A model way to buy a home Models: Homebuyers looking for the house with everything can sometimes find it in a bargain-priced model home.

December 21, 1997|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

All it took was one look at the floor plans for a model home in Owings Mills New Town and Isabel Levin was ready to buy it even though she'd have to lease it back to the builder for a few years as a sales office.

"I loved the house," said Levin, a new home sales manager for Westbrook Homes. "It was exactly what I wanted -- a rancher with a drop-dead kitchen and bath, two car-garage and a full basement."

With their two sons grown, she and her husband, Stan Levin, a manager with the Social Security Administration, were looking for a smaller home with less ground.

They didn't mind waiting until the builder no longer needed the house as a showroom. Last year, the Levins finally moved out of their two-story colonial in Reisterstown into the rancher with the ready-made decor and numerous options.

Mrs. Levin believes that they saved about $30,000 on the cost of skylights; cathedral and tray ceilings; Palladian windows; upgraded carpet and vinyl; three full bathrooms; a finished basement; and a magnificent dining room built-in with lighted display shelves, storage cabinets and serving area.

Throughout the house there were coordinated wallpaper, window treatments, bedspreads and pillows in taupe, hunter green and cranberry.

"Everything in the house just worked," said Mrs. Levin, who liked the decor so much that she bought some of the furnishings from the model. "It was like the decorator had known me forever. I didn't have to get rid of one picture."

For the right buyer, a model home can be a real bargain. Designed as a marketing tool to sell houses, these homes exhibit many features that a builder wants to showcase.

"A builder always loads model houses up because he wants to show everything he possibly can," said Joe Firetti, president of Firetti Builders. "The model is usually in a super location and is super maintained. It's a great deal."

Like the glitzy car on the showroom floor, the model home is usually loaded with extras: lavish landscaping, brick front, two story foyer, extra hardwood floors, ceramic tiles, a larger deck, recreation room, outdoor play set, vaulted ceilings, sun room and security system with upgraded appliances and lighting.

An interior designer often has been employed to create a decor that will show the home at its best with custom bedspreads, detailed pillows that coordinate with draperies, murals such as rainbows in a child's room, accent paint, chair rails, crown, panel and dental molding, built-in bookcases and shelving.

"Instantly [someone who buys a model home] has draperies at the windows and a beautiful, professionally designed background that they wouldn't have otherwise," said Beverly Snyder, director of marketing for Merchandising East, a model home merchandising firm in Laurel that specializes in interior design for builders.

Model homes become available for purchase from time to time. A builder may not be interested in selling when the model is first built, but may be extremely motivated to negotiate when it is no longer needed after a year or two of use as a sales office.

Some builders like to sell models early and lease them back from the buyer -- a viable option for purchasers such as the Levins who do not need immediate occupancy.

But many builders don't offer a model for sale until the community it serves is nearing completion or sellout, when a new section is to be started or when the current model is being replaced with an updated version.

"Don't overlook the model home as an opportunity," said Bruce Hahn, president of the American Homeowners Foundation, a nonprofit consumer group that "helps homebuyers, sellers and investors make wiser home-related decisions."

"You can't necessarily assume that it's better built, but almost invariably it will have a better appearance with upgraded rugs, floors and decor," Hahn said. "The builder knows that not everyone will necessarily want these things, and he knows he can't get full list price for the fireplaces, finishes and rec rooms. They know they're going to have to sell for a little less."

The amount a buyer can save on a model varies, industry experts say. In some cases, the home may have enhanced resale value because it can be advertised as a one-time model.

"There are good deals on models," said Bob Lucido, president of Builder's 1st Choice, a sales and marketing firm for builders. "And the builder does some special things in them. Buying a builder's model is a great opportunity, but it would have to have everything you wanted."

Most models include perhaps 10 options while the average buyer selects only five or six, according to Linda Veach, director of sales and marketing for the Bob Ward Companies.

"We typically don't charge full price for all the options," she said. "The house would be too expensive. But, typically, it's the best house in the development."

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