CHBA Survey Delivers Unique Insight into Today’s New Home Buyers

For the last six years, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) has teamed up with Avid Ratings Canada – a leading customer satisfaction research company – to ask new home buyers about what drives their purchase decisions. You may remember we’ve talked about some results before, like this post on renovation trends.

The annual CHBA Home Buyer Preference Survey is the largest of its kind in Canada. In 2020, over 2,600 recent home buyers participated.
The survey is comprehensive, asking questions on just about every aspect of the home buying process. Questions range from preferred new home features, community amenities and budget considerations, to how buyers found their builder or new community.

Reflecting this, the 2020 survey provides detailed insights into what buyers want today. And since we have survey data from the last five years, we’re able to see key trends shaping the new home marketplace.

It’s important to note that this year’s survey was completed in mid-February, so it doesn’t reflect the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic may have had in some areas, like the use of online home buying tools. Bearing that in mind, here are some of the most interesting results from the 2020 survey:

Who is Buying, What Are They looking For – and Why?

Not surprisingly, there has been a gradual generational shift in new home buyers. In 2016, Gen X (born between 1966 and 1980) was the largest group of buyers. In 2020, Millennials (born between 1981 and 1992) have taken the lead. And while Baby Boomers remain a factor in the marketplace, their influence is slowly waning.

The need to accommodate a growing family is the leading factor behind a new home purchase, with over 40 percent of buyers putting themselves in this category. Singles and couples without children account for another one third of buyers. Retirees (15 percent) and those downsizing (9 percent) make up the remainder.

Pie Chart Breakdown of 2020 New Home Buyer Profiles

In terms of the type of home they want, 70 percent would prefer a single-family detached home, a 25 percent increase since the first survey in 2015. When talking about the size of the home, more than half of buyers would be looking at 2,100 square feet or less, with 40 percent looking for 1,800 square feet or less.

The New Home Search Process

Pre-COVID, the final home purchase decision continued to be driven by buyers’ hands-on experiences touring model homes and visiting the new community. We know that this has changed since March in many areas due to the pandemic. And the path that buyers take to arrive at this point in their home buying journey (whether it’s in-person or virtually) is changing.

Even before COVID, online resources continued to gain importance when people begin the search for a new home, and there is no doubt this trend has accelerated during the pandemic. While buyers will take a drive through a new community to get a feel for the plan and window shop models early in their search process, increasingly they support their searching with online research and exploration.

Signage in front of a new community

Driving through a new community ranks high on how Canadians look for a new home, and welcoming signage like this in this neighbourhood by Brookfield Residential helps people find new home.

Key digital tools include new home photo galleries and virtual tours of model homes offered on builders’ websites, as well as online interactive floor plans. And, in particular, online customer reviews of the builder are sought out by more than three-quarters of new home buyers.

The key resources used in making their final purchasing decision are pricing information, model homes/sales centres, floor plan drawings, and a list of available features/selections.

Key New Home Features

Over the six years of the survey, home buyers’ preferences have shifted in some areas, and not in others.

Kitchen features have remained the top-rated group of features since 2015, although some of the details have changed. Granite counter-tops, which were in demand in 2015 have been overtaken by quartz composite in recent years. Maple and oak cabinetry remain favourites, but more colourful thermo-foil finishes are gaining in popularity. Other top kitchen features include islands, walk-in pantries and energy-efficient appliances.

When it comes to master bedroom suites, among older buyers there is an emerging preference for a main-floor primary suite – a great option for those who are looking to stay in their home for a long time and are thinking ahead about possible future mobility challenges.

Other must-have interior features in this year’s survey include walk-in closets, linen closets and large windows. Also popular are upstairs laundry areas and a home office. This latter feature is likely even higher in importance since the survey took place and so many people are working and schooling from home. There was generally less interest in other special purpose rooms and home theatre areas.

When it comes to bathrooms, whirlpool and soaker tubs – which were hot features in 2015 – are of far less interest to today’s buyers. Instead, double sinks are now a sought-out feature, particularly among younger buyers.

Bathroom with double sinks and shower

New Home Buyer Preferences include bathrooms with double sinks like this one by the Isle of Mann Property Group in Surrey, BC. This project was a finalist for Attached Home under 1,500 square feet in the 2020 CHBA National Awards for Housing Excellence.

The energy efficiency and environmental performance of the home – and everything in it – also ranked high among the key features that buyers want. In addition to energy efficient construction and windows, buyers are looking for specific features that will save them both energy and money, including tankless water heaters, LED lighting, duel-flush toilets and whole-home ventilation systems. New home certifications, such as ENERGY STAR®, were also sought after by buyers.

Making the New Home Budget Work

Once buyers have zeroed-in on the type of new home and community, they need to find the home that fits within their budget. To better understand how this process works, the survey takes a close look at what trade-offs buyers will, and won’t, consider in order to make their budget work.

Home buyers indicate the most flexibility in relation to the overall size of their new home – a quarter would look for a smaller home that fits their budget. Other frequent budget trade-offs include having some unfinished spaces, like the basement, or living in a community that is a bit further from their workplace.

Open Main Floor Plan

A smaller square footage doesn’t have to mean compromised when you’ve got a great layout like this home by Milestone Builder Group in Edmonton, Alberta, which was a finalist for Attached Home under 1,500 square feet in the 2020 CHBA National Awards for Housing Excellence.

What the buyers are much less willing to accept are fewer of their sought-after new home features, lower construction quality, or a less energy efficient home.

Overall, the 2020 CHBA Home Buyer Preference Survey gives us a picture of buyers who know what they want and use both conventional and digital tools to find it.

Their preferred home in 2020 varies somewhat according to their age and family composition, but it is both traditional and contemporary. Most commonly, it is a single-family home, well-built and energy efficient, and equipped with latest features that make it easy to live in.