By Celeste M. Smucker – When it comes to home and garden, you can count on one thing. The new year brings changes in everything from floor plans and style updates to interior and exterior color preferences and cutting-edge technologies.
Home buyers and those thinking about remodeling an existing house can look online for trends and ideas and attend the annual Parade of Homes the first two weeks in October sponsored by our local Blue Ridge Home Builders Association (BRHBA).
In years past we could also stay up to date by attending the BRHBA sponsored Home and Garden Show in the spring. While that show, like many trends, is now a thing of the past, the good news is that come the first week of June we can attend a new version called The Festival of the Home, explained Jodi Mills with Nest Realty. The show will be located at the IX Complex near downtown and coordinated with the Farmers Market and will also feature a range of activities including some for kids.
Meanwhile, another source of information is remodelers, agents and others who work directly with new home buyers and those in process of upgrading existing homes to find out just what is in demand today.
Kitchens Feature Low Maintenance and Increased Convenience
We all have busy lifestyles, which may be why the demand for innovations that reduce home maintenance are popular. At the same time people appreciate the increased convenience and efficiency that come from clearing off counters and increasing kitchen work space.
Anna Posner with Southern Development Homes’ Design Center described low maintenance as the “biggest thing,” buyers say they want in their new homes.
Posner gave quartz countertops as an example of a low maintenance item that many buyers now prefer. Unlike granite, these countertops “don’t have to be resealed ever,” and people also appreciate that because quartz is man-made, they have more control over the color.
Another popular choice, Posner said, is “upscale” laminate. “It looks just like real wood, but it’s easier to take care of, just sweep and swiffer.” Also, when you drop something on these laminate floors, unlike what often happens with wood, you won’t see a dent.
Granite countertops are now a base option and expected said Joshua Batman, the Design/Build Director for Stony Point Design/Build. He agrees with Posner that quartz is a popular choice for an upgrade as is soapstone. Another product that people like is a variety of granite that has a more weathered finish he described as “more natural.”
Another kitchen time saver that is gaining popularity is the induction stove, Mills said, which is in demand thanks in part to its reputation for both energy saving and faster cooking times.
New home buyers and remodelers are also investing in ways to increase countertop work space, a trend consistent with demand for an open and uncluttered look.
Troy Yancey’s company, T.E.A.L. Construction does remodeling jobs in homes that range from new to historic. Lately he has helped homeowners move microwaves off counters and “hanging above” locations like over a stove to inside cabinets where they are less visible but still easily accessible. “Pull-out” trash cans that go in a cabinet are also “more prevalent” these days, he added, and are part of the trend towards opening up high traffic and work areas.
Other convenient kitchen innovations are lighting and outlet strips with attachments for iPads and other devices, Batman said. He also referenced “docking drawers” with USB chargers and other outlets that get your devices off of countertops.
Many older homes still have the once-popular Jacuzzi tubs in their master bath, but their owners find they rarely use them. In addition, these tubs are huge taking up lots of space that could be utilized for items more in keeping with the way people live now.
One popular update, Yancey said, is to remove the space-hogging Jacuzzi and increase the size of the shower from a three or four foot wide stall to one that is a generous five to six feet wide. Adding a double shower head and/or a double-bowl sink is also a popular part of this renovation. While some choose to add a stand-alone tub, many don’t bother Yancey explained, adding that “people are busier and no longer have time to soak in a tub.”
Another popular change for bath renovations is a separate small room for the toilet, sometimes called a water closet Batman said. He has also noticed the increased interest in stand-alone tubs and larger showers. Rain shower heads are popular he continued, while hand-held shower heads are standard in his company’s homes. There is a “high interest in aesthetics,” with many buyers wanting to be on the “cutting-edge” of things, Batman said.
While certain trends remain popular, there is growing interest in alternatives to what have long been taken for granted in the use of color and other home features.
“White still reigns supreme for cabinetry,” said Amy Hart with Albemarle Cabinet Company, “but sometimes clients will go with island colors like navy blue and darker shades of green, blue and grey.”
When it comes to countertops, Hart sees quartz, quartzite and marble, with “white and grey veined” being the most popular color choice. She added that “to warm up the kitchen, some clients are adding the warmth of a wood countertop to juxtapose the coolness of white and grey stone.”
