Builders cater to nontraditional buyers to keep pace with population changes New looks for new homes

April 17, 1994|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun Staff Writer

A typical townhouse might have suited some buyers. But David M. Doggette wasn't in the market for typical.

When the 24-year-old computer programmer got a chance to buy the house he'd been dreaming of since college, he looked for something with privacy for himself and the roommate he'd need for help with payments. He found such a home in Russett in Anne Arundel County -- a townhouse with two master bedrooms.

Mr. Doggette plans to rent the second bedroom and someday make it an office. He hasn't missed having a third bedroom. "The two small bedrooms are so small they're only good for kids, and I don't plan on having children before moving out," he said.

Besides families with children, new homebuyers today are even more likely to be young singles with roommates like Mr. Doggette, single parents with children, couples and their elderly parents or empty-nesters whose children have returned.

As the baby boom generation ages and the traditional nuclear family slips to minority status, the homebuilding industry is catering more and more to nontraditional buyers with different lifestyles and needs, said Joseph M. Cronyn, a senior associate for Legg Mason Realty Group, which tracks new home construction in the Baltimore region.

"Go back 40 or 50 years, you got three bedrooms and that was it," Mr. Cronyn said. "Freedom of choice is necessary now to appeal to diverse groups."

Today's buyers also tend to live in homes longer before selling, spend more time there and value conveniences that save time and reduce maintenance.

With the shifts in lifestyles and demographics, builders have begun offering more easily adaptable floor plans.

"What's hot right now is real good quality space," said Bob Lucido of Builders 1st Choice, a sales and marketing agency representing 50 builders in Baltimore, Washington and Virginia. "That's good sizes in the kitchens, family rooms, bedrooms, making sure there's enough space they won't have to move out of. They want it to feel big and open and airy."

Living rooms and dining rooms have shrunk in importance and size. Family rooms have grown bigger. Kitchens are apt to open into sun rooms. And with more people working home, first-floor offices -- away from kids' bedrooms -- have surged in popularity.

Also, while the first-floor master bedroom concept is nothing new, "now you'll find more homes with [first-floor] studies that can be converted to bedrooms and powder rooms that can be converted to full baths," said Bob Coursey, marketing director for Ryan Homes. "One thing we try to do is provide housing that's expandable so a person doesn't have to move to accommodate changing households."

As more homeowners have taken to "cocooning" at home, builders have come up with "entertainment centers." They've built breakfast nooks off kitchens and sitting rooms off master bedrooms. They've opened up interiors by raising ceilings and adding windows. They've offered luxury baths with showers and sunken tubs.

Buyers also look for time-saving features -- convection ovens, ranges with easy-to-clean surfaces, gas log fireplaces, upstairs laundry rooms, smaller lots that need less care.

"People are not interested in coming home and spending hours making dinner, cleaning the house and working in the yard," Mr. Coursey said. "They're looking for the convenience that home or community gives them. Now you can walk in your door, put a turkey in the convection oven, put on a remote control and flip on the fireplace, have an instant fire and go into the media room and have the VCR going with stereo surround sound."

Lexington Homes has taken those ideas one step further. The builder of two-story Colonials in Harford, Baltimore and Carroll counties installs as standard climate control systems in Cliveden Reach in Westminster. The system programs heating and cooling and controls lights, fans, appliances, even stereos. Home security functions also may be programmed.

"Our buyers tend to be both a husband and wife who are working, and there's no time for maintenance," says Fran Schindler, vice president of Lexington Homes. "People don't have time for vacations or to get away. They need someplace inside the home as a retreat."

Tailoring designs

On the exterior, the traditional brick look remains the most sought-after design, with some builders offering standard brick fronts. Lexington Homes has used a stucco-like material on some homes.

In the townhouse market, builders are tailoring designs to particular niches.

At Homeland East at The Villages at Homeland, in the city just north of Loyola College, three-level townhouses with garages appeal to young professional couples and singles and empty-nesters, said Dick Cowain, sales manager. "Buyers are looking for a lifestyle," he said. "They don't want to mow lawns. They want quick access to work and restaurants downtown."

By building wider-than-usual townhouses in Autumn Crest in Ellicott City, Pulte Homes also has drawn empty-nesters looking for low-maintenance homes.

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