- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Take the exact same house and ask any man and woman what they like the most about it. You’re bound to get different answers every time. Sex differences in housing preferences are not always discussed, yet they exist.

Consider LaShel Watson and her husband, Rick. He likes the master bathroom of their Greenbelt home the most. She likes the kitchen more.

When it comes to marketing a house, real estate agents advise sellers to keep the colors and decor gender-neutral to appeal to the broadest range of buyers.

It’s possible for a couple to fall in love with the same house for different reasons, say agents and home builders, who play up to the likes and dislikes of both sexes by drawing attention to what catches the eye the most.

Although housing preferences may vary from person to person, real estate agents and builders say that many times, men and women have distinct wants when it comes to home features.

Buyers aren’t afraid to express their opinions on the matter, either.

“We both liked the location of our home, and I’ve always pictured living in a house with a large magnolia tree in the back yard like the one we have,” says Ms. Watson of their single-family home in a tree-lined cul-de-sac.

Lorraine Hedgepeth of Keller Williams Realty in Gaithersburg says that when she shows a house, most men will comment on the size of a particular room while women will comment on decorative features and how they would decorate differently.

Ms. Watson says decorating is usually her territory and that although she gets feedback from her husband when it comes time to decorate, he’s usually not as interested and she typically makes the decisions.

Billy and Marilyn Louis of Bowie say that when house hunting, she paid more attention to the decorations and appearance of the house while he was more concerned with the yard size, study and basement.

Women and men see different aspects of the way a home looks, real estate agents say.

“Typically, men are visual, so curb appeal and the presentation of the home is very important,” says Gayle Cody of Century 21 in Mitchellville. “If a home has neither, men tend to be not interested.”

Ms. Cody says men seem drawn to brick-front homes and large back yards as well as garages and basements.

“They like large basements, and, of course, a garage is on the top of the list,” Ms. Cody says.

“Large garages and a nice deck seem to be some of the more masculine features that men usually look for,” says Charles Search of Jobin Realty in Alexandria. “They also want a quiet, peaceful neighborhood.”

Mr. Louis counts having a separate entrance into his roomy two-car garage as a plus.

Women, on the other hand, tend to prefer a neighborhood with a sense of community and don’t necessarily have to have the supersized back yard, real estate agents say.

Gopal Ahluwahlia, vice president for research for the National Association of Homebuilders, says builders know women tend to make most of the major decisions when it comes to housing. As a result, they have paid special attention to the kitchen, laundry room, storage space and children’s areas.

“Women look for the whole house to meet their functional needs,” Mr. Ahluwahlia says.

Mr. Ahluwahlia says architects with whom he has spoken agree that when choosing a home, women plan to look at what they will use and what they need.

Real estate agents say women want a home that allows them to fulfill their many roles, from entertaining the boss to hosting play dates with the neighbors’ children to creating gourmet dinners on weekends.

Men tend to be more interested in the family room because that’s where the television is. They are also interested in the quality of the bathroom, Mr. Ahluwahlia says.

“A large, comfortable den or study is appealing to men,” Mr. Search says. Men enjoy a space that they can retreat to after a long day, whether it’s the study, basement, family room, garage or even bathroom, real estate agents say.

Ms. Watson says she enjoys spending time in the master bedroom, but her husband spends more time in their home office space.

The Louis household has similar preferences.

“If there wasn’t a study or home office we did not look at the house,” says Ms. Louis, who also counts the master bedroom, especially the sitting-room portion, as one of her favorite spaces in the home.

“I was more concerned with having a sitting room as my hideout,” she says.

Real estate agents also say men often head straight to the basement when looking at homes, and Ms. Hedgepeth says they especially like walk-out basements that lead to the back yard.

However, kitchens and bathrooms can make or break a sale, Mr. Ahluwahlia says.

“Today’s kitchens aren’t just for cooking alone; people study in the kitchen, and when entertaining, most people wind up spending a lot of time in the kitchen, which is why they’ve become so fancy and upscale,” he says.

Ms. Louis says the kitchen in their present home attracted her most.

Robbie Kimball of Long & Foster in Takoma Park says kitchens have evolved into family work spaces.

“They have computer desks for the adults, fireplaces and lounge chairs for relaxing, and homework/hobby areas for everyone,” Ms. Kimball says.

“No one, of any gender, wants to be stranded alone in a closed kitchen to prepare a meal,” Ms. Kimball says. “Larger open kitchens that flow into other rooms allow for more participatory cooking; at a minimum, people can chat while the meal is prepared.”

Mr. Search says he has observed that large kitchens and bathrooms, along with open, airy spaces with an easy flow, are attractive to many women.

“They like the circular floor plan,” he says.

Although it seems that couples fall into classic stereotypes when looking at a home, it doesn’t mean that women aren’t ever interested in the garage or that men aren’t interested in the kitchen.

“Within my client base, skills and interest don’t align according to gender,” Ms. Kimball says.

“Some women want high-tech workrooms, and some men want chef’s kitchens. All want to see that the base systems such as the plumbing and electrical are in good working order,” Ms. Kimball says.

Yet in each couple, she says, the nurturer seems to prefer cute and quaint, while the tool person seems to prefer wide-open contemporaries with uncluttered lines.

When preparing to sell a home, real estate agents say, it is important to make the home gender-neutral so that it appeals to men and women.

“Stay neutral throughout the house. The color pink (or a variation of pink) is definitely a turnoff for men,” Ms. Cody says. She adds that different tones of neutral colors in several rooms can be appealing to both men and women. So can neutral tones with an accent wall.

“Many men cannot seem to see past the colors if the colors are not neutral,” Ms. Cody says.

Mr. Search agrees.

When in doubt, he says, make the walls vanilla white.

“There’s nothing worse than dated wallpaper or paint designed to please one type of person,” Mr. Search says.

Ms. Kimball says she prefers a home that is “omni-gender” when it comes time to sell but that there is no set formula.

“Dens can be charming — chintz, toile,” she says, “and breakfast nooks can be woodsy leather, all within the same house.”

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