How does a home live? Today’s homebuyers are looking beyond the drama of exciting standard features and glamorous options to include a focus on the elements that make a home more convenient, livable and reflective of how the owners will use the home.
Form follows function
“Through social media, television and home tours, today’s buyers are more knowledgeable than ever before, and when they visit model homes, they consider design features such as privacy, traffic flow, size and placement of windows for maximum light and popular features like large kitchen islands that help to bring family and friends together,” says Jeremy Lund, sales manager for Shodeen Homes. “Buyers want floor plans that complement and simplify their busy lives. For example, this focus on livability has led to floor plan requests for two master bedrooms in a home, in-law suites, first-floor master bedrooms and open concept floor plans. We are also seeing a resurgence in screened-in porches where buyers can enjoy the outdoors without uninvited pests,” he says.
Shodeen Homes is an award-winning builder with new home communities in Campton Hills, Elburn, Geneva, Maple Park and Sycamore as well as in the Lake Geneva region of southern Wisconsin.
Popularity of ranch plans
At Westleigh Farm in Lake Forest, North Shore Builders is offering luxury single-family homes notable for one-level living in ranch plans with spacious finished basements. Just 34 upscale single-family homes will be built on a scenic site, with 26 homes offered by North Shore Builders and eight sites set aside for design/build custom homes. Pre-grand opening prices start at $1.1 million and include a free upgraded three-car sideload garage and 25 percent off on all options up to $50,000. A grand opening is planned for September.
“We designed this community for Lake Forest and area residents who want to right-size and simplify their lives,” says Joe Balistreri, project manager for North Shore Builders. “Ranches have exploded in popularity, not only for Baby Boomers but also for families with small children who have discovered how convenient one-level living can be. These homes feature open concept floor plans and high-quality finishes plus finished lower levels that provide additional space for hobbies, entertaining and other uses. Set in a naturally beautiful 47-acre site, these homes offer efficient one-level living for daily life and plenty of additional space for more occasional uses.”
The materials used in these homes are both beautiful and easy to maintain.
“Today’s new innovations in materials enable buyers to achieve the most upscale looks while still having an easy-care home,” Balistreri says. “Flooring, tiles and many other features are more attractive and practical than ever before.”
Sleek and clean looks
The dual priorities of beauty and practicality are leading to the popularity of many features within the homes.
“Buyers are choosing clean lines and a sleek look,” says Ashley Newberg, Design Studio manager for Toll Brothers. “Open concept floor plans, well-equipped kitchens that also provide a large island gathering space for family and guests, white and gray 42-inch kitchen cabinets with crown molding, standard features, including rolling trays and trash cabinets, enhance the comfort and convenience of the home. Kitchens and baths are the rooms where buyers spend most of their ‘options’ dollars, although Toll Brothers’ kitchens are exceptionally well-equipped.”
With upscale new home communities throughout Chicagoland, Toll Brothers offers homes in Elgin at Bowes Creek Country Club, Tanglewood Hills in Batavia and The Woods of South Barrington.
“Our buyers are making choices that tend toward a more streamlined look,” Newberg says. “Freestanding tubs add character to bathrooms and are much easier to keep clean. White Carrera porcelain and chrome fixtures are popular for both their refined styling and practicality. Toll Brothers offers ‘Design Your Own Home,’ a tool that enables buyers to craft a home that expresses both their preferences and their desire for lower maintenance materials.”
What do luxury homebuyers want today? Are they going for over-the-top amenities or keeping it practical? Jeremy Lund, director of sales for Shodeen Homes, says its buyers are doing what makes sense -- investing money in wise ways where they get a lot of bang for the buck now, while making practical decisions about what will attract buyers for resale.
Ninety percent of buyers have decided what they want in their new house before even stepping into a model home, Lund said. "With so many resources available to buyers today, they've seen a lot of homes on the internet and Pinterest from the convenience of their homes. They already know they want a white kitchen."
