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If there’s one thing that’s constant, it’s change. This has never been more apparent than over the last year. For real estate agents, the early pandemic period required gearing up for virtual meetings, open houses and showings, and moving business processes and transaction management online.
Now, everyone is trying to stay steady in the face of unprecedented low inventory and high demand in every sector of the residential market.
As we all know, though, nothing stays the same, and the post-COVID market appears to be coming up fast, with more than 130 million doses of vaccine administered at the writing of this article. How can you adjust for the days ahead and determine what buyers will be looking for this spring and throughout 2021?
We looked at data, talked to trend-watchers and asked agents across North America for their best insights to help you keep abreast of what’s now, and what’s next, in home décor and design.
Highlights from the HomeLight Top Agent Insights Report
HomeLight’s quarterly report included a number of relevant trends and must-have design elements that will be useful as you help your seller clients prepare for the 2021 market and help current homeowners figure out how to optimize their spaces for the days ahead.
Here are the trends HomeLight’s poll of 1,054 agents across the country identified as particularly important right now.
After a year spent cooking at home, more homeowners have brushed up on their culinary skills. Now they plan to upgrade their kitchens to match their newfound passion for sourdough and TikTok pasta recipes. They’re looking for additional storage space for newly acquired mixers and bread makers as well.
Regional differences prevailed, with Western and Southern markets more focused on aesthetics, and Northeast and Midwest markets more focused on smart home technology and lighting.
Bath upgrades reflect the fact that everyone is home at the same time. That’s probably why a double-sink vanity was the No. 1 most desired feature on buyer wish lists in the HomeLight survey.
In addition, upgraded showers and added storage were top-of-mind along with heated flooring for Northeast and Midwest buyers.
Outdoor living is one of the most important upgrades for homeowners and buyers throughout the country — though the particular features they’re looking for vary. Firepits were the most popular upgrade in the Northeast and Midwest, while those in the South Atlantic were looking for screened outdoor spaces.
In the South Central and Pacific regions, year-round outdoor kitchens were the most desired enhancement to outdoor living. For those living in the Mountain region, shaded and covered outdoor spaces reign supreme.
4. Energy efficiency
HomeLight found in its survey that homeowners are seeing massive spikes in their utility bills and usage, making energy-efficient home upgrades a major focus.
In the Pacific region, solar panels are a favored upgrade while in other markets windows, increased insulation, and energy-efficient systems and appliances are favored projects.
Insights from The Plan Collection
According to The Plan Collection, an online resource for home design and floor plans, homeowners and buyers are looking for home design that is expansive, versatile, and comforting. Their designers have identified the following trends that are poised to take over post-COVID:
1. Goodbye, open concept. Hello, multifunctional spaces!
Instead of the wide-open spaces we’re used to, home design plans are now focusing more on self-contained “flex” spaces designed to provide additional space and privacy. These can be used as needed for home offices, remote learning and active play spaces like playrooms, gyms, and lounges.
Along with these multifunctional spaces, homeowners are leaning toward multifunctional furniture designed to do double duty. “For example, when a home includes both an eat-kitchen and a formal dining area, a family can replace an expansive dining room table with a drop-leaf option to make room for a reading nook or office space,” according to Plan designers.
2. Double kitchen islands
Plan identified double kitchen islands as a trend to watch, even in smaller spaces. These provide additional storage and versatility, especially in homes where the kitchen may be in use while family members are also working remotely or completing classwork for online learning.
According to Plan, double islands make it possible to abandon the traditional kitchen table in favor of a more flexible secondary space.
3. Expanded garages
Plan found that garages can work in a variety of ways as natural gathering places that are sheltered but still allow plenty of outdoor access and fresh air.
Newer garages often have hobby or workshop space built in, offering plenty of space to work on everything from gardening to building projects. In addition, a garage space is an excellent alternative for outdoor entertaining space in inclement or chilly weather.
4. Activity spaces
Flex spaces dedicated to the kids, including “kid nooks” nestled in small corners of the home, offer both the privacy kids need along with the ability for parents to keep an eye on them.
Parents are turning little-used formal dining rooms, open loft spaces, and small office spaces near the kitchen or mudroom into child-friendly spaces with plenty of school and craft supplies. This offers kids a sense of independence and ownership, and teaches them valuable organizational skills in a manageable space.
