We've burned up quite a few pages over the years trying to convince you to build homes for non-traditional households--emptynesters, singles, double-income professionals. The compelling evidence that we've always presented is that only 25 percent of U.S. households have children. So, the logic goes, why not build houses for non-family households, who actually account for the majority of potential buyers?

Well, now we're going to make the opposite argument. Because if you dig deeper into the 2001 Housing Survey done by the U.S. Census, you find that a full 41 percent of the buyers of new homes are households with children under the age of 18, a group that only makes up 24 percent of the general population. Many more new-home buyers, of course, probably intend to have children after they move in.

The bottom line: Don't ignore family buyers, who account for nearly half of new-home sales and seem pre-disposed to buy new. In that spirit, our show home venture for 2004 is an exploration of what today's family wants in a new home. Built by Pardee Homes, the Ultimate Family Home was designed by Bassenian/Lagoni Architects and decorated by Color Design Art.

The fundamental question

What draws family buyers to new homes? It probably starts with a contemporary floor plan, one that accommodates how people want to live today, not in the 1950s. A large family room, open to the kitchen, is a big part of that equation. So is a luxurious master suite and decent-sized bathrooms. The amenities in many new master plan communities--trails, parks, and playgrounds--are certainly a draw as well.

Our show home hits these hot buttons and many more.

Focus groups that we did with adults and children in the Las Vegas market told us that family life is barely under control. When asked for the one word that describes life at home, participants used such words as "hectic" and "chaotic." They said their house is always a mess; that they are overscheduled; that people are running in and out all the time.

We've given the fictional family that occupies our show home a home management center to try to take control over their lives. Located adjacent to the kitchen, this is a place to do homework, browse the Internet, and leave notes. We've also incorporated an extensive mudroom by the back door with hooks to leave backpacks and coats, a message board, and a cubby for the dog.

Something for everyone

When asked to describe what they liked best about the house they live in, most of the kids in our focus group talked about the backyard or the woods beyond the house. This show home has the ultimate backyard, complete with a water slide, open-air cabana, and a fountain to play in. Several kids described secret hiding places--in the attic, under the stair, or in the basement. The ultimate family home features a secret room accessible from a child's bedroom. The kids also got a third-story loft for playing games, both board and digital.

The design caters to parents. They wanted to spend quality time with their kids but also wanted space to get away from time to time. They can escape to a wonderful master suite with a retreat that also could be used as a nursery. The public wing of the first floor includes a formal living room for conversation and a library/office for study.

I've barely scratched the surface of all that's in this home. We hope you take the time to tour the home during this year's International Builders' Show in Las Vegas. You can get a sneak peek here. It will inspire you to take a fresh look at the features that you offer today's vitally important and ever-evolving family buyer.