Younger buyers care more about closeness to schools, parks and playgrounds, while older buyers are more interested in a bedroom on the main level and prefer single-story homes, according to a new survey on home-buyer preferences by the National Association of Realtors.

Although most buyers choose homes located in suburbs or subdivisions, homes purchased by first-time buyers are more likely to be older and located in a central city, while repeat buyers are more likely to select a new home. Older buyers are more inclined to purchase in a small town.

There are some strong regional differences. Nearly 90 percent of buyers in the South rate central air conditioning as a very important feature, compared to only 37 percent in the Northeast. Buyers in the West are more likely to desire a patio or fencing, while buyers in the Northeast and Midwest are more interested in a finished basement.

The 2004 National Association of Realtors Profile of Buyer’s Home Feature Preferences shows that among buyers who purchased a home without a desired feature, many would have paid more for a home with that feature. For example, 66 percent would have paid a median of $825 extra for a home with a walk-in closet in the master bedroom.

Nearly three-quarters of recent home buyers say that central air conditioning tops the list of most desirable features they want in a home, while half named a walk-in closet in the master bedroom as a preferred feature.

Ranked next in the preference list is a bedroom on the main level, named by 42 percent of buyers, and a patio or an oversized garage, each with 41 percent. Other desirable features include a cable or satellite TV-ready home (40 percent); fencing (37 percent); separate shower in the master bath (36 percent); a porch (34 percent); and an eat-in kitchen (32 percent).

Urban buyers are more likely to buy a home near public transportation that has hardwood floors and a finished basement. Rural buyers want an open lot with few trees and a single story-home, while suburban buyers favor sprinkler systems, eat-in kitchens and homes less than 10 years old.

Half of the homes purchased were single-story, but buyers of custom-built homes have a stronger preference for homes with two or more levels. The median size among all types of homes was 1,727 square feet, ranging from 1,471 square feet for first-time buyers to 1,920 square feet for repeat buyers. Homes were larger in the South and smaller in the Northeast.

The median age of a home was 15 years. Typically, it had four bedrooms, two full baths and a fireplace. Not surprisingly, homes in the Northeast were older while homes in the South were newer.

The most desired rooms or spaces include garages, living rooms, extra bathrooms and laundry rooms – all rated as “very important” by more than 70 percent of respondents. Three-fourths of buyers were satisfied with the home’s age and number of bedrooms and bathrooms; more than six in 10 were satisfied with their home’s size.

Half of all recent home buyers report they repainted the interior of their home soon after moving in, while over a third upgraded their landscaping. One out of five plans to repaint or wallpaper the interior, buy new window treatments or update the landscaping within two years of purchase.

Twenty-two percent of first-time buyers plan to remodel their kitchen within two years compared with 11 percent of repeat buyers. Bathroom remodeling plans generated similar findings – 20 percent of first-time buyers and 14 percent of repeat buyers. The least likely remodeling projects include in-law suites, media rooms, exercise rooms and attic renovations.

Fifty-seven percent of homes were located in a suburb or subdivision, 17 percent in an urban or central city area, 16 percent in a small town, 8 percent were rural and 2 percent in a resort or recreation area.

The 2004 National Association of Realtors Profile of Buyer’s Home Feature Preferences was based on a 6-page questionnaire mailed to a national sample of 25,000 recent home buyers who purchased their homes between mid-2003 and mid-2004.

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