Home Trends 2010: ‘Don’t Call it a Basement’

First, some background:

The big trends in housing at the moment are being driven by technology, demographics, and economics (primarily, the Recession, and secondarily, energy costs).

Demographics: lots of upper bracket Baby Boomers — ages 50-65 and on the verge of becoming “empty nesters” — are suddenly finding themselves with too much house. Not only don’t they need 5,000 square foot-plus monster homes, but they don’t want the upkeep and property taxes that go with (see, preceding post).

The “Gen X” and “Gen Y” homeowners following immediately behind them are taking the hint, and opting for relatively smaller homes — say, around 3,500 square feet — that they won’t automatically have to downsize from.

More efficiently used space. The keys to getting by with a smaller house are making it feel bigger, and using all the space efficiently.

Towards that end, here’s what I’m seeing in upper bracket homes (with bits and pieces popping up in more modest homes):

–Higher ceilings. The beauty of a 3,500 square foot home with 10 foot ceilings (vs. 8′ or lower) is that it really is bigger — but the property taxes are the same, because the home’s “footprint” is unchanged.

–“Don’t call it a basement.” No, it’s not a basement — it’s a “(well) finished lower level.” Higher ceilings are showing up there, too, and make a huge difference in how the space looks and feels.

So do lower level heated floors; oversized, flat-panel TV’s (now de rigueur for high-end lower levels); lots of recessed lighting; and egress windows (I recently saw a lower level Bedroom with not one but two egress windows; the effect was stunning).

In fact, the only thing you won’t find in these deluxe lower levels is the laundry: that’s moved upstairs, to the first floor (or even the 2nd).

–More and bigger windows. Beside higher ceilings, the other way to make a smaller home feel bigger are more windows. The higher end, new construction I’ve seen the last year or so seem to have large, custom windows everywhere (energy efficient, double-pane, low-e — of course).

–“The Great Kitchen“: as I’ve posted previously, the pendulum is swinging back from completely opened-up “Great Rooms” to a hybrid I like to call “the Great Kitchen”: basically, a combination Kitchen – Family Room.

The (formal) Living Room and Dining Room are still there, just smaller.

Same Footprint, More Square Feet — part 2.

Of course, the other way to squeeze more finished square feet under the same roof is to tackle the space . . . under the roof.

A homeowner in my neighborhood just added dormers to their third level, presumably adding another 1,000 square feet-plus of finished space (I haven’t seen the inside).

Besides the extra space, the dormers give the home another great amenity: views of Cedar Lake!

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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