5. Enhanced accessibility
Plan identified enhanced accessibility for wheelchairs and elderly residents as an important potential trend. As more families choose to keep elderly parents with them in the home and the large cohort of baby boomers choose to retire in place and stay in their family home, there will be an increased need for spaces that are easier and safer to navigate.
Wayfair Professional Design Trends to Watch
According to Rebecca Breslin, design manager for Wayfair Professional, “Our homes have been our sanctuaries, offices, schools, and everything in between for the last year. When thinking about renovation, homeowners are looking for creature comforts, soothing spaces, and design details that speak to their personal taste.”
Here are the design elements she sees on the horizon.
1. Matte treatments get their time to shine
Breslin and her team have seen a “steep rise in popularity for matte black fixtures and finishes.” They are also looking at warm pops of color in matte bathroom and kitchen finishes, including matte brass light fixtures, matte colored vanities, and warm porcelain tile in baths.
2. Industrial design gets a warm upgrade
While Breslin says that industrial design is still popular, including open shelving and metal accents, it has been made cozier with warm woods, earth tones, and warmer metals like bronze.
3. Pattern mixing gets extra playful
Pattern mixing involves choosing a bold pattern, then layering in more subtle patterns in complementary colors along with natural textures like wood and stone finishes.
For example, homeowners may want to choose a bold patterned tile or wallpaper then add a finer pattern on the floor, plus a textured light fixture and accents with pronounced wood grain finishes.
4. Smart Appliances
Breslin says that smart features can be added at a reasonable price, including touchless kitchen faucets, which is a popular upgrade. In addition, smart refrigerators with family hubs are in demand both for their energy efficiency and convenient apps like a family calendar, shopping list or photo display.
Ask an Agent: The view from the markets
According to Antoinette Fargo, creative director and co-founder of Southern California design collective DOORA, the key to design today is function and purpose. “Multi-use spaces and multi-functional furniture allow you to maximize each space and each piece,” she said.
Fargo finds that some homeowners are looking for simple ways to move from open-concept floor plans to multiuse spaces that can be used for work, exercise, a guest room or playroom as needed.
These may include adding bookcases or French doors to divide spaces while retaining an open feel. Here are some boots-on-the-ground observations from agents and brokers across North America:
Heather Unger, broker-owner, LemonTree Realty in Orlando, Florida
Unger sees buyers looking for spaces that are flexible yet provide a sense of sanctuary. She sees a larger demand for “wellness spaces, a place where you can work out, practice yoga or meditation.”
Jolyn Hall, associate, Schmidt Realty Group Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
While in the past homeowners may have thought of their home as a stopping point between work, school and activities, “as priorities change, there seems to be a movement to a deeper pride in homeownership,” said Hall. “Home may now be where you spend more time than work, so there is a willingness to invest in making it a wonderful space.”
Hall says that homebuyers are thinking about their outdoor space as an option for a variety of uses. “Can they work from their laptop in the backyard? Can they host friends for an outdoor social gathering?” she said.
She also believes that there is an “underlying feeling of needing to be prepared for another lockdown” so buyers are focused on how they can “safely continue social connections.”
Katie Grimoldby, global real estate adviser, Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty in Seattle, Washington
Along with the need for larger homes with more outdoor space, Grimoldby sees an increased focus on durability, since indoor spaces and furnishings are being used more than ever. She sees this reflected in increased home values as well.
“We’re seeing people willing to spend more money on a home because of the increased amount of time being spent there,” she said. “The second home market is increasing as well, as people need a COVID-safe place to escape from the city, and vacation travel declined so much during the pandemic.”
Bob Bradley, real estate agent, Real Estate Establishment in Orange County, California
Bradley said that more homeowners and buyers are putting money toward upgrading their home office for the long haul. His market has seen increased demand for both home renovations and upsizing to accommodate newly expanded work-from-home needs.
“We have also seen an uptick of ADU builds on existing properties that are being used as office space,” he said.
Matt Bigach, co-founder, Nexus Homebuyers in Knoxville, Tennessee
According to Bigach, the trend he is seeing most is “remodeling previously wasted space into an office, meeting room, or reading room.”
In addition, he is seeing additions and extensions on homes with sufficient lot sizes. This is especially useful for accommodating increasing space needs and those multigenerational families that are choosing to stay together longer.
