By Kathy Canavan
Special to Delaware Business Times
Jane Lee sold her townhouse in a 55-plus community before she even moved in because the homeowner’s association limited the number of dogs residents could keep.
Although she only has an 11-year-old pappion named Scarlett for now, Lee opted to buy a $300,000 stand-alone home so she can foster some small abandoned dogs for the Senior Dog Haven & Hospice in Wilmington.
Homebuyers like Lee are making their pets a priority, and real estate agents and home developers are wooing them with dog paths, relaxed rules and pet-centric upgrades.
Seven out of 10 Americans own pets, and 90 percent of them say their pets’ needs figure in their home-buying decisions. The two largest generations — millennials and boomers — are so devoted to their pets that they are causing a minor shift in the real estate market.
Americans spent $69.5 billion on their pets last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Real estate agents get it. Sixty-eight percent of them own pets too. Re/Max Agent Bayard Williams, who was Lee’s agent, is one. He has a 14½-year-old Maltese named Lila. As he put it, “I’ve stood in the rain with a golf umbrella.”
“He obviously feels the same way about his dog Lila that I feel about mine,” Lee said. “We talked about having to get up in the middle of the night and take them out, because, as they get older, they’re just like people and they need to go more often”
Another client of Williams’ bought in Trolley Square to be close to the dog park in Rockford Park.
Carol Arnott-Robbins of Berkshire Hathaway in Greenville had a client whose dog had special needs, so
stairs were a problem. “People look at open stairs and say, ‘My dog would never go up or down that,’” Arnott-Robbins said. “I think people are more cognizant of pets’ needs now. Pets are certainly family members, so, if a house doesn’t work for a pet,it won’t work for the family.”
“People will spend beaucoup dollars on their Fidos,” said Mia Burch, a Long & Foster agent in Greenville. She said some upscale developments now offer dog showers as an upgrade, just like an oversized range or a splashy bath.
Ninety-nine percent of pet owners feel pets are part of their family, according to a National Association of Realtors report, and 89 percent say they would not give up their pets to buy a house.
More than one-third of National Association of Realtors members said animal owners often refuse to make an offer on a home that is not ideal for their animal.
Agents say current buyers are asking upfront if they can put up fence, if secure pet doors are available and if doggie showers can be added to mud rooms.
Steven Witsil of Witsil Realtors in Centreville said pets are definitely a factor for some of his clients, and he’s found pet owners often look for fenced yards and dog baths. Nearly half of the animal owners who took a National Association of Realtors survey said they renovated their homes to accommodate pets. The most popular additions are fenced yards, laminate flooring, dog baths and dog doors. Agents say some pet doors are very elaborately designed.
It’s not just the house either. Sixty-two percent of householders say it is important to have an animal-friendly neighborhood too, a burg with amenities such as walking paths, neighborhood pet stores, an animal groomer, a dog park and a kennel.
Laird Bunch, who is selling the $1.2 million-and-up, over-55 homes at Crooked Billet on Kennett Pike, said prospective buyers ask if the back-access laundry rooms are big enough for a doggie wash (they are) and if they can have an electronic dog fence (yes) or if they can fencein the rear yard (yes). Or if dogs must be on leashes. (They must.)
Crooked Billet’s lighted walking paths are dotted with pet stations where dog-waste bags and leashes
are available for use.
Nowadays, Bryce Lingo of Jack Lingo Realtor in Rehoboth said he doesn’t know of any beach community that isn’t pet-friendly. “The rules and limitations on pets have become much more relaxed. Honestly, I don’t know of any community that doesn’t have them,” he said. “It just seems they are man’s best friend and people don’t like leaving home without them.”