The Housing Chronicles Blog: New homes to get less glitzy

Monday, February 18, 2008

New homes to get less glitzy

Starting around the late 1980s, I remember a distinct shift to homes that were meant to impress as much as house their occupants. What I dubbed "impress the in-laws foyers" meant sloping, volume ceilings that could accommodate sweeping staircases -- and never mind that such volume meant higher energy bills! During the 1990s, those 18-foot ceilings gave way to flat ceilings of 10 or 12 feet, but suddenly the attention became focused on kitchens, baths and flooring, which meant granite countertops (instead of tile or cultured marble), marble showers (instead of tile or fiberglass) and hardwood or tile floors (instead of carpet or -- say it ain't so -- linoleum!). Everyone, it seemed, wanted their own McMansion well before previous generations had been able to do so.

But the boom in luxury was also expensive to support, which led to people buying homes they really couldn't afford. So now builders are looking to a return to value and convenience, which isn't to say luxury won't be around -- it'll just have to be functional as well. From a story in the WSJ, which also offers specifics on new products for the home:

As the housing downturn enters its 30th month, glamour is giving way to pragmatism and innovation -- though not always to bargain-basement prices -- at the annual International Builders Show in Orlando, Fla. Some 1,900 exhibitors at the five-day show last week displayed products that will soon appear in model homes and stores.

With the recession odds getting surer, glossy granite countertops, six-burner trophy stoves and giant hot tubs are getting less notice. Detergent-dispensing washing machines, leak-resistant faucets and unpickable locks are generating buzz. Attendance at the show this year is expected to be off from 5% to 15% compared with 2006, when a record 105,263 builders, remodelers and others showed up, according to the National Association of Home Builders, the event's sponsor...

But showy new products won't lead the way out of the downturn, says R.L. Brown, a housing-market analyst in Phoenix. "The way to go is the other way," he says -- reducing home sizes, building efficiently and getting rid of "gadgets and gimmicks." John Hutchison, a Fairhope, Ala., builder, agrees. "My customers want better prices, not higher-end products. People are looking for value."...

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