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What Buyers Demand in New Homes

Energy Savings

One persistent trend is energy-efficient homebuilding, the pinnacle of which might be what Sloan Ritchie, founder of Cascade Built, a custom sustainable homebuilder in Seattle, describes as a "passive house." This type of home is so airtight and has so much extra insulation and such high-quality windows that a furnace might not even be needed.

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What is required, though, is ventilation, Ritchie says. That can be achieved with a heat-recovery ventilator, which exhausts stale air from the kitchen and bathrooms and delivers fresh air to the bedrooms, living rooms and other spaces, Ritchie explains.

Passive homes might be a trend, but they still account for only a tiny percentage of newly built homes.

In fact, nearly all of the 483,000 new homes constructed in 2012, the latest year for which the U.S. Census Bureau has released data, contained a heating or cooling system. Of the total, 278,000 homes had a warm-air furnace, 183,000 had a heat pump as the primary heating system and 432,000 had air conditioning.

Environmental Friendliness

Other energy-smart components of today's newly built homes include induction cooktops, ventless clothes dryers and permeable paving.

Rather than light a burner upon which a pot or pan is placed, induction applies an electrical current directly to the pot or pan. Ritchie says this method of cooking is faster and much more energy-efficient than a traditional gas or electric range.

A ventless clothes dryer pumps out water rather than moist hot air, again with the goal of increased energy efficiency.

Permeable paving creates an outdoor surface solid enough to drive a car over, but porous enough for rainwater to seep into the ground rather than create environmentally unfriendly runoff. The surface might be gravel or could comprise interlocking pavers that click together, yet allow grass to grow between them.

"It's a permeable, drivable surface that looks like grass and can be used as a driveway area," Ritchie says.

Less Land

Smaller lots are another trend in newly built homes because of infill development (reusing obsolete or vacant buildings), high land costs and homebuyers' disinclination to do a lot of yard work.

"The urban buyer is more interested in having a place, but not necessarily a large yard," Ritchie says. "They're outsourcing that to the city parks, having open space nearby, not necessarily on their property. A large lot is not really desired."

A smaller lot also can mean lower property taxes, because much of a property's assessment is tied to its land value.

A smaller lot also typically means a miniaturized backyard and two-story or multilevel house with an open floor plan that maximizes the living space.

The average size of new detached houses constructed in 2012 was 2,505 square feet, according to Census Bureau data.

Visual Interest

In keeping with contemporary design, today's new homes feature more use of natural light and more dramatic entryways, Lohr says. Windows, for instance, can be positioned to allow more light and privacy, while reducing heating and cooling expenses.

"You can design transom windows, which are long and close to the ceiling for natural light. Older homes don't have that type of architecture," Lohr says.

Modern doors are intended to make a statement rather than merely allowing access to the residence.

"There is more emphasis on entry doors," Lohr says. "A lot of them are glass, they're transparent and people don't mind that there's no privacy. It's the entry, so you might not need the same privacy as you would in (an interior) room. In older homes, you just have a door and that's it."

Specialty Rooms

One more trend in today's newly built homes is specific spaces dedicated to purposes other than the traditional bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining and living area activities.

Lohr cites living quarters for in-laws or other extended family members as an example, as well as studios and mud rooms, which she says have moved from the garage into the house.

These rooms typically are smaller than bedrooms or home offices and are customized to suit specific functions.

"The studio is a smaller area, and it probably has more than one purpose," she says. "It could be a work room like a study, but it could also be a crafts room as well."

A mud room might be used to store shoes, backpacks, tools or sporting equipment like fishing rods and other outdoor gear.

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