Adobe Stock

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a series stemming from the follow-up America at Home Study, which was spearheaded by marketing expert Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki of tst ink, consumer strategist Belinda Sward of Strategic Solutions Alliance, and architect Nancy Keenan, president and CEO of Dahlin Group.

With the new year, are there impacts of life with COVID-19 we can expect to follow us into the design of new homes and communities? Which changes made in April are showing signs they’ll last, and which were reactionary changes to a challenging moment in time? To answer these questions, the America At Home Study, first conducted in April, just weeks after the stay-at-home-orders were put in place, was repeated in October/November with 3,935 respondents nationwide. New questions asked respondents what behavior changes they expect to continue post-pandemic.

In April, when asked what “home” means to them, 91% chose “a safe place.” In October, that same choice was still the top of the list, at 89%, with notable increases also in “freedom” (up by 13%) and “financial stability” (up by 8%). The data leaves little doubt that after months of hunkering down while living, working, and learning from home, many of the changes people have made to how they live appear to be sticking.

Majority of Pandemic-Inspired Behavior Changes Appear to be Lasting

The second wave of the study again asked people what changes they have made in their homes as a result of life with a global health pandemic, and asked them if they plan to continue the behavior long term.

“Disinfecting things more” remained at the top of the list at 59%, down from 73% in the April study. Fully 80% of all respondents said this is a lasting behavior, inspiring the design team at Dahlin Group and home builder Garman Homes to pay extra attention to the homeowner and guest entries to a concept home being built in Chatham Park, North Carolina. This long-term projected behavior change crosses generations, with 78% of millennials, 81% of Gen Xers, and 82% of baby boomers saying disinfecting things more will continue to be a routine part of life.

Some of the most creative changes made to how people live involve the garage. Data in the second wave of the study showed an increase in every one of the changes made to the garage, increasing the importance of this “utility” space. Not surprisingly, “additional space for storage” topped the list in both waves, increasing 9% between April and October. The changes made in the garage seem to be lasting too, but there were notable generational differences here.

Kantar, the world’s leading data and insights consulting company, collaborated with the team behind the study, integrating its MindBase consumer attitudinal segmentation into the October data, enabling deeper analysis beyond generational. For example, 27% of one millennial segment, the “Trailblazers,” made space in their garages for home gyms versus 15% of all other millennials, and 20% of the Gen X segment, the “Pragmatic Pathfinders,” turned their garages into home gyms versus 13% of their generational counterparts. Two boomer segments, the “Smooth Sailors” and “Compassionate Creatives,” had the highest percentage of people not making any changes to their garage. And for the boomers who did make changes, additional space for storage got the long-term nod by 89%.

Things Missing in the Home Respondents Are Willing to Pay For

A lot can be learned by studying what consumers say is missing in their current homes. The second wave of the America At Home Study asked them to react to the same set of factors as the first wave in April, and almost every factor rose or remained flat, some indicating more important areas of focus than others. Related to “safety” and the importance of hygiene, the desire for a laundry room off the garage rose 11% from April to October. With kitchens on the front line, having a dining room or dedicated eating area rose 7%, and a better equipped kitchen for cooking rose 5%, ranking as the second most desired feature after greater technology and energy efficiency.

Only one factor dropped in popularity between the April and October data—the desire for germ-resistant countertops and flooring—down 5%. While many are rushing to say antimicrobial surfaces were a flash in the pan in the early months of life with the pandemic, this was still the third most requested feature in the second study, with 50% of consumers saying they want it and are willing to pay for it. Coupled with the focus on the home as a safe place and a lasting focus on disinfecting things more, material manufacturers and builders will have an opportunity to offer this to select customer segments, particularly with millennials, who ranked it higher than other generations.

New Routines and Ways to Spend Time at Home

The new routines and rituals of life from home look different across generations.

From cooking more at home, Zoom holiday parties, and managing online learning to online ordering of virtually everything, the pandemic has accelerated many changes that were already underway. Many of these routines will undoubtedly ebb and flow as the pandemic does. Understanding these differences, coupled with new product preferences by generation, will help create new homes that reduce the pains causing friction and elevate the gains a new-home buyer is hoping for.

Millennials are the generation most focused on DIY home repairs and renovations. They are also the most tech-enabled group and the most likely to say they are spending more time ordering food or groceries online and streaming podcasts or sports, including learning a new skill or hobby. It’s no surprise this generation has the majority of school-aged children, and that has become a huge focus.

Gen X is the group most likely to say their new routines include working from home (50% versus 46% of millennials and 28% of boomers). They are also more inclined to eat together and spend more time exercising at home—likely with the extra time no longer spent commuting to work. The boomers surveyed are more focused than other groups on cleaning and organizing their home, plus spending time outside gardening or doing yardwork. They are also spending more time cooking and baking at home, at the same levels as their millennial children.

The second wave of the study also addressed consumers’ definition of “wellness” and their level of satisfaction with various types of wellness in their lives. While many claim “health is the new wealth,” understanding the nuance and effects of this will have impacts on both home and community design for years to come.