LAS VEGAS — If you want someone to buy your house, sell them the kitchen.
That was an oft-repeated message here recently at the International Builders Show, which is the annual convention of the National Association of Home Builders. The trade show featured literally hundreds of seminars on all aspects of housing, including numerous presentations on how to deck out a kitchen in order to make the whole house a more saleable thing.
The economy and just plain consumer fickleness have conspired to make kitchen "desirability" a moving target — a slow-moving target, but moving, nonetheless, and consumers need to pay attention, because kitchen design trends translate into dollar signs, they said.
Five things homebuyers and home remodelers may need to keep in mind for kitchens that are likely to have resale appeal in the coming years:
1. Color, pattern, finish. "Blue is the new green," said Connie Edwards, a kitchen designer from Winchester, Va., who was one of three panelists at a session on kitchen components that they said would make the entire home more valuable. Soft blues, in this case, are catching on with consumers who are seriously invested in the idea of home as refuge.
"(Blue, to consumers) is clean water, clean air, clean earth," Edwards said at a session called "Great Kitchens! Expert Ideas to Improve your Kitchen Designs." "It’s about making the home calm, and in this down economy, right now, we want to be calm."
Edwards and her fellow panelists also said gray is an increasingly popular color choice, as well as pumpkin-orange as an accent color; the latter is particularly popular among younger consumers, she said.
And, now that you’ve endured steaming and scraping all the old wallpaper off the house … yes, they said, wallpaper is coming back. This time, it’s favored in large-scale prints and seems to be showing up on accent walls, rather than throughout the room.
In the past couple of decades cabinets have gone through oak and maple phases: Now, they’re turning up big time in painted white finishes.
"It’s astonishing how much interest there is in white cabinets," said Eliot Nusbaum, executive editor at Better Homes & Gardens, at a separate session on consumer preferences. "When we put a white kitchen on the cover of the magazine, it sells."
2. Homes may be getting smaller, but pack in as much kitchen as you can.
The average newly built single-family home shrank from 2,520 square feet to 2,480 square feet in 2009, according to NAHB data released at the convention.
"Downsizing continues, but priorities are price, energy and organization," said Nusbaum. Very high on the list is kitchen space where the whole family can dine — 67 percent said they wanted space for a table, as opposed to chairs at a counter, Nusbaum said. And 62 percent said they wanted a kitchen that functioned as a family gathering place.
Walk-in pantries are highly desirable, several presenters said. And the "family foyer" gets top marks, according to Edwards. That’s not at the front of the house — it’s back by the garage entry, and has space for backpacks, coats and boots, and maybe a desk for kids’ crafts and homework. …CONTINUED
"Put one in, and you’re going to have a hit on your hands," she said.
3. They’re paying very close attention to costs — Nusbaum called it "cents and sensibility" — so they’ll be eyeing the costs of running those kitchen appliances.
These days, "green" buyers value energy-efficient appliances, high-efficiency insulation and high window efficiency, according to Paul Cardis, whose firm conducted yet another homebuyer preference survey for AVID Ratings in Madison, Wis.
He said consumer interest in big windows is waning because they view them as heat-losers. In addition, interest in recycled or synthetic materials is minimal now, he said.
4. Make the kitchen work for all ages and abilities.
Not only do kitchens these days have multiple cooks, they’re increasingly likely to have a live-in grandparent helping out. Thus, pay particular attention to lighting so that everyone can see to work.
In addition, consider creating countertops at multiple heights for use by able-bodied adults, as well as kids and grandparents that may be working from a wheelchair, said MaryJo Camp, a kitchen designer from Brookfield, Conn., who commented during the "Great Kitchens!" seminar.
Camp said the same mindset should be at work in planning pantry shelf heights and appliances, such as side-by-side refrigerators and drawer-height dishwashers and microwaves (the latter, she said, should move away from the traditional spot over the stove because it’s hard to reach).
5. Granite countertops are a given — or are they?
Presenters at the show were of two minds on the continuing popularity of granite, which in the past decade has evolved into a design icon.
On a list of things that people who were planning to buy homes said were absolute "musts," granite has fallen off that list, according to Rose Quint, who handles surveys for the NAHB. She said various energy-saving features now claim the top spots.
Granite has become so ubiquitous, "it’s almost a starter-home feature," Edwards said, explaining that high-end buyers are now more willing to entertain other surfaces, such as quartz composites.
But Nusbaum said granite isn’t going anywhere. He cited a "splurge-and-save" mentality among his readers — they’ll make tradeoffs in order to afford granite or pricey soapstone, which might mean painting the cabinets instead of replacing them.
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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