Have ranch homes made a comeback?
Some builders say yes.
While the suburbs grew as expanses of ranch homes were built in the 1950s and '60s, and well into the '70s, two-story designs dominated new construction in the 1980s and '90s.
Now, the current housing market is supporting ranch designs again. And it's not only baby boomers seeking single-level living who favor ranches. Buyers of all ages are purchasing new construction ranch homes in suburban communities.
"In Inverness, we've seen just as many people who want to be in the Barrington school district as downsizers from the Northwest suburbs," said Brian Brunhofer, president of Meritus Homes, which offers ranch designs at Creekside at Inverness Ridge, and Ravenna in Long Grove. "Ranches appeal to both buyer groups."
At KLM Builders' Sunset Ridge community in Richmond, a 40-year-old female walked in a ranch house, looked around for about 15 minutes, and said, "I'll take it," said Kim Meier, president of KLM Builders. "For the last several months, she pursued foreclosures and short sales, made offers, hired inspectors, and sometimes encountered mold or structural problems.
"Here, for $200,000, she bought a new ranch house with a great modern layout, granite countertops, energy-saving features and a basement."
What's driving this phenomenon?
Builders say attractive, open floor plans; convenient, one-level living; and people downsizing earlier than in the past.
Open floor plans
Today's ranches are not your mama's ranch of the 1950s with boxy living and dining rooms in the front, bedrooms down the hall, a small working kitchen and an attached garage at one end.
Today's ranches feature stylish designs with architectural features like volume ceilings; open, airy floor plans; state-of-the-art kitchens and lots of windows, often with a view.
For example, KLM's Sonoma model home at Thousand Oaks in Spring Grove features a sophisticated open interior, professionally decorated to the nines by Sally Meier with upscale furnishings, warm earth tones and rich fabrics.
The home has 5-inch-wide, hand-scraped oak floors; crown molding and some double crown molding; and shows the custom craftsmanship that goes into a KLM home.
"Ranches of the past had shorter ceilings. Now we have 9- to 10-foot ceilings, and homes live larger and feel bigger than they are," Meier said. "Everyone likes the great room, open concept."
KLM offers about 20 different ranch designs from which to choose in varying sizes, each with a full basement, lots of standard features with customization if desired.
Henning Estates by Rock Creek Homes features 103 luxury ranch homesites on 110 acres with each house backing to mature woods, scenic wetlands or tall grass prairie.
Differing from utilitarian ranch plans of the past, the South Haven design features a stone masonry exterior and a dramatic roofline with architectural grade shingles and a variety of gables, hips, valleys and copper flashing that give the home excellent curb appeal, said Ryan VanLue, president and founder of Rock Creek.
"All of our ranches feature dramatic window scapes," VanLue said. "The days are long gone when front windows of a ranch consisted of a picture window in the living room and two tiny windows in the bedrooms."
At Creekside at Inverness Ridge, the two ranch plans are the second best-selling plans at the community. The Marquis, with 2,610 square feet of space, and the Kingston, at 2,828 square feet, offer three bedrooms, two baths, an eat-in kitchen with a large island, formal dining room, family room, den, oversized mudroom, 10-foot ceilings, attached two-car garage and a full basement.
"Some people equate ranch homes with small homes, but these are larger than the average home. They're generous in size and generous in their upscale features, such gourmet kitchens and master suites with deluxe baths," Brunhofer said.
"Plus, the stylized French Country and Tudor exteriors give the homes much more character than most ranches."
"We believe ranch homes are becoming more popular because no matter what their age, people are tired of climbing stairs several times every day," VanLue said.
Many buyers like the convenience of having everything on one floor. "Our homes come with a basement, so people do like that, and some want to finish the basement while building their house, said Jennifer Arndt, marketing manager for Rock Creek Homes.
"In our floor plans, people like the split bedroom layout, with master suite tucked in its own wing of the home while the guest room resides on the other end, allowing for privacy for each of the rooms," Arndt said.
Another advantage of a ranch design is it allows architects the freedom to put volume or dramatic vaulted ceilings in every room because they won't impact rooms on the second floor, VanLue said.
Some baby boomers aren't looking to go live in a active-adult community that's 55 and older. They like their independence and their single-family home. They still want to be outside, with the privacy of outdoor living and a garden, Arndt said.
Also, some people have health concerns where they need or want everything on one level, Meier said.
Last year, the first of the baby boomers turned 65. Because this group accounts for almost 25 percent of the country's population, many developers like Meritus Homes prepared for an influx of older buyers with "boomer-friendly" plans and communities.
"We had them in mind when deciding what plans we would include in our first two communities," Brunhofer said.
"In studying the potential buyer demographic, it was obvious the maintenance-free homes at Creekside at Inverness Ridge would do well with active adults, who we see as having a strong influence on the real estate market. And so far, we're right on target with sales, especially with our ranch plans."
It's not only boomers who are looking to downsize.
"We're seeing people in their mid- to early 40s starting to think ahead and choosing ranch homes," Brunhofer said.
When parents become empty nesters, even before they retire, they find themselves in large two-story homes. They no longer need as much space, and they don't want the upkeep and higher heating and cooling costs, so they buy a ranch home, Meier said.
"We get a lot of people wanting to downsize. And surprisingly, we're seeing young people buying ranches, which is something new.
"Some of them are newlyweds some one or two children and they want to buy a house where they can live the rest of their lives instead of making that move when they do retire or become empty nesters."