As Home Becomes More Important Than Ever, Renovations, Upgrades, and Moves to Greener Areas Gain PopularitySeptember 18, 2020
Buyers and homeowners are looking for houses where they can work—and decompress too
People have had a lot of time to think about the perfect home over the last few months. And what they were looking for pre-pandemic is likely to be entirely different from what they seek now.
“The pandemic has brought about a seismic shift in people’s perspective on housing,” said Jordan Ayan, an agent who leads the North Scottsdale Luxury Real Estate Team at the Lifestyle Collection, under Keller Williams Realty in Arizona. “They are thinking more about where they want to be and what kind of environment they want to be in.”
For starters, shelter-in-place mandates have made people realize they can live anywhere.
“We’re going to see a lot of people, in our market especially, saying, ‘I don’t have to deal with traffic anymore and can do 80% of my job from my own desk,’” he said.
To that end, Mr. Ayan is fielding calls from clients looking to pull up stakes from areas such as Silicon Valley and move to somewhere less congested. At the same time, they hope to land in a place with a more laid-back lifestyle.
Of course, they want a home that fits that lifestyle.
That means more-efficient spaces, including tucked-away offices and outdoor areas with covered patios, outdoor kitchens, and other places to relax. Families may be attracted to homes with a more traditional layout of separate rooms instead of an open-floor plan and with several en-suite bedrooms so that everyone has their space to get school assignments or work done. And although fully automated homes are a must, many are also looking for places to get away from screens and get back to quiet conversation.
Not surprisingly, the home office is getting a lot of attention.
“The office was somewhat of a flex space, previously,” said Laura Powers of the Laura Powers Property Group, part of Compass in Houston. “Maybe it was also a guest bedroom or more of a library. Function has become much more critical.”
That means built-in shelving and space to move around, plus good, natural light and views, if possible. Privacy is also important, and an ideal office will be tucked away where work won’t be disturbed.
Ms. Powers is also seeing a move away from the open-floor plan that’s been so popular in recent years.
“At least in my area, people want to have separate living spaces,” she noted. “They don’t want to be in the den with the TV blaring, but in places where they can have a quiet conversation.”
Many clients are updating the living room from a formal area that isn’t used much to a place to disconnect from screens and relax. That may mean comfortable chairs—not couches where people sit close together—surrounding an ottoman or a fireplace in cooler weather, Ms. Powers explained.
These rooms are often “tech-free zones,” added her husband Matt Powers, who is a luxury-home builder and agent and is also part of the Laura Powers Property Group. “Everyone is getting sick of screens.”
Some buyers are also looking for bigger garages, extended foyers, or mud rooms to store outdoor gear and to make room for deliveries. That way, packages can be stored safely without anyone having to come inside.
Mr. Powers said he has seen increased interest from clients wanting to build LEED-certified homes. These environmentally friendly structures, built to the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, include fully automated systems that range from heating and cooling to air filtration.
“There are a few reasons why people choose to build LEED, and one of them is enhancing the quality of life,” Mr. Powers explained. “Part of that is things like air quality.”
Other automated systems, including doorbells, indoor and outdoor cameras, and alarms are expected in luxury homes, according to Laura Fisher, an agent and the owner of Ski Colorado Real Estate in Breckenridge. Many of her clients also have elaborate audio-visual systems installed, she added.
Emphasis on the Outdoors
Breckenridge, Colorado, has been primarily a second-home market, Ms. Fisher noted. But that might be changing.
“Just yesterday, I talked to a new client from Washington, D.C.,” she said. “He and his wife have decided, because of Covid-19, they want to get away and permanently relocate to Breckenridge and both work remotely. They want more of that laid-back lifestyle.”
In Colorado, that means a lot of time outdoors, no matter the season. Ski-in, ski-out properties are in big demand, but mountain bikers can also enjoy the slopes in the summer months.
There are more condominiums in town than single-family homes, but each property still has its own outdoor space. And hot tubs are standard, Ms. Fisher added.
Meanwhile, homes in Florida are often designed to maximize views and create seamless transitions between indoor and outdoor spaces, according to Cinthia Ane’ McGreevy of the South Florida-based Cinthia Ane’ Team at Compass.
Buyers from the Northeast have long been attracted to the warm weather and blue waters of Florida, but the pandemic has been a catalyst for many to make the big move, Ms. McGreevy said.
When they do, they want to make sure they have a property that lets them enjoy the Sunshine State to its fullest.
Access to the water is a priority. Docks and direct access to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean attract buyers’ attention, according to Ms. McGreevy. A pool is a must-have with families spending more time at home, as are expansive decks, covered patios, and firepits or summer kitchens.
In urban areas, public parks and green space have traditionally been very desirable, Patrick Ryan, owner and managing broker at Genuine Real Estate in Chicago, pointed out. But now having an outdoor area of one’s own is non-negotiable.
“Any other time, we would talk about parks and the neighborhood. But now, they might not even be able to use it,” he said. “So outdoor space at home has become huge.”
In addition, Mr. Ryan is seeing more clients ask for townhouses as opposed to units in a tower that they share with a lot of other people.
“They want their own space that they can control,” he explained.
While some city dwellers are looking to the suburbs or the country, Mr. Ryan said others may switch cities instead.
“I’ve talked to some New Yorkers who’ve said, ‘maybe I should look in Chicago.’ Comparatively, we have a lot more space,” he noted.
In the Houston area, some of Ms. Powers’ clients are looking for properties on golf courses with views of the greens. Others are looking to really expand, and she has a few buyers interested in farms of 50 acres or more, she added.
Extra acreage is also something Mr. Ayan’s clients are interested in. People are attracted to one- and two-acre properties where they can get some distance, but also put down roots. Many are even requesting properties with guest houses or in-law suites to accommodate multi-generational living, he said.
“They want space. They don’t want to be cooped up,” he said. “But they also want community and to be able to connect with their neighbors.”
Patrick Ryan is the Owner and Managing Broker of Genuine Real Estate Corp., a boutique residential real estate firm in Chicago he opened in 2018. Prior to opening Genuine, he served the dual role of Managing Broker of Related Realty (a 50 agent $175,000,000/year brokerage), and Senior Vice President of Sales for Related Midwest, both Chicago affiliates of Related Companies…Learn More
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