No Tub? No Problem

Do you still need to install a tub in the master bath? Not too long ago the answer was an unqualified "yes," but things have changed considerably in the past few years.

The last time the National Association of Home Builders did significant research on master bathroom features, 70 builders, architects and designers were asked questions about the average new home of 2,400 square feet and an upscale new home of 3,000 square feet or larger. For the average home, 61 percent of the panelists - a strong majority - said that both a shower and tub was "critical" or "very critical" in the master bath. For upscale new homes, the percentage soared to 94 percent.

Word from the trenches is that those numbers have already become outdated, as builders and home buyers alike look for ways to cut costs. In the bath, as in every other room, they're doing so by eliminating frills and focusing on what matters most. For instance, having a tub and shower in the master bath is no longer considered an absolute necessity for resale. Given the choice, many buyers will opt to save money by skipping the tub altogether.

eliminating the tub in the bathroom

"We call it 'the new austerity,'" says Pat Neal, founder of Bradenton, Fla.-based Neal Communities. His company has responded by making tubs in the master bath optional. As long as there's a tub somewhere in the house - typically in the secondary bathroom where the family's children will bathe - they're fine with having just a shower in the master. Less than 10 percent of customers take the tub option in the master bath.

"People are adapting to new, simpler styles of living," he says. "Most adults don't use a tub. They'd rather have a double vanity or more storage." Savings from eliminating the tub can also be applied to enhancing the master closet.

homeowners prefer a shower without a tub

Of course, most customers still want to know whether a separate tub and shower are important features for resale. However, the answer to that question isn't the driving force it used to be, and more people are willing to drop the tub if a shower meets their needs and lifestyle preferences, and makes the house more affordable.

Resale value "is still a timely question," says New York-based designer Paige Rien of HGTV's Hidden Potential. "I have clients ask me about that all the time." But she adds that, these days, calculating that return can be a crap shoot. "So I ask them, 'What will you use and enjoy? What will have value for you?' Sometimes the standard resale formula doesn't jibe with how they live. More and more, the tub goes unused. They'd rather have a larger shower."

For buyers who want to add luxury to their master bath, Rien says she's a fan of replacing the tub with an enlarged shower with dual shower heads, digital controls, enhanced lighting - and no doors. "Eliminate the enclosure and have the entire room wet," she says "I think that speaks more to luxury than a jetted tub these days."

homeowners prefer a large shower, double vanities, and more storage options over a tub