Residential Architects Report Changes for the Better

July 03, 2012

The long and steep housing downturn appears to be coming to an end, according to the 2012 first-quarter AIA Home Design Trends Survey. Residential architects are reporting that home sizes are beginning to turn around, particularly for custom and luxury homes.

In addition, making homes more accessible for an aging population and using the space more flexibly are key home design considerations. Outdoor living remains popular, and with that has come more interest in property enhancements such as low-irrigation landscaping.

With the easing of market conditions, residential architects are reporting better business prospects. Business conditions are improving in each of the major regions of the country, which indicates a broad-based recovery. While the strongest sectors continue to be improvements to existing homes, stability is developing in key new construction sectors for custom and luxury homes, trade-up homes, and entry-level homes.

After exploding during the housing boom, the sizes of new homes peaked and began to decrease during the downturn. Currently, additions and remodels are reported to be increasing in size at an even higher rate than new construction.

In an effort to appeal to as broad a population as possible, in-home accessibility (e.g., wider hallways, fewer steps) is the home layout trend increasing the most in popularity. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents feel that this feature is increasing in popularity, while less than 1 percent feel that it is decreasing. Features that allow better access into and out of the house (ramps, on-grade entrances) also proved popular.

While changes in home sizes have been driven by the housing cycle, lot sizes seem to be in a longer-term downturn. Even back in 2006 at the peak of the housing boom, only 7 percent of respondents reported lot sizes to be increasing, while more than 40 percent reported declines. This year’s survey showed a modest bounce back in the share reporting lot sizes to be growing. High land costs, greater emphasis on infill locations and limited interest among homeowners in maintaining a large yard all point to modest lot sizes in the years ahead.

The 2012 survey shows that interest in outdoor living space increased. However, the outdoor feature residential architects report as showing the greatest increase in popularity is low-maintenance, low-irrigation landscaping. Many residential architects also report preparing building lots for construction has become more difficult due to topographical or soil conditions, or zoning limitations on the site.

As the housing market continues to move into recovery, business conditions at residential architecture firms are improving. For the first quarter of 2012, 35 percent of participating residential firms reported their billings had increased over the fourth quarter of 2011, while just over 22 percent reported they had declined. The remaining 43 percent reported they were essentially flat over this time period. This was the strongest uptick in billings in almost five years, since the second quarter of 2007.
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