- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

Features such as marble floors, soaring two-story rooms and spa baths are no longer limited to the single-family-home market. A variety of factors have made town houses grow in size and popularity, with many buyers seeking the same high-end features that are in luxury single-family homes.

In the Washington region, where land is scarce, builders are opting to construct more town homes to attract potential buyers who Realtors say are either priced out of the single-family market or want the exterior-maintenance ease of town house living.

The National Association of Homebuilders in Washington reports that town houses are more popular and are being built with larger square footage in the Northeast than in the South, Midwest and West. It also says town houses are built largely because of the high cost of land.

Dave Alewine of Century 21 New Millennium in Kingstowne says: “In this part of Fairfax County, there’s not a lot of land, so they have been building more town houses for the past 10 or 15 years. Some single-family homes are also being built by necessity, but they … are really jammed in there.”

Builders are keeping up with buyers who want the same features in a town home that are offered in their unattached counterparts, according to industry experts.

“You can’t sell a town house around here that doesn’t have a garage,” Mr. Alewine says.

Realtors say builders started offering town houses with one-car garages but as three-car garages have become popular in single-family homes, two-car garages are fast becoming standard in many town houses.

“We are putting just as many options inside town houses as we are single-family homes,” says Dee Minich, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Washington Homes. “Buyers want the upgraded kitchen, hardwood floors throughout and granite countertops. We also offer two- and three-story additions that can extend the family room, midlevel and master bedroom.”

Mr. Alewine says, “When people step in the door of a town house, they want to see a nice large kitchen.”

Real estate professionals say buyers demand state-of-the-art appliance packages, fireplaces and skylights as upgraded features in town houses.

Recent census data show that the additional square footage in town houses is designed to accommodate more bedrooms and bathrooms. Previous census data reported that the number of town houses purchased was split between two and three bedrooms, but now buyers want three and four bedrooms.

Valeria Lee of RE/MAX Allegiance in Lanham says she gets a lot of buyers looking specifically for town houses.

“They want the same features that most people look for in a single-family home — finished basements, superbathrooms, nice-size kitchens, and at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms,” says Ms. Lee, who adds that many of the newer town houses are larger than older single-family homes.

Ryan Homes has town houses in Damascus that can feature a sunroom, a large eat-in kitchen with an island, and a master suite complete with a cathedral ceiling and sitting area. Miller and Smith is building town houses in Lorton with extra-large entertaining rooms. NVHomes is building town houses in Bowie that come standard with two-car garages and have optional bay windows and columns.

In Landsdowne, Centex Homes marketed its town houses as luxury estate town homes that look more like attached single-family homes. They were built with 3,000 square feet of living space, four bedrooms, 31/2 baths, 9-foot ceilings, and full brick fronts; some have large front porches.

Though town houses usually are more affordable than single-family homes, they don’t always come cheap, especially in this area, Realtors say.

“People are willing to pay $500,000 to $600,000 for a 24-foot-wide town house with a double garage and a lot of square footage,” Mr. Alewine says.

Gopal Ahluwahlia, vice president of research with the National Association of Homebuilders, says, “Town houses in the Washington area are significantly higher [in price] than in other regions.”

He recalls seeing a subdivision in what would be considered an outer Maryland suburb that had starting prices for town houses at $750,000.

“The national median price for town houses grew from $140,000 in 1999 to $164,000 in 2003,” Mr. Ahluwahlia says.

The town house market has expanded to include people from all backgrounds.

Realtors agree they are no longer just for singles because today’s town houses offer something to appeal to everyone.

One of Washington Homes’ new offerings is a town house with a master bedroom on the main level that Ms. Minich says was designed with empty nesters in mind.

“First-time buyers, buyers who are looking to downsize, retirees — it runs the gamut,” says Margeau Gilbert of Coldwell Banker in Laurel. “The funny part is that sometimes I have clients who wouldn’t think of owning a town house because they think it wouldn’t meet their criteria.”

Ms. Gilbert says she never forces clients to look at anything, but if they’re open to suggestions, she will take them around to look at town houses.

“I’ve had some clients who actually ended up buying a town house instead of a single-family home,” she says.

Ms. Gilbert says she believes that in addition to the convenience, “town houses are growing in popularity because of the housing shortage.”

“I see a trend that a lot of military and government clients are coming in this area wanting a town house,” Mr. Alewine says. “Married couples with both people working also want a town house with nice features and not a lot of land.”

Town home living is not for everyone, however. Ms. Lee says it’s a trade-off, as many town homes have little or no yard and on-street parking. Some people don’t like living in such close quarters with neighbors. However, she adds, the benefits of lower maintenance and affordability can outweigh the disadvantages for many buyers.

“It’s a lifestyle sell,” Ms. Minich says. “A lot of our town houses appeal to young urban families, especially with the cost of homes escalating. There are also those who just don’t want the upkeep.”

Snow removal and lawn care, outside maintenance, sanitation, and shared amenities such as a pool or exercise room are some of the items usually covered by homeowners association fees.

When looking to purchase a town house, real estate professionals remind buyers to ask if there’s soundproofing between the units, find out what percentage of the development’s residents are renters, and if any major projects are planned.

Ms. Lee says town houses seem to sell faster these days.

“Because town houses do not stay on the market long, buyers should be ready to preview and to write an offer as soon as possible,” she says.

“The resale value is there, and some of these town houses are incredible,” Ms. Gilbert says. “They’re beautiful from the outside, have extraordinary amenities, and from the inside, look and feel just like a single-family home.”

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