While we have always wanted our homes to be a haven and a source of comfort, the definition of “home sweet home” has evolved in recent years. Buyers no longer want just the basics— comfortable kitchens and baths, the right number of bedrooms—but are also looking for the extras that elevate a house it into an oasis for entertainment, both for the owners themselves and guests. Now three years out from the height of the pandemic, real estate experts say that, particularly in the Northeast, the experience has significantly—and perhaps permanently— changed homebuyers’ preferences and priorities.
“There has been a notable change in mindset about the function of a home,” says Maria Crowley, real estate agent at Houlihan Lawrence in Greenwich, CT. “It has now become a place where people not only live but also work and play—and out- door amenities significantly contribute to the homeowner’s ability to entertain in their own backyard.”
Water views, pools, recreation space, flex rooms for guests, wine cellars, pool houses, outdoor kitchens, fire features and even golf greens are among the must-haves buyers are looking for today.
“Covid-19 led to working from home, which led to a demand for more amenities at home,” says Mark Pruner, real estate sales executive at Compass in Greenwich, CT. He points to two major changes: The first is a need for home offices and private spaces such as sitting rooms off a bedroom, “man caves” and “she sheds.”
The second is the explosion of outdoor amenities, with a pool and lounge area at the top of that list. “Athletic facilities are also big, with interest in outdoor pickle-ball courts emerging,” he adds, as well as basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, and soccer play areas. Also popular are play spaces for kids of all ages—from video gaming spaces to climbing gyms to swing sets, says Yashmin Lloyds, real estate agent with Compass in Greenwich.
This priority shift has continued long after lockdowns have been lifted. That’s in part because buyers now value their time and how they spend it in a different way, says Kevin Sneddon, founder and lead broker at the Private Client Team at Compass with clients in New York City and Green- wich. “People want to be able to accomplish everything they can right at home,” he explains. “Most people see any sort of commute, whether to work or even the gym, as a waste of time.”
On that same note, being able to access these amenities during the day is key. Alison Farn-Leigh, real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properites, explains that, “taking a midday break in your backyard pool or
working out in your home gym or taking a Zoom meeting on your Peloton are all part of the new reality.” She also explains that buyers are willing to ditch traditional entertaining areas, like a formal living room, in exchange for more of these ame- nities or are planning to use those former spaces in a new way.
Where buyers are moving from also has an impact, particularly if it’s New York City. Lloyds says that since her NYC cli- ents are giving up proximity to all of the city’s attractions, they want the added incentive of pools, sports areas and more. “Moving out of the city is really hard,” she says. “You have to see what the tradeoff is. You want to be able to stretch out.” And while in a competitive market buyers might not get everything on their list, her clients want to check off a few boxes from their must-haves. “You want to be able to relax in your own home,” she adds.
This drive for amenities is also driving prices up for many homes, explains Farn- Leigh. With high buyer demand and low
inventory in the real estate market in Fair- field and Westchester counties, property values remain high, and off-market sales are common.
And the stats clearly show how many fewer homes are available. In Pruner’s August Market Report, inventory in Green- wich was at an all-time low, with only 117 houses for sale at the end of the month. That number was down 42 percent from last year’s already low inventory of 202 listings. In August 2019, though, there were 585 homes on the market. “Compared to 2019, we only have one house for sale compared to every 5 houses we had for sale in July 2019,” says Pruner in the report.
Laura Fitzpatrick, real estate agent with William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty in Darien, CT, echoes that. “The scarcity of available homes, especially in desirable neighborhoods and waterfront locations, has created a very competitive environment,” she explains.
Despite this, lifestyle still takes priority for buyers in our area, says Fitzpatrick. “Many buyers now prioritize new construction equipped with the latest design trends, technology, and energy-efficient features,” she says. “Buyers appreciate the convenience of move-in ready homes that offer modern amenities and customized finishes as well as home offices, outdoor spaces, swimming pools, spas and fitness areas. As we move into fall 2023 and beyond, we should anticipate continued demand for properties that cater to these evolving buyer preferences.”
While amenities are nearly required for buyers these days, merely having them isn’t enough, according to real estate experts. “The main thing buyers are look- ing for is renovated or recently updated homes,” says Joseph Barbieri, senior global real estate advisor at Sotheby’s International Realty in Greenwich. “There is also a trend to have gyms with natural light, not down on the lower level anymore. The most important thing for resale if you have a house with outdoor amenities, is that they be in the best possible condition. Resurface the tennis court, make sure the pool is compliant. For houses without additional amenities, focus on having updated kitchens and bathrooms.”
Sally Slater, real estate agent with Douglas Elliman in Bedford, NY, says her listing at 10 Beech Hill Lane is an example of this market trend. “I showed it this past weekend to buyers from NYC as a weekend home and all of the amenities really have them interested,” explains Slater. “Their 9-year-old son played basketball the entire time while the rest of the family looked
around. Beech Hill has a great pool and pool house, as well as a built-in grill. It has a fenced basketball area that could easily be made into a pickleball court. It is lake- front with a dock, so kayaking, paddle boarding and fishing as well as ice skating in the winter are all fun possibilities. There is also a sports field—totally flat, perfect for soccer. The home is in Pound Ridge which makes it a perfect weekend or full-time home.”
Best Foot Forward
If you’re looking to sell, but your home doesn’t have these desired amenities, experts recommend doing your best to showcase the home’s potential, with staging, small renovations or fresh paint. “Homeowners can get renderings and/or permits for such things as a pool or pickle-ball court,” says Sneddon. “They can also convert an appropriate room in their house to show as a home office or gym.”
This is key because, as Pruner notes, “Today’s buyers want to be shown, not told, so staging is more important than in the past.”
Offering a smooth closing process is appealing, too, says Jenny Allen, real estate agent at Compass in Greenwich. “To accommodate, you can also be flexible on a closing date.”
In the midst of the pandemic, buyers wanted turn-key, full-time homes and would pay a premium. “Now, the weekend buyers are back in full swing so the commute to NYC can be a little farther and amenities are more important,” says Slater. “The important thing for sellers to do is de-clutter and keep grounds as well as the house orderly. Make sure all certificates of occupancy are in place so that there are no hold-ups when a deal is in place.”