Design Trends for an Emerging Housing Market

We speak with Doug Van Lerberghe, Principal,  Kephart

Buyers are reemerging, but they’re are coming back more cautiously than in the past.  New homes are being built, but they are reflecting a new set of buyer lifestyles and values.

What are the trends in new home design?  What are buyers today willing to invest in – or willing to live without – in their new homes?  We asked Doug Van Lerberghe, a principal at architectural the firm Kephart, to share his observations and insights as what builders and developers should be looking for and including in their new home designs.  Listen to the audio interview to hear Doug’s explanation, or read our highlights in the article below:

Market Trends in Residential Design
One of the trends in single families for sales over the past couple of years is that homes today are about 300 square feet less in size than they were a few years ago. We have noticed over the past year and half is that we are designing more single family homes that are in that 1,350 – 1,900 sq. ft. range. So we as architects are trying to make a tighter home; we’re asking questions as to whether we need to put in those rooms that we have historically always put in.  Certain markets haven’t done formal living rooms for awhile and instead put in a great room. On the east coast they still like their formal living spaces. So, builders need to ask how important a formal dining room is to the end user.

The second trend that we’re seeing is that, since the elections it seems that a lot of developers are out there trying to develop for apartments.  In the past year we’ve seen a strong apartment market, but they were the HUD units because it was guaranteed financing. Now it looks like the private financing is starting to get some legs.  So many people still can’t qualify for that ‘for sale’ home. So it seems we are moving towards the European model of ‘forever renters and never buyers’. It’s not a 100% trend, of course. We are a nation of niches. We have renters and buyers; some are going from one to the other. You can’t put everyone into an age demographic niche.

I do believe that there still are a number of young people that are still going to want the American dream. It’s still going to be desirous for them to buy a home. It’s still going to be perceived as a value and faith in buying will come back.

On the other hand, then, there’s going to be a fraction of the younger ones that won’t want to deal with home ownership and will want to continue to rent. I think we’re going to have a fragmented market.  I think the ‘For Sale’ single family will be the hottest pursuit. I see a slow down in condos for sale for a number of years. There are still a lot of markets in the U.S. that are overbuilt and it’s going to take awhile to get rid of that inventory. Of course there still are niche opportunities where people will build condos or town homes for sale.

I’ve seen a righting of the trends in term of spec levels. Across the country it’s ‘How do you beat the Joneses’? Builder A would put in white granite counter tops to compete against Builder B. That’s drifted to a lot of finishes that were pretty high end across a production level home. I’ve talked to a number of builders and have witnessed that some of those things have taken a step back. There are still a lot of things being offered as options, but it’s not the base offering. Anything that can bring the base price of a home down is being removed as a standard feature and is now an optional feature.

The biggest trends though, from an architects perspective, is how to make a livable home while cutting the square footage and wasted space. For example, if a stairway is placed along the edge of a home, there will be a hallway to connect it to the central parts of the house. If you can centralize it, you can minimize the amount of hallways and distribute that space to the rooms, whatever the square footag is.

Trends in Lifestyle and Technology
Consciousness of our environment is a trend. I’m not seeing necessarily more solar panels, but more consideration and time being put into the home to make it more efficient. There is much more of a desire to minimize monthly expenses. Too, we’re seeing much better furnaces going into the homes. We’re seeing the buyers actually asking and being more environmentally savvy when it comes to the efficiency of the home. That definitely has an impact on the design and the better utilization of spaces.

Aligning with the Current Market
The biggest thing that I’ve seen pick up is that community developers, rather than putting in a huge club house, homes and all those amenities, are instead building closer to existing amenities. Instead of building these things in your community, can you put the site adjacent to them. For example, a health club, golf course or a resort. Rather than building it all yourself and taking on the initial costs, try teaming up with these things around you.

It’s not uncommon that in order to entice some of those buyers, you need to have those amenities available. To build those there day one  is expensive and challenging. The whole concept is to try and team up with existing facilities, memberships and so on that are already out there.