Even as we worry about today, researchers, community planners, and pollsters are probing consumer demand to predict what they will want tomorrow and the definitive answer from those presenting their findings at the Pacific Coast Builders Show is something different.
The current economic situation has triggered a shift in people’s values from an era of indulgence to one of responsibility, trend tracker J. Walker Smith of Yankelovich said Thursday morning.
That translates to the home-buying consumer as a desire for homes that fit but don’t exceed space needs, are greener, and that are part of a community. It doesn’t mean that buyers are dour, though, he said. Instead, it means the opposite, because the more anxious we get about the economy, the more we look for the bright side of things, according to Smith.
It’s up to home builders to tap into those traits to find a market. “They (builders) have got to be the the voice of optimism for consumers,” Smith said.
Buyers are also looking for homes in a walkable environment with most of their daily needs met in a small footprint. That setting could be urban setting or “suburban-urban," which would be a new development that's not within an urban core, but does include some of the characteristics of a city in a planned community. “We have structurally overbuilt the wrong products in the wrong locations, delivering what the market doesn’t want,” said Christopher Leinberger, a land strategist, developer, and author of “The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream."
Leinberger said he thinks there’s pent-up demand for walkable urban product, but concedes the industry hasn’t solved the difficult equation of building them. The infrastructure is costly, he acknowledged, but the final product does command higher prices.
In terrms of the suburban-urban model, master plan communities with urban touches in the form of town centers with grocery stores, restaurants, and retail stores nearby have boosted sales in Newland Communities’ projects as consumers look for convenience and bargains. “Consumers are adapting (to the new market),” said Malee Tobias of Newland Communities. “They are shopping even smarter than they ever did before.”
She also pointed to a new trend called “hiving," which means poeple are spending more time socializing within their community, with neighbors, and hosting events at home rather than driving distances for entertainment. “Entertaining at home is one thing they are not cutting back on,” Tobias said.