- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2001

Aging baby boomers are the driving force in most segments of the American economy, and the local new-home real estate market is no exception. Besides baby boomers' changing housing needs, local buyers' high expectations for technologically sophisticated products have affected the real estate market, too.

Another major influence on the decisions made by local builders is the shrinking amount of available land for residential building. Along with reacting to these trends, local builders are changing their designs and offering other options to accommodate some of their buyers' demands for such items as larger garages to hold the family sports utility vehicle and spa bathrooms where the luxury focus is on the shower instead of the whirlpool tub.

"Overall, the empty nesters and active adults are having a big impact on new-home designs," says Debbie Rosenstein, president of Rosenstein Research Associates of McLean. "People really want less land to take care of and yet they want a nice open home with plenty of light.

"We're seeing lots of new designs for the small-lot market but with upscale amenities," she says. "Some of the innovative designs are courtyard-style homes, which can be detached or attached, along with patio homes and homes built on slab, without a basement level. A lot of the new floor plans in the works are utilizing creative land planning, with varying widths and sizes, so that the homes are not necessarily smaller homes, just the lots are smaller."

At Morgan Chase, a new community of single-family homes priced in the $500,000s by the Christopher Cos. in the Tysons Corner/Dunn Loring area off Gallows Road, 20 homes will be built on lots of 7,000 to 9,000 square feet around the outside of the enclave. In the center of the development will be 16 "City Homes" on lots of 5,000 to 6,000 square feet.

"We've created an enclave with an Old South look for the exterior of the homes, with two gazebos as part of the open space," says Marlene Lash, director of sales and marketing for the Christopher Cos. "Even though these homes are built on small lots, they will have from 3,000 to 5,500 finished square feet of living space.

"In addition, absolutely no maintenance has to be done by the homeowners. The association will do everything for them," she says.

Nearby at Governor's Square, John Laing Homes is building 42 attached courtyard homes, priced from the mid-$500,000s. Clustered in groups of two to four homes centered around landscaped courtyards, these homes have three sides of brick and Colonial details reminiscent of historic Williamsburg.

Cobblestone walkways and formal gardens separate the clusters of homes, and a brick-and-wood fence encloses the entire community. Each home has a two-car garage and from 3,500 to 4,300 finished square feet.

Miller and Smith Co. has developed innovative floor plans at Broadlands in Loudoun County and Belmont Bay in Prince William County.

"Our unique designs are not quite for the empty nester, but they are appealing to people who are scaling down to a lower maintenance lifestyle but still want some of the things they are used to," says Rhonda Ellisor, director of sales and marketing for Miller and Smith.

"At Belmont Bay, we've designed a huge master bedroom and sitting room with a huge closet and a luxury bath," she says. "Later this summer, we'll be opening our single-family homes at Lorton Station, which are narrow but deep homes built in the craftsman style, with a big overhang across the front of the house, a stone front, a front porch, and a two-car rear-entry garage. These homes have small rear yards, so we cut a notch into each floor plan for a courtyard so that there's still some outdoor space plus lots of windows."

At Broadlands in Loudoun County, maximizing the use of land and of buyers' privacy are two goals met by Miller and Smith in its new town homes known as the "Magic Collection." By zigzagging the homes on their lots, Miller and Smith has been able to create large great rooms or family rooms in 20-foot wide homes. Priced from the mid-$200,000s and up, these homes also have the advantage of more private rear yards and additional windows in the master bedrooms and the family rooms.

"Our architects studied windows in Old Town Alexandria, looking for an interesting style, and so the Magic Collection homes now have tall and narrow front windows," Miss Ellisor says.

Taking advantage of a location on a former quarry in Howard County, Miller and Smith will be designing wide town homes at Stonelake near Columbia, Md., available in late 2001 to early 2002. These waterfront and water-view homes will be almost entirely glass in the back with elaborate decks and balconies overlooking the water.

"When we do our land planning, we try to do something new each time," Miss Ellisor says. "Our goal is to think outside the box for every new project."

At Haymarket Square in Prince William County, the Oak Ridge Builders is developing a site plan to encourage more community interaction.

"We're building 28- and 32-foot wide single-family homes with two-car garages and about 13 feet between the homes at this project," says Tom Hayden, vice president of sales and marketing for Oak Ridge Builders and Southport Homes.

"We are trying to make the community itself a place where people want to spend more time, so we're spending our money on designing as much open space and green space in areas where the kids can play outside and families can gather," he says. "We're putting parks and cul-de-sacs in the development and narrower streets so cars will slow down."

These single-family homes will be priced from the $230,000s, and sales should start in September.

While builders are looking for more interesting ways to place their designs on small lots, buyers are often focused on a low-maintenance lifestyle and, sometimes, one-level living.

"Our Palatine Courtyard Homes are geared for people who want a first-floor master suite and a low-maintenance lifestyle," says Ken Wormald, director of sales and marketing of Wormald Development Co., the developer of Worman's Mill in Frederick, Md.

"We've grouped six to eight homes around a courtyard with a central landscaped area where people can gather," he says. "We took our inspiration from little European villages, and we're trying to re-create that feeling here. Each home has a large first floor, including the master suite, and the homeowner's association takes care of all the landscaping and snow removal chores."

This fall, Miller and Smith will be opening the Primrose community in the city of Manassas Park, which will be geared toward empty nesters.

"All the floor plans will have a first-floor master suite in these single-family homes, with two bedrooms and another bath upstairs," Miss Ellisor says. "The homes will have little front courtyards and picket fences where we will plant climbing roses to stick to the rose theme of the community."

