More demand for high-end finishes
The definition of luxury homes has changed over the past 20 years. No longer is "luxury" synonymous with "huge" when it comes to homes.
"Many of today's luxury buyers are choosing amenities over square footage. They feel they don't necessarily need the volume in a house. Instead, they want the actual luxury and a house that is customized to their lifestyle," said Court Airhart, president of Airhart Construction, based in Wheaton.
Buyers don't want to have a house with large portions left largely unused, Airhart said. They want to put their money into things they actually use on a daily basis, instead. In addition, they don't want to pay the high property taxes and (they) are trying not to leave as much of an imprint on the environment.
"Buyers are looking for efficiency in their lives and are taking seriously the idea of stewardship of the earth," he continued. "But they still believe that a house can be a person's best equity-builder over time, so they are adjusting their requests."
Most of the custom homes Airhart builds are in the $600,000 to well over the $1 million range. Rather than focusing on size, many of today's luxury buyers look for high-end finishes such as luxury baths with full-tile showers, hardwood on the entire first floor; high-end appliances, cabinetry and tile; quartz countertops, upgraded interior trim packages and even upgraded exterior details, Airhart said.
Airhart Construction is finishing the last of seven row houses in its Courthouse Square community in Wheaton and is about to open a small community of cottage homes called Park Place in downtown Lombard. It is also building single-family homes in Winfield, Oak Brook, Wheaton and West Chicago.
Serosun Farms is a perfect example of a builder responding to high-end buyers' interest in preserving the environment and minimizing their negative impact on the Earth. The development is a mixed-use "agrihood" community in Hampshire, designed for environmentally conscious buyers. It will eventually boast 114 sustainable luxury residences on one-acre lots.
One such home is now available for immediate delivery, said John DeWald, owner and developer of Serosun Farms. It is an American Foursquare design and is called Swainson's House. Rapidly renewable and richly colored bamboo floors run throughout the home's first and second floors. The gourmet kitchen is well-equipped with Wolf and Subzero appliances, as well as a steam convection oven.
The home's two-story dining and living area is appointed with high-end fixtures, while a floor-to-ceiling, indoor/outdoor stone fireplace is a focal point. Wall-to-wall windows and a picturesque wraparound porch provide panoramic views of the community's working farm, stables, demonstration garden and surrounding countryside.
Located down the hall from the living area is the master suite, as well as a guest suite. The first-floor master includes a sliding barn door entrance to the master bath, which features Kohler fixtures, a double-bowl vanity;, dual-head, full-body shower; soaking tub, complete with a fireplace pass-through connecting to the master bedroom.
Upstairs, the home has two additional bedrooms with a shared full bath plus a separate sitting area overlooking the first floor living and dining areas. Both bedrooms boast views of the surrounding countryside. The finished basement space features a family room, laundry and an additional guest suite with full bath.
Connected to the home via a landscaped pergola, the semidetached garage -- complete with finished second floor bonus space awash with natural light from several skylights -- is wired for solar power and personal vehicle charging. A geothermal heating, cooling and hot water system drastically reduces the operating expenses of the home with estimated heating and cooling costs as low as $650 per year. Further reducing the carbon footprint of the home are sustainable features including a rainwater collection system and a maintenance-free green roof with drought-resistant, native plants.
"This is a one-of-a-kind home built for minimal environmental impact. But, we also created a living space packed with beauty and teeming with luxury," DeWald said.
K. Hovnanian is a New York Stock Exchange-traded builder that has long been known for production homes, especially in the Chicago market. But since the recession, the mammoth enterprise has been gravitating toward infill subdivisions in established suburbs. The types of homes it now builds in those communities must fit with the cost of the land and the tastes of the neighbors.
"For instance, in Lake Forest where the land is costing us between $250,000 and $300,000 per lot, you can't build an inexpensive home," said Andy Konovodoff, president of K. Hovnanian's Chicago division.
"Besides, it has long been my position that we cannot just cater to first-time buyers. We must be able to open our palette and offer something for everyone," he said. "That is especially true right now when there has been no recent movement to the communities on the fringes of the Chicago area. We are concentrating our efforts on parcels east of Randall Road and are looking for good addresses and good schools because we are a homebuilder. We can build any type of home."
Konovodoff acknowledged that custom homes take much longer to build than the production homes do, an average of 18 months from contract to closing, because of the heavy customization they do, such as brick or stone on all four sides, copper gutters and cedar shake roofs on the exteriors and luxury moldings and trims inside, along with customization of floor plans and extremely individualized amenities like top-end carpeting, high-end hardwood floors and marble that the buyers saw in another country and want for their home.
"Those are the kinds of things buyers are asking for at Amberley Woods in Lake Forest where we are building 22 homes in the $1.2 (million) to $1.3 million price range," he said. "Even where we are building slightly less expensive homes, buyers are customizing but, in most cases, they are doing it with the variety of packages offered in our design center. That seems to change once we get above the $750,000 to $800,000 price range. Then we have to be much more adaptive to buyers' individual choices."
K. Hovnanian's current luxury home communities, in addition to Amberley Woods, are Christina Court in Arlington Heights, Heatherfield in Naperville, Northridge Estates in Wheaton and Sauganash Glen in Chicago.
Bob Meyn, vice president of sales and marketing for Taylor Morrison's Chicago division, said his company, too, has found that across many price points, but particularly among luxury buyers, amenities have become more important than square footage.
"People want things finished in a certain way because they see so much decorating information online and on television. They see things they want and they are willing to give up square footage to get those things. Unlike earlier buyers, they aren't willing to wait and get those things later, either. They want them as soon as they move in," he said.
Taylor Morrison will open a model at its Tallgrass community in Lake Barrington in July. Sixty-two homes, starting in the $700,000s, will be built there on one-acre homesites. It also is building Countryside Meadows in Hawthorn Woods where homes start in the upper $500,000s and it just closed Sanctuary Club in Kildeer where homes largely sold in the $600,000s and $700,000s. All offer a high level of inclusions, supplemented by many options.
For instance, a wide variety of roof types are always offered to enhance the streetscapes in all of these communities and all homes feature brick or stone on the fronts, Meyn said. Many interior framing and structural changes, within the standard footprint of the home, are also permitted. And any popular amenities that don't come standard with the home, like fireplaces, crown molding, wainscoting and extra-deep foundation pours (which make finishing the basement easier), are generally offered as options because, Meyn said, that is what today's buyers of luxury homes expect.
"At Tallgrass, however, we are also offering upgraded flooring in key areas, side-load garages and brick or stone on all four sides of the homes' exteriors. Tallgrass homes will range from 3,600 to 4,300 square feet and are offered as both standard two-story homes and two-story homes with first-floor master bedroom suites and second-floor game rooms."
Toll Brothers is currently offering its Signature Homes series, where home prices range from the low $900,000s to $1.5 million, at The Woods of South Barrington.
These homes range from 3,900 to over 5,000 square feet and come with 10-foot ceilings, quartz countertops, professional-grade appliances, upgraded and extended hardwood flooring and a high-end trim package. Three-car side-load garages are standard, but there are options for up to a five-car garage, said Alison Keifer, senior sales manager.
"Popular options include additional bedroom-bathroom suites for multigenerational living and even indoor sport courts that involve putting an addition on the house where the court is accessed from the basement and then extends up to the first floor where there are viewing windows," Keifer said.
"We are also seeing more and more luxury homebuyers opting for very sleek kitchens with linen-colored cabinets and monstrous, one-level islands," she added.