BUILDERS WHO THINK THEY are creating homes just for baby boomers should take a closer look: A new report on Census information from the NAHB says that 55 percent of new-home buyers were born after 1965. Younger buyers prefer new homes.
The study divides these buyers into two cohorts. The first group, Generation X, was born between 1965 and 1979. The vanguard of this group were in high school or college when the first Macs and PCs were introduced, came of age when the Web exploded in the 1990s, and know who former MTVVeejay Martha Quinn is.
Those in Generation Y, often called the echo boomers, were born between 1979 and 1994. These are the kids who grew up on home computers, cell phones, video games, and iPods, so builders take note: Many of them are now entering the new-home market.
Here's the upshot: These are tech-savvy people who want access to technology for work, entertainment, and education on multiple devices—and in every room in the house. Use these tips to start plotting your response to this growing demographic.
1. MAKE HOME TECH STANDARD For builder Pete Harris, president of Harris Homes in Brentwood, Tenn., offering numerous home-technology features as standard helps him compete against the big builders in his territory that sell homes at similar price points, ranging from $495,000 to $700,000. Harris Homes will close about 35 units this year, and Harris says packing the houses with technology makes them more attractive to higher-end buyers. Some of them may have been shopping for a custom home, but realized they could get similar value at a much more reasonable price.
Every Harris Home comes with a Leviton structured-wiring panel that supports an Elan whole-house audio system and a media room with a fully loaded home theater, which includes a 92-inch Draper screen, an Infocus projector, a Denon receiver and DVD player, and a TruAudio 5.1 speaker system. Packing a house with technology increases the price of the house by about $10,500, but Harris says it helps him sell more because buyers appreciate how the technology is handled. “It's one less major decision they have to make, plus the technology adds to resale value,” he says.
Harris certainly can't compete with a custom home builder who might have a customer spend well in excess of $100,000 on home technology. But he does include custom-like technology features. For example, the music system and intercom in Harris homes are integrated so that whenever the telephone or doorbell rings, the system mutes the music.
“When you get a buyer who really appreciates all the technology options, it really seals the deal,” says Harris, adding that many of his buyers have relocated for work from California, Massachusetts, and Florida. “They tend to like the features when they see them,” he says.
2. HIDE THE PLASMA SCREEN In certain parts of the country, such as the East and West coasts, home buyers are telling builders that they want their living rooms back. For these buyers, the day of the trophy plasma screen may be fading fast. Products have hit the market that display the home buyer's favorite artwork or act as a mirror when the plasma screen is not in use, or that lift the television screen out of a piece of furniture at the end of the bed.
“People still want a killer plasma screen,” says Alan Beck, president of Advanced Tech Systems, a home-technology integrator who works with builders on move-up and custom homes in Greensboro, N.C. “It's just that the plasma screen is not the first thing you see if it's not in use.”