What Buyers Want

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

March 21, 2008 5 min read


Today, home's features can make or break the sale

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

Copley News Service

If your house, condo or townhome doesn't have central air, an oversized garage or a walk-in closet in the master bedroom, you may have a long wait finding a buyer.

That's the reality of today's buyer-driven marketplace, according to a new report on buyer preferences compiled by the National Association of Realtors. The findings are based on responses to a random survey of 40,000 buyers around the country who purchased a home from late 2005 through early 2007. About 2,800 home buyers participated in the survey, a 6.7 percent return that is about double the amount normally obtained in professional polling, an association spokesman said.

The survey was weighted according to each state's share of home sales in 2006. While there are regional, age of buyer and type of housing differences in what home purchasers are looking for, the survey shows that some amenities such as central air-conditioning translate into a quicker sale while others, like a tennis court, can make a home languish on the market.

It's especially true for those who are looking to sell homes in and below the $205,000 national average. They've been hardest hit by the nation's current economic woes, the subprime lending crunch, tighter credit and a marketplace glutted by foreclosed homes. Sellers of high-end homes in coveted locations have not been as affected by the economic crunch as have others in the market, says economist Paul Bishop, managing director of the National Association of Realtors Survey Research and National Center for Real Estate Research in Washington, D.C.

"The vast majority of homes on the upper end have been more resistant to the changes in the last 18 months" Bishop points out.

Well-heeled buyers still plunk down thousands more for waterfront properties and upscale amenities like hardwood floors and high-end kitchen appliances, features that are not as likely to be found in less expensive homes.

"For a cul-de-sac lot and proximity to shopping or public transportation, those buyers with above median-priced homes were willing to pay almost twice as much as those with homes below the median price," the NAR study found.

What helps sell an average or low-cost home besides central air-conditioning? Those buying a home, even if it's for the first time, want big garages with space for two or more vehicles, cable television/satellite hookups, high-speed Internet connections, and a backyard or play area above all else. If you want to sell a house that's new or just a few years old, you're in luck. All groups preferred a house less than 10 years old.

With the cost of fuel skyrocketing, nearly half of recent buyers (46 percent) said energy efficiency was "very important" when they searched for a home, says the NAR report. A home's energy efficiency was of greater concern to older house-hunters experienced in homeownership than younger people buying a home for the first time. It was also significantly more important to those purchasing new homes than those who bought previously owned homes.

Eighty-two percent of the home buyers surveyed for the report looked for a detached single-family home, the NAR says, the pattern fairly consistent no matter what their age. Even though they represent a smaller segment of the home-buying market, 18- to 24-years-olds and those 75 or older constitute the largest segment of those who purchase townhomes or condos in multiunit complexes.

Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed choose a single-family house in a suburban setting, a suburban subdivision, or a small town.

As might be expected, although they share some preferences in shopping for a house, townhome or condo, younger home buyers look for some amenities less important to their older counterparts, including extra-wide doorways, hardwood floors, a backyard or play area, fencing, or being close to work, schools, recreation, cultural activities, public transportation and shopping. Seniors 75 and older are more likely to look for a home on a lot with few trees, skylights, a kitchen island, granite countertops and a whirlpool bath.

Not that they get what they want.

"Home buyers rate many features as important when searching for a home, but they sometimes need to compromise when purchasing their home," the NAR study points out. "Repeat buyers are more likely to purchase a home with most of their preferred features including many luxury items. Compared to first-time buyers, they compromised most on neighborhood features such as proximity to work, a park or playground, and public transportation. Buyers of new homes more often made compromises on neighborhood features such as proximity to cultural activities."

? Copley News Service

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