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updated: 3/2/2012 6:19 AM

Builders appeal to buyers looking for simpler lifestyle

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  • At Maples at the Sonatas, an Epcon community by Wilcox Development, residents enjoy a clubhouse and swimming pool. This is the low-maintenance community's Canterbury model.

       At Maples at the Sonatas, an Epcon community by Wilcox Development, residents enjoy a clubhouse and swimming pool. This is the low-maintenance community's Canterbury model.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Prairie Park's waterfall and landscaped grounds create an ambience for residents and their guests.

       Prairie Park's waterfall and landscaped grounds create an ambience for residents and their guests.
    George Leclaire | Staff Photographer

  • Common areas promote socialization in the five buildings that make up Prairie Park by Smith Family Construction.

       Common areas promote socialization in the five buildings that make up Prairie Park by Smith Family Construction.
    George Leclaire | Staff Photographer

 
By Sherry Giewald

Is it time to simplify your life?

Are you spending too much time and money on the upkeep of your home?

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Would you rather play golf on the weekends than tend to the yard, or have the freedom to head off for the winter or monthlong cruise?

Busy professionals on the go, homeowners tired of maintaining their houses and retirees who want to downsize and enjoy their free time are choosing low-maintenance or no-maintenance living to give them the personal freedom they want in their lives.

Mark Smith, principal of the Prairie Park condo community in Wheeling, believes you will see more maintenance-free living in the future because more people are living in multifamily places.

"It's a matter of economics," Smith said. "In this day and age where economics are crucial and many people are upside down on their homes, having a fixed budget is really important.

"People are tired of waiting for the market to improve. They say I'm going to sell my house at a cheaper price, buy Mark's condo at a cheaper price, and go away for the winter. They want to get on with their lives. And the next step is maintenance-free living."

What does maintenance-free living mean?

For a fixed monthly fee, low- or no-maintenance living means the homeowners association provides everything from the basics -- lawn care and snow removal -- to extensive building upkeep like long-term maintenance, elaborate landscaping and amenities that enhance quality of life.

"People love it because they no longer want to take care of the exterior and mow their yards," said Carol Lyons, new home consultant at Maples at the Sonatas. "Here we call the lifestyle a staycation."

The type of product the builder offers often determines what services will be provided. For example, most people know that traditional condominium communities have association fees that cover upkeep to common areas. However, here are a few situations where low maintenance has differing definitions.

Low maintenance

At Airhart Construction's Fisher Farm and College Station communities, residents take care of their homes, but all the ground maintenance -- cutting the grass, weeding, fertilizing and shoveling -- is provided.

Fisher Farm is a single-family home subdivision in Winfield where houses have yards, while College Station's 14 homes in Wheaton are designed in a more urban style on narrower lots, with small front yards and rear-loading garages. These cottage-style homes are near Wheaton College, and a nearby park and the urban setting make the community attractive to a variety of buyers.

Both are single-family homes and the owner is responsible for the structure, including long-term tasks like replacing the roof and repainting the front door.

"Although the owner is responsible for the exterior, we use exterior HardiePlank siding, ice and water shield, 30-year shingles and low-e glass windows with vinyl exterior. So the exterior work for residents would be very minimal," said Bill Whelan, Airhart's marketing manager.

"Owners need only change the light bulbs and clean the windows," he said. "People have such busy lives, and their time is precious. Unless they enjoy shoveling and weeding, low-maintenance living becomes cost effective for them."

At Maples at the Sonatas, an Epcon community by Wilcox Development, the community offers five ranch plans: two in the attached Cathedral Collection, where homes share a common wall; and three in the stand-alone Courtyard Homes collection with a private yard and courtyard.

"The community provides exterior home maintenance and lawn care that includes mowing, fertilizing and trimming the lawns and shoveling the snow up to your front door, and we wash the windows twice a year," Lyons said.

Residents enjoy the outdoor pool and clubhouse with fitness center where they can socialize. They can just shut their door and travel, vacation or spend time with the kids and grandkids.

No maintenance

At Prairie Park by Smith Family Construction, the monthly association fee includes a wonderful ambience with a spectacular entrance of granite boulders, cascading waterfalls, evergreens and aquatic plants that welcome you to the luxury condominium community in Wheeling.

Set on 18 acres of lush, landscaped grounds, five mid-rise buildings surround the centerpiece lake with fountains, tree-lined walkway and sitting areas.

"The atmosphere is soothing and calm. You can't put a price tag on that," Smith said.

"It's a peaceful way of life in a stressful time, not only economically, but with all the pressures of today. It's a place to rest and rejuvenate."

At Prairie Park, you won't be looking for a roofing contractor. The the association pays for natural gas heating and takes care of snow plowing, maintenance of buildings and grounds, landscaping, exterior lighting and the waterfall.

In a traditional home, you have a problem if the roof leaks and you don't have the money to repair it. Here, your finances are much more budget-controlled with people knowing what their monthly costs are upfront, Smith said. There are no surprises.

Residents only pay their electric, phone and cable bills.

"We have very good products in our buildings, such as a 50-year rubber roof and boilers that last from 50 to 75 years. With a good association with built-up reserves, residents won't see special assessments," Smith said.

Prairie Park also has landscape irrigation generated on-site using a pond. Smith expects to see more lawn-watering restrictions in the future for those relying on municipal water supplies. "We're ahead of time, taking maintenance free to the next level and being eco-friendly," he said.

Another no-maintenance community is Courthouse Square, the creation of Focus Development and Airhart Construction. This historic condominium community, built in and around the former DuPage County Courthouse, is in the heart of downtown Wheaton.

The homeowners association takes care of everything including the structure itself and the lushly landscaped parklike setting, and it has a 24-hour fitness center, community room, outdoor lap pool and hospitality suite complete with a gourmet kitchen for parties and meetings.

Residents also enjoy a historically restored lobby with a grand staircase, an elevator and outdoor terraces with views of downtown Wheaton.

Other amenities include a downtown location surrounded by shops, coffee houses, neighborhood restaurants and the nearby Wheaton Public Library.

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