Today's homebuyers want it all.
Some items on the shopping list: a home in great condition with rooms that can do double duty. Areas that mingle indoor and outdoor living -- patios, porches, decks and outdoor rooms -- are always a plus. And so are those features that offer a little luxury, like garden tubs, first-rate appliances and high-dollar countertops.
"I think this year they're buying properties that are in good mechanical condition that have inherent value," says Ron Phipps, president of the National Association of Realtors.
But more than anything, buyers want to drive a hard bargain.
They want "great deals," says Patricia Szot, president of the MetroTex Association of Realtors. "And no matter where a seller prices their property, they're looking to negotiate."
Here are nine items popular with buyers this year.
Homes in Good Condition
Buyers demand homes that are well maintained, Phipps says. "There's not a lot of flexibility in that." The attitude is: "I'd rather spend the money getting into the house" and not have to spend more money later, he says. Buyers don't want an unknown expense hanging over their heads.
Pat Vredevoogd Combs agrees. "I'm not working with too many people who want a fixer-upper," says Combs, past president of the National Association of Realtors and vice president of Coldwell Banker AJS Schmidt in Grand Rapids, Mich.
One big reason: With most transactions, "buyers have limited amounts of cash," Phipps says. "Even if they want to do a fixer-upper, they don't have the money to do it."
"Buyers have enough money to buy," he says. "They don't have enough money to buy and improve. And the lenders make it really difficult."
Buyers "are more focused on negotiating, drawing limits in their mind and focusing on the strategy," says Justin Knoll, president of the Denver Board of Realtors.
Some of it is a point of pride, he says. "They want to tell their friends and family that they really got a smokin' deal."
They "want value," says Alice Walker, president of the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors. "They are very picky. They're just a lot more critical. They are not going to settle because they know they don't have to."
Her advice to sellers: Repair, update, clean and stage. "You have got to remove every obstacle possible for the buyers," Walker says.
The more-for-less approach even holds when buyers consider bank-owned properties, says Joan Pratt, real estate broker, Re/Max Professionals in Castle Pines, Colo. "They want the short sales and the foreclosures and they want them to look like they're owner-occupied," she says. "They don't want to paint. They don't want to put carpet in. They don't want to clean."
And they're surprised when they don't find it, Pratt says.
Outdoor Living Areas
"The thing that we've seen over the past couple of years is more outdoor living areas," says Laurie Knudsen, president of the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association. Some popular features: Screen porches, outdoor kitchens, two-way fireplaces.
"It's a selling point if a house already has it," she says. And "it's going to make it more competitive on the market."
Call it "Rock-bottom deals, part two."
Along with pricing, "it's all about incentives," says Mabél Guzmán, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors. To pique buyer interest, sellers offer everything from gift cards for new furniture and paint to financial assistance at closing.
Szot agrees, and laments that it's made the road more difficult for sellers.
"Not only are (buyers) asking them to lower the price, but they are asking for a lot more," Szot says. "So negotiations are a lot more difficult now."
Practical Green Features
Call it "Yankee frugality," says Phipps. But what he sees on buyer shopping lists is a home that is easy on the planet because it's easy on the wallet.
Buyers are looking for things like triple-glazed windows, high-efficiency boilers and energy-efficient appliances. "The buyer of today wants to make sure that the ongoing operating costs of the house are as controlled and economical as possible," he says.
Another popular item: nontech green features. Buyers are looking at the sun exposure in relation to energy efficiency, he says. And that's something that will vary with the area and region, he says. "In some areas, you want larger overhangs to minimize the sun," Phipps says. "In my area (New England), lots of windows on the southern side to maximize the sun would be smart."
"The wall between the kitchen and the family room is evaporating," Phipps says.
"The kitchen is becoming part of the gathering space," he says. "And it's ironic -- it's the way it was 300 years ago. We've come full circle."
Buyers like a material that looks or feels natural, even if it's not the genuine article, Phipps says. For example, "granite (for counters) is still popular, but it doesn't have to be granite," he says. "It can be stone, another natural material or something that looks like stone."
"We're seeing lots of different materials and lots of reusable materials, which is interesting," he says. "Also a lot of unusual uses of hardwood -- like pine flooring (reclaimed and) reused for counters," or terra cotta slabs -- beautifully glazed -- used for
Smaller, Less-Formal Homes
Buyers are buying smaller homes, but they want to be able to use and reuse every inch of space, Phipps says. "They are being much more strategic and efficient with how they use it."
Formal spaces that might only be used three or four times per year are disappearing. "The slipcover rooms are gone," says Phipps.
That's "led to a repurposing of space," he says. Formal living rooms have been added to great rooms or converted into home offices or entertainment rooms.
"Three to five years ago, if they could get a loan that would get them into a McMansion with stone and tile and brick and more rooms than they needed, they would do it," says Jeff Wiren, president of the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors. "Now they're saying 'I don't know if I want to heat that place and clean it.' They're being much more realistic."
Touches of Luxury
One example: coffee bars in the master bedroom. "It's like a butler's pantry in your bedroom," Pratt says. "An area for your coffee pot and accoutrements and a little fridge."
The feature has been popular, especially in high-end homes, for about five years, she says.
Another luxury touch: high-dollar finishes in less-expensive homes, Knoll says. Granite counters and stainless steel appliances, marble tiles in the bathrooms and vessel or undermount sinks continue to impress, he says.
Buyers also like "a living space where you can have barstools and do some entertaining," he says.
Says Knoll, "There is a sex appeal about housing, and they do get excited about those kinds of things."