"Must Offer" Features for Move-Up Buyers

By Rosemary deButts, Senior Consultant

To be sure you’re on top of current feature trends, offer your move-up buyers:

  1. Oversized kitchen islands
  2. Outdoor spaces, fireplaces, and kitchens
  3. Drop zones
  4. Glass panel front doors
  5. Dual shower heads

I visit new home communities a lot, primarily in the Mid-Atlantic region. I recently visited a new home project in Northern Virginia offering floor plans priced over $1 million. The sales manager there told me that 92% of her buyers purchased the same flooring the builder features in the model. I was shocked to learn it is laminate!

Recently, I’ve heard that brass fixture finishes are coming back. And, remember the “Pottery Barn” effect, the popular merchandising trend from several years ago? These days I keep noticing the “Fixer Upper”[1] effect in lots of model homes—barn doors, farmhouse sinks, white everything, subway tile, etc.

That got me thinking. What are the latest new home feature trends? What’s on the way out? What’s on the horizon? To find out, I asked home building experts in the Mid-Atlantic region what feature trends emerged over the last year among their own move-up buyers.

Want trendy? Offer oversized kitchen islands, outdoor space, outdoor fireplaces, and drop zones.

In today’s lingo, outdoor space and outdoor fireplaces are HUGE.

You can pay less attention to formal living rooms, carpet on the main level, and brick fronts. They all have the highest “trending down” scores.

What’s trending?

We asked respondents to rate buyer interest in each feature over the last year on a scale of 0 to 5 and tallied the average[2]. Polished concrete floors had the lowest average score (0.7), and oversized islands had the highest total score (4.4)[3].


Demand for brick front and farmhouse elevations is generally about the same as it was last year, but 50% of respondents see brick fronts trending down, while another 44% see an increase in demand for farmhouse elevations.

Demand for craftsman and urban brownstone elevations is also increasing (63% and 64% trending up, respectively).


At the top of our list, 89% of survey respondents indicated increasing demand for oversized kitchen islands. Quartz counters are also gaining in popularity—67% of respondents see demand for this alternative to granite increasing. (The popularity of granite counters is trending up slightly.)

Somewhat surprising, a larger share of respondents see demand for dark-stained cabinets declining (38%) rather than advancing (29%), while 77% indicate increasing demand for white cabinets.

Our respondents (37%) tell us that interest in veggie sinks is trending down, while wall-mounted range hoods are on the upswing (60%).


The popularity of standard gas fireplaces is mostly unchanged, but 26% of respondents recognize a downward trend. However, other fireplaces are trending up: 47% for linear and 80% for outdoor fireplaces.

Flooring and Walls

Of all features, carpet on the main level posted the largest number of “trending down significantly” responses (38%). In the current market, more respondents report interest in laminate on the main floor decreasing rather than increasing—but it’s a relatively small variance (34% vs. 28%). Hardwood on the main level is still the winner; 67% see demand trending up.

While most respondents think the popularity of ceramic tile on the main level hasn’t changed much, 25% see it declining and 20% indicate no interest at all.

Move-up buyers still love hardwood stairs, with 51% of respondents saying interest is trending up.

While 25% of respondents say buyers have no interest in shiplap walls, 50% indicate increasing demand for the feature. (As an example, I’ve seen shiplap on the backs of islands in some model homes.)

Door and Windows

Our survey tells us that there’s decreasing demand for colonial-style door/window trim and six-panel doors (38% and 41% trending down, respectively) but increasing demand for barn doors and glass panel front doors (78% and 76% trending up, respectively).


With a large number of “trending down” responses, buyers are losing interest in two-story family rooms (45%) and formal living rooms (78%).

On the other end of the scale though, demand is advancing for dedicated office space (67% “trending up”), dog wash area (44%), butler’s pantry (49%), drop zone (78%), homework station (65%), outdoor space (84%), outdoor kitchens (62%), and wet bars (36%).

Spaces with essentially unchanged demand but declining interest include two-story foyers and media/fitness rooms (53% “about the same” each) and formal dining rooms (47%).

Bath and Light Fixtures

Our survey revealed an equal number of respondents who said there is a slight increase in demand for brass finishes (24%) and there is no interest at all (24%), but 42% indicated demand hasn’t changed.

