Residential construction is experiencing a strong comeback in the Chicago area. Builders who for the past five or six years had been lamenting a lack of buyers, are today lamenting the frigid and snowy weather that is preventing them from making progress on a bumper crop of new home orders.
"Our guys have only been able to work outside about half the time these past six weeks," said Court Airhart, president of Airhart Construction, based in West Chicago.
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But the weather is destined to clear much more quickly than the recession did and when that happens, the sound of hammers and construction machinery will once again fill the air at new residential communities around the area.
To meet the burgeoning need for new homes, builders are introducing new home plans and new communities at a dizzying pace.
And probably most exciting for the industry, the Northern Illinois Homebuilders Association recently decided to move forward on the first Cavalcade of Homes showcase since 2008. It will be held July 26 through Aug. 17 at Ashwood Park in Naperville. Six homes in the $500,000 to $1 million price range, built by four different builders, will be on display.
"This is intended to send the message that housing is coming back and we are ready to show off our wares to the public again," said Pete Stefani, president of King's Court Builders, based in Plainfield.
Ashwood Park is a multi-builder, master-planned community of more than 700 homes, developed by Crestview Builders. According to Stefani, interest in Ashwood Park has been very active lately so King's Court Builders recently selected 12 additional lots to offer homes there.
In addition, King's Court has 30 homes under contract at Highland Woods in Elgin, a community that Stefani said "came to a virtual standstill during the recession and now it is rocking and rolling again."
Ranch homes and two-story homes with first-floor master bedrooms are becoming all the rage, Stefani said, compared to before the recession, when the builder went more than five years without being asked to build a single ranch. He said people of all ages are warming to the idea of single-floor living, or at least not climbing the stairs to get to the bedroom each night.
Mudrooms or family centers with room for lockers, or really large first-floor storage closets, are also gaining in popularity. Deeper basements, air purification equipment and more hardwood floors are also on many buyers' wish lists, Stefani said.
Things are also hopping at Orleans Homes, based in Schaumburg. During its last fiscal year, the builder closed 35 homes. By the end of its fiscal year this June, Orleans expects to have closed close to 130 homes in the past 12 months, said Bob Meyn, Midwest director of sales and marketing.
"We are very bullish on Chicago and have been acquiring a lot of previously developed land that has been held by banks or investors," he said.
In addition, it has four new communities opening over the next five months. The Enclave in Bartlett is opening early in February, but it already has a long VIP list of interested buyers for its 17 homesites. Homes there will start in the upper $300,000s and will range in size from 2,800 to 3,700 square feet.
Even smaller and more exclusive is Thornfield Meadows in Hawthorn Woods, which will open in late February. It will feature seven homes on one-acre homesites, starting in the $600,000s. Visit www.orleanshomeschicago.com to be put on the VIP list for either of these communities.
The Courtyards of Glen Ellyn, a townhouse community Orleans Homes has taken over from another builder, will reopen for sales April 1 when it debuts a new decorated model. Townhouses in the community start in the $260,000s.
Finally, Blackberry Creek in Elburn is slated to open in June. Homes there will start from the upper $200,000s. Only 45 homesites are available in this community, which also features 202 acres of park and conservation areas and an on-site elementary school.
Northbrook-based Meritus Homes also has big plans for 2014. It is about to begin construction on several single lot, custom homes on teardown sites in Wilmette, Winnetka and Northbrook.
"In the past we have not carried much speculation home inventory but there is such a low inventory of available new and resale homes on the North Shore that we decided to try it," said Brian Brunhofer, president. "We are confident there will be a high level of interest by the time we get to the drywall stage."
In addition, Meritus plans to open a new four-bedroom, 3,300-square-foot, two-story traditional showcase home at The Reserve of St. Charles in April. It lists for $577,000. Another traditional two-story home, ready for May availability, is 3,716 square feet and priced at $608,000.
"While these homes will showcase floor plans that have proved to be extremely popular with our buyers, they also demonstrate the breadth of customization we offer, whether it's a unique kitchen cabinet finish, a special fireplace treatment or an incredible master bath with spalike touches," said Brunhofer. "Buyers visiting our communities can tour these homes to see the quality of our work, but, of course, they will also be available for purchase by those who want a custom-caliber home on a shorter time frame."
