By Lisa Jevens
published in Chicago Tribune, Festival of Homes
Walk-in showers. Butler’s pantries. Pull-out shelves. Custom woodwork. LED lighting. When it comes to new home amenities, yesterday’s upgrades are today’s bread and butter, says Christy Whelan, director of sales at Airhart Construction, a custom homebuilder in the Wheaton area.
Buyers are looking for the wow factor in beautiful materials: unique granite colors and patterns, custom backsplashes in tumbled marble, frosted glass, and subway tile. They want oak flooring underfoot inside and brick pavers outside, Whelan says.
At the same time, clients — particularly those in the baby boomer age group — are saying no thanks to the large whirlpool tubs of the past and even shower doors and tubs in the master bath. “Now, it’s big walk-in showers with benches with multiple showerheads and no doors,” Whelan says. “They want spa-like showers that are low maintenance.”
The National Association of Home Builders says buyers have gotten more practical overall with the amenities they consider most important. The 2012 What Home Buyers Really Want survey cites energy efficiency and storage as the two most important categories on homebuyers’ lists.
People are savvier about Energy Star ratings for appliances and for the whole home, including windows and insulation, and ceiling fans, says Stephen Melman, director of economic services for NAHB.When homebuyers say they want storage, they mean custom storage. That means walk-in kitchen pantries, mudrooms, built-in storage in the laundry room and the garage. In fact people expect the garage to be more than just an empty box nowadays. They want upgraded garage lighting, security, soundproofing, flooring and doors, Melman says.
Other things that have moved up on the list are a separate tub and shower in the master bath, a full bath on the main level, and wide hallways, which fit with the baby boomer demographic Whelan mentioned.
“This might be the kind of thing that gets people out of an apartment and into a new home — things that make daily operations easier,” Melman says. “They can do this without adding too much money to the cost of the house.”
One community that is wowing buyers with amenities is Hamptons of Hinsdale, a new luxury condominium and townhome community. The homes have top-end finishes, from upgraded granite, custom cabinetry, high-end stainless steel appliances, jetted tubs, glass enclosed separate showers, upgraded flooring, custom millwork and a clubhouse. The buildings have that East Coast Nantucket feel with wood shingles on the exterior and lots of stonework.
“We did not just put out typical builder-finish type homes,” says Caitlyn Terrell, director of luxury and development at Koenig & Strey, which is marketing the community.
The upgrades and detailed design, along with other amenities such as the clubhouse and underground parking, have sold these homes. One building is sold out and another is close, reports Terrell.
Amenity-rich homes are available to buyers in all price ranges. Amenities that used to be found only in move-up homes can now be had in pre-manufactured homes in the $100,000 price range and below, says Carma Yoder, owner of Four Seasons Dream Homes in Belvidere.
Dream Homes is a community of pre-manufactured homes that caters to retirees and snowbirds. The homes are 1,100-1,800 square feet, but the amenities list is a mile long.
“Our kitchens would appeal to any gourmet cook,” Yoder says. They include cabinetry with glass doors, floor-to-ceiling cabinets, vegetable sinks, pull-out shelves, islands, and countertop garages where you store small appliances. The homes also have crown moulding, leaded glass front doors, stone fireplaces, and walk-in showers.
“People want value for their dollar,” Yoder says. “They want quality of construction, energy efficiency and all the amenities.”
The Ashland model at Four Seasons Dreams Homes delivers a dream kitchen homeowners seek.
What amenities might become the bread and butter of tomorrow?
The NAHB also previews design trends in its annual competition, Best in American Living Awards. One of the things it highlighted this year was ceiling treatments. That means adding color to the ceiling, tray ceilings (ceilings with a raised panel in the center), barrel vaults (curved ceilings), and coffered ceilings (ceilings with a pattern of niches created by beams).
Outdoor living and cooking spaces, wine rooms, and pet-friendly spaces may also become future must-haves.
And lighting design and technology will continue to change. “Lighting is a hot area now and is changing with the popularity of LED,” Melman says. We will continue to see improved quality lighting in the interior and exterior.”