Remember the television show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”? Each week host Robin Leach gave viewers a tour of incredible homes common folk would never see otherwise. Fact is, most people cannot afford their dream home. Even if they could afford to build it, they probably couldn’t afford the maintenance and taxes. If they could afford everything, Robin Leach would be knocking at their door.

Each year the National Association of Home Builders surveys consumers to determine what they “prefer” in a new home. Here’s a glimpse of the latest American dream wish list.

No discussion of buyer wants gets far without discussing the living room. Does it stay or does it go? According to NAHB, the formal American living room may soon be as prevalent as the outhouse. In the three years from 2000 to 2003, the percentage of people willing to buy a new home without a living room increased from 34 percent to 40 percent.

Formal living rooms are losing popularity. Most people can be found in the family room because that’s where the recliner is closest to the fridge. Today’s average consumer prefers a kitchen-family room arrangement that’s completely open. One-third of today’s new-home buyers prefer the totally open arrangement compared with just 9 percent in 1980. Twenty-five years ago, 45 percent of home buyers preferred a half-wall separating the kitchen from the family room; now only 37 percent like it. The formal dining room is still a “must have” for most buyers.

Despite the fact that lots are getting smaller, 54 percent of consumers prefer a single-story home. That’s up from 39 percent in 2000. An aging population likely has something to do with those numbers.

What’s the most desired kitchen feature? It’s the walk-in pantry. Eighty-five percent of consumers prefer it. And 77 percent prefer an island work area. Sixty-five percent like solid-surface kitchen surfaces, 61 percent a built-in microwave and 47 percent want extra deep counters.

Forty-four percent of today’s home buyers prefer a home with four or more bedrooms. Another 43 percent want three. Most Americans (46 percent) desire a two-car garage, but another 29 percent want room for three vehicles. Only 3 percent say they don’t want a garage.

Considering how much time is spent in the bathroom, it should come as no surprise that 86 percent of consumers want a home with two or more baths. Of these, 26 percent want three or more bathrooms.

The bathroom linen closet is desired by 91 percent of consumers. An exhaust fan is a close second with 87 percent. Seventy-seven percent want a separate shower enclosure. Whirlpool tubs (63 percent) are more desirable than ceramic tile walls (58 percent), private toilet compartments (57 percent) or a dressing/make-up area (54 percent).

Today’s consumers understand that buying a home involves a series of trade-offs. That’s why NAHB asked buyers which features they would be willing to accept to make their new home affordable. For example, 42 percent said they would accept unfinished spaces if the price were right.

Back in 1980, 54 percent of Americans were willing to accept a smaller house to save money. No more. By 2001, only 24 percent were willing to sacrifice space for bucks. In 2003, a few more (28 percent) would trade size for savings.

When it comes to saving money, lot size has always been negotiable. In 1980, 25 percent said they would accept a smaller lot size. In 2003, 30 percent said so. But home builders are discovering that people still want amenities. In 2001, 26 percent of consumers said they would forgo some amenities to reduce the home’s price; just two years later, only 15 percent said they would give up any amenities.

David Jones is a senior editor with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.


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