If you’ve been dreaming about that brand-new house with the outdoor kitchen, the two-story foyer, and the luxurious master bathroom, complete with a whirlpool tub—well, good luck finding one.
In prerecession times, developers had wrested such sexy amenities from the realm of luxury building into the everyman’s (and woman’s) home. But today? Homebuilders across the nation have decided to skip the sexy, cutting out those kinds of features in favor of efficient, organized, and pragmatic ones.
“Ten years ago we were talking about outdoor kitchens with a fancy wine rack,” says Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the National Association of Home Builders. “Now we’re talking about a closet. It’s not sexy, but that’s what people want.”
The NAHB surveyed nearly 400 builders earlier this year about the features they were most and least likely to include in homes and communities in 2015. In addition to outdoor kitchens, outdoor fireplaces, sunrooms, main-level carpeting, and media rooms are on the decline. On the rise: walk-in closets, laundry rooms, energy-efficient windows and appliances, and programmable thermostats—yes, there is a green theme. It’s all about efficiency, both of time and resources.
“If a working couple is trying to get out of the house in the morning, they need a walk-in closet in the master bedroom, they need a laundry room that’s well-lit and well-organized,” Melman says. “That’s how they improve the efficiency of the household, find clothes, get organized, and hide the clutter. Do they need a whirlpool or do they need a walk-in closet with a skylight?”
Melman says that even as the economy (at least in some sectors) continues to improve, buyers are fixated on comfort and affordability. It’s part of a postrecession cultural shift toward pragmatism. We’re not settling; we’ve merely changed our expectations for new homes, and homebuilders have adjusted their creations accordingly, appealing to a segment that’s willing to forgo a two-story foyer or family room to get a better price.
According to a Pew Research survey (released in 2010, at the tail end of the recession), more than 62% of Americans said they had cut back on spending since the recession began, and 31% said they’d continue to hold down their spending even after the economy improved.
This is especially true among first-time home buyers, many of whom are millennials.
“As first-time buyers, they are unlikely to opt for elaborate outdoor features when they are scraping to come up with a down payment,” Melman says.
Their list of most and least likely features does offer a few surprises; it’s not all about the decline of luxury. Once a high-end item, granite countertops are now more popular than laminate. Builders are swapping the two-story family room for a great room. Specialty spots such as media rooms or sunrooms are being replaced by spaces that are more flexible, Melman says, especially additional bedrooms. And communities with jogging and walking trails, previously coveted, are now less popular than a two-car garage. The cost of the land, Melman says, is just too high.
Yet just because these features are less common doesn’t mean you can’t get your hands on a house that includes them. All you have to do is spend more money. In places with weaker markets, you might see such features built into homes priced above $ 500,000. In places such as San Francisco or New York, you might get an apartment barely larger than a walk-in closet for that amount.
Features such as outdoor kitchens have slipped back into the province of the luxury buyer; you’ll still see them in high-end homes, but your average home buyers will have to be content with their Weber grill.
Below you’ll find ranked lists of most and least likely features to be included in a new home, plus those that remain perennial. The builders graded each feature on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means “not at all likely to include” and 5 means “definitely will include.”
Features most likely to be found in new homes
1. Walk-in closet
2. Laundry room
3. Low-emission windows
4. Great room
5. Energy Star appliances
6. Energy Star windows
7. Ceiling 1st floor 9’
8. 2-car garage
9. Programmable thermostat
10. Granite countertop
Features most likely to last
- Solar panels: “With their increasing availability and affordability, solar panels are going to be the next big thing,” Melman says.
- Garages: “People love their garages for storage space even if they don’t put cars in them,” he says. “I think at least the two-bay garage is here to stay.”
- Additional bedrooms: “We have boomerang children, we have aging parents, we have caregivers who live with us, so we need the extra space.”
- Decorative aging-in-place features: They include decorative handrails in bathrooms, higher toilets, and step-free showers, Melman says.