The New Neighborhood: Smaller Houses, Specific Amenities

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Not long ago, size mattered most when it came to home communities. A national survey found that as recently as 2015, residents preferred larger houses, sprawling green space in the middle of the neighborhood, and an oversized clubhouse.

But those days may be disappearing. Homeowners now want to live in smaller-sized houses, frequent nearby gathering areas, and get together with neighbors rather than visit a large dining facility, according to a pair of industry experts.

In a recent podcast, two specialists with California-based John Burns Real Estate Consulting discussed “changing community amenities.” Company executive Dean Wehrli interviewed longtime analyst Steve Burch, who says developers who fail to consider customer attitudes on neighborhood attractions are going to face trouble.

Burch says community backers should conduct consumer research before laying out the subdivision.

“Too often, the community is planned by a locally connected land entitlement expert and engineer who did no consumer research, and then the developer is forced into land-planning constraints that don’t optimize profitability,” he says. “Pay more attention to which neighborhood goes next to which amenity.”

Burch and Wehrli highlighted evolving interests in amenities culled from their backgrounds, and a John Burns Consulting survey of more than 23,000 new home shoppers. The results include:

• Small social gatherings outperform big entertainment venues. The more intimate the get-together, the more likely people discover “the community with a real sense of community.”

• Pocket parks are “vastly” preferred to large central parks.

• Freshly-grown food available at farmers markets are trending: the produce kiosks “cost very little, and bring prospective buyers into the community.”

• Trails are in vogue during an age of health and fitness: 68 percent want a variety of trails inside the community, the consulting company says. At the same time, other sports perks such as basketball courts and rock climbing walls — while expensive — “might appeal to a passionate (group), so those concepts should be tested first.” According to Johns Burns Consulting, “one suburb of Atlanta passionately desired a private tennis club.”

• Swimming pools come in all shapes and sizes, so “make sure you are putting in a pool that matches your new home community.”

• Community meeting or work spaces are catching on, as more than half of new-house shoppers take the job home one day per week.

• Pet attractions are popular, and “households without kids particularly value” those amenities, the consulting firm says.

• Secure package delivery is “critical” for people who work at home. “Developments with secure lockers or someone who can sign for a package make a huge difference.”

The findings from John Burns Consulting complement a National Association of Home Builders study from early last year.

According to the NAHB, the average new-home size dipped in 2016 to 2,634 square feet from 2,689 square feet the year before based on Census Bureau figures. It’s the first drop since 2009, the trade group says. The results are “a sign that the home-building industry is preparing for the coming wave of first-time buyers as millennials begin to dip their toes into the market,” according to the association.

“The data on new home characteristics show a pattern,” says Rose Quint, assistant vice president for survey research with the home builders association. She notes that 2016 “marked the end of an era that began in 2009 when homes got bigger and bigger with more amenities. I expect the size of homes to continue to decline as demand increases from first-time buyers,” Quint says.

Buyers desire specific amenities, according to those surveyed. “A separate laundry room tops the list of must-haves across all income groups,” the NAHB says. Energy-efficient features such as eco-friendly appliances, ceiling fans and programmable thermostats also were wished for, and home buyers want patios, exterior lighting and a full bath on the main level, according to the home builders group.

“A majority of home buyers prefer a new home to an existing one, and 65 percent want that home to be in the suburbs,” the association points out. Also, buyers “overwhelmingly prefer” a smaller house with more features over sheer size, the group says. “More than two-thirds are willing to trade size for high-quality products and features,” Quint says.

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