If you haven’t been to a home builder’s convention, let me describe the scene.

There are at least 60,000 people milling about in the Houston Astrodome and two connecting buildings.

The ceilings feel low, the booths are large and colorful, and the noise of electric saws buzzing, nails being hammered, and swimming pools gushing drones on continuously.

Against this backdrop,builders from all over the U.S. come together to find out about new products and listen to people talk about what consumers will want in their newly-constructed homes this year and in the future.

To get attention, everyone tries to be a prognosticator of what’s coming. Sometimes their predictions sound loony, as if they asked the Magic 8 Ball to guide them. Sometimes they make more sense.

This week, I’ll discuss some of the more interesting predictions I heard during my short stay at the Builder’s Convention, and what they may mean to those of you who are contemplating purchasing a new home. Next week, I’ll talk about some of products that caught my eye.

The Remodeling Craze.

When builders aren’t actually building new homes, they’re often busy fixing up old ones. They do additions, gut remodels (where everything is removed except the walls, floors and ceilings, and sometimes those are removed as well), and reface kitchens.

Who’s driving all this? As June Fletcher, staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal, succinctly put it in her recent story, the baby boomers. There are approximately 80 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964. Americans are starting to live longer in their homes (12.5 years versus 7 years a decade ago), and these homes need updating and the addition of amenities.

This point wasn’t overlooked at the convention, where the pitch to builders was to include hand-carved doors, hand-made stain glass, and hand-finished wood floors – some made from sunken ships that have been submerged in the ocean for a century or more.

Women Are The New Decision Makers

Several years ago, real estate reporters started talking about how women were making more of the financial and aesthetic decisions when buying existing homes. It was duly noted that real estate agents and brokers who failed to take the woman into account when showing couples different homes risked ruining the deal.

Now, it seems, builders are slowly waking up to the concept that it isn’t always the man who decides how much will be spent. According to a study done for Traditional Home Magazine, one out of every three women homeowners who have been through a major remodeling job or have built a home say they are the household’s sole decision maker, while another 40 percent share fully in all decisions. “When architects, builders, or contractors assume the man of the house is the primary decision maker, they are wrong 74 percent of the time,” notes a spokesperson for the magazine.

(Why don’t home builders recognize this? Perhaps because they are overwhelmingly male. The survey reports that less than 10 percent of the 8 million people employed in any capacity in the construction industry, less than 10 percent are women. In 1994, just 2 percent of the construction trade and only 1 percent of carpenters were women. This is confirmed with a short walk on the Home Builder’s trade show floor. The only women present were media, public relations professionals or scantily clad models dressing up the booths.)

What else do women want? According to the study, women are generally unhappy with the amount of storage space, number of closets and bathrooms and quality of construction. But they like to stay put because it helps maintain a sense of a permanent family home, they generally like the way the house works for the family, and have an emotional attachment to the house.

However, if women could build what they want, they’d choose an oversized garage, an extra-large laundry room, a three-season porch, a security system and a whirlpool-type tub. What do men want? Traditional Home’s male readers would like an oversized garage, workshop, home theater system with big-screen TV and a separate tub and shower, in addition to the items that women want.

Living With Nature and Technology

Bill Gates likes to pride himself on always staying a step ahead. In his 30,000 square foot home still under construction in suburban Seattle, he has created a new standard of technology for the home. Gates’ home has sensors that know who enters a room and automatically programs the music and paintings each individual prefers to appear on specially designed wall panels and through the sound system.

According to builders at the convention, new home buyers want to live in homes that look more traditional than modern, that take advantage of an area’s natural beauty, and are wired to take advantage of the latest technology, from security systems to computers that automatically turn on lights and start the bath running (not to mention, a computer in every child’s bedroom).

What else are builders seeing? More families want to live in space that’s flexible. Rooms should be flexible enough to be used as bedrooms, guest rooms, home offices, and game rooms. More families than ever are requesting home offices and exercise rooms. Builder Magazine says buyers look for plans with open, but defined spaces, and private retreats within the home’s layout.

Finally, the magazine says, home buyers want convenience and low maintenance. Who wouldn’t?

Published: Mar 6, 1995