Here’s what 2021 buyers want in a kitchen

Most Realtors know that kitchens not only sell houses, buyers pay more for homes with upgraded kitchens. But what upgrades and trends will capture their eyes? The 2021 U.S. Houzz Kitchen Trends Study surveyed more than 2,000 homeowners who are in the midst of, planning or recently completed a kitchen renovation. Not surprisingly, they found some new trends emerging from the pandemic:

Surplus storage. Stocking up on paper towels, canned goods and bottled water has left many homeowners in search of more storage, either by upgrading pantry cabinets (46% of respondents) or adding a walk-in pantry (13% of respondents). “Storage has really come into focus as people have spent more time at home during the pandemic,” said Liza Hausman, Houzz vice president of Industry Marketing, in the report. “We’re seeing an increase in the amount of cabinetry added in renovations, and more homeowners are reaching out to professionals on Houzz for help making their kitchens work better, most often within the same layout and square footage.”

Built-in organization. Blame tidying guru Marie Kondo and the home organization duo behind The Home Edit, but home organization has become both a necessity and in an uncertain world, a comfort of sorts. High on the list are built-in specialty organizers, drawers and trays. The most popular organizers are for cookie sheets and spices (48% and 39%, respectively), while the most common specialty drawers are pullout waste or recycling drawers (60%). More than a third of kitchen renovations include specialty shelving trays, such as Lazy Susans, and pullout or swing-out trays (38% and 34% respectively), making deep or hard-to-reach spaces more accessible.

Not-so-open. The number of renovating homeowners creating an open-concept floor plan by opening up their kitchen to other interior spaces has dropped dramatically since 2019 (43% in 2021 versus 53% in 2019). However, homeowners said they still want kitchens that open up to the great outdoors, consistent with an increased demand for outdoor living.

Island appliances. Nearly two-thirds of renovated kitchens feature an island (63%) and more than half of those newly added or upgraded islands feature a new appliance (55%), up three percentage points from the previous year. Among these islands, more than a third include a dishwasher and/or microwave (34% and 33%, respectively).

Pops of color. Maybe it’s lockdown boredom, but homeowners are going for more colorful looks, including multicolored backsplashes (18%) blue walls (7%) and grey flooring (14%). But the majority are adding pops of color on their island cabinetry. “Forty-one percent of renovators differentiate their island cabinet color from the colors in the rest of the kitchen,” the study said. “Blue and gray are the top choices for nearly half of homeowners with contrasting island cabinets, while only 13% choose these colors for their man wall cabinetry.”

Remote workers could continue to drive the post-pandemic market

The pandemic-driven trend of working from home is driving home buyers to suburban areas in search of larger residences, and it could just be the beginning, according to a new report from the real estate media company President David Mele discussed the report at the National Association of Real Estate Editors 54th Annual Real Estate Journalism Conference, noting that while the flight to the suburbs trend is real, it also is likely to continue well after a vaccine becomes widely available.

“This is really just getting started,” Mele said in the panel Suburban Migration and Coronavirus Changes. The trend could increase post-pandemic, he said, because many workers are still waiting to see if they will work from home permanently.’s study of more than 1,000 consumers and 600 real estate professionals shows that buyers are not only moving away from urban areas, but they’re also making more long-distance moves.

Mele said that the survey revealed that 70% of respondents said their pandemic relocation is permanent. One out of three respondents who relocated in the last 12 months did not plan to move prior to the pandemic. And one in four said the move “was sparked by a change in their job situation, presumably caused by the pandemic,” the report noted.

Forty-five percent of those who haven’t moved said they would if given the opportunity to work from home, and 20% said working remotely made their move possible.

Industry professionals were optimistic about 2021 as well, with a majority of industry experts (57%) anticipating continued robust homebuying activity. Another 28% of respondents said they expect more transactions next year.

“The surge in the work-from-home population has rewritten the playbook for many homebuying and rental decisions, from when and where to relocate, to what people are looking for in their next residence,” Mele said in a press release. “That, in turn, is prompting changes for real estate professionals, many of whom are expanding their market area to better serve clients who are moving farther than before. If working from home becomes standard operating procedure for many companies, as predicted, these changes will be with us for years to come.”

Other highlights from the survey include:

  • 40% who moved or plan to are moving more than 100 miles away, and are moving over 500 miles.
  • Approximately 30% are leaving cities for the suburbs.
  • 15% are looking for less populated areas.
  • 78% of real estate professionals said requests for home offices are the No. 1 change. Larger square foot was next at 57%, followed by outdoor recreational spaces at 45%, and upgraded kitchens at 44%.
  • The buyer’s market has made made sellers less likely to accept a contingency (69%), show a house without a pre-approval letter (59%), negotiate on repairs (57%) or negotiate with buyers for a quick sale (40%).