The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is seeing an improving market reflected in the size and amenities Americans now expect in both new homes and when they remodel. The Institute also says that responses to its Home Design Trends Survey for the first quarter of 2013 indicate that member firms involved in residential work are seeing their strongest growth levels since the economic downturn began.

AIA Home Design Survey Index for Q1 2013 said that respondents reported that business conditions are strengthening with scores of 67 for billings and 74 for new projects where any score above 50 is positive. AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker said, "With business conditions at residential architecture firms at the strongest growth level since 2005, this is a very encouraging sign for the housing sector and broader economy in general, especially when you look at the year-over-year improvement in the marketplace."

Increasing sizes in homes are reflected by an increase in the homes volume and square footage. Twenty-four percent of survey respondents reported seeing increasing trends in the former and 12 percent in the latter compared to 20 percent and 8 percent in 2012. While only 3 percent reported that preference for larger lot sizes had increased compared to 5 percent last year, customers appear focused on the features they put into that outdoor space and their environmental impact.

In addition to larger homes and additions, homeowners are showing a preference for accessible spaces in homes, that is open-space layouts and single-floor designs. Sixty-four percent of respondents said their had been an increase in the trend toward in-home accessibility, 56 percent noted an increase in preference for open space layouts, 46 percent for a single floor plan, and 55 percent for ease of access in and out of the home. All of these numbers were up or unchanged from the previous survey.

"We've seen over the past few years, an increased interest in seamlessly blending indoor and outdoor spaces and building in more informal spaces into homes," Baker said. "Because lot sizes don't show any signs of increasing, it's clear that homeowners want to maximize their current square footage to its highest potential, as opposed to increasing it."

Sixty-one percent of respondents reported a trend toward low irrigation landscaping and 63 percent outdoor living space (both down slightly from last year), 55 percent reported increasing interest in blended indoor/outdoor living, 52 percent rainwater catchment and 35 percent exterior or security lighting.

The Survey Design Index is computed by subtracting the percentage of respondents reporting a worsening market from those reporting an improving one. Member firms perceptions about most residential segments of their markets improved from 2012 numbers. Kitchen and bath remodeling increased from 53 to 65 and remodeling/additions/alternations from 51 to 63. The index number for the custom/luxury home market improved from -2 to 16 and move-up homes from -3 to 32. The first time buyer/affordable market moved from -7 to 21, and the townhouse condo market form -17 to 7, Only the index for second homes bucked the trend, falling from -15 last year to -36.

AIA's survey is conducted quarterly among a panel of more than 500 architectural firms that concentrate their practice in the residential sector. Business conditions are also monitored on a quarterly basis.