Familiar cultural and architectural cues in new-home designs go a long way toward making a house feel like home for foreign buyers. Here are a few elements to consider.

Double-Master Homes

Studies show that home buyers with international backgrounds are more likely than U.S. buyers to group extended family members under one roof. This means American builders must offer layouts that can accommodate many generations.

Many builders report that foreign multigenerational households prefer floor plans with more than one master suite—usually one on the ground level and another on a second or third level—over homes with accessory in-law units, which are the preferred choice for American multigenerational households.

This divide in home preferences may stem from differences in cultural norms related to family and privacy. In a double-master home, all generations share the same common spaces, ideal for residents accustomed to sharing a home with their parents or children on a long-term basis.

“Many cultures have an expectation that parents will devote their lives to their children in every way. Education, culture, and quality of life for the children is job one. In return, as the children become self-sufficient adults and [as] their parents age, they take care of their parents,” says MBK’s Rick Fletcher. “This custom passes on from generation to generation. The multi-gen household formation has existed for centuries in Asian and other cultures, so an integrated home feels natural.”

On the other hand, in-law units usually include a separate entrance, garage, and kitchen area, with an interior door between the private part of the residence and main family home. This reflects a preference for private space and a desire for independence, and mimics the American norm of generations living apart.

“In America, this formation isn’t necessarily driven by tradition, it’s driven by financial need,” Fletcher adds. “Whether it’s aging parents or, more often, grown children who haven’t launched into the adult world, Americans tend to like their own space and privacy, so lock-out units or quarters better meet that need.”

TRI Pointe meets these style options in the middle with its “two-room suite”, where the secondary master suite has its own sitting room and en-suite bathroom, but no kitchen or exterior entrance.

City Homes, one of the most active builders of vacation rental homes in the nation, takes it a step further with triple-master floor plans. These are designed to accommodate travelers that are visiting the U.S. with their extended family, or with multiple families. City Homes’ foreign national buyer base varies from project to project, but ranges generally from 30% to 70%.

Common Areas

For certain groups of foreign buyers, the family kitchen is an important gathering area, which is why City Homes builds extra-large kitchens into its vacation homes. “Certain groups love larger kitchen table areas because their way of communication is with, for example, a shared meal. So we’re very cognizant of that,” says Jim Bagley, managing director and asset manager for City Homes.

In a similar vein, McLean, Va.-based Miller & Smith offers options that provide the flexibility to reshape common areas to buyers’ liking, including added ventilation or an extended kitchen island.

Feng Shui

For many buyers, the Asian art of placement is said to bring good health, happiness, and prosperity.

Feng shui involves a range of considerations from location, neighborhood, and lot placement to room, door, and window positioning.

Savvy builders with an Asian buyer base consider these principles when they design home plans. Houston’s CastleRock Communities, which has a 30% foreign buyer base, offers floor plans in which staircases are not oriented toward exterior doors. MBK Homes gives their site and floor plans to a feng shui consultant for review, and uses his or her input to minimize features that might not appeal to their target demographic such as a front/back door alignment or a sloping lot.

Home Lot Orientation

According to TRI Pointe’s Tom Grable, some foreign buyers in Southern California are very particular about the position of a home’s front door and whether the home is oriented from north to south or from east to west.

In vastu shastra, a traditional Hindu system of architecture, east and northeast-facing doors allow positive energy to enter a home, while entry from the southwest is forbidden. In feng shui, preferred orientations vary from one practitioner to another, depending on the desired flow of energy.

If the home’s lot orientation fits a certain demographic’s preferences, then TRI Pointe may charge a premium on that home—even if another home with a different orientation is situated on a bigger lot. “It depends on the buyer demographic and what they feel is important, whether it’s a north-south orientation or an east-west orientation,” Grable says. “If there’s going to be a higher demand with a certain front door orientation, that’s going to be priced a little higher [than a similar home.]”