‘Dream homes’ vary by generation

When you were born says a lot about your idea of the perfect house. Here’s a review of the features that appeal most to boomers, Gen X and Gen Y, plus tips on how to sell to homebuyers in each generation.

What’s your dream house? A marble manse stuffed with art? A swinging pad where the stereo’s always thumping and the hot tub’s always bubbling? A clean, well-lighted place … that also has a Viking range and a Sub-Zero fridge?

Your answer says a lot about your values and attitudes — and may have a lot to do with when you were born. So say the authors of a new study of 1,000 home owners nationwide. The market research company GfK Roper Reports asked Americans to prioritize the amenities they’d have in their dream home — not necessarily amenities they already have, or will have in their next home. The different responses, from baby boomers through first-time generation-Y buyers, reflect how different features appeal to different ages and also how tastes have shifted over time.

“I think what the study reveals is very different value sets among the generations,” says Kathy Sheehan, senior vice president for GfK Roper Reports, which surveys the American consumer for Fortune 500 companies.

Definite patterns emerge from the survey data, Sheehan says, and you can glean some potentially important insights — especially if you’re considering pre-sale renovations. But first, here’s a review of the survey results:

Boomer dream homes: the picture of success

Baby boomers, those born 1946 to 1964, rank a state-of-the-art kitchen No. 1 on their list of must-haves, with walk-in closets, whirlpool baths, fireplaces and swimming pools rounding out the top five. They also rank a workshop/hobby studio highly. (You can see a full list of each generation’s top 10 below.)

Sheehan explains: As they’re becoming so-called “empty nesters,” boomers think about having a private retreat that’s as much gallery as home. They waited until later in life to have a grand home, and now they generally want to flaunt its many niceties — a home where they can age (extremely) gracefully. “It’s about the show,” she says, with amenities such as a grand kitchen and places to display art. In a nutshell, the boomer home says, “I’ve made it.”

Generation X: family-focused informality

Those born roughly between 1965 and 1978 also place a high priority on a fine kitchen and on amenities like large walk-in closets. As these sons and daughters of baby boomers age, their aspirations for dream houses are now dovetailing with those of their parents, says Sheehan. The reason? This generation has moved into child-rearing age, says Sheehan, and now “want stuff that speaks to organization.” Their buzzword: family.

“Gen X-ers are at childbearing age,” Sheehan says. “That means that Gen-X homes are about the family center. They are looking for things that help them organize and eradicate clutter and chaos.”

But Gen X-ers are notably different from boomers, too, says Sheehan. For one thing, “Gen X-ers have different attitudes about family and disciplining their children.” Those different attitudes show themselves not only in how these former slackers prioritize their dream amenities, but also in how little they like the formality of boomer homes; they want a casual home, says Sheehan.

They’re also much more in tune to style and design, and know exactly what they want in a home — and are less inclined to settle for less, she says.

Generation Y: Let the good times roll

Gen Y-ers, those born after 1978 to about 1995, want a home that hollers “entertain me.” Top-10 priorities include a whirlpool bath, sauna/steam room and entertainment center. “All of these things are about fun,” says Sheehan.

That might explain why gardens and workshops don’t make an appearance on the Gen-Y list.

And they’re clearly not yet worried about accommodating children. This generation is emerging socially, and wants amenities that enhance that aspect of its life. So instead of a place to hunker down, Gen-Y homeowners “might be more interested in the home as a social hub,” says Sheehan.

Technology is also second-nature to this generation. They’re completely wired. So a Gen-Y home, more than any other, will practically hum with electronics.

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