What's hot, what's not in housing

What's hot in new homes? Fewer walls, more toys.

Buyers are looking for open spaces in the main area of the home with oversized kitchens that flow into large family rooms. When it comes to the master bathroom, buyers are looking for a little luxury.

"We're basically seeing larger kitchen areas and more open floor plans with vaulted ceilings," says Dick Koestner, a regional vice president with the National Association of Realtors and partner in Koestner McGivern & Associates in Davenport, Iowa.

Buyers want something "far less formal and far more celebratory," says Ron Phipps, a regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors.

Living rooms are going the way of the powder blue tuxedo. "The real formal living room is gone," says Joan Isgro-Grant, an affiliate of Weichert Realtors in Kingston, N.Y.

Homeowners are also demanding more for the money. And with lower interest rates, they are not afraid of buying more home. "What they look at isn't the cost, it's the monthly payment," says C. D. Boring, president of RE/MAX Realty Plus in Sebring, Fla.

That translates to higher-grade appliances, more wood, more tile, more solid surface countertops and more designer touches in mid-priced to high-end homes.

"It amazes me," says Phipps, president of Phipps Realty and Relocation Services in Warwick, R.I. "Even in modest homes, you have much more money allocated for cabinets, countertops, appliances and raw space."

Homeowners may be eating out as much or more than ever, but they are using their kitchens to entertain and as a gathering place for the family. As a result, "builders are putting more money in kitchens," says C. Kent Conine, president of the National Association of Home Builders, an industry trade group.

Likewise, the master bathroom is the place they get away from it all. "It needs to be large and needs to have a feeling of luxuriousness -- and high quality," says Dan Lee, vice president with First Weber Group Inc., in Madison, Wisc. "Natural light is important, too."

Here are some of the most popular new home features:

First-class kitchens. "They are really tricking out the kitchens," says Sean Degen, vice president of architectural services for Pulte Homes Inc., which builds everything from $100,000 houses to those priced well above $1 million.

The amenities will vary, depending on the price range. But look for solid surface counter-tops such as Corian, granite or marble. Also hot: professional quality appliances -- side-by-side refrigerators and stoves with more than four burners or smooth surfaces with no burners at all -- and cabinetry in maple, cherry and birch as builders try to tap "the wow factor," says Conine, president of Conine Residential Group in Dallas.

But the space also has to be practical, says Lee. Buyers "are looking for the design of the kitchen to flow. It has to make sense."

Home office space. "Media rooms and home offices are probably the two most desirable amenities right now," says Conine. With an office, buyers are looking for "something pretty generic, so they can customize it to their own tastes." But touches like window seats and built-in bookshelves are always appreciated.

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