with Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, and Nancy Keenan

It was an honor to interview Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki and Nancy Keenan, whose America at Home Study provided consumer research data to inform upcoming trends in the housing industry. Teri and Nancy give us insights into what American homeowners and renters are focusing on as they consider their next homes. Read the full Spotlight for practical ways to understand your clients and their need for safety in their homes.

COVID Hits America

In March 2020, Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, owner of tst ink LLC, was reading the latest news about COVID. “Everything I was hearing and reading about in the media and with journalists, business press, economists, prognosticators, trend-watchers, everyone was talking about the impact that COVID would have on things like travel and hospitality, small businesses, and restaurants. No one was talking about the impact COVID would have on home and community, even though most of us were suddenly living life from home.”

As a self-employed marketing expert with 30 years of experience in marketing strategy and consulting, she saw the opportunity to find out what the American people were experiencing. “I collaborated with a long term partner of mine, Belinda Sward, who's a consumer insights strategist, and reached out to Nancy Keenan, as the president and CEO of Dahlin Architecture and Planning, because Dahlin is one of the most innovative groups in their space. The three of us collaborated and developed the study, and self-funded it.”

What do Consumers Need?

The results of the first wave of what they titled the America at Home Study brought back some surprising results. Teri said for her the biggest surprise was around the importance of safety. “I was surprised how important the feeling of safety really is to homeowners right now. And the impact that has across how people are living in their homes today, including the changes they've already made in their homes as a result of living with the pandemic.”

Nancy, on the other hand, was amazed by how much the pandemic was driving up the demand for new home purchases. “In April, 46% of renters said COVID made them want to buy a home and be an owner. They wanted more control and more access to things that they would like to change or modify in their home.” Homeowners said that the pandemic made them more inclined to move too.

Second Wave Confirmation

But these were only the initial results of their study. Almost immediately after the first wave returned with such a wealth of information on what American home consumers were needing, Teri, Nancy, and Belinda put out the second wave of their survey. This time, Kantar, a world leader in data insights, had reached out and offered their partnership. Teri explained, “Kantar partnered with us on the second wave and appended what's called their MindBase® segmentation. So we have an even deeper look at the specific consumers that will live in these homes and how they're telling us they want to live.”

The purpose of the second wave was two-fold, first to get those deeper insights into what consumers had already expressed, and second to find out how lasting these changes might be. Nancy said one of their big picture questions was, “Is any of this kind of going to really stick?" The second wave results were out in October of 2020 with a conclusive answer to that question. “The second wave of the study solidified what we found in the first wave, it really verified that this really is important to people and these are changes they're willing to make and stick to for some time.”

The question of whether renters want to own and whether homeowners are planning to move is the perfect example of how the second study confirmed the first. Teri described the difference, “By October, the number of renters wanting to buy homes increased from 46% to 50%. So we can confidently say today that one in two renters wishes they were able to be a homeowner. That large of a percentage of renters looking to buy translates to 7.6 million potential new homeowners. The homeowners inclined to move equates to another 3.5 million homeowners. The pandemic, despite the devastating economic downturn, has actually driven up home demand.”

The correlation between home and safety, and upward drive in home demand were only the very largest takeaways. The study asked about specifics in people’s homes, what did they want? What were they missing? What would they be willing to pay more for? What feature would they give up to replace with another feature? The results were so compelling that Nancy’s company, the Dahlin Group, in partnership with Garmin Homes, are building a concept home based on the America at Home Study.

Concept Home

Every aspect of the home will be derived from the results of the study, for instance, Nancy says, “The concept home will be 2600 square feet, two stories, four bedrooms, three and a half baths. It’s based on a target family, which is an older millennial family. One parent works at home, the other works outside the home with an elementary school child and then a younger child.

“We focused first on the parts of the home that will have the highest use and the most kind of bang for your buck value of how do you make people feel comfortable here.” The entryway is very important to homeowners during the pandemic because it’s literally where we can manage the entry of germs into our homes. The concept home will be focusing on that. Nancy continues, “We're making that family entry into a functional drop zone where kids can drop off all their backpacks. The powder room is right there so if you need a shower, just in case someone is a frontline worker and you need to clean up. Or you might have to clean up the kids before you get them into the house. That's also where your secondary fridge is and that's where your laundry is. You can enter it either from the garage or from outside. So it also serves that dual purpose of kind of a decontamination zone for the family before they come in.”

The entryway sanitization zone is only one example of how the features of this concept home will be based on new concerns from the pandemic and how consumers expressed them in the survey. The home will also feature more storage and flexible spaces to be used as bedrooms, a home gym, or a home office. It will include the major priorities that came up in the study, tech-based home features, germ-resistant surfaces for flooring and countertops, and a better-equipped kitchen.

Nancy says that in spite of the bad circumstances that are bringing these changes, she’s excited about how they will serve us in the future. “This pandemic is nothing anyone would wish as a way of changing home design. But what it's really done is made us think about what's important to me, my family, the people who come to my home. I want to come home and feel really good about the way my home serves me.”

Listening to Consumers as a Cornerstone

Teri felt like with the concept home design being finalized they had really come to the capstone of their study. She shared this fun moment of learning that she experienced, “Nancy and I were chatting with Alaina Money-Garmin one day, and I was just so excited about the way that the home was taking shape. And I said, ‘this is just so great. We really nailed it.’ And Alaina really caught me off guard and said, ‘No, the learning only just begins. We'll really learn when the home is built and we start to see how people respond to it. And what did we miss? Did we not think about it properly or correctly based on how they respond to it?’”

In addition to analyzing people’s responses to the concept home when it’s completed, Teri and Nancy said they’ll be putting out a third wave of the study sometime in the middle of this year (2021). Teri describes what that third wave will focus on, “We’ll add some additional questions around health and wellness and additional questions around specific features. We’ll ask questions about areas in the home and community that relate to the design inspiration that we've been working on the concept home.”

It’s no coincidence that Teri and Nancy are the leaders of this essential piece in working to understand consumers in our field. They’ve been centering their client’s needs for much longer than the pandemic. Teri gives this encouragement to business owners who are intimidated by consumer research, “What I would say to home builders or remodelers is, listen and observe your customers’ behaviors today. There's no substitute for that. It doesn't have to be onerous and expensive and take a long time, but just listen and observe and keep listening and keep asking.

“I think if you can find the pains that your customers are trying to alleviate, by asking about what isn’t working in their home, or their community today, and then find the gains that they're trying to amplify. Listen for statements like, ‘I need more space to have Zoom calls or to be able to work from home while my kids are at home.’ Those sound like basic, simple things, but if you stay really curious and ask ‘how might we?’ and figure out what the ‘so what’ factor is in those insights, you can create better designs in response.”

Nancy shares her insight into the importance of staying in touch with client needs, “We can sometimes fall into the trap of being experts in this field, maybe thinking that we know all the answers in advance. And someone once told me as a leader, every so often, you need to pause and turn around and make sure someone's following or listening. And so this would be a good point for folks to do that. Really focus on what is the highest use, the biggest touchpoints, and the memory points? Who is really asking those questions of people? What is the thing you most care about in your home that you would like to see happen differently?

“As designers, we can always come up with so many solutions to any challenge or problem, but what you really want to know is what the consumer or the end-user is really thinking. What is a good way to get direct information from a consumer? Because sometimes even home builders, contractors, others in the process, may bring to it their own perspective, their own point of view, but you want to know what's going to sell. What's going to help the people who are going to live in that house? How does it really impact them?“