Most people don't get a cheering crowd complete with photographers and presents of Dom Perignon from their builder when they move in to a new house, but then most people aren't the very first residents of one of Howard County's most expensive communities.
On Friday, Bill Sembler and his wife, Kristen Bailey, became the first residents of Stone Lake, an upscale, 137-acre gated community southeast of Columbia, near Gorman Road and Interstate 95. Townhouses in the community like the one the couple bought sell for more than $500,000 and the developer expects to get more than $1 million for single-family homes.
"Someone had to be first," Sembler said. "We said why not us?"
"There are a lot of advantages to being first," Bailey said. She said that everything in the house - which was built by Goodier Builders - was done on time and the couple received a lot of personal attention.
Stone Lake offers residents all types of amenities, such as tennis courts, an outdoor stone fireplace, pathways encircling the lake and a putting green. They also will be able to boat and fish on a 25-acre lake that is surrounded by bluffs.
According to Dennis Miller, a vice president for developer Rouse Co., the community eventually will have 224 homes - 197 townhouses and 27 custom single-family houses. Development is expected to be completed in 2006.
The community is near the aging U.S. 1 corridor, where developers are hoping new communities such as Stone Lake and nearby Emerson will attract affluent couples and bring about a revitalization. Developers are promoting the convenience of these communities to I-95 and their proximity to Columbia.
Sembler and Bailey, both of whom work for the U.S. Department of Treasury, were attracted to the community for exactly those reasons, and they liked the idea of a townhouse with few maintenance needs.
They moved from a 700-square-foot condominium in Queens, N.Y., to the 4,400- square-foot townhouse with four bedrooms and 4 1/2 bathrooms.
"The amazing thing is that my monthly payment will be the same," said Sembler, who declined to say just how much over $500,000 he and his wife paid for the house.
Sembler said the best part of the house is the deck. "I was looking at the highway in Queens and saw tractor-trailers through my back yard." His townhouse's back yard overlooks the community's putting green.
The couple said they researched the area before moving from New York and considered everywhere from Anne Arundel County to Montgomery County before settling on Howard. They also looked at River Hill and in Emerson before seeing a floor plan of a Stone Lake house.
"It had everything we were looking for, and it offered a great floor plan," Bailey said. She said they liked the idea of multiple master bedrooms and needed extra space because Sembler's mother is planning to move in with them after they get settled.
"I bought this house from scratch, no model or anything - just a bunch of dirt," Sembler said. "My friends in New York could not believe we did that." Bailey acknowledged that they had concerns, but she said they did the research and they had faith and trust.
Sembler and Bailey said the house has exceeded their expectations. "One look at that gorgeous lake and you just knew it would turn out spectacular," Bailey said.
While Sembler and Bailey are enjoying being the first in the community, they may not be alone much longer. Their next-door neighbor plans to move in next week, and Miller said that a significant number of residents are to arrive over the next few months.