Which are the top amenities area buyers look for in a house, whether newly constructed or previously owned?
It depends who you ask, and where. As always, location makes a difference. City buyers, for instance, hope a house comes with parking; suburban buyers expect it.
And while buyers everywhere want the outside of the house to look pretty, it's what's inside that counts for the most of them.
"Kitchens and bathrooms come to mind first," said Peggy S. Varani, vice president of new homes/estates for Coldwell Banker Preferred in Plymouth Meeting. "When we look at the money spent on options by new-home buyers, it's the kitchen, and it has always been that way."
So important are kitchens to new-home sales that, in a highly competitive market, amenities that were options in a developer's last community become standard in the newest community, she said.
Kitchens also are important to buyers of existing houses, but "while you expect you'll be getting a spectacular one if you buy new, you are not that sure when you are buying a resale," said Diane Williams, an agent with Weichert Realtors in Spring House.
"Resale buyers don't want to redo the kitchen themselves, because they don't have the time, and they don't want to deal with contractors and all the dislocation," Williams said.
What existing-home buyers also want are high ceilings, 9 feet or more - which is what they'll likely get in a newly constructed house, Williams said.
In the city, "if everyone had a wish list, it would be parking and outdoor space," said Joanne Davidow, manager of Prudential Fox & Roach in Rittenhouse Square. "If buyers come from the suburbs and can't get on-site parking, they'll settle on a safe place nearby."
Of course, 9-foot ceilings and hardwood floors are a big selling point in the city, too, "as is tax abatement, if what they are buying is in a renovated or new building," Davidow said.
Outdoor space might be a roof deck, or a small patio behind a townhouse, or a balcony in a high-rise close to a park.
And people moving to the city typically are looking for more than just a nice house: They want theater, restaurants, and other social amenities.
Although the supply of houses for sale has been contracting for a couple of months, it still exceeds demand in many parts of the region, so there is much more to choose from today than in the years between 2000 and 2005, when the situation was reversed.
"You hit resistance when you try to market a four-bedroom, one-bath house to any existing-home buyer," said John Duffy, owner of Duffy Real Estate on the Main Line. "They want more bathrooms, even if they are only two people, and they want one - half-bath or full bath - on the first floor."
Many older, smaller houses don't have first-floor facilities, and the expense of adding them often is greater than paying more for a house with a downstairs bathroom.
Other features found in newer homes - family rooms and dens, for example - also are sought after by people buying existing houses, Duffy said.
An older house with an open floor plan will sell faster than one with a traditional room setup, Williams said. An open plan tends to make a house appear larger, especially if rooms flow into one another rather than being divided by walls.
Some developers have tried to offer suburban-style living in older city neighborhoods. And in South Philadelphia, Westrum Co. has found plenty of takers.
"Older houses in the neighborhood don't have what new homes have by design," said Jim McAleer, Westrum's vice president of operations. "We are not offering a lot of additional space to people who have been living in 1,500-square-foot rowhouses, but a better and more modern layout that makes the best use of a reasonable amount of additional space."
Included in that package are energy efficiency and more bathrooms, and family rooms and basements for expanded living. Adding such features to an existing rowhouse often requires reconfiguring walls and ceilings for ductwork for air conditioning, relocating the soil stack to add a bathroom, and digging down into the basement floor to obtain enough headroom to create living space.
The result for Westrum has been that people who had moved to the suburbs from South Philadelphia have been lured back because "they can have suburban-style houses and South Philly at the same time and place."
Many veteran real estate agents and new-house salespeople say technology has made a huge difference in the wants and desires of all types of buyers.
"Technology has changed people's lives in a variety of ways," Varani said. "These days, people want kitchens with double ovens and dual-fuel stoves, refrigerator-freezers with room for keeping a couple of weeks of groceries, granite countertops, under-the-counter coolers, 42-inch cabinets, and plenty of storage.
"They don't want a plain old dishwasher," she said. "They want one that will load and unload itself, and even make you a cup of coffee."