June 13, 2016
Focus: Real Estate / Architecture

Higher-end homebuyers seeking outdoor, other amenities

HBJ PHOTO | John Stearns
HBJ PHOTO | John Stearns
John Lepore, a Realtor in the West Hartford office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, shows the outdoor features of a home for sale at 84 Scarborough St., in Hartford. The backyard includes a pool, fireplace, patio, kitchen amenities and covered dining area, all surrounded by professional landscaping covering almost 5 acres. The house is listed for $1.25 million.

It wasn't that many years ago that longtime Hartford-area Realtor John Lepore could quickly quote for a client the cost of eliminating a swimming pool, an amenity not in high demand among homebuyers.

Not anymore. People want pools, especially those shopping for higher-end homes, he said.

"Pools definitely are more in favor now than they were 10 years ago," said Lepore, a Realtor in the West Hartford office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. Lepore, whose niche is higher-end homes but sells homes at all price ranges, was the No. 1 sales agent in Hartford County last year for all agents and companies in total sales volume by dollar amount.

Pools are just one amenity he's seen growing in popularity among buyers the last three to five years. Also popular, outdoor kitchens with stainless appliances like refrigerators, wine coolers and grills, and granite countertops and fire pits, often complementing pools.

"The younger people especially, this is what they want," Lepore said, showing the outdoor kitchen, dining, pool and fireplace area of an impressive renovated home he has listed on stately Scarborough Street in Hartford's west end. "Everybody gets excited, they can see themselves grilling, the refrigerator out there, sitting by the fire, running from the pool up here. This is what attracts people today."

New England catches on

Added Lepore, "California was all about this for a number of years because of the weather … outdoor kitchens were very popular. It took awhile for New England to catch on, but they're here now."

While the Scarborough home is situated on almost 5 acres and listed at $1.25 million, pools and outdoor kitchens aren't exclusive to the highest-end homes, he said.

Lepore cites a home he just sold in Canton, for about $700,000.

"I sold it a year-and-a-half ago because of the pool and the outdoor kitchen; I sold it this year again because of the pool and the outdoor kitchen," he said.

Value time to relax

He believes people, with hectic work and personal lives, value the ability to relax and pamper themselves at home rather than drive somewhere for the same experience.

In a Realtor Magazine post in March, outdoor living spaces were among 10 trends that more than 500 residential architects said would be the most significant home design elements over the next 10 years.

"More homeowners will look to invest in sprucing up their outdoor living spaces, beyond just outdoor grills or decks," it said. "Instead, look for more homeowners adding outdoor kitchens and fully furnished outdoor rooms."

Other amenities Lepore sees buyers looking for are finished basements, soaking tubs, but not necessarily whirlpools and steam showers — and the larger the shower the better.

Hardwood floors

Trish Murphy, a Realtor in the Avon office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage and the company's No. 1 agent out of roughly 2,000 in the state last year in sales volume, also has seen more interest in pools this year than any other, but just in the past couple months.

She has three buyers who would love a pool and are waiting to find the right house with one before they put their homes on the market.

Murphy speculates the heightened interest in pools could be due to more people seeking the ease that comes with "staycations," while others just like to entertain. One of her pool-seeking families has three children and wants to be the house where kids come to play.

Inside, hardwood and cork flooring are in more demand the past couple years, she added.

"When I talk to a seller that's getting ready to sell, if they have hardwood under the carpet, I'm like, 'Rip it up, rip out the carpet, take out the area rugs,' " Murphy said.

Buyers are looking for cleanliness, an open floor plan, good flow and unobstructed views outside, she said. They also like good storage, kitchen pantries and kitchens that open to the family room. They're not so much into larger bedrooms; they'd rather have the space on the first floor where they spend most of their time.

Home show impact

Margaret Wilcox, a Realtor and team leader at Margaret Wilcox & Associates at William Raveis Real Estate in Glastonbury, said more people could be shopping for pools at the upper price points, perhaps $700,000 and up, more than they were a decade ago. But she hasn't noticed people routinely looking for homes with pools.

"However, what I do see people looking for are … the open-concept home," as well as hardwood floors, Wilcox said.

In master bathrooms, she sees buyers wanting large, glamorous tile showers with frameless glass and free-standing soaking tubs, not whirlpools. Buyers also like double-sinks, but also double-vanities in the master, she said.

Another tendency she's seeing is a desire for three full baths.

"At one time you had to have four bedrooms, 2 baths," Wilcox said. "Now, at a certain price point, people are looking for that four-bedroom, 3 baths — and people are absolutely looking for that three-car garage."

She put that price point at about $550,000 and up in Glastonbury.

They want what's on TV

Wilcox speculates that TV home shows could be fueling buyers' interest in the various amenities, increasing their awareness of what's available.

Mike Grabon, controller at Aqua Pool & Patio in East Windsor, said the company has long sold pools as part of an outdoor living room concept, a place not just for cooling off, but entertainment, which includes outdoor kitchens.

"Now the outdoor kitchens are just an extension of the grills that people used to have built in years ago and it's just finally beginning to take hold," he said. "For a kitchen nowadays, they mean outdoor kitchen," including refrigerators and sinks.

"I'd say ever since the economy started coming back, more and more people, as they're looking at the pools are looking into the concept of the outdoor living room," Grabon said.

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