By Marilyn Lewis of MSN Real Estate
A growing segment of the housing industry is studying what in a home matters most to women. Real-estate agents, designers, marketers and researchers say some of women’s home preferences are purely functional: Moms like dining areas with easily wiped hardwood or tile floors, not carpeting, for example, and the location of a laundry room is likely to matter deeply to a female homebuyer.
Selling to women also requires catering to differences more innate. “We just think differently, and we’re more emotional,” says Stephanie Holland, creative director atHolland+Holland Advertising. She blogs atShe-conomy: A Guy’s Guide to Marketing to Women. “There’s really nothing more emotional than a home for a female.” Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases, and they’re the major influence in the purchase of 91% of new homes, Holland says.
Women respond most to a home’s aesthetics, such as paint and flooring, interior design, appliances, layout and functionality, saysJessica Riffle Edwards, Coldwell Banker Real Estate’s consumer specialist. Her company and others learn women’s preferences through polling and surveys.
Men, she says, seem more interested in a home’s space and dimensions. “The guy may be saying, ‘Oh, man, look at the size of this space,’ and the women would be saying, ‘Oh, gosh, look at the hardware on these cabinets.'”
1. Big closets
“We love big closets,” says Mollie Carmichael, consumer research expert at John Burns Real Estate Consulting in Irvine, Calif.
Female homebuyers walk into a home for sale and, invariably, after first inspecting the kitchen, will make a beeline for the bedroom to check out the closets, she says. Women tell researchers, real-estate agents and anyone else who will listen that they want a home that helps manage a family’s accumulation of stuff. That means cupboards, drawers, cubbies and organizing systems. But above all, it means great walk-in closets.
Why: Women’s lives are fast and full. Most work outside the home. Just 23% of married couples with kids under 15 have moms who stay at home, according to the Census Bureau. With jobs, commuting, running errands and chauffeuring kids, everyone’s dropping stuff everywhere — and then they can’t find it. Trendy open designs, while fabulous, typically rob homes of storage space because they have few interior walls, which are crucial for built-in closets, shelves and cupboards to help tame clutter.
2. Jetted bathtubs
Jetted tubs might sound ’80s retro, but, odd as it sounds, they are a big attraction for female buyers.
Why: “Moms love ’em because kids love ’em,” Carmichael says. “The bubblier the better. Life’s hard enough without having to drag kids kicking and screaming into the bathtub.”
Wait a minute — doesn’t everyone care about location? Sure. But for women it’s an even higher priority, Carmichael says.
Why: Women generally care more about location and less about size, Carmichael says. A small home with great architectural character or a beautifully built little jewel box will fulfill many a woman’s dreams better than a megahouse — provided she loves the location. The difference between genders on this issue isn’t huge, but “it is enough to really make the case,” she says.
Feeling safe at home is crucial to everyone, but women rank it as an extra-high priority. Qualms about safety will break a deal, particularly for single women, Coldwell Banker’s surveys reveal.
Why: Single women in particular are tuned in to a home’s security. “That’s not to say that if it was a husband and wife with children they wouldn’t feel the same way, but it’s just a little bit more in the forefront for a single woman buyer,” Edwards says.
“As a single woman, I wanted something on a top floor and with underground parking for security purposes,” Jennifer Musselman says of her condo purchase. Musselman wrote “Own It! The Ups and Downs of Homebuying for Women Who Go It Alone.”
5. A great place for socializing
A party space is nice, but an even bigger priority, women tell housing experts, is a comfortable environment for sitting around and sharing. Preferably with food. It could be a kitchen island or counter, a comfortable den or a corner with a couple of chairs and a sofa pulled up in front of a fireplace.
Why: Carmichael says that when female buyers inspect a property’s interior, they’re looking for places where they might relax with friends. Men like to socialize outdoors, she adds.
6. A dedicated laundry room
A magazine-worthy laundry palace with built-in cabinets, a TV, acres of counter space, a crafts area and a window to the garden would be fabulous. But few women will have one in their lifetime, and all of that’s not really essential. What matters, experts say, is the laundry room’s location.
Why: “A lot of people — a lot of women — don’t want to see a laundry room when they enter the house through the garage. They don’t want to have a pile of laundry greet them at the end of a long day. Women were telling us, ‘It’s like I’m coming home to a second job,'” says Paul Foresman, director of business development at Design Basics, an Omaha, Neb., stock-home-plan company that specializes in addressing women’s needs in its designs.
Trooping down basement stairs with a laundry basket to reach the washer and dryer is another huge turn-off. A simple utility closet near the bedrooms or off the kitchen is a whole lot better, Foresman says.
7. Low maintenance
When they’re asked what matters most in home design, women consistently say that a low-maintenance home is a very high priority. Female homebuyers love no-paint exterior siding, no-fuss landscaping and homes that are new or recently renovated.
Why: Women are overwhelmed by parenthood, demanding jobs and running a household. They don’t want more work. In marriages and partnerships, the discussion about who does maintenance chores is a perennial stressor.
8. Separate master-bath shower and tub
Women care deeply about the master bathroom, Foresman says. Many would like to send bathtubs to the dustbin of history. A spa shower with multiple heads is the big master-bath must have instead.
Why: Research by Design Basics finds that just 22% of adults take baths. “We’re designing a lot of homes now with a very nice shower and no tub in the master bath,” Foresman says. Women tell him they feel guilty for using too much water or that the bath gets cold and the water heater can’t keep up. Others say they’re sick of dusting a tub they don’t use.
9. A two-car garage
Douthitt says that even her single women clients want a two-car garage.
Why: Really? Even if they have just one car? Absolutely, she says. “Hello? It’s storage.”
10. A great kitchen
Women love a great kitchen and so do men, Coldwell Banker’s research says. A third of the company’s agents say a kitchen is the most important feature of a home for their clients. Coldwell Banker’s research finds that 68% of women say they’re the primary chef for their household, while 23% of men say cooking is primarily their job.
Why: Both genders love big open kitchens that include space for dining, entertaining, doing homework, using computers, watching TV and hanging out together.
11. A smart layout
Women are critical of home plans that don’t allow life to flow smoothly. A home needs to be planned for the lives of real people.
Why: That means that there should be plenty of electrical outlets and that they should be located where you need them, near where you’d use a hairdryer or shaver, for instance.
Other functional preferences include weather-tight, energy-efficient homes that are easy on the pocketbook to heat. Hard-surface floors are ranked higher than carpet. Other favorites include two full baths and a place for dropping things when you walk in the door.