Selling a Home in 2015: Does Your House Have the Right Stuff?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to selling a home, though, a little outside feedback can help you determine just how appealing your property is.

The National Association of Realtors took a survey of home buyer preferences, and this feedback can give you some guidance abut the marketability of your home. Is your property likely to be considered a universal beauty, or is it the "quirky" type that appeals to more um, unusual tastes? Understanding just how closely your home matches the mainstream can help you formulate your selling strategy.

What Buyers Want in 2015

Here are some of the prominent survey findings about what people want when they buy a home:

  1. Number of bedrooms. Three is the most popular number here -- nearly half of all homes sold in the survey had three bedrooms.
  2. Number of floors. You might think bigger is better, but most buyers prefer everything to be on one floor. Just over half of the properties sold had one level, compared to 41 percent with two floors.
  3. Garage. People increasingly view this as a necessity. Three-quarters of the homes sold had a garage.
  4. Multiple bathrooms. Waiting in line has become passe. Most homes sold these days have at least two bathrooms.
  5. Basement. Though it need not be a completely finished space, most of today's buyers are looking for some form of basement.
  6. Central air conditioning. Central air topped such other popular features as cable/internet readiness, granite counter tops, and hardwood floors on the list of in-demand amenities.
  7. New kitchen appliances. The popularity of air conditioning is not surprising, especially in some parts of the country, but don't overlook the importance of new appliances. New appliances tied with central air as the feature people were most often willing to pay more to get, with 69 percent saying they would shell out more for each feature.
  8. Laundry room. The humble laundry room can also get people to pay more for your home. In fact, 63 percent of buyers said they would pay more for a home with this feature, a higher percentage than for dens, family rooms, dining rooms, or living rooms -- though it might be that people think of those rooms as "standard," rather than viewing them as extras.

Know Your Audience

If you are selling a home that does not conform to the most popular choices, don't despair. The survey also highlighted some of the ways preferences differ depending on the audience:

  1. Repeat buyers prefer newer, bigger homes. First-time buyers bought homes with an average of 1,745 square feet, and the average year built was 1990. Repeat buyers upped the average size to 2,000 square feet, and the year built to 1998.
  2. Buyers of previously-owned homes demand fewer bells and whistles. Insecure about your lack of trendy features like granite counter tops, kitchen islands, and stainless steel appliances? Don't feel too bad -- people looking at previously-owned homes expect those features far less often than those looking at new homes.
  3. Southern buyers can be the most demanding. It's not surprising that central air conditioning is more in demand in the South than in any other region, but so are walk-in closets, new kitchen appliances, and en suite master bathrooms.
  4. Single men want more than single women. Single men are more likely than single women to demand walk-in closets, cathedral ceilings, and kitchen islands. (Perhaps they are looking to impress someone.)
  5. Single women want to avoid stairs. What most men probably don't realize is that one way to impress a single woman is to not make her walk up stairs. Single women are far more likely than single men to prefer a one-story home.
  6. Married couples tend to want more than singles. This isn't just a matter of trying to accommodate two sets of preferences -- married couples tend to demand features like en suite master baths more often than either single men or single women.
  7. People with no children are more than twice as likely to buy a single-level home. This was the biggest difference in preferred features between buyers with children in the home and those without.

Apply Your Knowledge

So what do you do with this knowledge? Short of bulldozing your house and building an everyman's dream home, here are some ways you can apply this knowledge in selling a home:

  1. Valuing your house. Pricing is a critical part of selling a home, and comparisons with other properties that have sold recently in your area can help you set your asking price. However, those comparisons often don't go past the big obvious attributes like number of bedrooms and square footage. A real estate agent with extensive knowledge about your neighborhood can be a big help here. Drill down into the details like views, quality of construction, landscaping and the home's condition, and you'll see how well your house stacks up with nearby properties in terms of the features buyers want the most. Then you can be more precise in assessing the value of your home.
  2. Determining what to fix. You probably aren't going to add on a bedroom and a bathroom just to bring your numbers up to popular preferences. However, there may be some more manageable improvements, like installing air conditioning or updating appliances, which would be cost-effective in helping your home sell. As for bigger projects, contractors like to sell home improvements on the basis that they add to a property's value. Even if you aren't planning on selling your home anytime soon, the survey's insight into what characteristics are the most popular can give you a feel for how likely you are to eventually get something back for an investment in improvements.
  3. Targeting the right audience. Knowing whether the characteristics of your home will appeal most to men, women, or couples with kids can help guide you in where to advertise and how to word your ad.

Fortunately, the tastes of home buyers differ, so even if your property does not conform perfectly with the popular mainstream, you still have a good chance of finding a buyer whose preferences match what you have to offer. However, recognizing just how far outside the mainstream your property is can help you take the necessary steps to find that buyer.

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