What really matters to home buyers? 5 trends in March 2024

real estate trends - backyard priorities

A few weeks ago we launched a pretty breakthrough bit of technology—a new kind of home search engine, powered by ChatGPT and some clever engineering. It allows people to type in what really matters to them in their next home, rather than the basics like location, price, beds and baths. 

We analyzed the first 2,800 searches to get a unique glimpse of what really mattered to people but they couldn’t uncover through conventional search methods on other platforms. My personal favorite is the person in Texas who wanted “an orange tree in the backyard.” 😍 (And, here’s the first result for a search like that. You get an orange tree and two apples.)

So, here’s what we learned (so far) about what people really want in their home. 

1. HOA? Hard no

First up, many homeowners are saying “no” to Homeowners Associations (HOAs). In fact, our data shows a lot more people looking for “no HOA” than other HOA-related searches (e.g., “low HOA fees”). So far, “no HOAs” has emerged as one of the largest searches on the platform, representing 2.3% of all searches—and as high as 5% of all searches in Florida.

Clearly, the bad press about HOAs over the last year is leaving a mark. John Oliver’s highly critical take on HOAs last year generated about 6.4M views on YouTube, for example, and just about every day new stories emerge of people struggling with a policy in their neighborhood. It’s not surprising that, as YouGov reported last December, 61% of people in the US would prefer a home without an HOA—compared to only 14% who would want an HOA. And, perhaps even more telling, among people who currently live in an HOA neighborhood, the majority would prefer a home without one.

Thankfully, you can finally search for homes without an HOA

2. Your very own backyard sanctuary

Forget extravagant kitchens or lavish pools; what people are really after is a bit of land or a great yard. Surprisingly, 16% of people search specifically for properties with a focus on the yard, surpassing searches for other desirable home features like pools, great lighting, or specific architectural styles. 

From envisioning a serene spot by a stream to dreaming of picking oranges from your own trees, the yard reigns supreme in the minds of home seekers in March. Over 2% specifically express a desire for extra privacy and seclusion and 1% of all searchers even detail specific fantasies of a cozy little retreat in the woods. It’s clear that for many, the allure of their own outdoor space is irresistible. Or maybe we’ve all just been cooped up inside for too long.

3. A garage is a draw, not a parking spot

Move over, kitchen renovations—the garage is stepping into the spotlight. A surprising 14% of people specifically detail their garage requirements in their searches, whether it’s ensuring enough space for a beloved high-rise truck or carving out a corner for woodworking projects. In many cities, the garage may even come at a premium, underscoring its importance in the home buying process. Atlanta home shoppers, for example, were 23% more likely to mention a garage in their searches.

4. Retirement-friendly homes are hot

As more and more Boomers enter retirement age, and maybe start exploring the down-size or second homes in the Sun Belt, we see strong demand for accessible, retirement-friendly homes. 

Interestingly, more people prioritize single-floor homes or those with a first-floor master bedroom over popular architectural trends. Approximately 4% of all searches are geared towards finding homes suitable for aging in place. However, the quest for age-friendly options isn’t without its challenges, with complexities arising from 55+ communities causing some frustration among home seekers.

5. Investment opportunities are in-demand

If you’re looking for an investment property, you probably have a few key features in mind that don’t usually pop up on other home search websites: things like whether there’s current renters, or maybe even a listing with “AirBNB potential.” 

So it’s not surprising that 11% of searchers are specifically seeking cash-flow properties. And, with more first-time buyers sitting on the sidelines and big investment firms pulling back in the last year, it could be a good time for smaller-scale investors to get in the game.

Bottom line 

It’s still early, so we’ll keep an eye on these trends and update our findings as new patterns in the data emerge. Open-concept home designs, for example, are showing a high demand in some markets—a feature that might make or break someone’s purchase decision. 

If you have any questions you’d like us to explore, don’t be shy: drop a little comment below.

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