Monday, March 26, 2012

Smaller, cheaper, more flexible — and 5 other ways new homes are changing with the economy (cont.)

6. Flexible
With specialty rooms disappearing and a home's footprint shrinking, the trend is toward flexible spaces that can be deployed as a family requires.
In small, first-time homes, you may not see any formal space now

In small, first-time homes, you may not see any formal space now. If it's a trade-up house of any kind, there may still be one formal space, but people need to select between a dining room and living room.
The Open Series home model by KB Home, for example, is built around a great room and has a loft that buyers can customize as a playroom, extra bedroom, den, entertainment room or office.
New great rooms combining kitchen-dining-living functions are the heart of smaller homes. Big homes dispersed family members to far-away rooms. The great room gathers them while letting each concentrate on something different — homework, meal preparation, eating, socializing, playing, entertaining, relaxing and even working. To accommodate this activity, kitchens are growing. A brand-new kitchen is another clear advantage of new construction, so builders are playing it up, lavishing budget share on bigger islands, better appliances, great lighting and lots of attractive flooring, cabinet, counter and finish choices.

7. Doubled up
Separate self-contained living units are appearing in some new homes. They're essentially in-law suites, either inside the main house or attached to it, often with a separate entrance. At the minimum, these include a bedroom and adjoining bathroom. Some have a small living area and kitchen or kitchenette.

The demand for these houses is complex. By 2010, 16% of Americans were living in multigenerational homes, according to the Pew Research Center. The census, looking at the picture slightly differently, last year found 30% of adults in "doubled-up" households that include adults besides students, spouses and partners. Reasons for this new closeness include cutting costs and desire to be nearer to family members. Immigrant cultures — particularly Latino and Asian – are a market force and bring traditions of including several generations under one roof. At the same time, as the elderly live longer, many adult children are bringing their parents into their homes, often motivated at least partly by the need to contain elder-care costs. A 2011 poll by Harris Interactive and Generations United, a group promoting intergenerational collaboration, found financial stress driving much of the trend.

In the past, the solution was to put a casita (a little house) over the garage. And if grandma wanted to use it, she had to walk up stairs. Moving the casita into or alongside the house makes life easier for everyone. It's hard to judge the strength of demand. A surge in construction of dual master suites in homes, predicted in a 2007 NAHB member survey, hasn't materialized — probably because of the extra expense.

However, the market for new and old homes with ADUs (accessory dwelling units, a planning term) is strong. Buyers mostly want them as rentals, for supplemental income. All three of Builder Magazine's showcase homes at the National Association of Home Builders' International Builders' Show in February include ADUs.

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