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Buyers become more conservative in weighing the cost of a home
By Sherry Giewald | Daily Herald Correspondent

West Point Builders' Clark model is part of the smaller line of homes in the Park series featured at West Point Gardens.

 

An herb garden is among the private enclosed gardens offered at West Point Gardens in South Elgin.

 

Gerstad Builders' floor plans were designed with flexibility in mind. This dining room could also be used as a den or formal living room.

 

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Published: 9/24/2010 12:01 AM

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Smaller homes are big.

So big that new-home builders are constructing smaller footprints and in turn furniture manufacturers are scaling down their products.

We see people's buying choices changing. Today people still want nice homes with all the amenities - but in a smaller package, said Pat Curran, president of West Point Builders, which is building smaller homes priced from $159,900 at its West Point Gardens community in South Elgin.

How small is small?

"Before, we thought a 2,000-square-foot ranch home was small, but at Fisher Farm in Winfield we've got ranches down to 1,400 square feet," (not including the basement), said Bill Whelan, marketing manager for Airhart Construction.

"We've had quite a few sales for these homes along with the smaller four-bedroom homes just short of 2,000 square feet. They may be smaller homes, but they still feature quality construction," Whelan said. "There is no aluminum or vinyl siding and shingles are thicker than the 30-year architectural grade."

"We're a custom builder, so people tell us what they want, and we adapt to their needs. We still see big homes, just not as many because more people want smaller homes."

In response to the current marketplace, Gerstad Builders recently introduced its new "stimulus series" of homes at Liberty Trails in McHenry, Dawson Creek in Poplar Grove and Pheasant Ridge in Richmond. The four ranch and two-story plans feature 1,292 to 2,030 square feet and are priced from $180,490 to $204,990.

"We have dropped our home prices to the level at which we were selling homes back in 2003," said Roger Gerstad, owner and president of Gerstad Builders.

Designed to be attractive to first-time buyers, the smaller affordable homes may now allow people paying $900 in rent to attain homeownership. For example, monthly payments on a $180,000 ranch home run about $975 at Liberty Trails.

Bottom line: Builders are constructing smaller homes because they are now in greater demand.

Why the change?

"I think everyone now is more in tune economically, and they're being more sensible by right-sizing their homes to fit their needs," Curran said.

Attitudes are changing. People no longer look first and foremost at their home as an investment, but as an opportunity to create a lifestyle they want.

Living in a smaller home doesn't mean sacrificing the comfort, warmth or livability of a larger home. It means architects must create an innovative and efficient use of space and storage systems to make living in a smaller home easier, more economical and most of all - attractive to buyers.

Smaller homes live larger with open floor plans. "People like openness, and we really work on creating open, airy floor plans with a spacious, uncluttered feel," Curran said.

Yes, the walls are coming down.

Say goodbye to formal living rooms and dining rooms and hello to large multipurpose family areas with smaller furniture.

Multifunctional spaces in new homes are in. These spaces will be used daily, not just for special occasions, and will serve more than one purpose. You might see niches and alcoves for home offices, homework, hobbies or playing games. Homes may have sliding doors, pocket doors, and other types of movable partitions allowing flexibility in living arrangements. These types of spaces adapt to the needs of today's family.

Rather than a living room, Airhart Construction features a flex room immediately adjacent to the home's entry foyer that can be used as a study, game room, music room - or even a small living room.

"Mostly living rooms are going away," Whelan said. "Occasionally people want one or it's done as a flex room that can be used as a living room or den."

New homes by Gerstad Builders are focused around family living and making the most of the square footage. "We're trying to give the buyer the most for the money," Gerstad said.

Homes in his stimulus series show the first floor dedicated to entertaining and daily living with the second floor devoted to private bedrooms and two full baths.

A contemporary floor plan with the kitchen flowing into the breakfast room and into the family room eliminates unnecessary walls between the first-floor rooms and an abundance of natural light adds to the feeling of spaciousness.

Smaller homes can still have upscale interiors with all the bells and whistles of a larger home. Luxury amenities and options such as a premium appliance package, granite countertops, furniture-quality cabinetry, fireplaces, large walk-in closets and deluxe master baths are usually available.

For example, Gerstad offers an extensive variety of optional features including skylights, three-car garages (per plan), fireplaces, custom millwork, wood decks, and English or walkout basements. Homeowners can also add a four-season room if desired.

Many builders also offer the option of dual master suites, which is a popular feature for owners with frequent houseguests, aging parents or boomerang children.

With people entertaining at home, taking staycations and generally spending more time at home, an open floor plan and island is a must. But smaller homes can also live large with outdoor living spaces included in the home design.

West Point Gardens' new Park series is part of a traditional neighborhood design community that features private enclosed theme gardens and large covered front porches reminiscent of the past. Who doesn't love to sit out on the front porch with a cup of coffee and visit with their neighbors?

The outdoor yard and garden can become part of the floor plan when sliding glass doors lead to patios and decks. Whether you're entertaining a crowd or just family members, everyone loves barbecuing outdoors. What can be better than a sizzling steak right off the grill?

Eating outdoors can be as rustic or sophisticated as homeowners wish. They might want to rough it with a grill and patio furniture or they might go for an outdoor kitchen complete with fireplace, luxurious seating, sinks and refrigerator.

Picturesque views enhance outdoor dining. Some of the Park series homes will overlook 14-acre Meier Park while others will have beautiful views of a landscaped berm that further ensures privacy, and others will enjoy the scenic natural views.