Water features in new-built U.S. luxury residences are moving closer to the home’s form and footprint, “hugging” the architecture. (Trent Bell)

At this year’s International Builders Show (IBS) in Las Vegas, the most important trend is that the market for new-construction single-family homes in the United States is recovering, but it is still far from fully recovered. That is according to Paul Emrath, Washington, D.C.–based National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)’s vice president of survey and housing policy research, who spoke during a press briefing.

Single-family housing starts rose 92 percent from the trough in 2009 through November 2014, Emrath explained. That increase “sounds huge,” he said, but only without the context that housing starts dropped 80 percent from the peak in 2005 to that 2009 trough.

“We are substantially up from that very low point,” Emrath said, “but still only 49 percent of what we would consider normal. So there is a long way to go. We are recovering, but have a lot of room to recover further.”

The greatest pent-up demand for newly built homes is in the younger age groups, particularly people aged 25 to 34, whose employment outlook has improved, Emrath suggested.

What Boomers Are Buying

One of the strongest segments of the U.S. housing market is new homes targeted to people aged 55 years and older.

This market has grown dramatically and is forecast to continue to do so in part because 43 percent of U.S. households are now in this category. That proportion is projected to rise to more than 46 percent by 2020, Emrath said.

The trigger is, of course, the aging baby-boom generation.

Boomers started to arrive at Traditions of America’s sales offices about three years ago and are now “a tidal wave,” accounting for more than half of the Radnor, Pennsylvania, active-adult homebuilder’s customers, according to managing partner Tim McCarthy.

“They may not be building a bigger home than [what] they moved from, but they are—in their minds—building the best home they’ve had in their life, and they are willing to spend money on it,” McCarthy said at the NAHB briefing.

Active-adult housing used to attract people in their mid-70s, but the age range has dropped a decade or more to the early 60s, said Steve Bomberger, president of Benchmark Builders, a 55-plus community homebuilder in Wilmington, Delaware, also at the briefing.

People in this age group are recent empty nesters who want to “sell the house with the cold windows, old furnace, and empty rooms they have to heat and clean,” Bomberger said.

Multifamily Still Strong

Construction of new multifamily housing in the United States also has shown dramatic increases since the 2008 recession. This segment is expected to level off this year, though at a strong and sustainable plateau, said David Crowe, NAHB chief economist, in a press statement released at IBS.

The builders’ association’s forecast expects 358,000 multifamily units to be built this year and 361,000 next year. Builders have been saying that this market is “very strong and expected to stay that way for the foreseeable future,” Crowe said.

Trends in newly built multifamily housing include the following:

  • Energy-efficient appliances;
  • Locally sourced building materials;
  • Recycling construction waste;
  • Bike-storage rooms;
  • Larger bathrooms with a separate shower and tub; and
  • Dog washing and grooming areas.

That is according to Sanford Steinberg, an architect and principal of Steinberg Design Collaborative in Houston, Texas, in a statement.


In newly built U.S. luxury homes, patterns are out and neutral menswear-inspired gray tones are in. (Ed Butera/Marc-Michaels Design)

Design Trends

The long-term trend toward indoor-outdoor connections in luxury residential architecture shows no signs of diminishing. In fact, “bringing the indoors out” and “bringing the outdoors in” might have been the two most often-repeated phrases at IBS.

Still, every existing trend needs a new twist.

Along with the popular vessel-style bathtubs, home designer Marc Thee cited water-hugging architecture as a major trend in newly built luxury homes. Thee is a principal at Marc-Michaels Interior Design, a Winter Park, Florida, firm that works with both homeowners and residential builders.

“Water features and wet features are moving way closer to the architecture,” Thee said at an IBS press reception. “Pools and reflecting ponds used to be a destination. They are now absolutely hugging the form or footprint of the house.”


Full-wall “sliders” in new-built U.S. luxury residences transform entire rooms from indoor space to outdoor space. (Ed Butera/Marc-Michaels Design)


Other interior design trends on Thee’s list for newly built luxury residences included the following:

  • Brighter paint colors moving from walls to ceilings as designers pair menswear-inspired neutrals on walls with sky blues and sunny yellows on ceilings.
  • New gray and charcoal tones in homebuilding and decor products.
  • Furnishings covered in solid fabrics rather than ornate mixes of plaids, stripes, and other patterns.
  • LED lighting in multiple smaller fixtures to minimize the harsher effects of bright-white light.
  • Sliding walls that can be closed to create heated or cooled spaces in inhospitable weather and opened for outdoor entertaining in fine weather.