And When You Sell Your House

Instead of focusing on making houses bigger and bigger, home owners today are stressing more useful features when it comes to renovating or building. The right elements make your home safer, more enjoyable and more energy-efficient. They also can increase the home’s appeal to potential buyers when it comes time to sell — particularly in today’s tremendously difficult real estate market. Kitchens and baths are the rooms most likely to be renovated — and the rooms most likely to detract from a home’s selling price if they appear out-of-date. But home owners are rethinking other areas of the home as well. Bottom Line/Personal asked Kermit Baker, PhD, chief economist of the American Institute of Architects, to identify the most desired features for homes today…


Kitchen recycling centers. As more towns offer (or insist on) recycling in addition to trash removal, more home owners desire a dedicated but inconspicuous space in or near their kitchens for recycling bins. This is typically a concealed area under a kitchen countertop or in a mudroom or laundry room.

Natural stone (such as granite) or concrete countertops. Solid, attractive and durable, these countertops continue to be in high demand — with natural soapstone gaining in popularity as an alternative to granite. It has a warmer feel, with soft, subtle blue-gray colors, and deep scratches can be sanded away.

Restaurant-look appliances. Large, expensive, stainless steel — trimmed cook areas, refrigerators and other appliances are becoming more and more popular for residences.

Wine fridges. More Americans are drinking wine and installing wine fridges. They’re still a specialty item, but one that’s rapidly becoming common.


Two of everything in the master bath. Couples with more money than time to spare are no longer willing to wait for a partner to be done in the bathroom. They’re installing two vanities… two sinks… even two shower stalls in the master bath.

Radiant heat in bathroom floors. This comfort feature, which uses embedded systems with heated water or electricity to warm the floor, is rapidly gaining popularity, though it is not yet mainstream.

On the decline…

Whirlpool tubs. Once a mainstay of American master baths, whirlpool tubs are rapidly losing popularity. Home owners say that they take up too much space in the bathroom, are difficult to clean and that the whirlpool feature is rarely used.


Home owners increasingly wish to enjoy time outside without losing the comforts of home. Popular features now…

High-end backyard landscaping. There was a time when home owners sank their landscape budgets into their front yards so that their homes would look nice from the street. Now they are just as likely to pour dollars into their backyards, to create beautiful, private outdoor places for the family. Large decks and patios. A deck or patio large enough for the whole family, rather than just a small add-on, is becoming an essential part of the home. Gazebos and courtyards also are gaining popularity.

Outdoor cooking stations. These upscale, outdoor kitchens — some of which include sinks and even refrigerators — are replacing the traditional backyard barbecue.

Privacy screening. Americans are spending more time in their backyards, but the average yard size has shrunk. This makes fences, walls and hedges that provide additional backyard privacy more valuable.


Environmentally friendly homes are finally finding favor with mainstream Americans. High energy costs for heating and cooling mean that energy-efficient homes make even better financial sense than before… and Americans are increasingly interested in protecting the environment even when it doesn’t lower their bills.

Among the popular green-home design features…

Bamboo floors. Home owners who select bamboo can have the look and durability of traditional hardwood flooring without contributing to deforestation.

Most hardwood floors come from forests that take decades to regrow once cut down. But bamboo is not a tree at all — it’s a type of grass that regrows very quickly.

Triple-glazed windows. Three panes of glass can add $4 to $7 per square foot to the price of a new window but can cut energy consumption by an extra 10% to 11% compared with typical double-paned windows.

Reduced home size in the high-end market. Luxury homes have grown steadily larger in recent decades — until last year, when the biggest high-end homes suddenly lost much of their allure, in part because of the high cost of heating and cooling massive residences. Should this trend persist, 3,500- to 4,500-square-foot homes might hold their value better than huge 6,000-square-foot mansions.

Smaller is not better at the lower end of the housing market, however — most people living in homes with less than 3,000 square feet still would like to live in larger spaces.

On the decline…

Two-story entrance foyers. With more houses being built with nine-foot- high or even 10-foot-high first-floor ceilings, the energy-and-space — hogging two-story entrance foyer is not seen as the necessity it once was in mid-level and upper-end homes.


Older home owners tend to prefer residences that are easy to get around. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing increasing demand for accessibility features now that the baby boom generation is reaching retirement age. These include…

No-threshold showers. Stepping over a high tub wall onto a slick surface can be dangerous for aging home owners with hip, leg or balance problems. Easy-access showers that don’t require this big step are becoming a popular choice.

Other shower features gaining momentum: Handheld showerheads… doorless shower stalls… and even two-person showers.

Residential ramps and elevators. These are no longer just for public buildings. Older home owners are adding ramps to their entryways, and they even are installing in-home elevators when stairs become too much of a physical challenge.

Single-level layouts. Stairs and elevators are not necessary when all the rooms in a home are on one level. When small lot size makes a single-story layout impractical, today’s home owners still like to locate the master bedroom on the first floor, with the other bedrooms upstairs.


A few more already popular home design features that are gaining momentum today…

Home offices. There has been a huge increase in the demand for home work spaces in recent years.

Flexible office hours that let employees work from home one or two days per week and high gas prices that make commuting expensive appear to be driving the trend. Home offices differ from spare bedrooms mainly in that they tend to be located in the quietest corners of the home, away from children’s bedrooms, television rooms and kitchens. They also might have additional electrical outlets or specialized telecom wiring.

Three-car (or larger) garages. Americans own more vehicles than in the past and prefer homes that have space for all of them.

Open floor plans. Home owners increasingly believe that one large “great room” is preferable to separate living, dining and family rooms. Many of today’s homes, in fact, are being built without a “living room” at all, and formal dining rooms are losing popularity.

Locations close to urban centers. Living near cities, employers and train stations is becoming more popular. Many home owners like these locales because they trim commute times and gas expenses. Other home owners prefer the engaged, active lifestyles offered by urban centers to the “get away from it all” advantages of gated communities and more isolated suburban properties.

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