Here's what luxury homebuyers in suburban Chicago desire.
Security and convenience of automation
Because it's important that people feel safe and want their homes secure, builders today integrate smart home technology in their new houses. This includes technologies that control lights, thermostats, locks, cameras and other systems.
At The Woods of South Barrington, where homes start in the mid-$800,000s, homes are selling with a lot of automation, said Allison Keifer, director of sales for the Chicago division of Toll Brothers.
Most buyers at Norton Lake by Shodeen Homes are upgrading to remote stationing for DVDs and stereos, Lund said. "We're not seeing so many wires these days. Equipment in a closet or basement space centrally controls everything."
"Our buyers often want a very elaborate sound system and smart electrical system where one button turns off all the lights in the home," said Peter Di Iorio, president of Dior Homes.
Other comfort features at Dior Homes include showers where the water temperature is set for each member of the family and commodes with heated seats, also with desired temperatures in memory, Di Iorio said. "That's what technology does for you."
Dior Homes, which has been building luxury homes for 25 years, also offers a system that injects fresh air into a home 24 hours a day. With today's homes always closed up, the air quality is very poor, Di Iorio said.
Many people have allergies that they don't even know about; toxic items can be lurking in building materials, such as tar paper below the flooring.
Today's luxury buyers give the kitchen and bath royal treatment.
At Norton Lake in Campton Hills, upgrades in the kitchen and bath are still strong, Lund said. "People like quartz countertops and the best cabinets they can afford in the kitchen and master baths."
Most people are choosing engineered or laminate flooring that looks just like wood. They like the look; it's maintenance-free and comes with a 25- to 30-year warranty, Lund said.
At The Woods of South Barrington by Toll Brothers, a lot of granite and high-end finishes are popular, Keifer said. "Our buyers all have champagne tastes."
Many of its buyers do a lot of entertaining with large groups of people, and they want a wide open entertainment space, Keifer said. Because they use a lot of oils and cook food with strong flavors, they like the practical option of a spice kitchen where they do a lot of food preparation with an oven and cooktop, Keifer said. "We're starting to build a lot of these."
Many luxury buyers want a first-floor bedroom of some kind, either a suite or a bedroom with a walk-in closet, especially for families with multigenerational living -- they want that space.
Toll Brothers receives a lot of requests for a bedroom for guests because many of their buyers have visitors that travel from outside the country and stay for a few months.
Even younger people want a first-floor master bedroom; with today's technology, a camera serves as surveillance, Di Iorio said.
"Some of our homes provide elevators where you can easily get up and down three floors. They're also structured so buyers can add an elevator later. In-laws or relatives may need an elevator."
While many selected amenities are based on offered options and upgrades, homes at Westleigh Farm in Lake Forest by North Shore Builders are built with "luxury inclusions," said Joe Balistreri, project manager.
That means integrated smart home technology, such as video doorbells and smart deadbolt locks, energy conserving features, and conveniences like zero-step showers. "We include Viking appliances throughout the kitchen, Andersen windows and doors, Lennox high-efficiency furnaces, and Amish handcrafted cabinets," Balistreri said. "The standard kitchen countertop is granite." The builder also offers upgrades.
Setting and homesite
Homebuyers that spend money on a high-end home also want an environment that fits their lifestyle.
The new Westleigh Farm community in Lake Forest is built on the pastoral grounds of the original King Country Estate (famed for inspiring F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby").
"All of our homes have a rich, luxurious look that partners well with the surrounding landscape," Balistreri said. "And each house is strategically placed to have sweeping views of the orchard."
The Woods of South Barrington sits next to the Barrington Conservancy, 35 acres of lightly wooded prairie and wetland where residents have access to walking trails and a picnic area.
Norton Lake offers picturesque homesites surrounded by parks, walking trails and beautiful lush landscaping with the convenience of an on-site elementary school.
