Natural amenities draw homebuyers


January 08, 1995|By Kenneth R. Harney

Washington -- Hot attractions for 1995: Bike paths, hiking trails, "outdoor living rooms" and "interactive" community amenities.

Not so hot: Tennis courts, golf courses, fancy clubhouses and splashy subdivision entrances.

Extra security services -- especially private personnel patrolling the neighborhood in vehicles while you're asleep at night -- are de rigueur. In fact, you probably wouldn't even buy without them.

And some brand-new concepts, like "community concierges" who'll provide all sorts of time-saving, free services -- buying theater tickets, making reservations, helping with catering arrangements or shopping -- are on the verge of taking off big-time.

These are just a few of the findings emerging from a major, unreleased poll of what U.S. home shoppers want -- and will pay a premium for -- in a newly developed community they'll buy into. Conducted for a group of the largest-volume homebuilders in the country, the study is based on responses from more than 800 consumers who bought or shopped for a home in planned communities last August and September in California, Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia. The research was performed by American Lives Inc., a San Francisco-based firm ++ that interviews between 80,000 and 100,000 consumers a year -- primarily for the real estate industry.

Brooke Warrick, president of American Lives and designer of the study, says "what really jumps out at you" is that consumers now want features designed into new communities that not only allow -- but promote -- "interaction with other families, children and community organizations," far more than they did just five or 10 years ago.

In the mid-1980s, by contrast, says Mr. Warrick, the top %o consumer draws in newly developed communities were tennis courts, swimming pools, golf courses and golf clubhouses.

"Everybody wanted to look out at rolling greens from their own windows," says Mr. Warrick. But that's changed dramatically. "The reality is that after living on the edge of a golf course for a while, those homeowners discovered that golfers can be a pain. I mean they hit balls into your windows, they intrude on your privacy, and that's no fun."

Tennis courts used to be ranked as "essential" amenities by a high percentage of shoppers, but no longer. "Tennis courts are nice," says Mr. Warrick, but they ranked only 28th out of 39 features that 1994 buyers defined as crucial in persuading them to buy in a particular new community. Having a golf course within the community came in 29th, and a golf clubhouse and pro shop ranked 34th.

So what features will command premium prices in 1995? Here are the top several:

* No. 1: Community designs that deliver low traffic and quiet. Fully 93 percent of all homebuyers and shoppers in the study rated this either "essential" or "very important." In Mr. Warrick's description, "if a builder or developer doesn't provide this, he's out of the game."

* No. 2 (tie): 77.7 percent of consumers put "lots of natural, open space" in the must-deliver category, along with another traffic-related feature -- street designs that take the shape of cul-de-sacs, circles and courts.

Kenneth R. Harney is a syndicated columnist. Send letters care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071.

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