When purchasing a new home, one of the most important decisions buyers make is choosing a good floor plan.
Today's best floor plans reflect how buyers have moved to interactive lifestyles with open designs and the kitchen being the center of the action. This has led to fewer or no hallways in the house, as the larger rooms themselves become passageways.
Buyers can see how well a design fits their lifestyle by walking through local model homes to experience the feel of the home before they make a purchase. The arrangement of rooms, the flow from one room to another and the use of space helps them see how the floor plan will live.
Buyers might envision their family living in the house -- cooking and eating in the kitchen, relaxing in the living space and entertaining family and friends. Will your family live comfortably in the home?
Builders weigh in on what they see happening with floor plans today.
William Ryan Homes recently redesigned all its floor plans after doing research and receiving feedback from customers and prospects, said Debbie Beaver, vice president of operations for the Chicago division.
"We wanted to make sure our homes reflect how people live in their homes today," she said.
As a result, the builder introduced the "ergonomic kitchen" that fits a person's body well, which means the refrigerator is not too far from the landing space or the stove.
"We worked with national kitchen and bath guidelines as far as the work triangle and the right depth between the stove and the counter behind it. We also put more room around appliances that need to be opened," Beaver said.
Because people are expanding their living space into the basement more today, the builder also started offering finished basements. This has also been a popular feature with buyers at Shodeen Homes, said Nate Amidon, director of sales and marketing.
For William Ryan Homes, larger mudrooms were on buyers' wish lists. For kids coming in with backpacks and sports bags, the builder created mudrooms as a drop zone with space for lockers, built-ins, cubbies or coat racks.
D.R. Horton Homes too offers an owner's entry that often features a key drop or electronics charging station, large storage closets and/or cabinets. This area may include locker-like spaces and more storage space, said Christopher Naatz, vice president of sales and marketing.
Brian Hoffman, vice president of finance for Red Seal Homes, sees three floor plan trends right now.
"Open is in," Hoffman said. "Floor plans with the kitchen, dining and great room open to each other are definitely attracting buyers. In all our products -- single-family homes, duplexes and townhouses -- we have some substantial open dimension, and they're outselling everything else by a lot."
Hoffman also sees that square footage is back. "Gracious open plans need some size. And with this, there is a need for an office on the first floor where work can be done in a quiet space."
Another trend is the death of the bathtub, Hoffman said. In most of its product lines, the builder is doing larger stand up or walk-in showers with a tile base and surround rather than a tub.
Luxury showers in the owners' suite are also big for D.R. Horton, Naatz said.
"People are choosing large, walk-in tile showers in lieu of a smaller shower and separate tub."
For Shodeen Homes, Amidon sees floor plans focused around "maximizing space." For example, bonus rooms instead of two-story family rooms have become popular, as well as second-level laundry rooms. People also want planning rooms on the main level of the home where children can do their homework and engage in other activities, he said.
"We're also seeing gourmet kitchens with double wall ovens and cook tops," Amidon said. "The vent hood in place of a space-saver microwave has become popular in our custom lineup."
Naatz sees several kitchen trends in new homes for D.R. Horton. Islands have flush tops where lower stools can be used, making the island more conducive to conversation. The flush-height tops also add to the feeling of open space because they don't create a visual barrier. Buyers prefer the flush tops rather than the stepped-up tops and overhangs that require higher bar stools, he said.
Islands are large and often uniquely shaped. They are larger to create a generous workspace as well as a secondary dining space. Multifunctional islands are integral to daily living; they may be the breakfast bar, party gathering space, cooking area and so much more, Naatz said.
Buyers like walk-in pantries as they allow for ample storage of food and small kitchen appliances that are not used regularly.
Also at D.R. Horton, flex spaces are still popular with buyers because they are easily adaptable to how people live in their homes. It's a space that can serve many purposes; it could be used as a formal dining room, home office, music room or whatever fits the needs of the buyer.
Is there a perfect floor plan? Kim Meier, president of KLM Builders, says his company has built a ranch home that he believes is the perfect size, perfect layout and perfect price for the average buyer.
"It's a very efficient plan from a design standpoint, which helps keep the cost down, and it's a plan that everyone likes to live in," Meier said.
The Harrison, the new model at Sunset Ridge in Richmond, features about 2,000 square feet, three bedrooms, two baths and a two-car garage.
In this design, the kitchen is open to the breakfast nook and great room with the sink overlooking the great room and the outdoors.
"Buyers want informal dining spaces, which we offer with the angled island and breakfast nook. Those who still want a formal dining room have that option with the flex room in the front of the home," Meier said.
Buyers like that the home offers split bedrooms with the master suite and guest room on opposite sides of the house. The layout well accommodates buyers with school-age children or empty nesters who have overnight guests.
The design offers a swing, or flex, room that people can use as a formal dining room, den or home office. And the home includes amenities such as hardwood floors, granite countertops, furniture-quality cabinetry and high ceilings.
In the full basement, which is as big as the entire house, the builder keeps the mechanicals to one end. That makes it a more livable space as many people finish the basement either when they purchase the home or in the future.