Messy kitchens. Concierge services. Coworking spaces. Connections to local businesses.
These and other features are the amenities housing professionals are recommending that builders and developers offer homebuyers going forward.
"What consumers want in a community is shifting, requiring master plan and rental community developers to rethink once-standard amenities and respond to changing needs," says Maegan Sherlock, a research analyst with the John Burns Real Estate Consulting firm.
Take the messy kitchen. Most of us already have one, every time we cook. But that's the point of a "messy kitchen" -- a small annex off the main kitchen that helps keep the main one clean and looking like a showpiece. After all, today's kitchens, with furniture-grade cabinets, granite or quartz countertops and decorative light fixtures, are as much a fashion statement as Jimmy Choo heels.
The messy kitchen houses "those everyday small appliances that see regular use without cluttering those beautiful countertops," explains architect Deryl Patterson of Housing Design Matters in Jacksonville, Florida.
A huge proponent of a second kitchen, Patterson has one in her own house, which she says she uses "all the time." It's where she starts the day making coffee -- but she now wishes it included a sink and a pull-out trash can. Without a sink, Patterson has to walk to the main kitchen's island for water to make her brew. Afterward, it's back to the main kitchen to dump the grounds. Don't ask how many times her filter has broken on the way to the trash can, she says.
Not only is a small second kitchen practical, it's relatively inexpensive: pretty much just cabinets and running water.
Beyond second kitchens, the Burns firm's trend-tracking research suggests three low-cost, high-impact amenities that developers might want to use to attract today's young homebuyers.
First: concierge services. Hotels have long offered this type of assistance: Walk up to the concierge desk, ask where to find a good Italian restaurant or the nearest complete gym, and get an answer on the spot.
But the concierge performs other tasks as well. He or she can arrange events on your behalf, book excursions and transportation, make restaurant reservations and even respond to complaints by taking the appropriate action.
That's exactly what Sherlock sees in the future for housing developments -- at least those large enough to afford it. She says conciergelike services that ease the demands of everyday life will allow homeowners to tend to other priorities.
She also likes the idea of a community-based rental service where folks can check out fishing rods, bicycles, perhaps even lawn mowers. Such an amenity would allow residents to take advantage of seasonal sports like skiing and kayaking without having to purchase and store the equipment.
It's all part of the "sharing economy" today's young buyers have grown up with, Sherlock says. So is the idea for a community-based workplace for those who no longer need to commute to a distant office. And it works for those who don't have enough space in their homes for a dedicated office as well as those who just want to get out of the house.
Sherlock says a coworking space, maybe in the community clubhouse or as a stand-alone building, will meet the needs of the work-at-home set, 40% of whom will otherwise set up their laptops in their kitchens, spare bedrooms or basements at least one day a week. Such space might even go beyond the standard conference room "by providing remote workers the option to rent soundproof rooms or equipment like green screens and lighting," Sherlock suggests.
If providing coworking space isn't in the cards, she likes the idea of partnering with nearby companies that offer such services. "A discounted membership is a great way to support your community," she says.
Linking residents directly to other local services is also a good way of building support. Perks like discounted spa and fitness club memberships, deals at local restaurants and stores, and maybe even happy hour bargains at nearby craft breweries can help people explore and become a part of the community, she says.
Meanwhile, Sara Gutterman of Green Builder Media suggests that builders upgrade their outdoor living amenities. "People are tired of being confined to the indoors, and are looking to design sustainable outdoor living areas to relax, entertain and garden," she says. "In an unpredictable and confusing world, homeowners are finding solace in their porches, yards and gardens."
And finally, builders should consider adding a small space for homeowners' pooches. Patterson says several of her staff members wish they'd had the foresight to build a better place to store their pets' food, toys and bowls. One even wants a doggie shower in the garage where his dog can shake off excessive water.
Patterson's own house has such a dog shower: It's waist-high and features warm water and a high-powered blow dryer. Her husband scoffed at the idea when they built their place a few years ago, but now he loves it. "What used to take an hour per dog now takes 30 minutes for both," she says.