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Article updated: 7/14/2013 4:55 PM

Saddlebrook Farms offers custom homes in retirement community

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Many people who want to live an active life during retirement do not have a limitless supply of funds. In fact, more retired adults probably fall into this category than into the group that can invest in a large home in a southern climate.

Leaving family and friends to move far away doesn't appeal to everyone either.

Chuck Fanaro, president of DWG Corporation, the owner, developer, builder and manager of Saddlebrook Farms in Grayslake, was probably one of the first to understand this when he purchased 600 acres in the Lake County community back in 1989 and started to develop his active adult community there.

Today Saddlebrook Farms is home to more than 2,000 people living in 1,400 homes and after a lengthy hiatus during the recession, DWG is starting to actively market homes in the community once again.

"We have approximately 600 acres of land which includes over 100 acres of lakes," Fanaro explained. "We also have a modest community center, which serves the needs of our residents quite well. Called our community Lake House, it is sited on a 20-acre lake surrounded by weeping willows, providing tranquil views and a basic sense of nature. We have over five miles of walking trails, and abundant open space for picnics and barbecues. Our residents love their Victory Gardens, with 200-plus garden plots and growing. They enjoy many clubs and social activities, including golf, bocce ball, fishing, woodworking, gardening, Bible study, arts, crafts, exercise, and card games. The list goes on. We even have an 'air field and hangar' for the remote-controlled airplane enthusiasts and a secured storage area for boats and recreational vehicles.

"I saw a remote-controlled airplane field a few miles away and the old guys there were having so much fun that I decided to add one to Saddlebrook Farms," he added. "They love it."

The details:

Homes at Saddlebrook Farms are custom built to the desires and needs of its homebuyers.

"In the past, we have sold as many as 145 new homes in a year, with an average price in excess of $200,000. With the recession and slow down in the real estate market and the inability of our prospective homebuyers to sell their current homes, we decided to withdraw from the market until the economy improved. We believe now is the time to re-enter the market," Funaro said.

"Prices start in the $130s. We are introducing a new model priced at $139,900 that has two bedrooms, two baths, an open kitchen with island, cathedral ceiling, a screened front porch and an attached two-car garage," he continued.

Saddlebrook Farms homes are built-to-suit in a factory in Indiana, owned by DWG. Most range from 1,000 square feet to 2,000-plus square feet and feature one bedroom and one bath, two bedrooms and two baths or two bedrooms, a den and two baths.

"Because we build to suit, we build homes as small or as large as the homebuyer wants. We offer countryside and lakeside home sites and are in the position to satisfy the preferences of seniors looking to downsize and un-complicate their lives," Funaro explained.

Philosophy of the business:

Saddlebrook Farms' mission statement is "improving the quality of life while reducing the cost of living for active adults." Fanaro has managed to accomplish both by building upon a business model that combines quality homes built in a factory, a land lease residency agreement and services designed for low-maintenance living for seniors.

"When I started Saddlebrook Farms, people in the Midwest didn't consider factory-built homes to be as good as site-built homes and many weren't. So I started my own factory down in Indiana in order get the high-quality product that I wanted for my customers. Today, the fact that we offer our own factory-built homes allows us to offer the residents of Saddlebrook Farms quality, flexibility and a good price," the former commodities trader explained.

They also ship DWG homes to Canada and around the United States.

The other way that Funaro minimizes costs to residents and prevents them from staying in an old home that no longer suits their needs or physical abilities is through land leases. The owners lease the land from DWG instead of purchasing it. When it is time for them to move or when they pass away, they or their heirs list and sell the home through a Realtor or through DWG and sell normally. The purchasers simply do not own the land under their homes.

History:

The seed of the idea for Saddlebrook Farms was planted many years ago, when Fanaro owned a senior community in Florida. He purchased it to prove that a land lease community could work successfully for both its residents and its owners.

While he owned it, he would spend winters there and experienced firsthand the richness of senior community living. Based on his experience, Fanaro learned that when folks want to retire many prefer not to move away from family and friends. Contrary to local opinion back in the 1980s, Fanaro was confident that a community dedicated to active adults using this business model would be a win-win for both the residents and community owner in the Chicago metropolitan area.

So he purchased the land in Grayslake and started developing Saddlebrook Farms which today features privately maintained roads and walking paths, 24-hour on-site management, snow removal and grass cutting services, trash and recycling collection, a quaint lake lodge with recreational areas and social activities and an optional 24-hour emergency response system.

What changes has he seen take place in the business?

"The recession has had a big effect on most businesses and on our target market. Our costs, such as materials, labor and taxes, have gone up. At the same time, our prospective homebuyers' incomes have gone down. Many have watched the value of their homes decline significantly. Consequently, plans for retirement have been affected and delayed," Funaro explained.

"While things are beginning to improve, it may take some time for a full recovery. Today, homebuyers are more realistic about pricing their current home to sell and as to what they can afford in a new home. They have become more conservative in their decision-making. We believe homes will be smaller and more affordable with features that make living easier and safer, like single-level living, which is especially important for the long haul as our residents age in place," he continued.

"I feel that the future is bright for communities that can offer buyers smaller, less expensive homes that are still custom-built and tailored to their unique needs," he added.

What is the best part of being a builder?

Realizing that we have helped people live better for less while providing a comfortable, safe and convenient lifestyle, is definitely the best part of being a builder for me.

What are your future plans?

Future plans include the development of our commercial area, possibly providing a supportive living facility, doctor's office, local shopping, and storage facilities all services that support the residents of Saddlebrook Farms.

For more information about Saddlebrook Farms, log onto saddlebrookfarms.net or call (847) 223-6000.

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