Just over half of today's new-home shoppers think that they can afford their dream homes, according to a recent survey conducted for Builder magazine.

The poll of 1,737 home shoppers throughout the nation showed that 52 percent believed that they could buy what they wanted in a home.The most common faults found with affordable homes by the remaining 48 percent were that lots were too small, according to 27 percent of that group; the homes were too small, 26 percent; the commute to work was too long, 20 percent; the general location was poor, 18 percent; or the available floor plans were not satisfactory, 13 percent.

Seventy-eight percent of the survey group already owned homes.

Detached, single-family houses, which perennially top buyer surveys, were preferred by 84 percent of those sampled, although 18 percent said they would consider a townhouse, 14 percent a patio home (a relatively small, semidetached home on a small lot) and 4 percent a condominium.

Couples with children made up the largest segment of the group (42 percent), followed by couples without children (40 percent), single women (7 percent), single men (5 percent), single parents (4 percent) and unrelated people (2 percent).

Members of the sampled group were willing to pay a maximum median price of $195,250. Other maximum medians were $40,000 for the down payment and $1,300 for the monthly payment.

The survey, by Fulton Research Inc., of Fairfax, Va., was based on interviews with shoppers who visited sample homes in new-home developments. It was the 13th such survey in Builder's series.

George Fulton, president of Fulton Research, said the recent group of would-be homebuyers was of a different breed from those he met and interviewed in 1988.

"Then, buyers were willing to accept and make concessions," he said. "Now, the role is reversed. It's builders who have to make the concessions. We're also seeing a reorientation in the price they are willing to pay. Many buyers are really stretched out (financially). I see a lot of retooling among builders, moving toward 1,800- to 2,400-square-foot homes, instead of the 3,000-plus market."

Features that appeal strongly to buyers include double-pane windows (thermal windows), bay windows, special-shaped windows, outdoor security lighting, rear decks or patios, upgraded landscaping and rear-yard fencing, wood-burning fireplaces, French doors, built-in shelving and ceiling moldings. Decks and patios are more popular than porches, including screened porches.

Sunrooms and three-car garages also are popular, and more than one-third of the would-be buyers said they would pay extra for them. Only 7 percent of the buyers said they would pay extra for a media room, once thought to be a big attraction to buyers. An exercise room or fitness center would lure 19 percent into forking over extra money, and 23 percent would pay extra for a home office.

The survey also found that aluminum siding was still preferred over vinyl by more would-be buyers (32 percent favored aluminum to 28 percent for vinyl). With younger buyers, the preference for aluminum was even stronger.

A commute of 16 to 30 minutes was acceptable to 43 percent of the group, but only 27 percent said they would commute 31 to 45 minutes, and a commute of 40 to 60 minutes was acceptable to only 20 percent. Just 4 percent said they were willing to commute more than 60 minutes.

Most of those surveyed said they wanted a new home to please their families and themselves and were not greatly concerned about what friends thought of it.