Buyer interest in brushed chrome or nickel finishes hasn’t changed, but respondents indicated increasing interest for oil-rubbed bronze and polished chrome finishes (45% and 38% trending up, respectively).

Another big winner: 72% of respondents saw demand trending up for dual shower heads in the master bathroom.

The kitchen still makes the largest positive impact on a move-up buyer’s purchase decision.

According to 61% of our respondents, the layout, features, and finishes in the kitchen are the most important factor in the buying decision. An open floor plan also ranks high.

Other features producing a big impact included customization, an elevator, the lot, the elevation, a large family room, dedicated office space, and a family living center.

Surprising, yes. Brass IS making a comeback.

We asked our survey respondents to tell us which features are making a comeback…that they never expected. The largest share, 50%, indicate brass finishes are gaining popularity. One respondent is even showcasing the “new” brass finish in a high-end model.

Another 17% mentioned white cabinets. Respondents also mentioned attic storage, formal dining rooms, painted brick exteriors, two-story foyers, and siding.

Summing Up: The Latest New Home Feature Trends

Quartz countertops are challenging the stalwart granite. White cabinets are coming back. Inviting outdoor environments continue to gain interest. Increased demand for a butler’s pantry was surprising. Buyers apparently love dual shower heads. And, the “Fixer Upper” effect is a real phenomenon; be sure to offer barn doors and farmhouse sinks even if you can’t figure out how to offer shiplap walls.

On the Way Out

Interest in brick fronts and dark-stained cabinets might have peaked. No one seems to want carpet on the main level and demand for two-story family rooms and formal living rooms is waning.

On the Horizon

Laminate flooring that looks like hardwood seems to make a lot of sense for some buyers; it is usually less expensive than hardwood, it doesn’t fade, it’s easy to clean, and pets won’t destroy it. Look for it to gain popularity.

We are in local markets evaluating and recommending new home products for our clients on a regular basis. In addition, we conduct a Consumer Insights Survey with 22,000 responses per year from active home buyers to determine what features they desire most. If you would like to discuss the results of our Survey or what we are seeing and recommending, we would be happy to chat.

[1] Popular HGTV show featuring Chip and Joanna Gaines from Waco, Texas.

[2] 0 = no interest at all; 1 = trending down significantly; 2 = trending down slightly; 3 = about the same; 4 = trending up slightly; 5 = trending up significantly

[3] The dark shading reflects the average score for each feature; the lighter shading indicates trends.


Rosemary deButts

Senior Consultant

If you have any questions, please contact Rosemary at (703) 955-3487 or by email.

Learn more about our research and consulting services.

Download a free chapter at

Recent Building Market Intelligence™


Building Single-Family Homes for Rent

by John Burns

Building single-family rental home neighborhoods seems like a great idea, until you run the math.

Read more


Competition Mounting as Community Counts Up 6%

by John Burns

Strong housing markets attract competition.
Home builder competition in the 33 largest markets in the country has increased 6% over the last year to 8,336 new home communities.

Read more


The Housing Cycle: Market by Market

by Rick Palacios Jr.

Where are we in the housing cycle? This, by far, is the question we get asked the most. It’s often framed with the metaphor of a nine-inning baseball game: What inning are we in?

Read more

Market Coverage



John Burns Real Estate Consulting, LLC | Privacy | Legal

Office locations across the country:
Atlanta, GA  |   Boca Raton, FL  |  Charlotte, NC  |  Chicago, IL  |  Dallas, TX  | Denver, CO  |   Fort Myers, FL   |  Houston, TX  |   Irvine, CA  |  Las Vegas, NV  |   New England  |  Portland, OR  |   Raleigh-Durham, NC  |  Sacramento, CA  |  San Diego, CA  |  Washington, DC  |  Wisconsin

Trusted Analysis for Executive Decisions.


Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.

"The content in this newsletter is a free service that promotes our firm's capabilities."

LEGAL NOTICE: The information in this transmission is or may be privileged, confidential (and/or copyrighted), and intended only for the use of the individual(s) or entity(s) named above. If you are not the intended recipient, please note that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or other action in reliance on the contents of this transmission is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you received this transmission in error, please notify the sender and destroy the original message and all copies from your system. It is the responsibility of the recipient to ensure that these transmission is virus free and no responsibility is accepted by JBREC, LLC. for any loss or damage arising in any way from its use. Thank you.