On his list of must-haves for a new home, one buyer included a driving range in the basement. Another specified a panic room, a superfortified place to hide in if the family came under attack, like the one in the recent movie starring Jodie Foster.
But according to interviews with several builders of new homes in Westchester County, buyers are much more likely to be looking for the kitchen of their dreams, one that is as well-equipped, high-tech and commercial-looking (meaning lots of stainless steel) as they can afford.
Buyers these days also want cozy "hearth rooms" -- previously known as family rooms -- where the family can gather in front of the fireplace on a cold winter afternoon as well as spa-style bathrooms, where they can unwind in Jacuzzi bathtubs or steam showers. Home offices and media rooms, too, are becoming de rigueur in new homes at most price levels, as are 3m ceilings, according to local builders and studies from the National Association of Homebuilders, a trade group in Washington.
Living rooms, though, may be going the way of the pterodactyl, according Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of research for the trade organization. "Nobody ever uses them anymore," he said.
In Westchester, as in the rest of the US, the home is more of a focus in people's lives, and in their spending, according to studies from the home builders group. "Especially in times like these," Ahluwalia said, "people feel safer parking their money in real estate rather than the stock market."
The events of Sept. 11 have also prompted home buyers to seek dwellings where they can curl up and feel safe, said Jeffrey Doynow, a developer building 13 homes in Scarsdale. "More and more, people are becoming homebodies," he observed. "They're cocooning in their houses, and that's why they want those cozy family rooms, the home theaters without the crowds and their very own gyms."
In Somers, Jim Boniello, a partner in Boniello Land and Realty, said almost all buyers today yearn for home styles that hark back to more romantic and safer times. "Whenever we build a house that looks like it's 100 years old on outside but it's bright and airy and modern on the inside, it's a winner," Boniello said.
Inside the house, those buyers -- whether they are spending as little as US$300,000 for a new town house or as much as US$1.5 million and more for a stand-alone home -- want top-of-the-line kitchens, the builders who were interviewed said. They look for six-burner gas ranges -- Viking or Garland stoves, if they can afford them -- as well Sub-Zero refrigerators. Martin Ginsburg, a principal of the Ginsburg Development Cos in Hawthorne, called the Sub-Zeros "everybody's drop-dead refrigerator these days."
Especially in more expensive homes, buyers often opt for second dishwashers, second cooktops with grills and butler's pantries equipped with wine coolers, said Ginsburg, who is building 194 two- and three-bedroom town houses and lofts at Chapel Hill in Peekskill and 53 houses that are selling for US$900,000 to US$1.5 million in New Rochelle.
Boniello said that in addition to large family gathering rooms and kitchens, buyers want lots of bathrooms, "one for every bedroom whenever possible," he said. If not individual bathrooms, then customers want at least a shared bath -- sometimes called a "Jack and Jill" bath -- between two of the smaller bedrooms. Boniello and his three brothers are building 61 homes in Twin Knolls Estates in Somers that are selling for US$1.3 million and up.