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Home design trends that will win over buyers

(MoneyWatch) Just as fashion changes the way we dress, new trends in design captivate builders and buyers and alter the way we live.

But unlike bell bottoms or thick-rimmed glasses, these trends take much longer to develop. Some design elements in a home, such as a captive kitchen, become less popular over decades, while others, such as air conditioning, become necessities.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its "2012 Characteristics of New Housing" report, which provides annual statistics on the kind of homes buyers are snapping up as well as the kind of homes builders are building.

Figuring out what buyers want is the key to making the most of your home improvements. About 54 percent of those making improvements are doing so to increase home value, an upward trend that will likely continue, according to, a home remodeling and design site that offers a Real Cost Finder tool that compares project costs for those undertaking home improvement projects.

"As the economy improves, return on investment is going to become much more important for home improvement, "said Liza Hausman, vice president of community for

So if you're looking to make some major home improvements this summer, think about qualities of the homes that sell in today's market.

Home design trends that will win over buyers

Bathrooms and kitchens influence buyers

You really can't go wrong with spending money on remodeling your kitchen or your bathrooms.

Buyers really like these areas modern and fresh -- and homeowners are taking notice. But remodeling them doesn't come cheap. The average kitchen remodeling costs $28,030 -- $7,133 for smaller budgets and $54,942 for big ones -- while bathroom "redos" cost an average of $10,422 -- that's $2,896 on the low end and $25,018 on the high end -- according to the survey.

What do buyers look for in the kitchen?

You can spend a lot in a kitchen makeover, but if you're short on funds, go for the appliances.

According to a survey of homebuyer preferences by the National Association of Realtors, 56 percent of buyers want new appliances in the kitchen, and most wind up purchasing a house with newer appliances. In fact, buyers said they would pay nearly $2,000 more for a home with newer appliances.

Home design trends that will win over buyers

Buyers want to eat in the kitchen

In the same NAR survey, 50 percent of buyers said they wanted an eat-in kitchen, and 42 percent asked for a kitchen island. Both design styles offer a place for people to sit down and enjoy time in the kitchen, a growing national trend that older homes aren't always able to offer.

Home design trends that will win over buyers

The biggest trend in bathrooms is to have more of them

Only 2 percent of homes selling on the market today have 1 to 1 1/2 bathrooms, according to the Census Bureau. So if you really want to add value to your home -- and make it more attractive to buyers -- consider upgrading a half bath to a full bath or adding a new bathroom entirely. It will cost you, but adding this kind of space to your home takes it to a new level.

Home design trends that will win over buyers

Air conditioning is a must

If you don't have air conditioning yet, it's time to get it. Across the country, more than 90 percent of homes have A/C -- a trend unlikely to change, according to census data. And buyers insist on it. In the NAR survey, 65 percent of buyers said that central air was very important, and in fact, it was the most important feature cited in the survey.

Home design trends that will win over buyers

Two bedrooms just don't do the trick

Adding a bedroom is a serious undertaking. It involves either a full-on addition or conversion of a basement or attic space into another bedroom. But if you have only two bedrooms, consider adding a third -- especially if you need it for your family. Less than 7 percent of new homes come with just two bedrooms, while 45 percent have three and 41 percent have four, according to the census survey.

Home design trends that will win over buyers

Do you have enough garage space?

Most homes on the market have enough room for two cars. That seems to hit the sweet spot: Only 21 percent of homes sold have three-car garages. Just 5 percent have a one-car garage, and less than 1 percent have none at all or a carport.

Home design trends that will win over buyers

Finished basements may be important -- depending on where you live

A finished basement, though nice, isn't a necessity in most markets. However, 83 percent of Midwestern homes have a full or partial basement, and 73 percent in the Northeast have them. In the South, however, only 10 percent of homes have a full or partial basement, and in the West, 26 percent have them, according to the census survey.

Home design trends that will win over buyers

Efficiency is catching on -- slowly

Energy-efficient programmable thermostats and new technologies allowing remote control of lights by phone are now often installed in homes, Hausman said.

However, not all homeowners are ready to bite. Only 34 percent are interested in increasing their energy efficiency, while just 18 percent want to incorporate new technologies, according to