Brunhofer added that, depending on the time of purchase, buyers who select one of the showcase homes may be able to make some final finish selections.
Sales of condominiums at the 60-unit Wolf Ridge Condominiums in Northlake are also going gangbusters. Four new penthouse models showcasing designer upgrades and stainless steel kitchen appliances are available for immediate occupancy.
"The developer is offering a Penthouse Designer Upgrades Package showcasing stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and a two-sided granite breakfast bar," said Terrie Whittaker, director of brokerage services for Catapult Realty LLC, exclusive broker for Wolf Ridge. The incentive is valued at $5,500.
In addition, all four of the penthouse units feature extra ceiling height, as well as additional transom windows.
For a limited time, the developer is also offering to give buyers both a heated indoor parking space and an outdoor parking space, valued at a total of $7,000.
All Wolf Ridge condominiums feature two bedrooms and two baths and range between 1,180 and 1,463 square feet. Prices range from $135,900 to $185,900 while monthly assessments range from $250 to $280.
Court Airhart at Airhart Construction said he is "cautiously optimistic about 2014. We are expecting 10 (percent) to 15 percent growth in our sales this year. The key to things coming back is job growth in Illinois. People need to see Illinois as a strong, vibrant economy again."
Because of his cautious optimism, Airhart is opening a new, very exclusive five-home development in Oak Brook, a community where new home construction is almost nonexistent. The home sites in this tiny gated cul-de-sac are expected to go on sale in late February or early March and are expected to average $900,000 in cost. Dana Park Estates, as it will be called, will feature large lots surrounded by long views of a pond and wetlands, Airhart said.
In addition, the team at Airhart is working on new, inventive designs for its Medalist Series of homes; will soon be opening new models at Courthouse Square in Wheaton; and is working on a pet project of Airhart's, a series of Mid-Century Modern homes (reminiscent of the Bauhaus movement) featuring crisp interiors, clean lines, bamboo floors, flat roofs, and stucco exteriors. These homes could be built in any Airhart community or on a single lot anywhere in DuPage County, he said.
In late November, William Ryan Homes, based in Schaumburg, introduced its new Historic Americana line of 13 models. The floor plans incorporate many attributes the builder's staff noticed buyers looking for in recent years as it allowed customers much latitude with customization, as well as new features that have become popular on the East and West coasts.
There are expanded mudrooms with room for lockers; pocket offices near the epicenter of the home where children can do homework and adults can work from home; open floor plans combining upgraded kitchens and family rooms; improved master suites and walk-in closets wherever possible in bedrooms. Formal living rooms are also a thing of the past, said Debbie Beaver, vice president of operations.
"We also freshened up our exterior elevations. They are all architecturally correct. Gone are the days of hodgepodge elements that someone added because they thought that they looked good. The Craftsman has shake shingle siding and stone columns and is true to that architectural style. The Georgian is symmetrical with columns. The Prairie has a Frank Lloyd Wright look and the Folk Victorian has true Victorian elements," she said.
William Ryan Homes is also about to open three additional communities: White Ash Farm in Plainfield (with homes starting at $296,990); The Coves in Algonquin (with homes starting from the $260,000s); and Kainer Court in Barrington, a small community featuring homes starting in the upper $600,000s.
Chicago-based Lexington Homes has announced plans for its new Woodleaf at The Sanctuary Club community of 26 luxury, single-family homes in Kildeer. The community features half- to three-quarter-acre sites for its custom and semi-custom homes, all of which back up to private views of mature trees, Kemper Lake or both.
Jeff Benach, co-principal of Lexington Homes, said Woodleaf at The Sanctuary Club offers a unique opportunity for luxury homebuyers.
"We're offering almost twice as many plans as available lots, plus buyers still have the option to design a home from scratch," Benach said. "It's an interesting custom/semi-custom/semi-production hybrid. But buyers are responding to it, as we've already sold three homes in our soft opening and will be breaking ground this spring on a model."
