After nearly a year spent away from family and friends, millions of Americans are grappling with their holiday plans in the face of rapidly rising coronavirus infections and deaths. While some people have decided to have a solitary Thanksgiving, others are still weighing the risks of traversing long airport lines to see loved ones or hosting a small, intimate gathering at their home.
Agents in California, Montana, Arkansas and Louisiana told Inman their buyers have been planning for this moment for much of the pandemic by investing in expansive kitchens that offer spaced seating options, blended spaces to connect the outdoors and indoors and outdoor kitchens that rival their indoor counterparts.
“I think people are reworking in their head what a house and a property means to them in this age of uncertainty,” New Orleans-based Entablature Realty Principal Francesca Brennan told Inman.
Brennan said homebuyers have placed outdoor kitchens and pizza ovens at the top of their list, as an extension of the city’s deep outdoor cooking culture. Whereas most New Orleanians already have grills, crawfish rigs and turkey fryers, homebuyers are investing in full-blown kitchen setups with stovetops, ovens, prep tables and storage for utensils and other needs.
“Part of our culture includes crawfish boils and frying turkeys, which is a very common thing in this season,” she said. “It is not uncommon for people to have a glorified grill setup, but now people are really honing in on that space to create an actual outdoor kitchen.”
“Outdoor pizza ovens are just off the charts,” she added, noting that she’s seen a lot of homeowners touting their new ovens on social media. “That’s a really cool thing I’ve seen around lately, but South Louisiana, we’ve always had sort of a designated outdoor space to eat and entertain. It’s a huge part of our culture.”
When it comes to dining spaces, Brennan said homebuyers and homeowners are using their porches to create outdoor dining rooms where they can host a socially distanced dinner with a handful of family or friends. Or, they’re remodeling formal dining rooms to create an extra-large kitchen with multiple seating options.
She explained that in New Orleans, the majority of old homes have formal dining rooms, and often need some form of renovation. “The number one thing people ask is how to open up the space and create a larger kitchen,” Brennan said.
“Oftentimes, they’ll capture the dining space to open up the kitchen,” she added. “They’ll create more room for a breakfast [nook], a large bar with bar stools that can add space for people to eat.”
In Sacramento, House Real Estate broker and leader Tim Collom said the pandemic has pushed homebuyers to create every extra bit of space they can get, including blended spaces that merge indoor and outdoor features and accessory dwelling units (ADU) with extra kitchen, dining, and bedroom spaces.
“People want extra space no matter where it is,” he said. “I’m doing it myself. I’m creating another dwelling on our property just to have extra space, and I think that’s critical.”
“Buyers are focusing on functionality and being able to use a space in a lot of different ways,” he added. “We’ve sold well over 100 homes [this year], and a lot of them are looking for more space.”
Collom said California’s climate offers homeowners the ability to stay outside well into the winter months, and they’ve been taking advantage by embarking on expansive outdoor renovations that include pools, high-tech cabanas and chef-worthy kitchens to whip up a meal for a small group of guests.
Nearly 2,000 miles away in Arkansas, iRealty broker-owner Kristen Kennon echoed Brennan and Collom’s sentiments while saying her clients have warmed up to different heat sources and outdoor kitchens in the hopes of having some safe fun even as temperatures drop.
“The biggest thing that I’ve seen that’s different from normal is just really the focus on outdoor space, whether that’s having a big driveway or a space where you can bring people over and still spend time with them and social distance,” Kennon said. “Outdoor kitchens, fire pits, fireplaces, and things like that have been really sought after.”
Kennon added that homebuyers are looking for larger kitchens to spread out and create multiple seating options inside as well.
“No one wants a dining room,” she said. “People are using [dining rooms] for their home office or their playroom for their kids. Everybody is stepping away from formal dining rooms.”
L&K Real Estate agent Michael Pitcairn was the outlier of the bunch with him saying Montanans aren’t too concerned about investing in outdoor cooking or dining spaces as it’s simply too cold to do so.
“Space is definitely a priority,” Pitcairn said. “Obviously, we have skiing here, which is our main attraction. But if you’re not skiing, it’s pretty cold, and so you want to be inside.”
“Like so many markets out there, we are so picked over right now, so honestly, buyers, can’t even be that picky right now,” Pitcairn said with a laugh. “In my market, it’s still more about the location and the property.”
When it comes to the issue of COVID safety, Brennan said her clients haven’t asked if a house has enough outdoor or indoor space to host a safe holiday gathering. Even if they did, she said, it would be tough to rate the safeness of a home.
“Safety is subjective,” she explained. “The word ‘safety’ is a word that Realtors tend to not have in their vernacular in terms of neighborhoods, or, in this case, having family over.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily even feel comfortable responding to that question because I would hate to have someone come back to me and say, ‘You told me this home is safe, and now I have COVID,’” she said. “I will say speaking from personal experience, my dad [came to my home] and we are lucky that we have space where can we can entertain, at a good distance.”
She concluded, “In general, people are reprioritizing what properties will work for them in the age of COVID, and we can help them on that journey.”