Years ago, I attended a trade show for kitchen and bath products in Dallas.
You know the kind - huge convention hall, lots of booths, vendors hawking the latest in...whatever the latest is.
Lots of free logo pens and letter openers and key fobs (a friend of mine told me that stuff is called "swag").
After a couple of passes around the trade show floor, filling my canvas tote bag with catalogs and brochures (and swag), I popped in on a seminar, where a representative of a national homebuilder was talking about new home design to a room full of eager builders.
He kept referring to homes as "products", like cars or refrigerators, and said that his company's national surveys and studies had figured out what everybody wants in their new home.
He had an impressive Powerpoint presentation of all these "wants" - the preferred appliances, bath fixtures, home styles, etc. - and was happily sharing it with the builders, who'd come here from all over the country.
Which is probably why you so often see the same house in Denver that you see in Atlanta.
And Seattle. And Des Moines.
For some homeowners, that kind of "design by survey" is fine; they want something middle-of-the-road, something not too different from the other houses in their neighborhood.
Something they can sell in a few years.
Others look at houses a little differently. They want a house that fits the specifics of their daily lives; that knows who they are and how they're unique; a home that might last them a lifetime.
That's personal, face-to-face-talking-for-hours-over-a-cup-of-coffee kind of information.
You can't get that from a survey.
But I've done a little survey of my own anyway, by combing through the past couple of years' of client files. I found five requests that seemed to pop up more often than others and thought I'd share them with you below.
You saw that one coming didn't you? Or haven't you read a newspaper in 3 years? Homeowners are staying put. They've got too much invested in their homes and neighborhoods to let them go at the current market prices. Or they're buying existing homes in great neighborhoods and making them their own.
2) Keep it under 3,000 square feet
Not sure how this became the magic number, but a high percentage of our recent new home clients have made this specific request. It's still a much higher number than the average American home (about 2,100 square feet in 2009), but significantly lower than the custom homes of just a few years ago.
Interestingly, while homeowners are spending less on house size, they're spending more in other areas (see below). This is a great sign - we're moving past an emphasis on the "bigness" of a house as a measure of its quality.
I've got to attribute this first to the land my clients are choosing; they're bigger properties, more open, and often, more rural.
Simply put, there's more to see than just the houses next door - so it's no surprise they'd want more glass area to enjoy the view.
A close second reason may be the architectural character and styles my clients prefer - less of the "formal" styles that have generally have fewer windows and more of the "casual" styles that work well with more glass.
4) Zero wasted space
OK, I can't say I've ever had a client ask for wasted space, but more and more I'm hearing that folks want to get the most from every square foot.
And not just because less house costs less to build and maintain, but because homeowners are coming to realize that wasted space in their house is usually offset by a loss of quality and detail somewhere else.
Specifically, homeowners are cutting back on "single-use" rooms (dens, private baths), "showy" spaces (two-story foyers, galleries, long hallways), and on overly-formal spaces (dining rooms, living rooms).
5) Energy efficiency
Another no-brainer, with a catch. Energy efficiency isn't just about insulation, high-tech glass, and geothermal heat pumps anymore; it's about designing and orienting a home to respond to the particulars of the site.
These days most homebuyers expect tight construction, an efficient heating system, and plenty of insulation, as much of that's become the industry standard. But when you start with energy-efficient design strategies, you can save a lot more.
Your Own Personal Top 5 List
A great place to start the design process for your next home is at your own kitchen table, beginning with a simple list of priorities from each family member.
If you asked each to list their top 5, how many do you think they'd agree on? How many would surprise you? How many might match up with my clients' list?