Lexington's floor plans range from 3,300 to 5,000 square feet and prices start in the low $700,000s.
Designs include traditional floor plans with a center entry and all bedrooms on the second floor, while others offer first-floor master suites and open layouts that forgo the traditional living room for a larger family room.
"Whatever home design a buyer ends up with, it will adhere to the high standards of appearance and use high end elevation materials that have already been established in the community," said Benach. "Maintaining a custom feel and atmosphere throughout the community is key. This is anything but production homebuilding."
Shodeen Residential is also hitting the ground running this year as it anticipates a busy 2014, based on the fact that many potential buyers have even been braving the brutal weather to look at their models at Mill Creek in Geneva and at Reston Ponds in Sycamore.
Low inventories among both new and resale homes indicate that once spring arrives, sales will take off, so Shodeen has numerous speculation homes finished and ready to sell. In fact, it has 14 homes complete and three more well along in construction. The homes are available at both Reston Ponds, which opened in the fall, and at Mill Creek.
"Thanks to the affordability of money, we have seen a surge in second-time, move-up buyers building large custom homes in the $550,000 to $900,000 range in Mill Creek," said Nate Amidon, director of sales for the Geneva-based homebuilder. "We have also seen more homebuyers putting money into upgrades instead of additional square footage."
That is why the builder is introducing a new 1,860-square-foot plan at Mill Creek. It will allow buyers to purchase a home in that coveted master-planned community for less than $300,000.
Reston Ponds is a 300-homesite community that was begun by another builder and Shodeen has purchased the remaining 150 lots. Shodeen is introducing two new floor plans this spring -- a 1,600-square-foot ranch with two bedrooms, two baths, a full pre-framed basement and a two-car garage, starting at $221,979; and a two-story 1,850-square-foot home featuring three bedrooms, 2½ baths, a two-car garage and a full pre-framed basement. It starts at $229,784.
Both models are available with three different exterior elevations. Vinyl siding is standard, but there are brick and stone options.
This brings the total number of models at Reston Ponds to six, ranging in size from 1,600 to 2,667 square feet. All are very family-oriented, Amidon said.
Shodeen Residential anticipates bringing one or possibly two additional communities to market later in the year, as well, he added.
Chris Naatz, vice president of sales and marketing for D.R. Horton's Chicago division, is very bullish about the housing market for 2014. In fact, the builder anticipates so much demand that D.R. Horton is building quick delivery homes right alongside the models at its new communities, so as soon as sales open at those communities, some homes will be available for families in a hurry.
"We know there are not many choices on the resale market today so we are prepared to help buyers that need to move quickly," Naatz said.
D.R. Horton opened sales at Running Brook Farm in Johnsburg in December and has already recorded several sales. It has a total of 49 oversized homesites available for sale at the community, which enjoys easy access to the Chain of Lakes and abundant shopping. it will build single-family homes starting at $221,990 in the community and already has a 2,140-square-foot ranch model open for viewing.
D.R. Horton also is opening two single-family home communities in New Lenox. Those on the interested parties lists for Heather Glen will begin seeing plans and community information later this month, Naatz said. Visit www.drhorton.com/newlenox to get on the list for either New Lenox community.
Heather Glen will feature 125 homes spread over 43.5 acres. It was an existing community, begun by another builder, when D.R. Horton purchased the remaining lots. Homes there will start in the mid to upper $200,000s and will range in size from 2,523 to 3,018 square feet. Two models, featuring updated and enhanced plans available in other D.R. Horton communities, are now under construction.
Bristol Park is a totally new community developed by D.R. Horton that will open in late March or early April. It is a higher-end, move-up community with totally new floor plans featuring exterior brick around the entire first floor, three-car garages, granite countertops and staggered custom-look kitchen cabinets. Two models are also under construction there.
"New Lenox is a very hot community now that I-355 has been extended. That opened up this whole area," he said, adding that the community has convenient access to I-80, great shopping and is in the highly regarded New Lenox Elementary District 122 and Lincoln-Way High School District 210.
D.R. Horton has 11 communities under construction in the Chicago area.