What do buyers want?
When millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers purchase a new home, their concept of the perfect place to live depends on their demographic. Each age group has different needs and wants, and one size does not fit all.
They're at different stages in their lives -- millennials, often college educated, are first-time homebuyers; Gen Xers typically have children and at the peak of their careers; and baby boomers are often empty-nesters looking to downsize.
Although it's not cool to lump people into groups, label them and attach certain characteristics to them, builders must know what differentiates these customers so they can build homes that people want.
Here's a look at what each group is all about.
Research shows that millennials value a clean, simple design that maximizes square footage with open floor plans with spaces that "flex" for multiple uses, such as exercise equipment in a spare bedroom. They live casually with no formal dining or living rooms and want a large shower in the master with no tub.
Desirable exterior amenities include low-maintenance materials and small but usable outdoor spaces with minimal lawn care. They don't want to spend their weekends doing yard work.
Members of this age group are often busy and on the go. They work long hours and want to be close to their jobs and live in a community that is within walking distance of transportation, shopping, dining and entertainment, with easy access to fitness centers and walking and biking paths.
David Weekley Homes offers an imagination series for first-time buyers that it markets to millennials, although not yet available in the Chicago market.
Other builders, such as Meritus Homes and Plote Homes, aren't marketing directly to millennials because many in this group are still in the urban rental market, while those out of school are paying off student loan debt and saving for a down payment on a home. In comparison with previous generations, millennials are waiting longer to get married, have children and to purchase a home in the suburbs.
Older millennials who are married and thinking about having children look for two-story homes with a second-floor laundry, said Kim Meier, president of KLM Homes.
As a group, they're more interested in sustainable materials and energy-efficient systems and appliances, said Jennifer Mencias, director of sales for William Ryan Homes. "They're more practical regarding the size of the home, and they're buying smart homes with the latest technology.
"They've grown up with technology, and they lead the way in adopting new technologies and making features like the ability to preheat an oven or unlock the front door from a smartphone a desired convenience."
Often Gen X homebuyers are married couples at the peak of their careers and earnings. They are looking to move up into a nice, large family home with the latest amenities near good schools. They're environmentally conscious. And they gather information about buying a new home before making a purchase.
Gen Xers are looking for a "right-sized" home for their families, typically with three bedrooms, Mencias said. "Many favor the open concept plan with an ease of communication in one large space, and they want a home focused on the family aspect of living."
David Weekley Homes offers communities in Barrington and Glenview near excellent schools where most homes feature an upper-level master suite that appeals to families with children, said April Sjoholm, marketing director.
The Moongate model home at The Reserve at Barrington shows a first-floor study, flex space upstairs and a huge kitchen island, features desired by buyers in this age group.
Also an attraction, the community sits near downtown Barrington, a charming spot that offers unique dining and shopping experiences and is near the Metra train station.
Plote Homes features its popular ranch plans at the Lakes of Boulder Ridge, which are well-suited to Gen X buyers, said Scott Ballard, director of homebuilding. "We offer a lot of walkout and English basements with the incentive of finishing the space for lower-level recreational living for parents or space for kids to hang out," Ballard said. "This often doubles the living space and costs less than a two-story home."
Also in tune to what Gen Xers want, Meritus Homes offers upgrades as standard in their new-home communities. "We have granite throughout the home, not just in the kitchen, but in the master bath shower seats and hall bath countertops," said Jay Dulla, executive vice president for the builder. "We also offer trim detail such as crown molding in most of the rooms on the main level and other exclusive trim in the dining room."
Baby boomers are empty-nesters who may be nearing retirement, retired or working beyond retirement, but looking to downsize. They still want the latest amenities new construction offers. They want single-level living with low maintenance. At this stage in their lives, they often value social interaction, resort-style living and a location near health facilities, shopping and other conveniences.
One-level living is a top priority for boomers, and although they don't want a lot of space, they care about the efficient use of space, Mencias said.
"They also like room for a longer dining table for holiday entertaining, lots of windows and a first-floor master with the second level for visiting children."
Meritus Homes offers a new home community in Addison that features five ranch home designs with the option of adding a second story with two bedrooms up and a first-floor master suite. The community is age-targeted toward empty-nesters moving down.
With low maintenance and easy living, the open-concept style is a welcome change for boomers, Dulla said. "Many have lived in older homes for 40 years with 8-foot ceilings; they love our 9-foot ceilings that give them that volume space, and they like that we offer access to the laundry room from the master closet."
The Lakes of Boulder Ridge offers a private country club with a 27-hole championship golf course, swimming pool and tennis courts where boomers can enjoy a relaxing lifestyle. Ranch homes offer low maintenance, a nice working design and a large master suite along with the amenities and nicer finishes that this generation wants, Ballard said.
KLM Builders offers 20 different custom ranch designs with a variety of floor plans, but typically with a center living space and the master suite off to one side with the secondary bedrooms on the opposite side, which offers privacy for homeowners and guests.