Trends in US New Construction Homes (1976-2016): What Characteristics do we Value Most?

As a homeowner or potential home buyer, keeping track of the current trends in new construction is just plain common sense. With a better knowledge of what buyers want in new homes, it is easier to determine how to make an existing home more attractive or make an informed purchase. After all, even people who do not plan to sell anytime soon make improvements, and they want to ensure a good investment. How might homeowners look to patterns in new construction to determine their next big project, and how might home buyers use this knowledge to pick out the right home? These are just guidelines, of course — the best home is one that fits a household's needs the most, and that should not be discounted.

Air Conditioning: Everyone Likes to be Cool

The technology for air conditioning has been around for many decades. However, it took quite a while for the preference for this home feature to become the norm for new construction. In the 1970s, a little less than half of new homes offered the cooling technology—by 2016, 93% of new homes came with air conditioning. Home buyer preferences are clear: Buyers want to feel that sweet, sweet chill, with all the dehumidifying benefits that central air conditioning also provides.

Central air has the benefit of effective cooling at virtually any high heat, without the view obstruction of a window air conditioning box. Santa Barbara homeowners who lack central air in their homes might consider having it put in. Homes that already have central heating can usually sustain central air without a lot of invasive installation work.

Bathrooms: The 1.5 Is a Dying Breed

The idea of the six Brady children fighting over access to a single bathroom is a concept that began losing popularity rapidly in the 1970s. Decreasing from 40% to only 3% in new homes in just 42 years, builders hear buyers loud and clear. These days, home buyers looking for a viable space tend to look at homes with 1.5 baths about as they would bell-bottom jeans and a tape deck: outdated and out of sync with the modern household. People who want to impress might consider at least two bathrooms, and potentially more if it makes financial sense.

Homeowners should also understand how bathrooms are typically classified for real estate purposes. A full bath has a toilet, sink, shower, and tub (often a prefabricated shower/tub combination). A three-quarter bath may have a toilet, sink, and shower. A half-bath, sometimes called a “powder room,” only has a toilet and a sink. New homes often offer a half-bath for short-term visitors, plus a full master bathroom and a full second bathroom for any other inhabitants.

Bedrooms: 3 or More, Skewing Toward More

The average household size has decreased somewhat since the 1970s. Although fewer members in a household puts less pressure on bedroom size, home buyers still expect to have plenty of rooms to spread out. Decades ago, homes with three bedrooms made up about two-thirds of new homes. Nowadays, the average new home is almost evenly split between three and four bedrooms—but it should be noted that the four bedroom home has doubled in its distribution from 23% to 46% while the three bedroom home has lost ground.

The number of bedrooms plays a significant role in a home’s appraised value, so homeowners should carefully consider any upgrades that might influence the number of bedrooms. Adding a bedroom onto a home may cost a lot of money, but it may help smaller, older homes to compete on the current market. Although some regional trends encourage people to consolidate small bedrooms into one larger room with a walk-in closet, this might not be the most practical investment for most homeowners.

Exterior Materials: No Wrong Answers?

A proper exterior for a home is so dependent on the climate and weather of a particular region, not to mention the style preferences of the area. Wood used to be more popular, but with a more complicated upkeep, newer homes are less likely to use it. The introduction of vinyl siding in the 1990s made it one of the most likely choices, due to its relatively minimal cost and decent lifespan. Brick is still a strong contender since it is easy to maintain and looks great, but generally requires a larger initial investment. Fiber cement is steadily growing, since it is hardy and can mimic other siding types. In the right climate, stucco is an ideal choice that can last a lifetime. Since there are so many fair options, homeowners should look at trends in their area to get a better sense for which exterior might yield the best long-term return on investment.

Other Impactful Improvements to Consider

Maintaining a home’s relevance often focuses on large factors like the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. However, there are also a number of other improvements that can really help keep a home feeling fresh. When an appraiser looks at the value of a home, they often consider its actual age in relation to its effective age among many other factors. Making periodic upgrades to the interior and exterior may dramatically decrease a home’s effective age, helping homeowners match the benefits of new construction.

Roof Repair or Replacement

Putting in a new roof is a way for homeowners to quickly and significantly update the quality of their home’s exterior, although it does require a bit of an investment. Investing in new roofing could generate a return on investment of around 70 percent. A newer roof may not need replacing, though. Repairs can often make a big difference to buyers if there are any signs of damage. A damaged roof poses all kinds of problems to homeowners, so having everything in order before listing can really streamline the selling process.

Flooring Update

Solid hardwood flooring may be the option of the day for most midrange or luxury homes, with an ROI around 70-80 percent. However, it is not the only choice. Those who already have hardwood floors may give them a new life by sanding and refinishing them. For more affordable updates, wood-appearing flooring, such as laminate or luxury vinyl plank may be an attractive alternative.


As a practical way to preserve a home’s value over time, periodically repainting the interior and exterior is a common-sense choice. Interior paint is an inexpensive improvement that can shave years off a faded room and give it a new brightness. Exterior paint can help to extend the lifespan of the home’s siding, depending on the type. This attention to the structure can give homeowners an opportunity to freshen their homes to currently trending colors. 

Minor Kitchen Update

Kitchens tend to be one of the first places a home shows its age. As such, the kitchen is a great place to focus home improvement efforts. Getting new appliances will help the space maintain its usefulness, and countertops in a popular material give an instant update to the whole room. Cabinets may not need to be completely replaced—painting and possibly changing the cabinet doors could be all that is needed to complete the package. 

New Windows

Anyone who has old windows might be shocked to learn that new windows look and feel extremely different. New windows in vinyl will often recoup about three-quarters of that expense in a higher resale value, and their added curb appeal cannot be understated. Homeowners that would rather not replace all their windows at once might just have them repaired, or replace them one or two at a time.

Curb Appeal and Landscaping

Curb appeal relates to the attractiveness of a home's exterior and its landscaping, and is quite important when it comes to selling a home quickly and for the right price. ROI will vary from project to project, but almost any fair effort is likely to benefit. Trimming bushes, planting trees, and providing a general theme for the home and space makes the entire property seem more enticing overall. Choosing improvements for a home’s resale value does not necessarily have to be extremely costly. With moderate choices, homeowners boost their home’s appeal and its long-term value.

Keep an Eye on New Construction

As with all real estate trends, current homeowners and prospective buyers should keep their eyes open, but avoid acting too quickly. Those who are worried they need to get in with the tiny home trend might be able to remember when larger and larger homes were all the rage years ago. Fads come and go, and homeowners should not feel compelled to completely reinvent their homes every few years to suit what everyone else seems to be doing. Luckily, these trends have steadily evolved over the course of multiple decades, so they're certainly not a bad point of reference.

On the other hand, people who live in a home for many years will usually make at least a few improvements over that time. They should aim for upgrades with the longest staying power. Existing homes–even older ones–that offer many of the same amenities and conveniences that buyers of new homes receive will typically retain their value and sell faster when put on the real estate market, and new homes that conform to buyer trends will likely maintain their value better than ones that do not. When in doubt, look to the local competition for a few clues. After all, buyers have the final say in what improvements are most valuable.

Homeowners generally want to keep a home that would be easy to sell if need be. However, they should also remember that the best homes have well-reasoned and practical upgrades, rather than simply all the improvements possible. People who are planning to sell a home within a couple of years might ask a local real estate agent for the best ways to invest their money for a future benefit. Similarly, home buyers will want to look for a home that will give them the most for their initial investments — and, whether it is a new home or an existing one, they should make sure it fits their lifestyle and makes them happy.

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