With more computers in the home, a boom in entrepreneurship, and the growing popularity of telecommuting, it's inevitable that people need more space in their homes to handle the business part of their lives. So homebuilders take note: Two recent surveys find home office space to be an increasingly important factor in home purchases.

The National Association of Home Builders says that last year, "about 36 percent of new homes had four or more bedrooms." That compares to about one-fourth in the late 1980s. However, the association found that "few buyers actually use four bedrooms for sleeping. Some are guest rooms, but many are used as home offices, studies or hobby rooms."

When American LIVES, a market research firm in Oakland, California, set out last year to find how important technology was to homebuyers, it came upon something unexpected.

Research Director Gabrielle Kuzsel says, "I was surprised at the depth of people who are looking for home offices." According to the firm's survey of about 500 recent homebuyers, 66 percent currently had a home office. Kuzsel says home offices are "one of the biggest trends that builders are going to need to address, and when people buy resale homes, they are looking for rooms they can use in that fashion."

The NAHB survey backs her up. Its report found that "some buyers are attracted by rooms specifically designed" to be used for such things as offices, "or by 'bedrooms' that incorporate designs and features that make them readily adaptable for alternative uses."

Kuzsel says the American LIVES survey found that "more than three out of four buyers want a room that is solely dedicated to being a home office," and she says "for about half of buyers who have or want a home office, there's a concern that the space be sound buffered from other parts of the home."

Why the popularity of home office space? Among American LIVES respondents, "a third of buyers do a lot of work from home, another 41 percent do occasional work at home, 38 percent of buyers want to be able to work out of multiple rooms in their home or even work from outside in the yard, deck or patio." Kuzsel says for some people the office space is a necessity. Among those surveyed, "45 percent of buyers run some sort of business out of their homes or would like to."

Nearly half of those surveyed said they need to accommodate lots of electronic equipment in their homes. All buyers reported "the desire or need for multiple phone lines."

For roughly a third of those surveyed, home office space is "just a place where I pay bills." Others demand a higher level of technological support. Nearly thirty percent either have or want built-in CAT 5 wiring -- used for phone, fax, modem and high-speed digital computer transmissions, as well as networking computers. More than half like the idea of having high-speed Internet access -- such as ISDN, DSL or cable modem.

Whether buyers are looking to be the next Bill Gates or just trying to pay the phone bill, space at home to get the work done is increasingly a factor in determining which home to buy -- and which home to ignore.

Carol Ochs is a Washington-based reporter who covers new home trends.

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