“White subway tile with a dark grey grout is popular…and we see a lot brave clients who add pops of color with ceramic tile in the kitchen,” Hart said. Another trend is mixing open shelving in the kitchen with closed cabinetry. “This is a great way to personalize a space because it gives an opportunity for another wall color or texture to show behind the shelves.”
Of particular interest in our area is “many historic looks are being revitalized in every room of the house. This goes for tile (think marble basket weave or penny tile floors), polished nickel fixtures, ship lap on walls, and inset white painted cabinetry,” Hart said.
Batman described “open concepts,” as being in demand in new homes. However he cautioned that the “space washes out” when there is too much. To prevent that use “space within space” such as ceiling beams or built-ins to “meter the space.”
People who want to incorporate technology into their home have many options.
Thermostats that can be controlled from the home owners’ cell phones are a popular example, Posner said. She also described a SkyBell doorbell that contains a camera that will soon be an option for her company’s buyers. The device allows a homeowner to see who is at the door from their phone and let them in if it is someone they know.
“Home control systems are still not as intuitive as they should be,” Batman said, adding that some people are not comfortable with this level of technology. One problem in some instances is that the systems develop “learning patterns” based on usage and settings and in some instances are capable of doing actions the owners don’t like.
“On the other hand,” he continued, “there is a strong interest in this kind of technology” and many buyers really want it. For example, people in the downsizer market that are environmentally conscious appreciate the efficiency in these systems.
Demand for Green
“There is a much greater appreciation for environmental design,” Batman said, with the real benefit being efficiency. Many green innovations are more economically viable than previously, he continued, and often will pay for themselves in a couple of years instead of ten as once was the case.
“Buyers are more conscious of what is in their homes,” Posner said. For example they ask about things like low VOC carpet or use of solar panels, in which she has seen an increased interest. Her firm now partners with a solar company that evaluates buyers’ house plans and advises about solar panels and what they may expect in the way of energy savings.
If you ask buyers what they want, most will mention Energy Star Labels, remarked Cynthia Adams, CEO of Pearl, a home certification company. They also like programmable thermostats and lighting control systems. This is especially true of Millennials who like technology and are comfortable with it.
Adams reports buyers also want to know what they can expect to save from different technologies and whether or not the home has features that will improve the quality of their lives in other ways. For example, people with chronic conditions like asthma are especially concerned with what is in place to protect their air quality, Adams said.
Many sellers ask if they can include the value of green technologies when they sell their home.
This is where companies like Pearl—that provide “third-party certification of high-performing homes: homes with ‘performance assets’ that make them healthy, safe, comfortable, energy and water efficient,”—can help.
“Studies show third party certified energy efficient homes sell at a price premium – on average 4 percent more nationally.” Adams said.
Appraisers use these certifications to capture the value of green features into the appraised prices of homes, an especially significant benefit in our hot market where rising prices sometimes make it difficult to find appropriate comparables. The increased value provided by a Pearl Certification could make the difference between a home that appraises for the contract price and one that doesn’t, Adams explained.
Trendy features are not just for your home’s interior. There are also some exciting options, that Mills calls “crazy cool,” for the exterior as well.
For example, many downsizers moving back to town look forward to freedom from yard care, but still want outdoor living spaces featuring seating areas, fountains, plants, or even a stove, along with privacy. Even many condo dwellers prefer features like covered porches where they can enjoy container gardening along with the view.
Some container gardeners may take advantage of another trend, planting in troughs. These are an upscale version of those found on farms and may be of stainless steel or copper, Mills explained. Another popular accessory is a rain catcher she described as a series of cups for water to “tumble down” making a “wonderful sound.”
A type of outdoor space getting particular attention in our area is rooftop decks or terraces, in part because of our magnificent views, Posner said. “Instead of being on the ground level you are up above it all,” she said, adding that in some cases buyers are also opting for wet bars upstairs to accommodate those who are enjoying the view from the terrace.
If you are planning to update your home or buy a new one, take advantage of some of the life-enhancing new products and technologies now available, and for more information, plan to attend the Festival of the Home at the IX Building in June.
Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville.