Buyers today want smarter homes with fabulous features, beginning with the No. 1 request: a really great great room.

New home buyers are coming back, but they don’t want the same old McMansion. They want a house they can use.

That means a “great room” where everyone can gather, lots of storage space for big-box buys, “drop-off zones” for recharging smartphones and pet-friendly “puppy showers.” It means a home office actually designed for work and media centers made for play. It means big closets and little nooks.

These new homes combine practicality with the way we want to live now, builders say.

“We’re rolling out all new designs,” said Jeff Lake, national head of architecture for major builder Standard Pacific Homes, which has new tracts under construction in Rocklin and El Dorado Hills. “We completely re-did our entire inventory with a huge emphasis on design.”

These designs are the culmination of a three-year process, Lake said.

“We did a lot of research,” he said. “We studied how people actually live in their homes. We found they’re more connected than ever – and not just texting.”

They want to feel connected to their family as well as to their media, Lake said. In some places, including California, they also want to feel connected to the great outdoors with windows everywhere and patio rooms that look like their indoor counterparts.

“We realized it truly is different the way people live now,” Lake said. “(Buyers) are not as formal. They want life to be simplified.”

According to experts, today’s home buyers are much more budget conscious, a natural consequence of the recession. They demand more value per square foot. They’re not interested in rooms they will rarely use such as a formal dining room. Most of all, home buyers want a house that “works” for them.

“McMansions put a huge percentage (of square footage) into hallways and formal spaces that are used infrequently,” Lake said. “It adds up to a lot of square footage. We’re building homes with 1,000 less square feet but every room feels bigger because the house isn’t so cut up.”

A walk-through of new luxury home models in Rocklin, Calif., at Standard Pacific’s Manzanita at Whitney Ranch illustrates his point. Priced at $454,000 to $504,000, each home featured a mammoth “great room” combining a large kitchen with family, dining and living room space into one very large area without halls.

Great rooms are the No. 1 requested feature among current new home buyers, real estate experts say.

“Everybody ends up in the kitchen, so why not make room for them?” Lake said. “(Traditionally), most homes defined circulation zones with a lot of hallways. This gave us the opportunity to do something totally different.”

One kitchen/great room combo had a layout that could double as a small restaurant. The L-shaped area had space for three dining sets – one adjacent to the kitchen, another for more formal gatherings in the living area and a third near a media wall that could double as a game table. Separating the kitchen from the great room, a 14-foot island served as a buffet and breakfast bar. Every eating area could see the media wall, anchored by a 70-inch flat-screen TV.

Meant for entertaining, this great room can hold a crowd. At a recent community event, 75 people gathered in this space.

“And it still felt comfortable,” said Danielle Tocco of Standard Pacific Homes. “It’s the perfect kind of room for a large family.”

Said Lake, “Dining, cooking, communication; they’re all connected. We used to be more compartmentalized. Now, people want flow.”

New home construction is finally bouncing back after the recession. In 2012, new home sales increased by 67 percent in the Sacramento area compared to 2011, according to the Gregory Group, a Folsom, Calif.-based new home consulting company. In 2012, 2,782 new homes were sold in the four-county Sacramento region, up from 1,668 the year before.

Building and buying still have a long ways to go to catch up with the pre-recession boom. During the downturn, new home construction in the area fell to a 50-year low. At its peak in 2004, about 17,000 new homes were sold in the Sacramento region, said the Gregory Group. Annual sales for the past 15 years average 8,765 new homes.

New inventory and new designs can help lure buyers back into the market.

Alicia Eckman of Rocklin and her mother, Sylvia Vining, recently toured the Manzanita models.

“Builders are getting smarter,” Eckman said. “They think about everything.”

Besides the great room, the women pointed to other thoughtful touches such as mud rooms (some with a dog-friendly shower to wash dirty paws) and “drop zones,” located near the entrance doors and designed to encourage organization.

“It gives you a place to drop your stuff right when you walk in,” Eckman said.

“I like the his-and-hers (walk-in) closets a lot!” Vining added of the master bedroom.

“In my home, I have very little storage space,” Eckman said. “Everything is in the garage. I liked the upstairs laundry room with the storage right there (near the bedrooms). How convenient! Boom, it’s done!”

“I love the little homework area tucked behind the kitchen,” Vining said of a computer nook. “You can still keep an eye on the kids, but they can’t see the TV (in the great room).”

Other thoughtful highlights: A home office near the front door (convenient for deliveries) and state-of-the-art smart technology to keep the home running as efficiently as possible.

New homes have the space for everything but it’s a matter of how to use that space.

In 40 years, new homes have grown substantially nationwide. The average new home is 44 percent larger than one built in 1973, according to real estate statistics. Back then, the average new house measured 1,660 square feet. In 2007, the national average hit 2,521.

Although construction came to a virtual standstill during the recession, home size slipped only slightly. The average new house still measures 2,480 square feet.

A mid-size home is now considered anything between 2,500 and 3,000 square feet. According to U.S. Census statistics, about 20 percent of new homes fall in that category. Almost 20 percent fit the 3,000- to 4,000-square-foot range. Another 7 percent top 4,000 square feet.

The most popular new home size – 1,800 to 2,400 square feet – accounts for 27 percent of new homes, but that includes townhouses and attached dwellings as well as single-family homes.



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