SAN FRANCISCO—For better and for worse, home is the center of life/work/shelter during COVID. But during quarantine life, homeowners have come up with definite ideas about home design.

Several million new households are projected as a direct result of COVID-19, with an additional 7.6 million switching from renters to homeowners. Not only that but the definition of home itself is in the midst of a historic paradigm shift, as are the specific home features people want and are willing to pay for, which provides a competitive advantage for builders and developers going forward.

The America at Home Study surveyed thousands of consumers and the insights show that homebuying is not only top-of-mind but more in demand than the industry had anticipated. The survey was developed by three leaders in the homebuilding industry, Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, principal of tst ink; Belinda Sward, founder and chief strategist at Strategic Solutions Alliance; and Nancy K. Keenan, president of Dahlin Group Architecture/Planning.

Unexpected Results Emerge: COVID-19 has impacted plans to move sooner, which unveils a potential new housing demand of 2.1 million US households across all age groups, led by Millennials. While 42% of respondents plan to stay in their homes longer, more than half said they have no change in plans, meaning if they were planning to move, those plans are still intact.

The New Demands of Home Design: When asked what home means as a result of COVID-19, respondents overwhelmingly identified three top terms: a safe place (91%), comfort (85%) and family (84%). All generations of respondents also identified three top features currently missing from their home that they would be willing to pay for: germ-resistant countertops and flooring (55%), greater technology and energy efficiency (55%), and more storage for food and water (51%).

“Actions speak louder than words,” says Slavik-Tsuyuki, who spearheaded the America At Home Study. “The study showed that 92% of all respondents had made some kind of change to their homes as a result of living with COVID and more time at home. The younger Millennials (25-34)–a group of mostly renters –and the older Millennials/Younger Gen X (35-44)–mostly owners–are most dissatisfied with their current home, based on the changes they have already made. This gives builders insight into new home design opportunities, whether our target market is renters becoming first-time buyers or move-up buyers and their changing needs. And, garages are a huge design opportunity going forward. The study found 70% of Millennials who had garages had made changes to them–to add space for a home gym, another office or more storage.”

With these results in mind, Garman Homes is the builder that is collaborating with the America At Home Study team to build an actual concept home. Alaina S. Money-Garman, CEO of Garman Homes & Fresh Paint, shared the home wish list from Garman buyers.

“Our homebuyers are prioritizing outdoor space,” she says. “Those who didn’t add a screened porch tell us they regret it, and those who did are enhancing their space, adding gates to keep small children and pets safe, and adding TVs for outdoor entertainment. The biggest changes our buyers say they would make if they could include added soundproofing and more electrical outlets. The hard surface flooring in our homes makes it really loud when you are trying to work and do school from home and have multiple Zoom calls. Some of our owners told us they need to be on separate floors in the home to be able to avoid distractions. The simple solution of adding more electrical outlets allows people the flexibility to make workspaces or school spaces anywhere.”

In the end, whatever becomes of the changes to the built environment as a result of COVID remains to be seen.

“But with the huge focus on safety, sanitization and concerns about hygiene, I think we can compare hygiene post-COVID to the focus on security in the face of terrorism after 9/11. That gave us the TSA and the ring of steel of security cameras in lower Manhattan and police cars parked in the open on the Brooklyn Bridge. This was largely security theater to demonstrate that we were safe from terrorism,” Slavik-Tsuyuki tells GlobeSt.com. “The question for housing is how might we create spaces that adapt flexibly for how people want to live, and where they can see and touch hygiene in new ways and feel safe as a result?”