Home became everything when stay-at-home orders were issued in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Americans’ attitudes about their present and future home needs continue to transform in the months since then.
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, spearheaded the America at Home Study at the end of April to shed light on Americans’ appetite for home purchases, how they feel about and live in their current homes, and what changes they’d like as a direct result of sheltering in place.
The team collaborated with Kantar, a leading data insights and consulting company, and integrated its MindBase consumer attitudinal segmentation to do a second wave of the survey in three phases in October, with results analyzed and published in November.
“The second study was issued to see if people’s impressions and feelings of home have changed over the past six months as we continue adjusting to life in a pandemic,” says Slavik-Tsuyuki. “We expanded the choices in some of the questions based on learnings and insights gathered since the first study, specifically health, wellness, and new-home shopping behaviors, and how they may have changed. We can confidently report that most of the changes we saw are indeed sticking, and responses from the new questions we asked are strong, insightful, and reliable.”
The findings from the second wave survey—nationally representative of 3,935 U.S. adults ranging in age from 25 to 74 with a household income of $50,000 or more per year—underscore a radical shift in how Americans want to live in their homes.
In the first America at Home Study as well as the follow-up second wave survey, the idea of “home” resulted in the same top responses: a safe place, family, and comfort, respectively.
Wave two shows a 50% increase in homeownership from respondents who noted COVID-19 has sped up their pre-pandemic moving plans, which equates to a new-home demand of 3.15 million, according the America at Home Study team. Those who plan to move sooner also prefer single-family detached homes for their next purchase (87% in wave two versus 84% in wave one). In addition, those planning to stay in their current homes increased from 42% in wave one to 45% in wave two.
Current homeowners continue to adapt how they are living in their homes. Homeowners who had made changes to their garages and carports reported a noticeable boost in storage space between the two surveys (17% in wave one to 26% in wave two), and they reported an increase in home technology upgrades (18% in wave one to 29% in wave two).
The findings from both of the surveys shed light on what homeowners are willing to pay for in their current or new home: technology, better equipped kitchens, germ-resistant surfaces, more storage, and more adaptable spaces and flexible walls.
According to both studies, COVID-19 also has had an impact on renters’ attitudes, with 50% of respondents in the second wave survey more inclined to want to own a home, which is up 4% from the first survey and represents a potential new-home demand of 7.6 million. Renters who are more inclined to own also prefer single-family detached homes.
“Between both surveys, it’s clear Americans are transforming their present and future home needs and ideologies. The increased demand for new homes comes with a changing demand for what goes inside those new homes,” says Keenan. “Buyers want more storage space. They crave better technology. There’s palpable need for more multipurpose room and spaces that just work better. COVID-19 has made a lasting impact on the average American’s way of living. Builders, developers, architects, renovators, designers, and other home professionals can turn these new home demands into livable realities.”
The second wave of the America at Home Study dug even deeper, taking into account the number and ages of children in a household. For example, couples with children are the largest group of renters who now want to purchase a home (60% versus 50% overall). This group also reported wanting and willing to pay for a better home office, including one with a door and soundproofing.
Wave two respondents also weighed in on their most important wellness topics, led by financial well-being and emotional well-being (both at 83%), followed by mental health and engagement (80%), and physical health and fitness (76%).
Pandemic-friendly design and community features also are big factors for respondents when looking to buy or rent a new home. Topping the list of community features was nature and open space hikes and activities, which had been added as a new option in wave two. Additional community features seeing the biggest increases include dog parks (40% in wave two versus 29% in wave one), small neighborhood parks (47% in wave two versus 39% in wave one); and health and wellness clinics (46% in wave two versus 38% wave one).
“The integration of MindBase into this consumer study on changing attitudes toward home and lifestyle in the age of COVID will create a powerful segmentation tool for local and national builders, as well as master-planned community builders,” says Colleen Sharp, vice president of Monitor Analytics at Kantar. “This will help builders and developers respond to consumers’ changing needs by pinpointing their right targets, honing messages, sizing potential markets, and designing the right communities based on attitudes and values of their core segments.”
The America at Home Study team is taking its findings to the next level. The founders are teaming up with North Carolina–based Garman Homes, ranked No. 197 on the Builder 100 list, to build a concept home using insights generated from both waves of the study. Cecilian Partners, a customer experience company, will create new ways to demonstrate the home virtually to the public.
The concept home will be in the Chatham Park master plan in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is slated to break ground in January, while the online experience and virtual model will be constructed and optimized based on real-time feedback from prospective home buyers.
“The concept home, informed by the America at Home Study’s consumer insights, will bring all of our ideas together in a finished product. It’s exciting to put the ‘D’ into R&D and raise the bar for modern living,” says Slavik-Tsuyuki. “We’re thrilled to bring real-time consumer insights about home and community to the industry. It’s historically difficult to be involved in home building research and development, but with the America at Home Study, we know we’re onto something special that will drastically improve living situations for millions of Americans.”