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Home buyer tastes have shifted since housing bust

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The long drought of home construction is finally breaking.

Contractors built nearly 5,000 homes in the nine-county metro area last year, up 20 percent and the highest levels since the housing bust of 2007, according to the Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis. And through the first four months of 2014, construction is up 4 percent from last year.

Buyer tastes have changed since the drought set in. Here’s a rundown of what’s hot and what’s not in custom-home construction, defined by BAGI as priced above $425,000.

Kitchen nooks

Nooks are replacing what for decades had been a mainstay in scores of higher-end homes—the dining room.

What’s different now is the increasing use of open spaces in which a kitchen and nook, still big enough to fit a table into, are

connected and essentially one big area without a wall to differentiate a traditional dining room.

One of the main reasons for the change to nooks: Younger homebuyers aren’t interested in purchasing expensive dining room sets, said Joe Garcia, owner of G&G Custom Homes Inc. in Westfield.

“Why put that 15-foot-by-15-foot room in there when you don’t have the fancy furniture that you might only use twice a year,” he said.

Garcia was one of five custom builders featured earlier this month at BAGI’s Home-A-Rama in Westfield.

Homebuyers are opting for a nook that still enables them to entertain, in a more informal setting, by interacting with guests who might congregate in both the nook and kitchen.

“If you go to a person’s house for a party, everybody hangs out in the kitchen, anyway,” said Jay O’Neil, a real estate agent at the Indianapolis office of Encore Sotheby’s International Realty.

Walk-in showers

It’s hard to imagine a home without a bathtub in the master bathroom. But then again, how many people actually take a bath these days? So the master bath is undergoing a conversion from tubs to walk-in showers complete with built-in seats to relax the weary body.

“You still have the people that want the tub,” Garcia at G&G Custom Homes said. “But in the past, it’d be unheard of for someone to say, ‘I don’t want that master bath.’ Now it’s starting to become the norm.”

Indeed, part of what has kept homeowners from shunning the bathtub is the fear that the resale value of their homes would suffer without one.

But the luxury of walk-in showers is winning out. Some models even feature dual showerheads.

Complementing walk-in showers are coffee bars in the master bedroom, said Brad Kriner, president of Cincinnati-based Fischer Homes’ local division.

“People are retreating to their master bedrooms more and more,” he said. “They’re not just putting their TVs in the corner.”

Outdoor patios

Outdoor patios, in some form, have been a staple in homebuilding for years. But new homebuyers overwhelmingly are choosing them instead of screened-in porches, as patios are becoming more of an outdoor extension of the home.

The patios still may be covered, without the enclosed feel created by a screened-in porch, or a dining room on the inside of a home.

“Outdoor living spaces are becoming a lot more popular,” said Steve Hatchel, vice president of sales and marketing for Arbor Homes LLC. “It can be something as simple as a concrete patio, or it can be stamped concrete and stone, with a built-in gas fireplace.”

The key is having the additional space available without feeling confined, several builders said. Driving the trend to more open spaces, both inside and out, is an increasing preference to entertain in the home rather than stepping out—a result of the soft economy, they said.

Brushed-nickel fixtures and soothing grays

Brushed-nickel fixtures have been hot for some time, replacing the polished brass that was popular, especially in moderately priced homes. And gray is what taupe was 10 years ago.

Brushed metal has a unidirectional satin finish, which gives the metal a distinctive look to match kitchen appliances produced with the same method.

And the popular gray tones match the brushed-metal look better, said Craig Jensen, division president of Ryland Homes.

“Everything’s always been built around that beige-taupe color—the carpets, wall paints,” he said. “But today, it’s more the grays. They’re definitely the new beige of this century.”

Craftsman exteriors

Brick is still widely used in home construction. But builders are turning to different materials to help break up the monotony of neighborhoods that might fall prey to too many look-alike home designs.

Craftsman exteriors use less brick—maybe 3 feet up from the ground—accented by posts with tapered columns.

Cedar-shake siding is becoming big, too. Or cedar shakes can be used with brick and stone, perhaps on front gables, to break up a design.

“Today, you’re seeing a lot more variety as you drive down the streets of a community,” Jensen at Ryland said. “It’s really about the presentation and the variety.”•

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