What Home Buyers Really Look for in Their Next Neighborhood

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Americans all want homes with big yards, good schools, nearby public transportation and short commutes to their jobs, right? Wrong, a poll of more than 10,000 consumers has found.

"The main takeaway from our study is that there's no one ideal. The ideal varies depending on which person you're talking to," says Louise Keely of the Demand Institute, which conducted the survey to gauge where Americans want to move and why.

The institute, a nonprofit think tank run by the Conference Board and Nielsen, polled consumers about how important they consider some 50 different characteristics involved in home-buying decisions.

Keely says the responses show that conventional wisdom about what Americans want in housing is often wrong.

For example, many people assume that homes within walking distance of subway stations or other public-transportation hubs command more money.

But the Demand Institute found that just 25% of survey respondents listed proximity to public transit as a "very important" amenity in deciding what home to buy. Almost twice as many — 44% — rated it as "not important" at all.

Similarly, Americans often view good public schools as the No. 1 factor in local property values. But just 34% of those polled graded schools as very important vs. 40% who ranked quality schools as unimportant to them.

Proximity to your place of work isn't key to consumers, either. Only 32% of survey respondents rated that as a very important characteristic in home-buying decisions, while 36% dismissed it as not important for them.

In fact, a home's pet-friendliness level blew away all three of those characteristics, with 48% of consumers calling that "very important."

Other amenities that scored well include big windows (50%), lots of storage space (55%), an in-unit washer/dryer (71%) and central air conditioning (75%).

By contrast, items often prominently mentioned in real estate ads got some of the smallest endorsement levels. Low scorers included big backyards (which just 42% of respondents deemed very important), high or vaulted ceilings (22%) and lots of neighborhood kids (14%).

Stan Smith, managing director of Los Angeles realty firm Teles Properties' office in upscale Beverly Hills, says even the rich clientele he caters to have differing criteria for homes.

He says hip, young buyers in the movie or music business gravitate toward downtown L.A. for restaurants and shops in walking distance, but care little about schools because few have kids.

Those who do care about public schools often favor Beverly Hills, while the super-rich frequently choose tony Bel Air or Holmby Hills for status reasons and don't worry about public education because their kids attend private academies.

"Different neighborhoods are popular for different reasons," Smith says. "Believe me, the people who are buying $10 million houses in Bel Air don't care if the dishwasher is included."

Keely says the study's takeaway for sellers is that it's important to play up your property's strong suits and ignore weaknesses, as someone out there will probably love the combination of amenities your place offers.

As for buyers, she recommends that they focus on what they personally desire in homes instead of what conventional wisdom dictates they ought to.

"People should think about what their needs are and make sure they don't overpay for something that they don't really want," Keely says. 

 

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