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Although the heydays of the real estate boom of the early 2000s have not quite returned, things look positive. In the United States, 1,226,000 new homes were built in 2016, according to data from Consumer Reports. That was the most since 2007.

Resales also have been more promising. The National Association of Realtors says the median number of days a home was on the market in April 2017 reached a new low of 29 days. However, low supply levels did stanch existing home sales somewhat. By mid-2017, the market was a sellers’ market, with more people in the market for homes than properties available. But sales during that time were still outpacing sales figures from a year prior.

Low interest rates on mortgages and more confidence in the economy have driven many people to make improvements to their existing homes. As is typical, the things homeowners are looking for in 2017 have evolved from years past. The following are some trends that are helping to steer the real estate market further.

Energy and Environmentally friendly: Beauty, spaciousness and interior design are all important when building a personal dream home. Today, however, with the reality of energy and environmental concerns, homeowners also insist their forever home must be as eco-responsible as possible. And it turns out many decisions initially based on being environmentally friendly can deliver unexpected aesthetic results, too.

Sometimes the least glamorous decisions can be the ones that give your lifestyle far more quality and value and a good case in point is the use of concrete to build the walls, instead of traditional wood framing, says Natalie Rodgers of Nudura, a leading name in this field.

Our technology has advanced the development of the insulated concrete form, a system that interlocks like Lego to erect a building. For the occupants, the benefits of improved comfort, energy efficiency, safety and interior air quality are delivered immediately with ICF construction. For the homeowner-investor, all those benefits assure top resale value.

In addition, an ICF structure can be finished on the exterior just like traditional wood frame structures. Stone, stucco, brick or whatever material is envisioned can be used with the insulated concrete forms.

Building the walls with concrete needs to be decided early in the planning, Rodgers explains. The method discards wood framing in favor of pre-assembled, interlocking concrete forms filled with concrete.

Smaller homes: Home sizes in the United States steadily increased for decades, eventually leading to an average of 2,453 square feet in 2014, according to U.S. Census figures. However, Realtor.com reported in 2015 that new construction homes have already begun to shrink by 40 square feet. There seems to be a slight trend toward more modest homes as people consider affordability and maintenance on larger properties. The National Association of Home Builders states buyers are now looking for smaller, more livable homes with flexible floor plans, energy-efficient appliances and plenty of storage space.

Matte finishes: Stainless steel and luster have been popular for years. However, the next big thing is matte finishes on faucets, appliances and even in countertops. These less flashy finishes are prized for their warmth and elegance. While some high-end models with matte finishes have been available for several years, even less expensive models are now available.

Smarter technology: Many homeowners are embracing smart technology throughout their homes, but it’s not just lights that turn on with voice command or more efficient thermostats. Innovative technology includes toilets that can autonomously stay clean and sanitized, refrigerators equipped with cameras so homeowners can see the contents inside and indoor food recyclers that can turn food waste into fertilizer.

Staying abreast of the ever-changing trends in home improvement and real estate can help consumers make the best choices with regard to buying and building their homes.

Contributed by Parker Heller, broker/owner of Century 21 Heritage Realty in Helena.

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