Behind gates lies upscale security Privacy: Gated communities, such as the Enclave in Baltimore County, are drawing more buyers who value exclusivity and security.

May 31, 1998|By Mary E. Medland | Mary E. Medland,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's often a scary world out there. But that's not especially new -- many would say it's been that way for centuries upon centuries.

Consider, for example, the medieval castle -- probably the earliest gated community that comes to most people's minds. Protected by a moat and drawbridge, it offered safety and security -- basic human cravings -- to its inhabitants.

But the idea had been around long before that. Wasn't it the walled city of Troy where the Greeks rolled a great wooden horse to its gates?

The idea of a living space that offers privacy and security has a solid history. And while the technology has certainly changed (the moat's drawbridge did the same work -- keeping unwanted visitors out -- as today's electronically controlled gate) the concept remains much the same.

That is the philosophy behind the Enclave, according to Richard Livingston, managing partner of Masterpiece Homes, an affiliate of Chateau Builders, who is overseeing operations for the 12-home gated community off Old Court Road in Pikesville.

"A large portion of the buyers [for gated communities] are empty-nesters, who still have fine furnishings and artwork," Livingston said. "Gated communities keep out the curiosity seekers and keep traffic down."

Even if the gate doesn't enclose the entire community, it does keep traffic out -- typically, there's only one way in and one way back out -- and that alone increases security. The gate and fence, however partial they may be, give an illusion of security.

In Baltimore County, a gated community means the roads become privatized and public services, such as trash collection, don't come inside the gate. The homeowners association packages snow removal, lawn cutting and fertilization, and trash collection. The cost to the Enclave homeowner: $400 a month.

Marc Witman, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. and president-elect of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said: "These communities are for those who want a 100 percent maintenance-free lifestyle."

Base prices for homes in the Enclave are between $539,900 and $605,900. In addition to security, Enclave promises exclusivity.

So far, four of the homes -- designed by Dennis Jankiewicz of Baltimore's Design Collective -- have sold; two are occupied and the other two are expected to be occupied in June.

But there's more than just exclusivity that's being offered.

"Today's homebuyers want real neighborhoods. The typical subdivision approach to new homes is waning in both popularity and practicality. Buildings and their relationship to each other form the basis for something very important -- they not only define where we live, but the very fabric of how we live," Jankiewicz said.

"Having to do a customized house can be too complex and too time-consuming for the average person," Livingston said. "Basically, Dennis Jankiewicz conceptualizes and comes up with plans that are creative and have what people want, yet can be adjusted specifically for each person's needs.

"It makes it as simple and cost-effective as possible to create custom homes for buyers."

Enclave's homebuyers include two homebuilders, a physician and educational psychologist, and a corporate controller and psychologist. Prospective buyers include attorneys and physicians.

For those experienced at such high-end home sales, business has been pretty good.

"At the Enclave, four have already sold, and it's been on the market maybe six months," said Libby Berman, a Realtor with Long & Foster, and one of the Enclave's listing agents. "The sales are absolutely wonderful, and I expect the rest to be sold in the next year."

Indeed, Livingston and his partners felt secure enough about the Enclave's potential that they never bothered with focus groups to get feedback about the project.

"All the [principals] of Masterpiece live within three to four miles of the Enclave and have a sense for the market," said Livingston. "And, by being part of the community, we are known for our integrity as builders."

'A secure, intimate feel'

The empty-nesters who are expressing the greatest interest in the Enclave clearly aren't ready for the two-bedroom apartment. They want more space -- albeit with less responsibility for maintenance -- to accommodate grown children and, especially, grandchildren.

"The economy is contributing significantly to the demand for these houses, and I suspect that a lot of people are able to do this because of the stock market. The stock market may have paid in full for the houses," Livingston said.

"I think the market could benefit from more communities like these," said Witman. "As [baby] boomers get older, they still like nice houses and many aren't ready for two-bedroom condos."

Masterpiece's Enclave really is an enclave, an area with distinct boundaries, said Livingston. "It doesn't have the feel of sprawl, but has a secure, intimate feel."

It also has its own moat of sorts -- a pond, complete with ducks, birds and geese, and forest conservation area.

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