Time for an Upgrade


// by Tracy Jones

According to the Northeast Florida Builders Associ-ation and the U.S. Census Bureau, home sales in February were at a nearly 25 percent increase from the previous year. Trends in home buying equate, of course, with trends in home building.

Today, homebuilders are incorporating what buyers want into floor plans, says Mark Lucas, product development director for ICI Homes, who designs floor plans and works with buyers on custom homes. Lucas says many customers request a wall to be moved or a garage to be lengthened during planning stages. Making the changes on paper, rather than when the home is built, will save the buyer considerably.

Besides flexibility, builders' designs also need to fit each buyer's family, says Kerry Soltis, marketing manager for Mattamy Homes' Jacksonville division.

“Jacksonville homebuyers are looking for features that meet their current lifestyle needs, so it's imperative to offer variety,” says Soltis. “A home that works for one customer may not work for another, and that's why it is beneficial to understand who will be purchasing in the community, and offer features that fits that customer's needs.”

The community, lot size and demographics of buyers are incorporated into the designs created by many First Coast homebuilders.

The following are some of the most common trends homebuilders are seeing in the local market.

Open spaces


According to Lucas, the most requested floorplans look much different than those 20 years ago and feature large, open spaces rather than traditional.

“People are going with lower room counts,” Lucas says. “They're getting rid of those wasted rooms they never use anymore and putting the square footage into the rooms they use all the time.”

Adaptability in plans are crucial, and many builders include a flex space into a design, which can often become a study or a dining room.

Emerald Homes also incorporates flex spaces into its designs, as well as large gathering rooms and volume ceilings, according to John Molyneaux, operations manager for the company’s North Florida division. These items typically come standard in the company's designs. “We strive to incorporate things upfront that are cost effective and are easy to add during the building, such as pre-wiring, pre-plumbing and enough electrical capacity.”

For flooring, carpet is now often replaced with tile, hardwood, or tile that resembles wood because, says Soltis, “It's more durable and offers a more clean environment.”

Bathrooms & Kitchens

According to Soltis, bathrooms and kitchens are locations where many buyers upgrade features, including free-standing tubs and luxury spa showers. “Private water closets and raised vanities with double sinks are almost a standard feature in the master bath in most homes today,” she says.

Solid-surface countertops are the most common counter choice in bathrooms, but some customers upgrade to granite or Piedrafina marble, she says. However, the kitchen is the room most often upgraded.

“Kitchens are just being blown out like crazy,” Lucas says. “Islands are very popular—we're even doing double islands and super islands.” Customers often request a combination microwave and oven in the kitchen to make room for a decorative hood over the range, and California countertops on islands are becoming an entertaining locale in the home, Soltis says.

“Customers are selecting products that offer clean lines and bright whites for cabinetry for more of a crisp environment.”

Molyneaux agrees, and says big kitchens are here to stay. “Some of the most prevalent requests we receive from home buyers continue to be the gourmet, open‐concept kitchens with upgraded cabinetry, countertops, high-end appliances and large furniture‐style kitchen islands,” he says.

Outdoor living

“Outdoor living spaces have always been popular in Florida, but we feel there is growing momentum with homebuyers demanding creative and cost-effective outside living spaces,” says Molyneaux.

Lucas also sees more outdoor living areas requested by customers. ICI Homes is making patios bigger, sometimes even family room-sized outdoor spaces, and even offers outdoor cabanas.

Some companies are featuring outdoor living spaces such as fire pits and summer kitchens in their model homes. “We are doing way bigger outdoor living than we ever done before,” says Lucas. Perhaps now more than ever, there’s no place like home.