What's hot in 2001

Status: Higher ceilings, bigger houses, SUV garages, opulent bathrooms. All add up to showing off.

March 18, 2001|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Dennis and Shirley Maugherman decided they wanted to move into a townhouse, they looked forward to getting rid of the yard work. But the garage? Never.

After all, they were coming from a home with a three-car garage, and they didn't want to sacrifice the space and convenience.

To satisfy their need, they finally found a $185,000 townhouse with a garage that would house not only one car, but two - a rarity in townhouses.

But at Ryland Homes' Worthington Mews development in Glen Burnie those garages are standard. There's easier parking for visitors and a better traffic flow because so many cars can be garaged, Mrs. Maugherman said.

"We love the ease of a townhouse, but we didn't want to give up the garage," she said. "We wanted no yard work, but we wanted a workshop, with the cars garaged ... this worked well. It's a lot of home for the money."

This year builders are intent on providing more home for buyers who are willing to spend more money.

Desired by buyers for 2001 are:

Two-car garages for townhouse buyers.

Upgrades in tile for bathrooms and countertops in kitchens.

Increased high-tech wiring.

More sophisticated exterior landscaping.

And floor plans that encourage a more open, airy feel.

"What we are doing is taking what would normally be in a $400,000 to $500,000 home and designing it for our lower-end homes," said Earl Robinson, sales and marketing director for Ryland Homes, which was the second- largest builder in the Baltimore area behind Ryan Homes Inc. "The new homebuyer wants flexibility, value and flair," Robinson added.

For Dr. Christopher Lee, garage space was a key aspect when he bought a Ryland home with a three-car garage in Clarksville. Now, he's trying to purchase another townhouse-with-garage in Howard County's Village of River Hill as an investment property.

"The garage is definitely an attraction," Lee said. "There were 60 [townhouse] units offered, and you should have seen the line just to get on the waiting list."

Today's house-hunters, young and old, have higher than ever "super" expectations.

Builders already have given them the super-kitchens, super-bathrooms, super-closets, super-family rooms and super-entertainment centers.

Now, it's the super-garage. The garage is just one of the hot buttons that buyers are pushing this year.

Even with the entry-level townhouse, the quest for luxury continues.

"The basic three-bedroom, one-bath town home [with street parking] has little market left," Robinson said. "The average buying age is 25, with about $80,000 income with two people buying. They have higher expectations of luxury. Ten years ago, they wanted affordability. Today, they want to move up faster."

The garage craze is an increasingly critical component in move-up fever - important enough to cause townhouse prices to "turn a corner" in Glen Burnie, Robinson said. Ryland sold 42 townhouses in Worthington Mews last year at an average price of $160,000.

"That's a big [price] number," Robinson said, adding that the "garages are more important today ... along with the garden bath," those bathrooms designed with an oversized sitting tub and separate shower.

Three-car garages, now in high demand, can bump sales prices up $10,000 to $15,000 because the larger garage involves more roofing, more materials and, often, more land. In a few areas, bigger garages are being built to accommodate recreational vehicles. In California, that's already common.

"We've redesigned several big [single-family homes] for a three-car side load, where the garage is on the side," Robinson said.

Robinson said that by adding 10 feet to the garage's depth, it can be rotated to the side and not affect the square footage of the living space within the home.

"There's a huge demand. If you pull the garage forward and turn it sideways, there's no effect on the home's square footage. We do tons of them."

Robinson, himself, knows the anguish of a garage that's just too small.

"We built a house in April with a two-car garage. The minute we moved in, we said this wouldn't be our last house because there was no third-car garage," Robinson said.

Three-car space is also standard at several Toll Brothers Inc. communities.

"There's a need. You have the dual-income families with the au pair or an in-law living in the home. Or, it won't be too long until there's a teen-ager driving," said Doug Shipe, a Toll vice president.

Size and detail matter

Opulence, space and attention to detail are the keywords to the house this year. "People are wanting more, and they can afford it. They're not adding one thing at the expense of something else," Shipe said.

"People want their house to be their showcase," said John R. White, a Patriot Homes vice president. "It shows off their personal success. It's much more of a status symbol. We're seeing bigger homes with less options. Size matters. It's like the car you drive."

Even the yardsticks have changed.

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