Nearly three out of four (72%) house hunters who have owned a home before say a laundry room would be an "essential" feature of their next home, compared to just 59% who deem a living room necessary.
That's according to a new survey by the National Association of Home Builders that asked potential home buyers what features they'd consider "essential" in the next house they buy.
Responses varied between first-time home buyers and veteran homeowners, which offers some interesting insights into what young, novice homebuyers value compared to presumably older buyers for whom this is not the first real estate rodeo.
For example, only 61% of first-time buyers consider a laundry room essential — the same number who demand a living room. It makes sense that second-time homebuyers are more keen on a dedicated laundry area; a lot of renters are just forced to put up with it, but once you own your own house — especially if you've got kids, who are basically clothes-soiling machines — you get pretty tired of hauling baskets to the basement or down the street to a laundromat.
But the fact that so many buyers place a laundry room on par with or even ahead of a living room is pretty astonishing to me. Either lots of people just assume a living room is present in any given house, or maybe they really don't care. (Would they go so far as to convert their living room to a laundry room?) Or, perhaps what they really want is a "great room" — considered an essential feature among 43% of first-timers and 40% of second-time buyers.
Another difference between the two groups is that existing homeowners can afford to be pickier, considering more items to be "essential" — even finishes, like granite countertops (40%) and hardwood floors (41%).
Some features that first-time buyers consider essential don't even register for more seasoned homebuyers, and vice versa. While 44% of first-time buyers said they must have a front porch, it didn't crack the top 14 for veteran buyers. They'd rather sip lemonade on a patio (44%), which wasn't a top concern among first-timers.
Laundry isn't the only feature that seems to get more essential the second or third time around. While 43% of first-timers listed a two-car garage as a must-have feature, that number climbed to 54% among second-time homebuyers. Similarly, 45% of first-time homebuyers consider a walk-in closet in the master bedroom essential, compared to 56% of existing homeowners.
Meanwhile, veteran homebuyers were less inclined to care whether their next house has a proper dining room (45% vs. 52% of first-timers), and instead require an eat-in kitchen (43%).
Now, it's no secret that many Americans struggle to separate "wants" from "needs," to the detriment of our finances. (And maybe that's why so many of us seem to need a walk-in closet.) But some of these "essentials" really surprised me — especially among first-time home buyers, who probably need to brace themselves for some compromises in this competitive market.
Close to half of home buyers surveyed, both new (45%) and existing (41%), consider it essential to have both a shower stall and a tub in the master bathroom. That does sound awesome, don't get me wrong. But it also seems like a luxury to me, not a non-negotiable must-have. We would do flips just to have any master bath!
A similar number of homebuyers (40% new, 46% returning) said a double sink in the kitchen is essential. Again: I would love a double sink. It's definitely a wishlist item. But is it "essential"? Would I really turn down an otherwise lovely house if it didn't have two sink basins? Plus, of all these features, this is the one you could most easily rectify yourself with a DIY weekend or two.
As for me, when we first set out to buy a home, my must-have list included a fireplace, a gas range, and a flowing floor plan (um, one that includes a living room, please). Old-house details like a built-in hutch and hardwood floors were almost guaranteed by our area and price range, but they were pretty important to me regardless. And paramount above all of these was a walkable location near transit.
And like those surveyed by the NAHB, nine years into homeownership, my priorities have changed just a bit. We added a laundry room (well, we remodeled our only bathroom to squeeze in a stackable washer and dryer) and, yup, I don't know that I could ever go back now. I'm more insistent on a gas cooking surface than ever, and would still demand a fireplace or wood stove. And now, with a 6-year-old zipping around on a bike, we'd give anything for a flat driveway. But location remains our No. 1 priority — and the one home feature you can't build or change later on.
What are your must-have features in a home?