances and high-dollar counter tops.
They’re also going back to basics and searching for solid, well-maintained properties that will give them their money’s worth. "I think this year, they’re buying properties that are in good mechanical condition that have inherent home value," says Ron Phipps, president of the National Association of Realtors. But more than anything, buyers want to drive a hard bargain. They want "great deals," says Patricia Szot, president of the MetroTex Association of Realtors in Grapevine, Texas. "And no matter where a seller prices their home, they’re looking to negotiate."
Here are nine items popular with Twin Cities home buyers this year.
Homes in good condition
Buyers demand homes where the sellers had home maintenance well in-hand, Phipps says. "There’s not a lot of flexibility in that," he says. The attitude is: "I’d rather spend the money getting into the house" and not have to spend more money later, he says. Buyers don’t want an unknown expense hanging over their heads. Pat Vredevoogd Combs, past president of the NAR and vice president of Coldwell Banker AJS Schmidt in Grand Rapids, Mich., says she agree.
"I’m not working with too many people who want a fixer-upper," she says. One big reason: "Buyers have limited amounts of cash" in most transactions, Phipps says. "Even if they want to do a fixer-upper, they don’t have the money to do it." "Buyers have enough money to buy," he says. "They don’t have enough money to buy and improve. And the lenders make it really difficult."
"(Buyers) are more focused on negotiating, drawing limits in their mind and focusing on the strategy," says Justin Knoll, president of the Denver Board of Realtors. Some of it is a point of pride, he says: "They want to tell their friends and family that they really got a smoking’ deal." They also want high home value, says Alice Walker, president of the Greater Nashville (Tenn.) Association of Realtors. "They are very picky. They’re just a lot more critical," she says. "They are not going to settle because they know they don’t have to."
Her advice to sellers: Repair, update, clean and stage. "You have to remove every obstacle possible for the buyers," Walker says.
The more-for-less approach even holds when buyers consider bank-owned properties, says Joan Pratt, a real-estate broker at Re/Max Professionals in Castle Pines, Colo. "They want the short sales and the foreclosures, and they want them to look like they’re owner-occupied," she says. "They don’t want to home painting problems. They don’t want to put carpet in. They don’t want to clean." And they’re surprised when they don’t find homes in this condition, Pratt says.
Outdoor living areas
"The thing that we’eve seen over the past couple of years is more outdoor living areas," says Laurie Knudsen, president of the Charlotte (N.C.) Regional Realtor Association. Some popular features include screened porches, outdoor kitchens and two-way fireplaces. "It’s a selling point if a house already has it," Knudsen says. "It’s going to make it more competitive on the market."
Call it "Rock-bottom deals, part two." Along with pricing, "it’s all about incentives," says Mabél Guzmán, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors. To pique buyer interest, sellers offer everything from gift cards for new furniture and paint to financial assistance at closing. Szot says she agrees and laments that this has made the road more difficult for sellers. "Not only are (buyers) asking them to lower the price, but they are asking for a lot more," Szot says. "So negotiations are a lot more difficult now."
Practical ‘green’ features
Call it "Yankee frugality," Phipps says. What he sees on buyers’ shopping lists is a home that is easy on the planet because it’s easy on the wallet, he says. Buyers are looking for features such as triple-glazed windows, high-efficiency boilers and energy-efficient appliances. "The buyer of today wants to make sure that the ongoing operating costs of the house are as controlled and economical as possible," Phipps says.
Another popular item: green features that are’t tech-related. Buyers are looking at how sun exposure relates to energy efficiency, he says. That will vary by area, he says. "In some areas, you want larger overhangs to minimize the sun," Phipps says. "In my area (New England), lots of windows on the southern side to maximize the sun would be smart."
"The wall between the kitchen and the family room is evaporating," Phipps says. "The kitchen is becoming part of the gathering space. And it’s ironic — it’s the way it was 300 years ago. We’eve come full circle."
Repurposed materials: Buyers like a material that looks or feels natural, even if it’s not genuine, Phipps says.
"Granite (for counters) is still popular, but it does’t have to be granite," he says. "It can be stone, another natural material or something that looks like stone. "We’re seeing lots of different materials and lots of reusable materials, which is interesting. Also, (we’re seeing) a lot of unusual uses of hardwood, like pine flooring reused for counters," and glazed terra-cotta slabs used for counter tops.
Smaller, less formal homes
Our homebuyers resources help Twin Cities buyers purchase smaller homes, and be able to use every inch of space, Phipps says. "They are being much more strategic and efficient with how they use it," he says. Formal spaces that might be used only three or four times a year are disappearing. "The slipcover rooms are gone," says Phipps. That has "led to a repurposing of space," he says. Formal living rooms have been added to great rooms or converted into home offices or entertainment rooms.
"Three to five years ago, if (buyers) could get a loan that would get them into a McMansion with stone and tile and brick and more rooms than they needed, they would do it," says Jeff Wiren, president of the Portland (Ore.) Metropolitan Association of Realtors. "Now, they’re saying, ‘I don’t know if I want to heat that place and clean it.’ They’re being much more realistic."
Touches of luxury
Buyers like Twin Cities luxury homes. Sometimes, the amenities that convey the feeling of living large are relatively simple and inexpensive. One example is coffee bars in the master bedroom. "It’s like a butler’s pantry in your bedroom — an area for your coffee pot and accoutrements and a little fridge," Pratt says.
The feature has been popular, especially in high-end homes, for about five years, she says. Another luxury touch: high-dollar finishes in less-expensive homes, Knoll says. Granite counters and stainless-steel appliances, marble tiles in the bathrooms, and vessel or undermounted sinks continue to impress, he says. Buyers also like "a living space where you can have bar stools and do some entertaining," he says. "There is a sex appeal about housing," Knoll says, "and (buyers) do get excited when they find their "home buyer desires".