"We are sold out of our premium pond lots," Lund said. "People want a nice homesite, and they like a walkout or lookout basement."
For Airhart Construction's luxury buyers at Courthouse Square in Wheaton, it's all about a desirable in-town spot in the heart of the community where residents can walk to everything. Residents are typically two people and a few college kids that come and go, and they want to be in town or in a development near town because their lives are already established, said Christy Whelan, director of sales.
"They have a church, shopping and hobbies, and they want a new home near familiar places," Whelan said. "That's important to them."
By: Sherry Giewald
Daily Herald Correspondent
With all of the helpful online tools available to homebuyers today, why do builders go to the expense of constructing model homes and decorating them for public viewing?
While changing market conditions have seen a decrease in the number of model homes showcased in a given new home community, the model home is still an important component in the purchasing experience.
“Buying a home is a major financial and lifestyle decision, and as builders we want to offer every tool possible to make the process as easy and comfortable as possible for buyers,” says Anna Harmon, director of Marketing and Public Relations for Shodeen Homes. “A furnished model home helps buyers envision how space can be used to accommodate their possessions, and walking through the home gives a better perspective on how the home will live.”
Some model homes are “inventory homes” and are for sale, says Jeremy Lund, sales manager for Shodeen Homes.
“These inventory models are decorated with a neutral palette of colors, come with a warranty, and buyers can connect with the actual home they are buying. They can still choose some features such as crown molding on kitchen cabinets or decorative backsplashes. Shodeen Homes has found that this is a popular way to buy a home, especially for buyers with a tight timetable for their move,” he says.
Shodeen Homes is a respected homebuilder with communities throughout the Fox Valley and far western suburbs as well as in the Lake Geneva region of southern Wisconsin.
Model homes are especially useful for 55-and-more buyers, says Jeff Samuels, of Samuels Homes, who is offering luxury townhomes at Victoria Park in Libertyville.
“Our buyers want to establish an emotional connection with the home they are buying, and they like to spend time in a model home to be able to achieve total comfort with their decision,” Samuels says. “Our buyers are computer-literate and do preliminary research online, but they have owned other homes and they want the reality of touching features and evaluating the quality of what they are seeing. They value the opportunity to see the relationship of one room to another and to assess the size and scale of the rooms, traffic patterns and natural light. No digital photo can establish the connection these buyers want with the home they choose.”
“Buyers of upscale homes feel that there is no substitute for visiting a model home and visualizing how the home feels and lives,” says Joseph Balistreri, director of Business Development for the Ryan Building Group and Project Manager for North Shore Builders. “The Westleigh Farm model will showcase both quality standard features and special options. Buyers can see how their own furnishings will fit in the home and how the floor plan will work for their lifestyles. Virtual walk-throughs are helpful but they don’t reveal the intangible factors that motivate a buyer to choose a home.”
Westleigh Farm will include 34 upscale single-family homes on a scenic 47 acre site with gardens, ponds, orchards, walking paths and open space. North Shore Builders will build 26 ranches with finished lower levels and eight sites are set aside for design/build custom homes. Pre-grand opening prices start at $1.1 million and include a free three-car sideload garage.
The 4,700-square-foot model has an elegant French Eclectic exterior with a steep pitched roof, and stucco and stone exterior with painted wood trim. The home features an open concept main-floor living area, and a sampling of features include the finished look-out basement that includes a recreation room with bar, island and appliances, two bedrooms, exercise room and cigar room. Other special features include a screened-in deck off the master bedroom, a covered deck off the great room, a breakfast sunroom, and a site overlooking an orchard and the Howard Van Doren Shaw-designed stable that serves as the Country Estate entry. Freedom from lawn mowing and snow removal ensure a “lock and leave” lifestyle for those who travel frequently.”
Located on the site of the King Family Estate, said to be the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic “The Great Gatsby,” Westleigh Farm also boasts a David Adler-designed clubhouse.