Home sites may be getting smaller and smaller, but according to Jim Pohlhaus, design manager for the "Your Home Your Way" Custom Design Program of Winchester Homes, "across the board, in all types of houses and price points, our buyers are making their homes bigger."

"Most of our homes are now 3,000 to 4,500 square feet," he says, "and buyers are expanding them up to as large as 7,000 to 8,000 square feet. Some people want larger and more dramatic foyers, but most want bigger family rooms, kitchens and breakfast rooms. Buyers are adding as much as four feet all the way across the back of the house to get the upstairs bigger, too."

The popularity of ever-increasing home sizes can be compared with the popularity of SUVs among many people in this area, a trend that has fueled a home design trend of its own.

"Garages are getting bigger and bigger, too," Mr. Pohlhaus says. "The typical garage is eight feet wide and seven feet tall, and Winchester's standard has now increased to nine feet wide and eight feet tall in our larger homes. Some people are choosing to make them as much as 16 feet wide to accommodate their cars, bikes and storage needs."

Deborah Coughlan, marketing manager for Pulte Homes, says: "With larger SUVs becoming the vehicle of choice for the family car, and the fact that so many teen-age drivers have their own cars, many customers have requested a three-car garage to accommodate the family fleet. The three-car garage has become a popular way to meet this need, while still allowing space for lawn equipment, bicycles and other items in the garage."

As part of their aim to create attractive streetscapes, many builders are designing side-entry and rear-entry garages, some of which are detached from the home.

"At Morgan Chase, we've not only built rear-entry garages, but we created a second entrance to the home with a foyer and closets to avoid that 'laundry room entrance' feeling," Miss Lash says. "We've also added another porch onto the back of the house."

The back area of many homes includes the kitchen-breakfast area-family room combination, a section of the residence where most buyers choose to expand or upgrade.

"Florida rooms and morning-room extensions give the customers the opportunity to expand the floor plan of their home in the area of the house where the family spends the most time, near the kitchen/family room," Miss Coughlan says. "Numerous windows brighten the area where the family gathers for meals, homework and relaxing."

Center-island kitchens used to be considered state-of-the-art, and now these islands are expanding even more.

"Now people are interested in a two-island kitchen, with one island set aside for eating and another for food preparation," Miss Rosenstein says.

John Lavery, director of sales and marketing for Mid-Atlantic Builders, says: "People are expanding their kitchen islands and customizing them with work sinks and built-in microwaves under the countertops. There's a definite trend to upgrading the counters to Corian and granite, and people are also upgrading their appliances to professional-style appliances."

Mr. Pohlhaus says, "People are upgrading to stainless steel, semicommercial appliances like those used by businesses. I'm starting to see people removing the cooktops from the islands and using the island as a homework center and eating space. People are realizing, if they have kids, that doing homework next to the range wasn't a good idea."

At Southport Homes, Mr. Hayden says, the company's already luxurious and large floor plans are being redesigned to accommodate such upscale appliances as commercial-grade six-burner ranges and refrigerator-size wine coolers.

Besides improving their kit-chens, buyers also are choosing to upgrade their bathrooms.

"People are too busy these days to soak in their whirlpool tubs, so they are aiming for the same relaxing feeling in a less time-consuming way by upgrading their shower," Mr. Pohlhaus says. "Showers are now larger, including some with seats and with glass enclosures to the ceiling so they can have a steam shower."

"The shower/spa bath concept has really taken off," Mr. Lavery says. "The soaking tub has to be there, but now people are adding a larger walk-through shower with a seat or a reclining bench built-in and two or more shower heads. We can even include a steam room option with these showers."

Mid-Atlantic Builders also has designed a more contemporary interior floor plan, including one with a single staircase placed in the kitchen/family room area of the home instead of in the foyer.

"This design just makes more sense in terms of the livability of the house," Mr. Lavery says. "Instead of the family members running up and down the stairs through the formal foyer in front of the Palladian window in their pj's, they can just slip down to the kitchen at night through the family room."

Another way for families to enjoy a casual lifestyle is the creation of a home entertainment center.

"We've designed a number of home theater spaces for our buyers on the lower level, with half the floor raised for theater-style seating," Mr. Pohlhaus says.

"Another innovation we've come up with is to create a separate media room with a narrow hallway behind it of accessible unfinished space," he says. "This space hides all the components and wires needed for a stereo system and other entertainment needs and offers the added bonus of allowing air space for the units to cool off and not overheat."

Not only are people adding more high-tech entertainment systems in the lower level, but, according to Miss Rosenstein, they are adding fold-down or built-in televisions and other technological improvements in their kitchens.

"The latest innovations are creating 'smart kitchens,' which will feature the type of wiring that's made computers so successful," Miss Rosenstein says. "Remote-controlled ovens will work like remote-controlled gas fireplaces do now, and there will be refrigerators wired to tell you what groceries you need."

According to Miss Coughlan, "Technology has had a significant influence on homes in [the current decade], and buyers are definitely looking for a home that will accommodate their families' computer needs. From children doing homework on a computer to parents who work from home, computers are commonplace in homes today. Customers want a home that is designed with the wiring already in place, so technology will add to [rather than distract from] the home's decor and livability."

New planned communities such as Brambleton, the Lakes at Red Rock, and Lansdowne on the Potomac in Loudoun County and Piedmont in Prince William County are touting the high-tech aspects of their plans, including community networks that link all the homes through an Intranet site.

The homes built in these communities will include state-of-the-art high-speed wiring packages for faster Internet service and allow buyers the options of smart wiring in their homes for security and entertainment purposes.

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