If it is true, as social psychologists have been saying for years, that men and women are different, want different things, and relate to the world through different lenses, then it stands to reason that what they want in a new home differs as well. And research shows when buying a new home, women hold 92% of the purchase influence. For more than 20 years, Mollie Carmichael, Principal at Meyers Research, has been conducting consumer research to track the preferences and behaviors of new home buyers, and she boils it down to this, “Prestige is more important to men than women. Men focus on conquer and achieve, women tend to engage and relate”. I admit, it sounds like an old stereotype, and one I don’t want to believe, but she has the data to prove it.
At 8,000 responses strong through the first half of 2018, the Meyers team’s consumer preferences survey uncovered some clear insights about the home features that are important to women, but more importantly, why those features are important. I spoke with Mollie, and with her R&D design partner Nick Lehnert, Executive Director of Design Strategies at KTGY Architecture + Planning, whose team is creating new prototype plans inspired by these findings. Says Lehnert, “since most women make the decisions about buying the house, why wouldn’t a builder consider this as a way to differentiate yourself?”.
What “home” represents to both men and women, when asked to pick one word (unaided), was “comfortable”. But Carmichael’s research, drawn from home shopper lists provided by builders and developers across the nation, reveals that owning a great home for a man is a “sign of accomplishment that defines success, and he’s more concerned with location and outward-facing issues”, whereas for a woman, “the inside of the home is important, and how it will engage and serve whatever family means to her”.
The “why” behind a few of the key insights provide food for thought and new design inspiration for even small tweaks to plans for builders who accept the challenge of true customer-centric differentiation.
Inside vs. Out
Women are focused on how to make the whole home connect, and how they spend time with their families. They will look for conversation spaces, where family can engage and relate, and quiet spaces for decompression or downtime, and a place she can call her own.
Men are more interested in curb appeal – not that women don’t care about it — but interiors and how the home lives are more important to women than how it looks. One shift in this year’s study was the reaction to modern architecture, with men being 60% somewhat or very likely to find it appealing (versus 30% in prior studies), while only 47% of women felt the same.
Kitchen Island vs. Backyard
Think about when you walk into a friend’s home. Where do you hang out? Carmichael asked this in focus groups with builder sales agents with 10+ years of experience. One participant answered, summing up gender differences related to what areas in the home are most important, “Women typically gather around the island in the kitchen and talk. Men grab a beer and go outside on the deck or elsewhere and talk”. This ties in to the inside vs. out preferences expressed.
Dealing with All That Stuff
One of the three overall trends surfacing in this year’s study, according to Carmichael, is the amount of stuff we have. “We all have more stuff, period. Where do you put it”? She herself has master-planned a 12 x 12-foot coat closet in her own home into a pantry that most would drool over. It has shelving that works without one wasted inch, for everything from extra plates, to separate fridges for wine and soda. This is a trend she says women relate to, and a differentiator that is easy and affordable for a builder to do – every pantry space must just work. And according to Lehnert, “Women are less concerned with the size of the space, and more concerned that it functions well. How can you apply this principle across multiple spaces in the home, so it lives better”?
What “Functional” Means
Despite changes in social and work roles and more shared family responsibilities, Lehnert says, “For a woman today who is intent on being a better spouse, mom, provider, the house needs to function in a way that is organized to take stress out of life”. Functional means finding ways the home plan can facilitate organization and a simpler life and addressing how women spend very limited free time in a way that is rewarding and worth it for those who are important to them. When asked, men still gravitate to outdoor spaces and garage spaces that work for them. Inside the home they care most about game rooms, bonus rooms, and connections between the garage and the backyard.
Building on the research, Lehnert and his team at KTGY set to designing a concept home plan that delivers on a few key principles, focused on a wide and shallow lot configuration – a 60’ x 70’ versus the typical 50’ x 100’. Nearly unanimously when developers are offered this option, though, they get nervous about it because it reduces density, and therefore saleable acreage. One developer not afraid of this is Forest City, in their top-selling Denver community, Stapleton. Lisa Hall, Community Development Director says the density loss is minimal, “Thrive Builders does a wide-shallow product at Stapleton and we love it at 9.5 du/acre compared to their other product on a 45’X 90 that is at 11 du/acre”. When even a whisper of a market slowdown is mentioned, the fear of density loss increases.
Knowing this, Carmichael showed survey respondents imagery of both home types, attaching a $20,000 premium to the wide and shallow homes. Even with the premium, the wide and shallow homes were preferred by 90 percent of the respondents. This configuration gives Lehnert’s design team the flexibility to do things women said they want in a home:
- A 29 x 30-foot “idea space”: Connecting indoors and out, this can be configured however the buyer wants, as a large outdoor room and retreat, a spa/fitness room, a large home office, a craft room and more.
- Staggered garages: His and hers, so they can organize it how they like, with extra storage space, and an Amazon drop zone into the garage for secure package delivery.
- Large spa-like master baths: A place to relax and escape for some downtime.
- Lots of light: Large windows on all sides, interior outside spaces within the plan that blur the lines between inside and outside spaces.
Lehnert hopes builders will take time to dig into the insights in the research about what women value in a home and explore how they can interpret them in different product configurations, from traditional single-family detached, to attached and multifamily living. “Even one little space that is different and intentionally designed for her will have an impact”. And if the market turns, these homes stand a greater chance of success, because they will differ from all the typical homes on standard 50’ x 100’ lots and the plethora of resales on the market. “Bottom line, a home that is designed to facilitate relationships and engagement, and that just makes life work, is really what women want, says Carmichael”.
—Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, principal of tst ink, brings a customer-focused “how might we?” approach to creating communities and brands that connect and engage with how people want to live their lives