Living room interior with hardwood floors and fireplace

Is a Fireplace a Selling Feature?

By: , Contributor

Published on: Oct 09, 2019

Fireplaces are falling out of favor with both homebuyers and builders.

A home with a cozy fireplace where the family can gather used to be one of the most enduring images of the suburban dream. A fireplace in the living room could create the ambiance of a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.

Realtors knew it, too, touting the benefits of fireplaces in not just the living room and dining room, but other gathering spaces, too. Even the master bedroom could benefit from this beacon of warmth and light.

But a fireplace isn't near the top of the list of amenities that most buyers want today, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Homebuyers (NAHB). Only 41% of newly constructed homes have fireplaces, according to an NAHB analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. That number has been dropping steadily since 2015 and represents a record low to date.

The vast majority of new fireplaces (60%) are in luxury homes valued at $500,000 or more. Only 7% of homes valued at less than $150,000 built in 2018 featured a fireplace.

The main reason? Cost-cutting.

With a lack of affordable housing plaguing the country, homebuilders are seeking to reduce costs on starter homes, ideally without diminishing the construction quality. Eliminating niceties like fireplaces can help. People need a place to live within a strict budget and are willing to sacrifice items on their wish list to find an affordable home.

Even in higher-priced neighborhoods, a hot seller’s market means there’s less incentive to add costly amenities to promote a quick sale. Homes are vanishing off the market in as fast as a month in places like San Jose, according to Realtor.com statistics. There’s not as much need to entice buyers with luxury amenities.

What do buyers want instead of fireplaces?

Just because they're eschewing features that previously raised the value and selling price of homes doesn’t mean buyers aren’t selective. Their demands today just lean toward the practical.

The NAHB survey, What Home Buyers Really Want, polled 4,000 homebuyers who have recently purchased or plan to purchase a home in the next three years to determine the most desirable features. The organization came up with a list of 175 home features with varying degrees of desirability.

Tops on the list? A laundry room, EnergyStar windows and appliances, and energy-efficient certification for the whole house. Garage storage and walk-in pantries also ranked high.

Open floor plans, especially a completely or partially open kitchen and dining room area, were prioritized by 86% of survey participants. And, in keeping with the growing trend of outdoor living spaces, patios, and exterior lighting made the top 10 on the list of most desirable features.

Fireplaces, on the other hand, ranked mid-way down the list of 175 features, with 48% of participants rating a wood-burning fireplace as desirable and 55% desiring a gas-burning model. Only 16% of buyers listed any type of fireplace as essential for a home purchase.

Regional differences in fireplace demand

Not surprisingly, the demand for fireplaces varies regionally. The prevalence of a fireplace seems to be based on a combination of climate and home prices. The Pacific Coast, which includes Southern California, has the fewest amount of homes with at least one fireplace (36%), followed by the mountain region (38%), and then the fair-weather South Atlantic, spanning from Florida up to the southern border of Pennsylvania.

The regions with the most homes with at least one fireplace are the chilly mid-Atlantic (57%) and the west north central U.S. (56%). Encompassing New York and New Jersey, the mid-Atlantic also has a large market for luxury homes over $500,000.

Region Percentage of Homes With at Least One Fireplace
Middle Atlantic 57%
West North Central 56%
New England 48%
East North Central 44%
East South Central 42%
West South Central 42%
South Atlantic 39%
Mountain 38%
Pacific 36%

Data source: NAHB.

Can a fireplace help a home sell?

Having a fireplace won’t hurt your ability to sell your home. People still like fireplaces, but few want to pay extra for them. Don’t expect a fireplace to raise your home’s value, but don’t go through the expense and hassle of getting rid of it, either.

If you’re an investor rehabbing a home to flip, it’s not worth the cost to add a fireplace to an existing construction. And if you’re investing in a new build, choose the floor plan without the fireplace to reduce costs and, hopefully, encourage a faster sale or rental.

Consider these upgrades instead

If you’re rehabbing an investment project or making capital improvements to your home before a sale, consider upgrades that will raise your home’s value.

For instance, energy efficiency upgrades like attic insulation don’t cost a lot but can substantially raise your home’s value. A survey by Remodeling.com discovered that homeowners can recoup 116% of their investment in attic insulation.

New EnergyStar rated windows can also increase your home’s value; you could earn as much as 73% of your investment if you replace 10 older windows. Plus, you’ll enjoy cost savings with lower electric bills while your home is on the market. New windows add curb appeal to a house, too, which could lead to a faster sale.

As lifestyles and priorities change, the days of family and friends gathered around the fireplace may have been replaced with patio gatherings around a fire pit. Keeping your home or investment property current to reflect homebuyers’ desires can help ensure you maximize the home’s value when you’re ready to sell.

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Homebuying | Real Estate Trends | Real Estate Market
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