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Personalize it: What Buyers Want in Custom Homes
California Builder Magazine • Nov/Dec 2004




"The typical Galli Heritage custom home contains "a boatload of electronics" and "miles of wiring," some of which might be fiber optic..."

- Garry Losk



atural materials, energy, high-speed wiring, and basements are among today's hottest trends in custom-built home design, according to architects and builders who construct such houses in California.

Custom-built home design trends are important because they give builders a valuable glimpse into what sophisticated, savvy - and oftentimes repeat - buyers want most in their new homes. Many, although certainly not all, of these trends also can be modified to fit a smaller budget of production homes. Therefore, all builders can benefit from information about custom-built trends, regardless of whether they build custom, semi-custom, production, or a combination thereof.

"We do a fair amount of custom homes, although our dominant work is in production homes. We're working on four custom homes right now. We use what we learn from them to bring into the production home," says Michael Woodley, president of Woodley Architectural Group in Costa Mesa.

personalize it  

What Buyers Want in Custom Homes



Back to nature
Perhaps the hottest trends in custom-home design is the use of natural materials - such as rock, stone, and woods - or artificial materials that very closely replicate the look of natural materials, according to custom-home builders. Natural materials tend to be more expensive than manufactured substitutes, but today's high-end custom-home buyers have budgets that can accommodate the extra cost.

"We are using a lot of natural stone and natural wood, and a lot of limestone. Stone is back because people can afford it," says Garry Losk, president of Galli Heritage, a custom builder in Burlingame.

Losk says some custom-home designs call for a stone carver to replicate a grand traditional fireplace, and at least one buyer traveled to Europe and brought back a grand fireplace mantel to be installed in a new custom-built home. He adds that antiquing is back in style as well.

"New is out, and old is in," Losk says.

Healthy houses
One trend that experts agree on is decidedly on its way out of style in custom-built houses is the movement toward environmental green building for the sole purpose of preserving Mother Earth. While air purification systems, solar-supplemented electrical power systems, new radiant heat technologies, and the like are much in demand, buyers typically want those amenities to protect their health and cut their energy bills, not to save the planet.

"We use a lot of air filtration and ionic or electronic air purifiers and incorporate that into the HVAC system. That's not new, but (the systems) are more sophisticated. You have the fresh air exchangers that tap into an electronic particulate ionizer, and it cleans the air for kids who have allergies or what have you," Losk says.

Homebuyers have become "a lot more conscious about health issues" in their homes and much more aware that some building materials can be pretty toxic," says Chris Satterfield, chief executive officer of Lifespaces Corporation in Nevada City. Health concerns are partially a result of publicity about stachybotrys, a type of mold that can make itself at home in some houses. Some buyers also express concerns about fiberglass, fluorocarbons, polyurethane, adhesives, and other building materials, according to Satterfield. Those concerns might prompt some builders to use alternative materials.


The original family TV room has matured into an adult lounge , complete with a martini bar, a large entertainment system, and comfortable seating for as many as a dozen or more people.


Wide open spaces
Large formal dining rooms are still very much in vogue, as are great rooms that replace the traditional smaller and separate living room and dining room, according to Woodley. He adds that energy-efficient heating and cooling is also a recent and important consideration for great rooms and other large spaces within the house.

"(Buyers want) a lot of drama in the dining room because they entertain. They want informal spaces and formal spaces. They want the kitchen and dining area or family room to open into a great room," he says.

Wired at home

The typical Galli Heritage custom home contains "a boatload of electronics" and "miles of wiring," some of which might be fiber optic, Losk says. Every house also has a smart panel that can control the distribution of audio, video, telephone, and Internet services throughout the rooms within the house. Front door security cameras are in demand as well, particularly among residents who have to lock-and leave-their residences because they are vacation or second homes that are not occupied year-round.

Satterfield also says custom-built houses today are "wired to the hilt to keep up with the technology," even when wiring may not be needed upon occupancy.

"Otherwise, you are going back two or three years down the road and putting in T# wiring when you could have put it in when you built the house. Even if it's not for immediate use, they are keeping it there for the future," he says.

Personal peeks
Custom-home buyers are "not bashful" about their preferences in their bedrooms, bathrooms, and other private living spaces, according to Woodley. That means custom-home designers, architects, and builders sometimes find out more than they really want to know about buyers' personal lives.

"The master suite is interesting," Woodley says. "There is not really one trend, but you get some pretty wild (requests).

"We are doing one custom home where (the buyers) each have their own bathroom. Jokingly, I said, 'You don't want to see each other until you are dressed, right?' And they said yes. So, they have completely separate bathrooms. His has a huge shower and a urinal, and it's like a guy's gym; and hers is completely different."

Separate bathrooms for children, as well as for adults, are now common in custom-built homes, according to Losk.

"Every bedroom has its own walk-in closet and bathroom. We don't do the Jack-and-Jill thing anymore," he says.

("Jack-and-Jill" refers to a floor plan that has one shared children's bathroom between two children's bedrooms).

Laundries get respect
Master suites with bedroom-sized walk-in closets and separate secondary laundry facilities also make the list of custom-built home trends. An overwhelming 95 percent of respondents in a National Association of Home Builders consumer survey last year said they wanted or required a separate laundry room in their new home.

Laundries are now located adjacent to kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms. Some even have crown moulding and hardwood or tiled floor to match the adjacent rooms, according to NAHB Remodelers Council.

Going underground
The need to maximize the use of space without constructing an illegal McMansion on a too-small lot has created a basements craze in California houses. Below-ground rooms are common in other parts of the country, but traditionally have not been a feature of homes in California.

Homebuyers today are willing to pay for a basement because an extra 3,000 square feet can be added to the house if the extra square footage is underground, Losk says.

Land is a critical factor in high-end, custom-quality home budgets due to a scarcity of lots large enough to accommodate such residences, according to Kurt Nelson, vice president of JCC Homes, a high-end homebuilder in Torrance. As a rule, the land cost is extremely high in areas of Southern California that are attractive to the target buyer.

"When the lot could cost you several million dollars you have to choose your projects very carefully and then you control your design and construction costs in order to be competitive," Nelson says.


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