October is Luxury Month on Inman. Inman Handbooks offer deep dives on luxury marketing and agent branding, luxury staging, referrals, and more. We’re thinking about what luxury means now, examining how the pandemic is reshaping the needs of luxury buyers, and talking to top luxury agents, all month long.
Although location, price and size have always been indicators of luxury in real estate, the current health crisis has supplied some new guidelines. With the addition of the word “luxury” in front of any product or service, the consumer perceives quality, attention to detail, newness, scarcity and higher expense.
In the COVID-19 real estate market, a redefinition of luxury will prevail. Air, sunlight and open spaces, once taken for granted in suburban and rural settings, will become precious to homebuyers and assure higher prices, particularly for urban transplants.
Those buyers who purchase in the city will expect private terraces or roof decks, parking and — in the best of cases — individual elevators or scheduled individual elevator rides for access to their residences.
As a child of the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s, I would never have assumed that a backyard or a driveway would be termed “luxurious.” Every house in my subdivision had both — they were standard issue.
With the current fear of infection and constant concerns about health, a public or school playground that’s crowded with playmates and equipment that’s accessible to everyone, raises concerns for some parents. It’s better to keep children separate in private family spaces with amply fresh air and sunshine — at least for the time being.
Something as simple as a washing machine, an outdoor space of any size and parking is now at the top of the list for my city buyers. Urban public transportation is viewed with skepticism, despite precautions by both local government and ridership.
Traffic feels very heavy in cities as more people isolate in their individual vehicles to prevent infections. The use of cars requires parking, assuring that garages fill up quickly. Whenever I show an apartment in the city, one of the first questions buyers pose is about garages and street parking.
Prewar urban buildings that have parking garages, almost without question, do not include a parking space for every apartment. By today’s standards, each apartment would ideally have at least two spaces and some additional spots for visitors. Waitlisted parking is commonplace in urban buildings, although spaces for rent may exist at an inflated price.
My research for this article included a historical search of luxury real estate over the past three years. There is overlap from one year to the next, with location, obviously, being consistently high on the list.
Technology, energy efficiency, sustainability and green features, such as solar panels, have also remained as coveted characteristics. The most recent additions to the list of desired luxury features — no surprises here — include home offices, classrooms, exercise rooms and spa bathrooms (some with salons). There are also entertainment spaces, including home theatres, party rooms with bars and dance floors, and swimming pools (both indoor and outdoor).
Chef’s kitchens with warming drawers and wine cellars are expected in the luxury housing market. Sizeable pantries for adequate food supplies, larger and multiple refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers and prep areas are the answer to the lack of indoor restaurant dining. The food service industry will take quite a while to recover, and in the interim, home cooking has to pick up the slack.
Outdoor spaces in luxury real estate trend toward lavish patios and decks, which include outdoor kitchens and bars, and the attendant landscaping, lighting effects, artwork and sculpture. Large yards with playground equipment for children and putting greens for adults will suffice until health issues can be addressed safely with a vaccine. It would seem that luxury homeowners are isolating, but in fact, they’re just being careful.
At the very top of the luxury market, pets are given their own grooming and play areas. Adoption of pets took off during the pandemic, and now, provisions have to be made for this addition to the family. Pet playgrounds — some with water features for warm months — will be featured in higher-end luxury listings.
Playdates for Fido may still take place if research guarantees that pets do not spread the virus. The “doggy daycare” option will probably be less popular due to crowding and possible transmission of disease.
Despite the trend of wide, open spaces, air purification systems and ionizers are also in demand in big-ticket real estate. Homeowners can’t remain outside indefinitely. Less than ideal weather will drive individuals indoors where they require pure air.
Will each of these luxury features remain as real estate requirements indefinitely? There are, of course, no guarantees, and it’s always hard to predict how trends will appear 10-15 years from now.
Harvest gold and avocado kitchen appliances, once the height of fashion, now appear comical. Houses with huge home entertainment capability may well look equally foolish in the future. It’s wise to focus on the present and be aware of the public’s perception of health and safety.
Clearly, people can adapt, take precautions, work from home, and have food and other products delivered, which presents less of a health threat. However, for people who aren’t required to make concessions and are able to invest in luxury real estate, it’s wise to consider options that virtually ensure health and safety during these uncertain times.