The real estate market is no longer stalled, but homeowners are much more likely to work with what they already have. And the homebuyers that are house shopping are making more informed choices. For owners and buyers alike, the focus is on quality, sustainability and comfort. These aren’t new concepts, but they’ve become far more important as people are tending to stay home.
“Quality never goes out of style,” Beth Fore stated. She’s Vice President of Operations & Sustainability at Cablik Enterprises, an Atlanta contractor and custom homebuilder. She said that most of their renovations are in the $100,000 to $300,000 range.
“We do things like whole house renovations, master suite additions or adding on to existing homes,” she explained. “Our clients love their homes’ locations and want to make the most of what they have.”
Fore mentioned one specific job where the homeowners bought an Intown mid-century home in their desired neighborhood and then completed a whole-house renovation to open it up and modernize it. They also added a significant amount of sustainable/green features.
Another Intown renovation focused on turning an unfinished attic into a master suite using the EarthCraft Renovation program. The program allows homeowners to improve their building and indoor air quality while making structural changes; EarthCraft certification involves a third-party verification process.
President Alan Cablik listed some of the green, cost-effective features that customers ask for. “Wallpaper-ish textured backsplashes, knock-off brand quartz countertops, Energy Star appliances and local-sourced custom-built cabinets that are comparably priced to European made prefab units are all popular,” he said.
Cablik Enterprises Project Manager Wes Blackburn pointed out that people also like the alternate fuel fireplaces, cork flooring and tile that mimics wood.
Warner McConaughey, Owner of HammerSmith, Inc., an Atlanta award-winning design-build firm, reported that homeowners are spending money on the places that they use the most – kitchens and master baths. “People tend to live in about 30 percent of their homes and that’s where they’re willing to put the money, especially in the kitchen where they eat, live and entertain every day.”
McConaughey added that he’s been getting a range of work – some clients are scheduling projects for $20,000 to $40,000, while others are doing much larger renovations in the $200,000 range. A lot of his work involves creating places where people can spend time with friends or the kids can hang out, like finished basements or outdoor fireplaces. Formal dining rooms and foyers have become far less important.
“The trend now is for things to be understated, not very flashy. But the work should not be cheap or breakable as there’s less of a disposable mindset,” McConaughey said. “Often, clients spend their money on a feature that’s important to them and they can get a lot of use out of. Rather than an impressive shower, they’ll want one good quality handle/spigot, or a high-end range instead of a redecorated kitchen.”
Some of the hot trends for the kitchen are high-end cabinets, solid-surface countertops, subway tile and hardwood flooring, with more color and darker finishes. While individual preferences may vary widely, having a home with a style that’s consistent from the curb to the backyard has become very important.
“The kitchen island is back, as is the open floor plan that connects cooking, dining and family room,” said Heather Shuster, Project Development Director at Renewal Design-Build, an Atlanta Top 5 Remodeler. “Every homebuyer wants a well laid out home with a unified style and tone.”
She pointed out that homebuyers are more educated on trends and design ideas since the popularity of HGTV and websites like houzz.com and pinterest.com.
“Our work focuses on Atlanta homes built from 1900 to1960, so most have out-of-date finishes and layouts,” Shuster explained. “Almost every large project involves creating a kitchen that connects with some family space as well as access to the back yard.”
While they often work on converting basements into finished space and adding screen porches, the most common remodeling requests at Renewal Design-Build continue to be kitchens and bathrooms. “We’re seeing fewer requests for tubs in the master bath,” Shuster said. “A great walk-in shower and adequate counter space are far more preferable than a tub that’s seldom used.”
She also reported that separate home offices are no longer desirable since wireless technology and portable devices allow homeowners to take office tasks to any part of the house at any time.
“Kitchens are definitely a focal point and people spend a lot of time picking their features carefully,” said Sam Bass, Vice President of Sales & Marketing with Arcadia Homes, a company that’s building new construction townhomes at three Intown locations including The Reserve at City Park. The community is just off Peachtree Road on 26th Street and offers three- and four- level homes with two and three bedrooms for about $300,000.
According to Bass, homebuyers are opting for high-end cabinetry with design details and a complementary look for the island. For example, they may choose a cream color for the main cabinets and then a darker tone, like espresso, for the island’s countertop or base.
He said that what it comes down to is that people want to personalize their homes with quality and they’re willing to pay for it. Ceramic tile backsplashes are popular in the kitchen, and hardwoods, in particular, are a feature that’s in demand.
“I haven’t met anyone who didn’t like hardwoods in their home,” he chuckled. “Most of our homebuyers at The Reserve at City Park are looking for trim details like crown molding and wainscoting, especially on the main floor. And flooring is a hot button, like good lighting and plumbing features in the kitchen and baths.”
A key aspect to comfort is convenience, and Melanie Burruss, New Home Specialist with Rockhaven Homes, said that the buyers she works with are looking for key lifestyle conveniences, including mudrooms, keeping rooms and media rooms to make their homes more functional.
“Rockhaven’s clients are typically not first time homebuyers and they have very reflective, personal tastes that they want to incorporate into their new homes,” she explained. “High quality finishes are a must, which often include site finished hardwood floors, eight-foot doors, marble or travertine surfaces and upgraded trim packages.”
From a design standpoint, Burruss said she gets frequent requests for large master bedroom closets, over-sized pantries and open living spaces. Upgrades and additions include high-end appliance packages and outdoor living spaces such as screened porches or sunrooms. Finished basement areas are another key request that buyers make during the building of their new homes.
“Still, the most important feature for the homebuyer today – and always – is location. Our premium locations for new construction homes is what allows us to be successful in today’s market,” Burruss stated. “We currently have more than 20 homes and/or lots to build custom homes on inside the perimeter with prices ranging from the $600’s to the 2 millions.”
Is there any advice for homeowners who are considering a renovation of their home? Whether planning to sell or stay, Shuster advised that value will be found in a good design, maintenance-free materials and timeless finishes. She cautioned homeowners not to take on a big remodeling project in an attempt to sell their home, since there’s no way to know what a buyer will actually like.
McConaughey added, “I often suggest that people check what’s on the market before putting a lot of money, like $100,000, into renovations. There may be a home they can buy for less than they’re spending remodeling. But I also tell them that I can change anything except the neighborhood and the neighbors. In the end, that’s a lot of the reason that people choose to stay and fix up their home – they like the neighborhood and the schools.”