Post-recession home buyers want practical, affordable designs and products that they perceive add value, a panel of industry professionals told attendees during an educational session at the 2011 International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Fla.

“The new buyer won’t accept what we did in the past,” said Tony Crasi, an Ohio builder with a degree in architecture. “And it’s not going back to the way it was.”

Many new-home buyers are in Generation Y, also known as the Millennium Generation or the Echo Boomers. There are 75 million people in this category, compared with 51 million in Gen X. Together, these two groups are larger than the baby boom population, said Dominick Tringali, a Michigan-based architect.

The panelists, which also included two Colorado pros—architect Anne Olson Postle and Lita Dirks, a model home merchandiser with national clients—recommended a number of products and elements today’s budget-conscious buyers are seeking:

1. High quality, but affordable value

2. Less square footage

3. Unique, but classic design. Tringali said one way to achieve this in the kitchen is by installing stock cabinets in varied configurations.

4. Outdoor living spaces

5. Flexible, multi-use spaces

6. Small but well-appointed foyers

7. Family entertainment rooms

8. Pet spaces for the dog bed, wash basin, or cat litter box

9. A main dining area and no breakfast table in the kitchen

10. Fun, practical rear-home entry spaces with hooks and cubbies. “That’s where people enter the home,” Dirks said.

11. Affordable lighting controls

12. Wood-look, low-maintenance exterior trim

13. Simple moldings with clean lines

14. A sitting area in the master bedroom

15. Art niches and sculpture shelves with accent lighting

16. Built-in recycling centers

17. Open shelving

18. Neutral paints that make rooms feel luxurious. “Paint is one the most inexpensive tools we have,” Dirks said.

These days, providing lower-cost, high-value solutions can mean the difference between staying afloat and closing up shop. “During the last 18 months, affordable details have kept us in business,” Crasi said.

Jean Dimeo is editorial director for Building Products and ebuild.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.