What First-Time Home Buyers Really Want

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Among first-time home buyers, a laundry room ranked as the most popular of the more than 200 home and community features listed in the recent NAHB study, What Home Buyers Really Want, 2021 Edition.  The study is based on a nationwide survey of 3,247 recent and prospective home buyers, including 541 who bought, or were about to buy, their first homes.

Among other things, the survey asked these first-time buyers to rate over 200 home and community features using the following, four-tier scale (which emphasizes how a feature influences the buyer’s purchase decision):

The chart below shows the ten features “most wanted” by first-time home buyers, based on the percentage of buyers rating a feature either desirable or essential.  At the top of the list according to this metric is a laundry room, rated essential or desirable by 83 percent of first-time buyers, followed by a ceiling fan and exterior lighting, each rated essential or desirable by 81 percent.

Four of the features most wanted by first-time buyers are kitchen features: a double kitchen sink and walk-in pantry (each rated essential or desirable by 80 percent of first-time buyers), drinking water filtration (78 percent) and table space for eating (77 percent).  Two are outdoor features: a patio (rated essential or desirable by 78 percent) in addition to exterior lighting.  Rounding out the top ten are hardwood flooring for living spaces on the main floor (80 percent) and security cameras (78 percent).

The list of features most wanted by first-time buyers is similar to the list for home buyers in general, although buyers in general tend to give the features slightly higher ratings.  A laundry room, for example, is number one on both lists, but is rated essential or desirable by 87 percent of buyers overall, compared to 83 percent of the first-timers.  The ratings of many features tend to be positively correlated with income, and first time buyers have somewhat lower incomes (a median of $65,000, compared to $79,000 for home buyers in general).

The most noticeable difference between the features most wanted by first-time buyers and buyers in general, however, is the absence of energy saving features on the first-time buyers’ top ten list.  Among buyers in general, ENERGY STAR rated windows ranked as the #4 most wanted feature and ENERGY STAR rated appliances ranked #9.  A front porch also made the top ten list among buyers in general.  On the other hand, drinking water filtration, security cameras and a kitchen table for eating failed to make the top ten list for buyers in general.

In addition to the features first-time home buyers really want, many readers are probably interested in the features they really do not want.  The chart below shows the 10 most unwanted features based on the share of first-time buyers rating a feature “do not want” (i.e., a first-time buyer is unlikely to purchase a home if it has that particular feature).

By this criterion, an elevator ranks as the single most unwanted feature, explicitly rejected by 46 percent of first-time buyers, followed  by a golf course in the community, not wanted by 42 percent.  At least 40 percent of first-time buyers are also unlikely to buy a home with glass walls or cork flooring on the main floor living spaces.

The ten features most unwanted by first-time buyers are nearly the same as the ten most unwanted features for home buyers in general.  The only difference is that “dual toilets in the primary bathroom” makes the most unwanted list for home buyers in general, and bamboo flooring does not.

In addition to first-time and repeat buyers, What Home Buyers Really Want tabulates all home buyer preferences by Census division, age, generation, race/ethnicity, income, price expected to pay for the home and household composition.  All these tables, along with an extensive write-up, charts, and a complete description of the survey methodology are available in the full study.



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2 replies

  1. FIRST time home buyers want a separate laundry room & walk in pantry, many rating as essential.
    Typically, these two items are found in larger homes because when you are building small, it’s difficult enough to fit the needed bedrooms/bathrooms and living areas, let alone extras like walk in pantry and separate laundry room.
    Most small houses have a laundry closet and no walk in pantry. This shows the disconnect between what first time home buyers actually want, what they say they want (most say they want a small house with “only the essentials”) and what they can really afford (wanting features typically in larger homes which they can’t afford).

    Goes to show you buying homes is emotional and not much logic to it.

  2. At the moment, first-time homebuyers want to know if they can actually find a house that they can afford. Many people are paring down that list of essentials just to get a foot in the door. A washer/dryer is non-negotiable, but dual sinks are not. Hardwood floors are a bonus, but engineered flooring is much appreciated, especially when renovating an older home. Ceiling fans can be installed at a later date, as can water filtration systems, outdoor lighting, and security. More important is that there be enough space, a good flow, a decent neighborhood…and that the home is affordable. The bells and whistles can generally be added over time.

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