Bath & Technology Real Estate Trends
authors Jamie Gold
Have you thought much about the real estate market in recent months? Sales of new construction and resale homes have a tremendous impact on the remodeling industry, as anyone who survived the crash a decade ago can tell you. When people are worried about the value of their homes and are staying put, they’re also not improving their kitchens or bathrooms.
Other factors play into the success of this industry, of course, including labor, tariffs, interest rates and overall attitudes about the economy and future. Some of those will have shifted in the months between deadline and publication – and are topics for other articles by other writers.
Let us consider together relevant trends in the real estate market that can help you with your products or projects. Last month, we looked at overall trends and kitchens. This time, we’re looking at technology and bathrooms with these same knowledgeable pros:
- Steve Moses, home services manager for national real estate firm Redfin;
- Stephen Wagner, president of the Appraisal Institute professional association;
- Janice Spousta-Hinshaw, regional v.p. with national homebuilder Lennar;
- Henry Moseley, managing director with luxury mixed use design and development company Adept Architecture.
The National Kitchen & Bath Association’s 2019 Design Trends Executive Summary of bathrooms, based on input from design industry professionals, showed technology solutions ranking in the top three most interesting new products. Tech was only topped by showers and cabinetry, and ranked ahead of countertops, faucets, toilets, flooring and other traditional bathroom components. Leading the interest list were temperature control (57 percent), water conservation (48 percent) and internet connectivity (44 percent).
Of particular interest to the surveyed design professionals were controls for lighting, music, water temperature and steam, and mirrors with TV capability built in. App-enabled controls for radiant floors and digital showers also made the list, as did shower speakers and color therapy for tubs and showers.
How will this translate into adding potential value for your clients? The Appraisal Institute’s Wagner points out, “Smart home features are important to many millennial buyers, and they often like the ability to control water heating, temperature and even security from their phone. These features can be valuable to the elderly, but are often not considered for fear of them not understanding how to access the features. Overall, they are great selling features for buyers seeking them.”
Lennar’s Spousta-Hinshaw agrees. Technology is one of the four big trends she’s tracking in the new-construction end of the real estate market. “It infuses so many aspects of daily life and buyers simply expect a new home to be modern in every way,” she notes. Lennar is adding technology throughout the company’s models. “For the kitchen we are seeing the control hub (i.e. Echo Show or Dot) control the home, and USB connections in outlets for simple charging. In bedrooms and bathrooms, Lutron shades are voice-controlled to open and close on demand.” If you’re designing investment projects, this is what your builders are competing with. If you’re designing for homeowners, this is what they may be selling against in future years.
Many designers are partnering with technology integrators to build smart home features into their projects, rather than trying to become experts themselves. The key imperative is to bring this pro into the design process at the beginning of the project, so that budgets, space allocation and mechanics can be properly planned. It’s becoming as important to designers to have integrators on ‘speed dial’ today as it is to have the other trade teammates on whose expertise your success depends. That is a tremendous trend worth watching!
Beyond going high tech, what else is trending in resale and new-construction trends for bathrooms? Redfin’s Moses reports, “Clean lines, functionality, modern/transitional white with pops of color,” just as in the kitchens he’s working with, are most appealing for buyers.
Moses’ role at the national real estate firm is rehabbing homes for resale.
Accessibility is hot, he adds. “A downstairs full bathroom with walk-in shower is a huge selling point for aging generations.” Whirlpool tubs have lost favor in his Los Angeles market, he reports, while freestanding modern or clawfoot tubs have sales appeal. “These can be cost-effective and turn a small, older bathroom into a spa-like showpiece.” Buyer turnoffs include neglecting light fixtures, mirrors and cabinet pulls. You’re leaving money in the budget for those, right?
Lennar is stressing the same spa-like features that your clients are probably requesting, Spousta-Hinshaw shares. “Buyers want to feel pampered. They want larger walk-in showers instead of traditional tub/shower combinations. They also really appreciate little luxuries like multiple shower heads and frameless shower enclosures.”
Adept Architecture’s Henry Moseley is also seeing a strong spa focus in his upscale Los Angeles area condos. “More luxury buyers are looking for resort-style living,” he notes. All of their showers, he says, “include rain heads and the penthouses include natural stone on the floors and walls, shower benches [and an] option for beautiful glass enclosures.” Their two-story penthouse units include morning kitchens and wrap-around patios with whirlpools and views. The intended buyers, Moseley notes, are young professionals and empty nesters.
Sustainability & Wellness
Where does sustainability fit in? In many parts of the country, water and electric savings are now mandated by building codes. This includes California’s strictest-in-the-nation laws that cover toilets, sinks, showers and lighting. If you’re designing for clients flipping homes there, or just planning to sell in a few years, they’re going to have to certify that their fixtures meet the latest water codes; you certainly don’t want to be the cause of them being out of compliance!
Given California’s massive market size, many manufacturers will create products that meet its codes for distribution throughout the country, while also seeking ways to make less water feel more luxurious and lighting more sophisticated on less wattage.
The latter has helped spur the national popularity of LED fixtures for bath lighting. While great for meeting codes and saving clients money on their electric bills, the blue light emitted by LEDs can impact sleep cycles, according to medical research. Having it in the last room people use before going to sleep is not ideal for that reason.
Fortunately, another trend is emerging to address this issue: Wellness design and smart home technology are spurring the rise of circadian lighting, also often called human-centric lighting or tunable lighting. It essentially mimics the sun’s natural arc during the day, reducing blue light into the evening and nighttime hours to enhance sleep.
Wellness design overall is a trend that is emerging quickly in kitchens, baths, new construction and resale real estate. According to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit industry research organization, “Sales price premiums for wellness lifestyle real estate developments average 10 to 25 percent over conventional real estate developments. In the U.S., 60 percent of consumers would pay more for healthier homes than traditional ones.” That’s pretty powerful data for convincing clients of the value of wellness features like steam showers, water filtration and bidet-style toilets in their homes.
Spousta-Hinshaw says Lennar is building wellness features like low-VOC paint, indoor/outdoor living and a focus on natural light into its homes. The national builder has also been a leader in multi-generational living with its Next Gen homes. “When possible, we include walk-in showers to accommodate older residents. Wider hallways are also becoming a trend to help with ADA residents,” she adds.
Redfin’s Moses also sees a strong trend toward aging-in-place. “California is big on multi-generational living right now,” especially with accessory dwelling units, (also known as ADUs or granny flats). “Having these available on a single level with possibly a separate entrance is a huge selling point. Having a sink and washer/dryer in an ADU or in-law suite are value-added gold,” he declares.
Color and finish trends change every few years. New technologies emerge all the time to make spaces more comfortable and convenient. What remains consistent is the need to design safe, healthy bathrooms and bathroom products to meet the needs of an ever-changing buyer profile. Baby Boomers want to retire in comfort and millennials and Gen Z buyers want to find places to make their own. Will you be the one helping them? ▪