By Elena Cox
Mar 21, 2022
Spring is a time of rebirth, renewal, and new beginnings. And after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic turning the world on its head, people are ready for things to get back to normal—or at least as close as they can get. And maybe—just maybe—that includes what people are searching for in a new home.
We all know that Americans went into an overheated frenzy of homebuying during the pandemic, showing a distinct preference for places in the burbs, far outside of the big, congested cities, with lots of land, dedicated home offices, and maybe even a nice pool. Previously sought-after factors seemed to recede in importance. (Commute? What commute?)
Now that people across the U.S. are finally starting to return to the office, go on vacations, and restart their lives in earnest, the Realtor.com® data team set out to find the features that 2022’s new homebuyers are jonesing for. And as peak homebuying season begins, it seems at least some of the perks-turned-must-haves remain. After all, who doesn’t want to work from home (work from pool) this summer?
The data team looked at what exactly people are searching for in a home these days to figure out what are the must-have features and amenities—and what they’re willing to live without. We found they’re still prioritizing many of the features that became popular during the pandemic.
“People want to live indoors, but they want to live outdoors as well,” says Cara Ameer, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker licensed in California and Florida. “That idea became big during the pandemic.” And it’s still high on wish lists.
Of course, what buyers want and what they can afford are usually two different things. Home prices remain high, and even with more homes coming on the market, inventory is still low. Today’s real estate realities make it hard for homebuyers to get everything they’re looking for. Many have had to learn to temper their expectations and make compromises.
“The market is so crazy that people are happy to have anything,” says Elizabeth Casey, a Realtor® with William Raveis in Connecticut’s Fairfield County, a suburb of New York City.
But a buyer can dream, and fantasizing over listing photos is half the fun of the home search process anyway, right?
To figure out the most popular search terms so far this year, the Realtor.com data team looked at the number of page views per listing for each search term from January to February 2022, then ranked the results. To be included in the analysis, the term had to be featured in at least 5,000 listings.
Here are the big takeaways:
1. Water features still rule
No. 1 on the list, a swimming pool continues to be the most popular search term so far this year, as the pandemic trend shows no signs of slowing down.
A pool started to seem like a must-have item at the start of COVID-19 lockdowns, which limited access to public swim clubs, lakes, and beaches. That year, pool companies installed pools in 96,000 homes across the U.S., according to the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, a trade association for the swimming pool, spa, and hot tub industry. It was the highest number in more than a decade.
It remains a must-have item ahead of what’s set to be a more fun version of last year’s Hot Vax Summer bust. But for many folks, privacy is also a key component as they build their own personal oasis.
“Even people with community pools want to build their own in the backyard,” says Becky Herman, a real estate agent at Charter One Realty in Hilton Head Island, SC.
The hot tub, the pool’s more affordable but equally high-maintenance cousin, also remains popular with buyers.
2. All about the vistas, baby
Even as people slowly begin their return to the office, many white-collar workers are choosing to continue working from home at least a few days a week. And they want a view. It doesn’t matter if it’s a river view, lake view, or golf course view. Buyers want something nice to look at in between endless Zoom meetings
“You don’t want to be in a dark, dungeon basement if you’re working from home all day,” points out Jenny Lenz, managing director of Dolly Lenz Real Estate, a luxury real estate firm that does business across the country.
Amazing views also allow homeowners to decompress after a hard day at the “office”— perhaps with a glass of wine or a nice meal alfresco.
“It’s enhancing your living experience, because people want to feel like they’re on vacation all the time,” Ameer says.
3. Focus on outdoor activities and fitness
The indoor-outdoor lifestyle goes beyond views, with people looking for more outdoor activities to keep in shape and perhaps work off that quarantine 15.
Some of these activities (ahem, horseback riding) may be accessible only to the richest 1%, but access to golf, tennis, and basketball is top of mind for many buyers in 2022. Even as COVID-19 restrictions subside, they’re preferring to keep their circle small and know who they’re working out with, unlike in large chain gyms that can quickly get crowded.
Finding places they feel comfortable is also of utmost importance for some fitness aficionados, says Ameer. She recently worked with one buyer who test-drove multiple tennis courts before settling on the perfect one.
4. All about the space
Expansive homes are still in vogue for buyers these days, as they look for space to work as well as some privacy. Having a home office—or two—has become a necessity for some, while high ceilings have been popular for a while now. Even buyers returning to big cities like New York are choosing to buy bigger, brighter units after getting used to spreading out in their second homes.
A library is another popular search term, perhaps to ensure there’s a designated desk area. People may even be getting a little creative with their WFH setups. Outbuildings—detached structures like a garage or shed that could potentially be turned into a quiet working space—is another popular search term this year.
But it’s not just indoor space homebuyers are looking for; big lots and backyards are also important to them. Entertaining outdoors and gardening became popular pastimes over the past couple of years, and they’re set to continue into 2022. Once again, privacy is essential.
“Everybody wants a big yard and to be able to not look at people on either side of them,” Ameer says.
5. Turnkey is key
One of the biggest things buyers want these days is a property that doesn’t need updates. That includes a new roof and updated kitchen, among other things.
“Everybody wants turnkey,” says Ameer. “They want a big, open kitchen, and they want it all done for them.”
Part of the reason is convenience; another is the proliferation of design shows on channels like HGTV, which perhaps gives buyers some unrealistic expectations. But buyers are also being practical: Construction delays and rising prices mean doing renovations will be more costly than in previous years, and the timelines for getting the work done can be burdensome.
“Because of all of the supply chain issues, everyone knows it’s going to be so expensive to redo anything,” Lenz says. “Turnkey is very preferable, but obviously people are going to get what they’re going to get.”