10 Real Estate Predictions for the New Year

RISMEDIA, December 22, 2010—The start of a new year is often a time of reflection, as well as a time of anticipation for the future. It’s no different for real estate professionals, many of whom have weathered the recession and are now optimistic about 2011. From the return of new construction to the creation of healthier homes, the following are 10 residential real estate trends they see for the coming year:

1.) Building is back: After three years of little to no new development, John Wozniak of Wheaton, Illinois-based J. Lawrence Homes said the builder is excited about 2011. “After a couple of very challenging years, the market for new-construction housing is showing signs of life. Slowly but surely, homes are selling and new properties are breaking ground, such as the two communities we opened this year in Lynwood and North Aurora,” he said. “We’ve had encouraging sales and I believe they point to an uptick for 2011.”

2.) Apartments continue to thrive: If there has been one bright spot over the past few years in the real estate industry, it has been the rental market.

“People have realized the many benefits of renting, from having more flexibility with your housing commitments to a higher level of finishes and amenities. And, this demand will continue to outpace supply,” said Steve Fifield, president of Fifield Cos. “Appraisal Research reports that Chicago’s Class A downtown apartments are at a nearly 95 percent occupancy rate, and those numbers will continue to stay very strong for 2011.”

3.) Opting for established: The mega-communities in the exurbs are a thing of the past, said Brian Brunhofer of Meritus Homes. Instead, 2011 will see builders move toward smaller neighborhoods or pockets of homes in established communities. “Close-knit communities with respected homeowner associations, mature landscaping and neighbors waiting to greet you – that attractive quality of life is going to appeal to buyers much more in 2011.”

Seconding the movement toward established communities is Jeff Benach of Lexington Homes. “Buyers are looking for a safer investment for their home purchase,” he said. “We won’t see them roll the dice like in the past on a fast-growing town in a far-out suburb. They want a proven area with access to retail development and employment corridors. They don’t want to wait for the surrounding area to be built. They want everything already in place,” he said.

4.) Make it modern: Chalk it up to “Mad Men” or simply a pendulum swing in taste, but either way transitional and warm-modern design will be prevalent in 2011, said Brian Goldberg, a partner in LG Development Group. “Our clients are looking for a cleaner approach to the style of their homes – more mid-century and less traditional with a warm and tailored aesthetic,” he said.

Ray Hartshorne, principal of Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, agrees. “From the single-family side, our clients are gravitating toward modern design instead of strictly traditional, that is simple, clean line exteriors and open floor plans that are comfortable for the family and versatile for entertaining,” he said. “In the multi-family sector, now more than ever, we are seeing an interest in contemporary-themed and luxurious interior design for lobbies and common areas.”

5.) Buying for the long term: The Census shows the average person moves about 11 times, but Jim Chittaro, president of Smykal Homes, predicts that number will slowly decrease. “Thankfully, the idea of a home as a short-term moneymaker is essentially gone, so when people do buy, they’ll do it with the intention of staying put for closer to 10 years rather than two to three,” he said

This means people will be studying floor plans more closely, to ensure the home will grow with them, Chittaro continued. “Buyers want to be sure the home will suit their needs not only now, but down the road, whether they plan to expand their family or prepare for kids to leave the nest,” he said. “Floor plans that can adapt to lifestyle changes with flexible features like second family rooms should do well in 2011.”

Brunhofer agrees that more buyers will be looking for a home for the long haul. “It’s not just floor plans that buyers are going over with a fine-tooth comb,” Brunhofer said. “Our buyers are very careful about school districts. They want to know they can send all of their children to a school with a proven track record and not have to relocate a few years down the road to ensure a good education.”

The shift to long-term buyers will also put long-term builders in the spotlight. “People are hesitant to buy a home from a builder or secure a mortgage from a lender they don't perceive to be well-established,” said Benach. “Buyers want to know their builder is committed to them and the community, and that it’s not about making a quick buck or boosting a shareholder’s financial interest. That personal connection is really important.”

6.) Upping the ante on amenities: In 2011, developers will continue to create new and exciting amenities to differentiate their properties and keep them relevant in the marketplace, said Tony Rossi, president of RMK Management Corp. “Renters are looking for something special, like an outdoor grilling area or special events like dance lessons,” he said.

But it’s not just enhanced outdoor spaces in apartments that will matter in 2011. Benach thinks condo and townhome buyers will also place a higher importance on outdoor space in the coming year, especially those who live in an urban setting.

“People may realize they don’t need to live with as much square footage inside their home, so to compensate they’ll want a place to call their own outside their home,” said Benach.

7.) High-tech takes over: Running your home entertainment system, appliances and lighting from a centralized control panel is old news. Going forward, we’ll see more homeowners want a smart phone app that can control their residence remotely, noted Goldberg.

“Each year, the demand increases for home technology that makes homeowners’ lives easier,” he said. “We’ll get to a point, and some of our clients are almost there, where homeowners can leave work and by activating an app on their phone have all of their home electronics queued up when they walk in the door – the oven is preheated, lights come on and a TV show turns on when motion sensors recognize they’ve walked into the room. It may sound like a movie, but some of this technology we can build into homes now.”

8.) Smaller homes stay the course: The average size of a new home decreased for the first time in decades from 2008 to 2009, and that trend will continue into 2011, said Benach.

“This trend is fueled by first-time buyers with smaller budgets, requiring smaller homes,” he said. “New buyers will have to be more conservative with their mortgages and will need to pay a higher percentage for a down payment, which means they’ll need a home with a smaller price,” he said. “People won’t be buying more than they need. So to meet their needs, we’ll see builders continue to trim the size of their homes and look for new ways to make square footage work harder.”

9.) Green and gorgeous: As the green movement continues to grow, high-end builders and developers have found ways to make homes both green and gorgeous. “The old mind set was that a green home couldn’t also be stylish and sophisticated. It was as if the two concepts were mutually exclusive,” said Hartshorne. “But new products and forward-thinking design have proved that today’s homeowners can have both. Also, building a green home doesn’t have to break the bank. We are constantly being introduced to attractive, sustainable building materials that are more cost effective than in the past.”

10.) Healthy homes: When you consider a study by the National Institutes of Health that found the number of people with allergies is as much as five times higher than 30 years ago, the trend toward building homes with a healthier environment will also gain ground in 2011, said Goldberg.

“Indoor air quality, low VOC paints and adhesives, and all-around healthier materials are becoming more and more of a concern for people building homes – especially for those with children,” he said.

Rick Croce, from Wheaton-based Smykal Renovations, said this trend applies to existing homes, too. “Due to the economy, many people have decided to stay put in their existing home, which means they’ll be investing in changes to make it look better and live healthier,” he said. “We expect to be pricing out more jobs that include installing HVAC systems with better filtration, using low-VOC materials and even replacing old doors and windows to safeguard against exterior pollutants.”