People flock to comfortable ‘nests’

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Security, convenience and a return on investment drive new home building trends

Area homebuilders attribute a weak stock market, threats of terrorism and war, and continuing low interest rates with creating a brisk market for new home construction.

Jim Kupfer, sales manager for Kaerek Builders in West Allis, says, "Our customers are pulling money from the stock market to invest in their homes. We’ve seen down payments increase from 10% or 15% in the past, to 20% today." He adds, "The terrific appraisals new homes are getting, often 10% to 20% above the sale price, justify the investment for many new homeowners."

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Angela Forey, marketing manager at Bielinski Homes, Waukesha, agrees. "With the low interest rates, people are investing in homes," she notes. "While no investment is 100% safe, your home is a very true investment."

Steve Clavette, president of Trustway Homes in Pewaukee, explains it this way: "I see all the home building trends reflecting the aftermath of the Sept. 11 disaster. People are ‘nesting’ where they can feel secure. And because they’re spending more time in their homes, they want comfort and convenience."

Bigger and better

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Current new home trends builders report include:

— A larger home – Kupfer says his company’s customers increased home size by an average of 200 square feet last year. Typical for Kaerek Builders are ranches about 1,800 square feet and two-story models about 2,200 square feet.

The other builders are frequently constructing 2,000- to 2,800-square-foot homes. Forey says her company has recently introduced a popular new series called the Park Avenue that begins at 2,500 square feet and goes up from there. "Other customers are building modest homes (2,000 to 2,500 square feet) and putting more money into upgrades for kitchens, master bedrooms and bathrooms."

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Garage space is growing, too. Three-car garages are standard today, and Kupfer reports that four- and five-car garages are on the upswing. "While three-car garages are on 60% of our homes, 15% to 20% now have even larger garages," he notes.

— Ranches increase – Bielinski’s Forey says, "Ranch-style homes are very popular right now."

Kupfer agrees, "Fifty-five to 60% of what we’re building are ranches."

For Trustway Homes, ranches are about half the market. Clavette says the popularity may be due to the fact that he’s seeing more older customers who don’t want to climb stairs. "It’s new for us to have so many clients in their 50s and 60s wanting to build," he comments. "These people are usually downsizing and seeking more convenience in their homes."

— Distinctive exteriors – "We’re seeing more exterior elevations for an East Coast look," Forey says. "Dormers, shutters and steeper roof pitches give this feeling, and reflect the individuality of our customers. We’re seeing many more stone, brick and shutter options used now."

Kaerek’s Kupfer notes that neutral and earthy tones are still prevalent in exteriors, while weathered gray roof shingles remain popular.

— Cozy interiors – Dens, studies and media rooms are common. "We’re seeing more home offices and dens," Forey says. "Some customers convert the fourth bedroom into a den, use loft space or ask to include the den on the first level. Formal living and dining rooms are disappearing as people seek larger living centers and open areas."

Clavette comments, "Nine years ago when I started this business, most homes had only three bedrooms. Today, four bedrooms are almost standard, as well as a den, because people are spending more time at home. We’re also seeing more DVD systems, where there’s one DVD player but the movie can be seen anywhere in the house, and more home theaters."

While the "smart" homes with fancy electronic controls are not prevalent, "most people want wiring available for surround sound and flexible TV setups," Kupfer notes. "We’re putting in more phone and cable jacks, too."

Clavette agrees, "There’s a move toward structured wiring where data, voice and more are available in one outlet in every room, but the advanced electronics touted at home shows, the stuff that automatically adjusts temperature to your liking or runs fancy lighting systems, is cost-prohibitive for most customers."

More amenities sought

Efficiency, safety, comfort, and pride in the home are the forces behind the additional amenities area builders are including in their homes.

Kaerek Builders offers air-to-air heat-recovery systems as standard on its homes. "These expel the home’s stale air but recover the heat, renewing the whole house’s air every three to four hours," Kupfer explains. "We’ve also added whole-house HEPA filters that filter 99% of dust and air contaminants, including mold. The usual furnace filter only gets 5%. We’re installing more high-volume bath fans, high-efficiency water heaters, vented range hoods and upgraded wall systems that are mold retardant. Health consciousness and efficiency are big."

In kitchens, "granite countertops, high-end faucets, built-in appliances and walk-in pantries are prevalent," Clavette says. "Nearby, there are large utility and mud rooms. And with the advent of small flat-screen televisions that can fold right away under cabinets, TVs are everywhere."

Forey concurs, "Hardwood floors, stainless steel sinks, ceramic tile, granite countertops and higher-end appliances are popular as people put their money into homes they can enjoy with their families and friends."

When it comes to the bathroom, comfort is definitely a priority. And the number of bathrooms, according to Clavette, is increasing. "Three-and-a-half baths is more common now as families seek convenience," he notes. "We’ve seen a lot of body shower spray systems with hand-held and multiple heads, larger whirlpool tubs and spa fixtures that are aerated. Of course these use more water, so we’re putting in bigger or multiple hot water heaters."

Some customers seek a unique interior décor throughout the home. Forey says Bielinski offers various coffered and 9-foot ceilings, textured drywall, arches and other decorative additions. "Color is ‘in’ too," she notes. "Reds, golds, blacks, brushed nickel (instead of brass) – lots of color in wallpaper and painted surfaces."

For the cozy feeling "nesters" want, nothing beats a fireplace. "About 80% of our homes have fireplaces," Forey points out, "but for convenience, most customers are opting for gas direct-vent styles instead of the typical wood-burning models."

March 21, 2003 Small Business times, Milwaukee

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