I am an architect who designs – among other things – residential projects for a fairly upscale clientele. I might be a rung or two down for the very top, but I generally have a crack at designing homes that fall in the $2-$5 million dollar range. That’s not the only range I work in, I have examples of $150k projects, and I have done a projects in my past that have approached $10M … something in there for almost everyone. Out of all these houses, probably 99% of them have been for actual clients and not for the speculative home building market – and I’m fairly glad that’s the case because as much as I like to design awesome projects, I generally prefer awesome clients. I said all that as a preface to this post because I am writing today’s article in reaction to reading a survey published earlier this year from NAHB (National Associated of Home Builders) titled “Top 10 Features for Upscale Homes” prepared by Paul Emrath, Ph.D. I read these sorts of articles – even though they aren’t geared towards me as a client-based service provider, because I think its important that I know what’s going on in the marketplace … I like to call it “learning.”
This report was basically a survey that asked buyers to rate about a ba-jillion different features on a prepared list of items (windows, doors, kitchens, baths, specialty rooms, etc.) and mark them as either “Essential/Must Have,” “Desirable,” “Indifferent,” or “do not want.” The items on the list are not features strongly demanded by all home buyers, but rather luxury items that you might typically expect to find in an upscale home (identified as over $500,000). Got it?
So what exactly are some of the “Top 10 Features for Upscale Homes?”
#10 Game Rooms – rooms that were specific to recreational activities like playing pool or “table top” games. 34% of respondents felt that a game room was “desirable/essential.”
#8 An Exercise Room – a room dedicated to exercise, often outfitted with a treadmill, weights, or other specific type of equipment. 48% of respondents felt that an exercise room was ”desirable/essential.”
#7 A Wet Bar – a room with a sink whose sole purpose is dedicated to the mixing and serving of beverages. This feature registered a surprising 42% of respondents who felt is was ”desirable/essential.”
#5 Two-story Foyer – I was surprised to see this on the list, unless it exists here because the assumption is that “Upscale Homes” are two-story structures. Of all the items that I associate with the ubiquitous generic market data-based spec home, the two-story foyer ranks right up at the top of the list – bracketed by “half-moon windows” and “turrets.” 39% of respondents felt that this was must have stuff, while *92% of architects thought two-story foyers should be outlawed.
#4 An Outdoor Kitchen – Now we’re cooking! While this space could be as simple as an area permanently dedicated to grilling, it could also be a more substantial area that includes sink, refrigerator, cabinetry and specialty lighting. 49% of surveyors felt this was an appropriate feature to include in a home costing more than $500,000 and we here at Life of an Architect think this number should be higher (maybe the survey was taken in summer when the temperature was like 110 degrees outside?)
#3 Kitchen with a Wine Cooler – Obviously if you don’t drink this item wouldn’t have much value. Personally, I don’t consider this to be an Upscale Home feature, it is an every-home sort of feature considering that the costs of under-counter wine refrigerators and beverage stations have been coming down in cost the last few years.
#2 Two-story Family Room – What?!? Seriously … what is the deal with two-story spaces?? The report didn’t specify (at least not anywhere I could find) what height defined a “two-story” space. We do a lot of heightened rooms which have taller ceilings in them (for the method to my madness read Ceiling Heights & Scoreboard) so I’m not generally against rooms with elevated ceilings. If you have a bigger room, it only makes sense for it to have a taller ceiling, otherwise it will feel like the basement level of a community church. (Hot dish not included) 32% of respondents who felt is was ”desirable/essential.”
#1 Kitchen with a Warming Drawer – Okay … warming drawers are nice but top billing? I suppose the things that separates warming drawers out from the pack and puts them on the upscale home wish list is that you don’t really need them and they take up space that is typically at a premium unless you have a gargantuan kitchen (or two kitchens). 42% of respondents who felt is was ”desirable/essential.”
Did you find that an inspiring list of features? No, I didn’t either.
Now – the real objective of me pointing out some of the items that are on the list of “What Home Buyers Really Want” is that there is an underlying theme to these items. Did you notice what sort of things were missing from this list? Things like “triple paned glazing” in windows, or “upgraded electrical service” … What about “Super awesome dishwashers”? No … the reason people didn’t vote to get these items on the list of upscale home features is that those items don’t convey Lifestyle.
A few years ago I was helping a contractor buddy of mine renovate a home he was planning on selling. This house was probably in the $2M dollar range and we were having a conversation about the kitchen appliance package. He wanted to put two dishwashers in (there was plenty of room) and I thought that was a mistake, he obviously needed to put in a wine fridge. I tried to use my favorite teaching method, the “narrative” to explain why I was right
[scene - couple walking through a house that's just been placed on the market for $2.2 million]
Her: Oooo, look at this kitchen, it’s gorgeous!
Him: Wow. That is a nice kitchen … You can see the TV while standing at the island!
Her: O. M. G. Look at that – there’s two – TWO – dishwashers. Think of how fast we can get the dishes done!
Him: Totally fast … this is a dream come true.
Okay … that conversation would almost never happen. Maybe if the Brady Bunch moved in and they brought Alice along with them and actually asked her what she thought about two dishwashers. now imagine that same scene with a wine refrigerator:
Her: Oooo, look at this kitchen, it’s gorgeous!
Him: Wow. That is a nice kitchen … you can see the TV while standing at the island.
Her: O. M. G. Look at that .. that’s a nice dishwash … WAIT – it’s also got a wine refrigerator!! We would be so popular and everybody would think we were such generous and gracious dinner hosts. Our dinner parties would be so much more amazing!
Him: Totally amazing … this is a dream come true.
[and scene ... and home sale]
Okay, maybe there was some hyperbole there on my part, but I still think that the things that people see and get excited about have more to do with their ability to project their lives into a particular lifestyle. Do you think people ask their Realtor “Uhm, what the spacing on the studs? Is it 16″ or 24″ on center?” Nobody asks that question because the people who don’t know, don’t think to ask those sorts of questions, they tend to keep things a bit more surface oriented and aesthetic.
When I sit down with a client to work through the programming on their new home, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out “how” they live, not necessarily “how they want” to live. I also think that I am better at my job when I am able to get personal with my client along the way – it makes it easier to help them set priorities that will make the difference between a house that fits the way they will really use it instead of how they think they will use it. The items on the list of “What Home Buyers Really Want” when it comes to luxury amenities are all a result of how successfully people are able to project themselves into that environment with those particular amenities. Who imagines how their life would be improved with triple-paned windows (other than the people who live in Minnesota?)
At any rate, I read these sorts of articles because at some very rudimentary level it allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of the “average” consumer. I wasn’t too surprised by the findings and with a little bit of effort from your friendly neighborhood design professional, most of these items would show up in your project because it was appropriate for the project type, scale and budget.
*this is an unsubstantiated claim/value determined by Life of an Architect staff members but we still think it’s “need to know information”