By Doug Van Lerberghe, Principal – Kephart
In the wake of the economic downturn, there has been a shift in values regarding what people want in a home and in their community. The decisions being made now are much less about conspicuous consumption in order to “keep up with the Joneses” and more about quality of life.
People, young and old, want to be able to walk to places like restaurants and shops. More and more prize quality over quantity, and are interested in smaller homes that are easier to maintain. As people re-evaluate their priorities in life, we are seeing more individuals that can qualify to buy homes choosing not to because they do not want homeownership to interfere with their lifestyle. They want to maintain their flexibility in order to be able to move where the jobs are. They are also busy and would rather spend their free-time with family and friends versus mowing a lawn or fixing a toilet.
Historically, this was never really a demographic that homebuilders had to worry about. People who could afford to buy homes, bought homes. So what, can home builders offer to make home ownership more appealing to those with active lifestyles? The key is to think about luxury resorts and apartment communities.
When designing a community, think about the demographic and the types of amenities that they will enjoy. KEPHART recently designed a small, 72 home, neighborhood geared toward 50+ buyers that is part of a larger master-planned community. To cater to the lifestyle of the residents, this small neighborhood features a 3,000 sq.ft. clubhouse with a great room, demonstration kitchen and a yoga studio. The clubhouse was placed in the center of the community to give residents a special gathering place to exercise, share recipes, play cards, and celebrate. The neighborhood also has nine garage spaces that residents can rent to foster hobbies like car-restoration and wood working, or provide additional storage for recreational equipment or a lifetime of stuff.
Since adding a clubhouse can be expensive, it is important to also consider a site’s surroundings. For example, one of our clients built a community that was located near a hotel/conference center that features world-class amenities including a large fitness center, a golf course, and a spa. Instead of going through the expense of building a clubhouse, our client chose to partner with the hotel and offered memberships and discounted services to the community’s residents. This ended up being a win for everyone – our client, the residents, and the hotel.
Offering services to buyers is just as important as providing amenities. Think of things that will make the lives of residents easier like providing a concierge, yard care, pet walking, interior design services, maintenance, child care, etc. Since it can be costly to have someone onsite everyday to coordinate these things, considering offering residents as part of their HOA dues a membership to a concierge service like 2 Places at 1 time (2placesat1time.com). This company can connect residents to anything that they need, and they offer a new service called Second ½ that is a unique combination of personal concierge services and senior care services customized specifically to meet the needs of senior clientele.
Another option to consider is creating an online bulletin board so residents can offer their services to each other to promote a sense of community. Johnny, who just turned sixteen and is saving money to buy his first car can go online and post that he would like to mow lawns, shovel snow and rake leaves. Sarah who runs a child care center in the area, can offer her services so neighbors can go out and enjoy a date night, and the list goes on.
The bulletin board can also be used for residents to connect and meet up with each other and share their interests. Residents can use it to start book clubs, form car pools, share tools, swap kids’ clothes and create hybrid fix-it shops. Instead of tossing out a broken barbeque grill, have a neighbor fix it and invite him over for steaks once it is working again.
To keep buyers from worrying about selling their homes if they need to relocate to a new city for a job, national home builders could consider offering a home relocation program. For example, a builder could offer to help the homeowners sell their home or offer to buy it at the current market rate in Denver, as long as they bought a new home from the same builder once they arrived in Dallas.
There are many more amenities and services that builders can offer to set themselves apart from the competition and make homeownership exciting. The key is to create a place that people want to live. This goes beyond just creating a great floor plan because people now value the neighborhood as much as – if not more than – the house.
—Doug Van Lerberghe, Principal