Jordan Miller, marketing manager, Calico Corners in Sarasota, Florida
Miller sees the following trends in her home design and decor store:
- Natural Materials: “Bringing in elements of nature such as wood, greenery, and stone can help to pull components of the outdoors into your living space. These elements can add layers of texture and depth to any room.”
- Houseplants: “Houseplants have gained popularity and make it easy to add natural greenery to your space. Many houseplants even help to purify the air in your home.”
- Traditional comfort: “As expected, comfort in the home is more important now than ever. You don’t have to sacrifice style for comfort in your living space. Find a balance between functional and stylish by integrating overstuffed furniture, slipcovers, and comfy sectionals into your home.”
- Cottagecore: “Also known as ‘grand Millennial style,’ cottagecore has quickly gained popularity in the interior design world. This means that traditional styles like wicker, needlepoint, antiques, and ruffles are the new sought-after aesthetic. Cottagecore is all about comfort and coziness within the home — think ‘grandma’s house’ but chic. This is the perfect opportunity to give new life to a family heirloom or vintage piece of furniture.”
Justin Fichelson, co-founder and CEO, Avenue 8 in California
Fichelson sees a move from cold to warm, inviting living spaces, especially in luxury and ultra-modern interiors. “Something as simple as the interior finishes people are seeking and updating their spaces with — less black or white marble, metal, steel and glass and more natural materials like wood. This aesthetic is being sought out and built by top developers.”
Janice Costa, president and founder, KB Designers Network in Bethpage, New York
Costa identified a number of design trends — both aesthetic and functional. “We saw how air purification was incorporated into retail establishments, restaurants and office buildings and we’re realizing that they can add value to the home as well. Water purifiers, low or no-VOC products, showers and tubs with spa-like features and appliances that help us eat healthy (and take off that ‘pandemic 15’), like steam ovens, will likely see continued growth moving forward.”
In addition, Costa has seen a return to color, with “no more designing for resale.” She said that people want their spaces to reflect their own taste and who they are, not to live in a space designed for “some future buyer — and I think that will continue to be the case, as color reflects optimism, and as the vaccine becomes more readily available and COVID numbers trend downward, we’re seeing more optimism.”
Anne Rainey Rokahr, owner, founder and lead designer, Trouvaille Home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Rokahr has also seen an increase in the use of color “and a less hesitant attitude to decorating with bold prints and more maximalist tendencies.” Trouvaille’s luxury fabrics and wallpapers are selling better than more moderately priced options. Rokahr attributes this to both “increased expendable income and a new appreciation for the fleetingness of life and of things.”
“Clients are no longer settling on neutrals and noncommittal patterns because they are fearful they won’t still like something more definitive 10 years from now,” Rokahr said. “They want to enjoy what they love now.”
Minette Schwartz, The Schwartz Team at Compass in Miami Beach, Florida
Schwartz says that although work-from-home is going long term, “people still want to ‘go’ to an office.” She sees a demand for space with no distractions and no background noise.
“Some luxury buyers are purchasing or renting studio or one-bedroom units in their buildings to have a completely separate office setup,” Schwartz said. “Those living or looking for single-family homes are gravitating towards offices built out in a detached garage that feels more separate from the rest of the home.”
In addition, according to Schwartz, “butler kitchens are making a comeback.” This helps to control the messy look of an open kitchen, which is often central to the open concept living space. “With butler kitchens, you can make breakfast or lunch and not notice the mess.”
Angel Nicolas, founder, The Nicolas Group at Compass in Miami, Florida
According to Nicolas, there is still a lot of uncertainty and many homeowners and homebuyers are making decisions with an eye toward the possibility of another pandemic down the road.
He sees luxury buyers gravitating toward outdoor and play spaces “where their families can be entertained safely should there be another stay-at-home order, including home theaters and elaborate kids playrooms. Private gyms with personalized equipment are non-negotiable for many.”
Ellen Schwartz, associate broker, Compass in Westchester County, New York, and Fairfield County, Connecticut
Schwartz sees homeowners and buyers with a new appreciation for their homes and a desire to optimize their spaces. She is seeing Zoom rooms, home offices, gyms, spas, libraries and pools, along with “permanent tent structures for COVID-friendly home outdoor dining” plus outdoor features like fireplaces and pizza ovens. “Homes are now offices, restaurants, and entertainment centers,” she said.
Christy Murdock Edgar is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.