Home features for which buyers will sacrifice location

The golden rule in real estate has always been "location, location, location."

Apparently, you can add "and a bathtub" to that.

Buyers are willing to sacrifice a few key location characteristics -- important ones like proximity to work and better quality schools -- in order to buy a home with certain features, such as landscaping, his-and-hers closets, an open kitchen and at least one bathtub.

A study, released from homebuilding company Pulte Group, found that all but 1 percent of respondents would be willing to sacrifice some aspect of their home's location for a more modern abode. Forty-four percent would sacrifice close proximity to work; 35 percent would sacrifice better schools; 34 percent would sacrifice proximity to entertainment and shopping; 31 percent would extend their commute; 29 percent wouldn't mind being further away from family; and 28 percent would sacrifice being close to parks and other outdoor areas.

The results break away from conventional real estate wisdom that location is a top consideration over specific home features, especially given the fact that resale value is on buyers' minds since the housing crisis saw so many homeowners lose so much value in their homes.

And in fact, plenty of studies bear this out. According to a study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association and the National Association of Realtors, property values of homes located within half a mile of public transit options fared 41 percent better in the real estate market on average. Real estate agents in the San Francisco Bay Area noticed that buyers were willing to shell out $200,000 extra for a property in the best school districts.

So while interior design features certainly add to the value of the home, location can dictate much more value than a master bedroom suite or an oversized kitchen pantry. A good location can act as insulation against swings in market value as well, said Chicago real estate agent Mariana Knittle with @Properties.

However, and maybe because there's such a premium on homes in the best locations, some buyers are turning to comfort over location. And Pulte's survey points to the features home buyers are particularly excited about -- some of which are new additions to the traditional list of buyer must-haves.

"When we first started surveying families -- I think a lot of it was done around that time [before the housing crash] -- a lot of people were looking for the most house for their money," said Valerie Dolenga, a Pulte spokesperson. "Now people are thinking about maximizing their budget. Kitchen, storage and bathrooms are probably the three most important things."

However, Dolenga was still surprised by the recent rise in consumer interest in aspirational luxury items.

"Who would've thought that a spa would be a main consideration in a master bath?" she said. "Now people also really want the large pantries, and those aren't an everyday thing you'd see in resale."

Oddly enough, the most important feature to Knittle, an open kitchen, ranked at No. 10 in the list of the top 10 features buyers would sacrifice location to have.

"An open, good kitchen is a huge seller for any buyer I work with," Knittle said. "That has been consistent for years. Kitchens have never faltered in terms of their priority."

For homeowners that find themselves in less-than-ideal places, here are the top 10 most in-demand home features that will make buyers forget about location, according to Pulte's study.

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Bathtub in at least one room

The majority of survey respondents, 54 percent, ranked a bathtub No. 1 on their list of priorities.

Young families would consider this feature a must-have, and since most homebuyers in the first three months of 2014 were millennials, this could be the case for bathtubs. Still, buyers should be wary of giving up a good school district for a temporary convenience.

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Landscaping or garden space

A place to garden and spend time outside is increasingly important to homeowners and especially for adults between the ages of 50 and 65, according to Pulte. This same group of respondents was also the least willing to give up convenient access to public parks and outdoor areas.

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Paved patio

A paved patio may seem like an odd specific request. But for suburban homebuyers looking in the Midwest, it's kind of a big deal, according to Pulte. Thirty-six percent of Midwesterners and 34 percent of suburbanites called them a must-have.

There also appears to be a strong desire for this feature among unmarried adults with no children, 34 percent of whom said they'd sacrifice an ideal location for it.

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His-and-hers closets

His-and-hers closets are, perhaps not surprisingly, more important to the "hers" in this survey. Women were 11 percent more likely to prioritize separate closets than their male counterparts.

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Large eat-in kitchen area

Buyers in urban areas really like the idea of having a large eat-in area in their kitchen. Twenty-eight percent of homebuyers in cities told Pulte this was a top consideration -- perhaps because those same buyers would give up easy access to restaurants to get their eat-in kitchens.

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Spa-like master bathroom

At the end of a long day, who wouldn't want to come home to a master bathroom with some of the features you'd find at a spa, such as a large Jacuzzi bath tub or room to lounge?

A nice bathroom can be very helpful when it comes time to sell, but Knittle said to be sure and account for your specific market and preferences.

"Choices in features and finishes are very personal," she said. "You can run the risk of overdoing your kitchen or bathroom, or you could choose one that is not appealing if the taste is too personalized."

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Kitchen island

Kitchen islands are big for surbubanites: 24 percent of those living in the suburbs desire one, whereas only 17 percent of people living a more rural lifestyle and 20 percent of urban-dwellers thought the island was a priority.

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Separate toilet area

Separating the toilet from the rest of the bathroom can provide privacy and utility, and apparently that's really important to homebuyers out west. While only 15 percent of Midwesterners said they'd give up certain benefits for an enclosed "water closet," 27 percent of survey respondents in the western U.S. thought it was a critical feature.

Buyers should keep in mind that enclosed toilet rooms are rarely found in condos or low-to-moderately-priced homes, Knittle said.

"The separate toilet area just takes up more space," she said. "It's not a priority. It's a nice feature, but I don't see people buying or not buying a house because it has one."

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Oversized pantry

According to Dolenga, people at Pulte call this feature a "Costco-sized pantry," referencing the membership warehouse store. She said that's because storage is becoming very important to families on a budget who prefer to buy in bulk.

The data shows that the majority of homebuyers willing to make sacrifices for this feature -- 26 percent -- live in rural areas.

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Open kitchen

"The open kitchen concept is probably the biggest thing I've heard from our consumer groups and from this study," Dolenga said.

She and Knittle agree that the homebuyers who prioritize this feature are likely to get the most for their money long-term.

"If I have to take this list as my choices for appreciation, I'd say anything related to the kitchen," Knittle said.

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