Home, sweet home. The American dream, living in your own home, owning your own home. And right now in Nevada, Homebuyers ‘tend to represent two segments of the population — the baby boomers, who are moving into retirement, and the Gen Xers, who are becoming today’s young families. With such distinct markets, it makes sense that developers are responding to the needs and wants of these buyers in particular.
So what are home buyers most interested in these days, and how are developers accommodating the changing needs of society at large?
One of the changes being seen in residential developments throughout the state is the prevalence of master-planned communities and, just starting in metro areas, the growing popularity of traditional neighborhood design.
Master-planned communities must, by definition, include support services within the development. As opposed to planned-unit communities, frequently mistaken for master-plans, true master-planned communities involve the developers working with city or county entities to ensure that everybody knows where everything is going to go. The Community comes into existence as more than a collection of houses but as a true neighborhood, with shopping, schools, places of worship, and parks built into the equation, not left behind to catch as catch can. The idea is to be able to live, play and work within the same community.
Traditional neighborhood design, or TND, takes the concept a step further. Now not only can you live play and work in the same community, says Steve Bottfeld, executive vice president of Marketing Solutions, but you can basically walk to all of them. “The difference between anything that has gone on in the past and neo-traditional design is the automobile, or the lack thereof The object of neo-traclitional design is to do without the automobile.”
Well, maybe not do without entirely, but certainly cut down on residents’ dependence upon it. TND incorporates grid street designs into neighborhoods, making sure everything is not only a five- to ten-minute walk away, but that the streets used to reach it are straight, not a neighborhood of cul-de-sacs calling for cars to negotiate.
The defining character of TND, Daniel C. Van Epp, president of The Howard Hughes Corporation, agrees, is that the developers try to focus on the essential activities of living and have them within a short walk from the house. So residents find more in the way of shopping and schools and even small professional office space proximate to their homes. There’s less emphasis on the car and more emphasis on walking.
Another plus to cutting down on the use of the vehicle is the design of homes with alleyway entrances that allow the garage to be situated in back of the home rather than the garage-prominent look so common in today’s neighborhoods. But typically there’s another more important reason for moving the cars out of the neighborhoods which has more to do with one part of the housing market — young families.
“Young families are looking for designs which de-emphasize vehicular traffic,” says Bottfeld. “Why? Because their kids play. Nowadays you can’t get a big enough back yard and you can’t be close to all the parks, so you have to de-emphasize vehicular traffic and if you do it in front of the home it’s much more appealing to young families.”
Young families are also looking for affordability, says Frank Pankratz, senior vice president with Del Webb Corp. “First-time home buyers are looking for affordability and second-time buyers are looking for quality, value. First-time buyers also look for value, but as you move away from the first-time buyer, people are looking beyond the basics, for incrementally more architectural features, more amenities and more lifestyle features in their homes, whether it’s a fitness room or a wine cellar.” Other trends Pankratz is seeing include home offices, workout rooms in the home, or a request for a clubhouse with a fitness facility in the community. Basements are coining back into popularity and the great room concept is taking off, leaving behind the traditional separation of the living room, dining room, family room and kitchen design.
What are Buyers looking for in mater-planned communities? The idea of a master-planned community, carries with it the idea of a gated community, where neighbors inside can have an insular, secluded world in which they can meet, talk and shut the rest of the world away. Buyers like the idea of entering their own enclave and leaving the rest of their work-day lives on the outside.
The master-planned community is typically comprised of villages of homes, which in turn consist of residences in different sizes and shapes intended for different buyers, incomes and age groups. In Southern Nevada, Del Webb’s Anthem community offers three distinct neighborhoods: Sun City Anthem is age-restricted, 55 and older; Anthem Country Club a nonage restricted luxury gated community; and Coventry Homes is a non-gated community of single-family homes built into conventional family neighborhoods.
“A nice thing about the concept of master-planned communities,” says Pankratz, “is it allows people to benefit from the vision of an overall master-plan, yet be able to select from a vast variety of products.”
Master-planned communities bring with them CC&Rs, the idea that a buyers investment will be protected, that the neighbors won’t be bringing down the value in the neighborhood and that the community will remain aesthetically pleasing. “Another thing with master-planned communities is continuity. People are making a huge investment when they purchase a home and it’s very comforting for them to know that there are restrictions in terms of what people can do and can’t do with paint colors, landscaping and architecture. It’s a better preservation of value,” says Pankratz.
Master-planned communities are landscaped, taking fun advantage of the land to bring inpar~ and common-area landscaping and amenities. For smaller developments, its difficult for neighborhood developers to create and provide the same facilities as in their master-planned counterparts. “It’s very difficult to expect those small neighborhoods to be able to accommodate or provide land by themselves for parks or walking trails,” says Pankratz, “whereas a master-planned community is able to do just that — master plan these facilities and provide for lifestyle components.” It’s also easier to accommodate the proximity of a work-live-play environment.
Landscaping of individual homes also plays a pwt In Northern Nevada, some master-planned communities such as Wmgfield Springs, include villages where the landscaping is maintained by the homeowner’s association. Buyers in other communities, especially in Southern Nevada, are looking to landscape with more natural native plants for an easy-care, attractive yard they don’t have to spend too much time on.
“From a lifestyle point of view, people don’t want to spend a lot of time maintaining their yards, but still want them to look nice,” says Pankratz, “so we’re seeing more low-maintenance landscaping, and landscaping that’s more sensitive to the environment using plants that need less water.”
Both segments of the home buying population are looking for entertainment, and as close to home as they can get it. “Everybody is finding time in ever shorter supply, so they want everything at their fmgertips,” says Van Epp. “The buyer today is looking to have all kinds of activities — recreational, shopping, schools, churches—close to home. The idea of stepping out the front door and finding designated paths to walk or bike is still a great benefit of the master-planned community.”
FULLFILLING OUR BUYER”S EXPECTIONS
Land availability presents a tough problem. Master-planned communities require large tracts of land and large tracks of land, on either end of the state but especially in the south, are difficult to come by— if not impossible. Las Vegas is surrounded by ELM land and, says Pankratz, while some of this land is marked for future master-plamied communities, it’s believed the prices will be significant and when the blocks of land go to auction the cost will drive up the cost of homes.
“It’s our belief there’s going to be some money chasing those deals, driving land costs to a point where the homes will have to be very expensive. This will affect the affordability of new housing in the Valley significantly, even to the point where developers will probably realize after it’s too late that they overpaid for land at the auctions and can’t afford to make a go of the projects,” says Pankratz. “We’re definitely going to see the price of housing affected by land shortages.”
Traditional neighborhood design plays right into the lack of available land. TND typically encompasses higher densities, the design having a more compact form, says Van Epp, which hopefully does two things minimizes the time it takes to walk to available services, and allows the developer to allocate more open space in the way of parks, green belts and other amenities.
“Imagine one neighborhood that might have houses on one-third acre lots scattered throughout but no park. But the same size house on a quarter-acre lot could allow for a two- to three-acre park in the center, and people like that idea.”
So TND communities can occupy some of the infill areas, taking spaces master-planned communities are too large to fit within. It will also offer additional incentive for services to locate just outside the TND creating additional markets for businesses and affording residents access to even more services just outside their community
In the end, it’s people — the home buyers— who decide the direction future master-planned communities will take.
“It’s the fit and finish of amenities when you ask about people’s expectations,” says Pankratz. “The bar has been raised in the residential development industry — quality and innovation have escalated. Part of it is competitive. But a large part consists of what buyers have come to expect.”