Basics Move-Up Buyers & Renters Want Now

Building and developing homes for move up residents takes savvy commercial interior design and a deep understanding of what move-up residents and renters want

By Josh Kassing

Gone are the days when move up buyers want way more space, souped-up chef’s kitchens, lavish spa bathrooms and the finest finishes possible. After sheltering in place for most of the year, and realizing this scenario could recur in the future, buyers and renters alike are rethinking their living spaces. Their wants and needs have changed, perhaps forever, inspiring them to find homes that have more of what they desire.

But rather than more rooms or fancy trappings, renters and buyers now want homes that offer them spaces, options and amenities that enable their evolving lifestyles. And it’s clear that many of them are willing to spend on homes and apartments that have what they want, despite the wavering real estate market. And for those whose incomes haven’t been hampered by the pandemic, the current decline in high-end rental rates in some markets offers opportunity.

Mansion Global attributed rent declines to tenants moving out of cramped urban areas such as Manhattan and San Francisco and into more spacious locales. However, nearly 100% of residents in the luxury apartment units owned and managed by Bozzuto Group, one of the nation’s top property managers, have paid rent during the pandemic. Even those who left Manhattan at the peak of the pandemic are starting to return thanks to those declining mortgage rates, the New York Times noted in October, signaling the rental market will recover.

No recovery is necessary for the newly built single-family home market; it’s a bright spot at the moment thanks to buyer interest in the suburbs, exurbs and small towns. Sales are outpacing starts by a historic margin that will spur construction volume and reduce available inventory, the National Association of Home Builders reported in October. High-end properties are positioned particularly well; luxury home sales rose 41.5% in the third quarter of this year due to remote work, record-low mortgage rates and strong stock prices, Redfin’s October market report noted.

As buyers and renters of all ages and different income levels seek new homes, builders and developers must be in lockstep with their cohorts’ new wants and needs. In these uncertain times, that’s not always easy. As commercial interior designers for some of the country’s most prestigious single-family and multi-family home developments, the research we do for each project has become broader and deeper than ever before, enabling us to have a reasonably accurate grasp of trends. Right now, there are three universals dominating the market for move-up buyers and renters. Here’s what they want now:

Better, But Not Necessarily Bigger, Spaces

The pandemic has hastened a slew of innovative options and spurred every aspect of residential design to achieve new levels of flexibility in living spaces.

This past September, the median sales price for single-family homes was up 14.8% year over year at $311,800 the National Association of Realtors reported. In fact, many of the move up projects we work on fall in the $350,000’s to $600,000’s range, and are targeted to both millennials with young families and downsizing baby boomers. Both these cohorts are willing to pay more for what they want because they are spending more time at home, and will continue to do so for quite some time to come.

We see this trend in both new single-family homes and multi-family rentals in mid-sized cities and suburbs that have it all—the vibrant conveniences of urban life, walkability, green space and housing that embraces what we call “affordable luxury.” Urban Land Institute dubbed these locales “hipsturbia” in its 2020 Emerging Trends in Real Estate report. These buyers and renters want better spaces rather than more space, at the most possible for their money. Value and performance counts.

Right now, and perhaps for decades to come, this means sustainable and resilient design and construction that offers move-up buyers and renters targeted options. Right now those tend to be energy efficient HVAC, windows, lighting and appliances; cleverly devised multifunctional living spaces; better finishes and low-maintenance materials and finishes; the right number of bedrooms; and outside space that can be used all or at least much of the year.   

Mutable Space for Essential Activities

The pandemic has hastened a slew of innovative options and spurred every aspect of residential design to achieve new levels of flexibility in living spaces.

Work from anywhere is here to stay. An October survey from S&P Global Market Intelligence found 64% of companies plan to increase remote work policies following the pandemic. Surveys show virtual workouts done at home will also be in our future long after the pandemic subsides; they’re convenient, fulfilling and effective. Welcome to a world where homes must be mutable.

Welcome to a world where homes must be mutable.

In truth, dedicated rooms have been on the way out for years. But the pandemic has hastened a slew of innovative options and spurred every aspect of residential design to achieve new levels of flexibility in living spaces. We are called on to develop creative layouts that offer nooks and crannies or incorporate conjoined spaces that can be closed off when need arises; layered lighting plans to provide more versatile task, ambient and decorative lighting; and better ways to achieve acoustic isolation when gardeners are outside or children are home.

Maximized Spaces for Storage Needs

A separate laundry room topped the NAHB’s list of most-wanted home features right before the pandemic. Second and third on the list were a dining room and home office respectively. If anything, the pandemic has underscored the desirability of specialty spaces that can enhance our lifestyles. Ironically, all three of these spaces can be folded into layouts and offer versatility—especially as dining rooms have proven to be particularly effective spaces to use as home offices when needed.

In general, storage spaces—from horizontal ledges, consoles and shelves to walk-in pantries and closets to mud rooms and garages—are more important than ever. Now we must find new and creative ways to integrate potential storage spaces into single-family homes and multifamily units as frequently as possible. 

Josh Kassing is the vice president of Design Development at Mary Cook Associates.

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