Grand entrance halls, sexy and splashy bathrooms with lots of pizazz, skylights, cathedral ceilings and dramatic new window styles are making top sellers out of new houses, town homes and condominiums in the metropolitan Washington market.

Even though sales are strong for well-maintained, older homes, new home sales are soaring throughout the region. Builders are ecstatic that buyers are showing up in record numbers for open houses and apparently taking advantage of a fairly stable interest rate. The combination is producing sales that exceed estimates made earlier this year by local builders for spring sales.

One of the main reasons for those strong sales are the amenities that builders are making available as standard items or relatively affordable upgrades.

"Skylights, big bathrooms, jacuzzis, bright, light-filled kitchens are all 'hot buttons,' " according to F. Gary Garczynski, head of the Northern Virginia Builders Association.

"The question is how many hot buttons can we put in. It is a trend word. A hot button is anything that turns a buyer on," Garczynski said. Garczynski heads Signature Communities, which is selling condominiums, town houses and single-family homes long before it can get the structures built, a trend that is being repeated throughout the Washington area. As the annual flood of transferred workers is coming into the marketplace, real estate agents say many of those people this year are willing to rent while they wait for a new house to be completed.

There are waiting periods as long as several months to get into popular South Run, a development off Lee Chapel Road near Braddock Road in Fairfax County where several of the region's top builders are constructing luxury homes in the low $200,000 range with amenities that would cost at least $50,000 more in other parts of Northern Fairfax such as McLean. However, there actually is very little new construction under way in the McLean area, a fact that local agents specializing in that area bemoan.

Today, many McLean agents are selling homes in South Run and bragging about it. Several said it is hard to find homes with space comparable to those being built at South Run, where Tipco Builders, William L. Berry, Fairfield Builders and others are building primarily traditional homes on half acre sites.

Cross Builders is offering a Cambridge model at South Run with four bedrooms, a sitting room and a possible fifth bedroom over the garage. Crown moldings and wainscoting in the entrance hall add special touches not generally found in development housing. Standard triple french doors in the breakfast room and giant bathrooms filled with light from extra large windows can be had for a base price of about $200,000. Cross sales representative Brenda Riffee said she likes the house so much she plans to buy one.

The entrance foyers have almost nine foot ceilings, she said. "The exciting optional sun room on the main level with ceramic floor is just perfect for anything anybody would want to use it for," Riffee said. The model sun room is furnished in wicker.

Fairfield Builders is emphasizing kitchens. Some have bay windows. All have oversized windows.

The Fairfield home kitchen usually spreads into a breakfast area that continues to an open family room, creating open space across the entire rear of the house. In some models, the family room has a cathedral ceiling. Offered in various developments, the kitchen is always a top selling point, especially in the model with a wraparound porch, according to several agents who said they loved to show clients "a Fairfield kitchen."

A spokesman for NVHomes said its single-family homes at Norbeck, near Olney and DuFief off Route 270 in Western Montgomery, are selling extremely well because they combine traditional exteriors with contemporary interiors. "Buyers may want the traditional exteriors, but they want the light of contemporary architecture inside."

In today's new homes, skylights are everywhere. They're in bathrooms, in entrance halls, in back halls, in family rooms and in master bedroom suites. But cathedral ceilings are often hidden under Williamsburg exteriors. Bathrooms are bigger than ever in small condominiums as well as giant single-family homes. In condominiums and town houses where space is at a premium, builders are creating the feeling of additional space by using mirrors, high ceilings, greenhouse windows and skylights.

Hardwood floors are especially attractive to buyers in the current market, according to several agents. Ceiling fans are as popular this season as in recent years, according to builders who say buyers are still conscious of a potential energy savings from the romantic overhead fans.

In addition, "everybody wants a fireplace, even those who buy a new condo. The new condos that are selling the best have fireplaces," said Jewel Monroe, a McLean real estate agent.

One of the more surprising aspects of the current sales season is the rapid sale of 18-foot-wide town houses in Fairfax. The county agreed to allow some of those narrow units to be built to test the market, and buyers are gobbling them up, according to Garczynski, whose own company is selling such units at The Villages at Mount Vernon. "Affordability is part of it," he said. Priced in the $70,000 range, the units cater to first-time buyers. The Scarborough Corp. also is reporting success with sales of 18-foot units in Western Fairfax.

Lofts and open railings from second-story balconies overlooking family rooms are popular. Capitol Homes is building a house with a special loft room in its Wolftrap Meadows development on Browns Mill Road in Vienna.

"These homes are for an abundance of living space and a creative spirit," said an agent showing the homes to an out-of-state couple last week. Decks off the rear of one model offer an option of a hot tub. The model version provides vistas of preserved park-like open space.

Developers also are experimenting with a variety of ways to open up entrance foyers. Some builders are going with two-story foyers with dramatic windows and curved rails, while others are building modified Williamsburg entrances with wider hallways at the top of the stairs. Some builders use stained glass to dramatize the foyers.

Garden condominiums are hot in the market, according to a spokesman for the Northern Virginia Builders Association. Projects by the Milton Co. in the planned development known as Daventry in Fairfax and NVHomes near George Mason University are among the hottest items on the market.

Fred Thoms of Potomac Properties in Rockville said his company is "selling a lot of new homes."

"New homes have the pizazz of bathrooms and kitchens" that older homes don't, he said. Thoms pointed to several different builders in his area as providing good products. Both Kettler Brothers and Poretsky & Starr are building "bright homes with lots of amenities" in the Seven Locks and Falls Road area in the $200,000 range. Not only are builders paying more attention to details and changing window styles, but many also are putting in brass fixtures and brass switchplates. According to Thoms, many builders are putting in a better quality of kitchen appliances.

"Once people were looking for a roof and space. Now they are looking for oversized bathrooms, Jacuzzis, mirrors, double vanities and skylights," said Tom Stevens, president of the Northern Virginia Board of Realtors.