RISMEDIA, January 26, 2009-Not long ago, every American family seemed to be seeking a trophy house-and new homes rapidly became bigger and grander as builders responded to those demands in the Illinois real estate and Chicago real estate markets. Today, the situation has changed markedly, especially for Chicago homes priced at $400,000 or less, but even homes in higher price brackets are making a nod toward modesty.
Like many new homes these days, the Prairiewood model by Kipling Homes features an expansive great room that flows into a large and luxurious kitchen with its own eating area. The four-bedroom house is offered at Westminster Gardens in Shorewood, Ill. Kathy Dames of RE/MAX Realty of Joliet in Joliet, Ill., is the listing agent.
“We’re seeing a definite trend toward affordability and value in new moderately priced homes in the Chicago real estate and Illinois real estate markets,” reports Debbie Maxvold, broker/owner of RE/MAX Accord which has offices in Bloomingdale, IL and Rockford, IL. Her organization is heavily involved in marketing new homes in the Rockford area.
Larger home builders are shifting away from offering homes of 2,500 to 3,500 square feet and instead are emphasizing designs in the 1,600 to 2,500-square-foot range, according to Maxvold. To make the more limited amount of space as functional as possible, many new homes now utilize a great room concept, with one large living area that is open to the kitchen replacing the separate living and family rooms of more traditional floor plans.
Kathy Dames of RE/MAX Realty of Joliet in Joliet, Illinois, is seeing similar shifts in the new homes being offered in the Chicago real estate market of Will County.
“Builders are looking at the future and scaling back. They are building simpler designs that deliver the most house for the money. Instead of building homes of 2,800 to 3,000 square feet, they are building more homes of 1,800 to 2,300 square feet. And rather than offering an oversized kitchen and family room and separate living room, the homes being built now provide a somewhat smaller kitchen and a large great room but eliminate the traditional living room. They also have 9-foot ceilings throughout rather than the volume ceilings common a few years ago,” said Dames.
Other techniques builders are using to keep Illinois real estate home prices as low as possible while still delivering the primary features consumers desire include less expensive trim and fixtures, smaller lot sizes and less extensive standard landscaping. Some designs make greater use of shared baths, rather than giving each bedroom a private bath, according to Dames.
Among somewhat more upscale Chicago real estate homes that typically sell for $400,000 to $600,000, the size and features haven’t been changing as quickly, according to Tom Oliva of RE/MAX Central in Roselle, Illinois.
Lots are getting smaller because of the high cost of farm land, he reported. For instance, in Hampshire, IL, at the northwestern edge of the Chicago real estate market, the typical new suburban lot has shrunk by about a third. Standard lots ranged from one-half to a full acre seven or eight years ago, but current dimensions are typically around one-third acre, according to Oliva.
The builders of these homes are putting more emphasis on using long-lasting materials and minimizing maintenance costs so that owning the home is less burdensome to the family budget.
To do that, said Oliva, builders are installing more energy efficient appliances and furnaces, moving from wood shake roofing to architectural shingles and replacing cedar siding with a fibrous concrete siding that is essentially maintenance free for 50 years.
At the upper end of the Illinois real estate market, keeping costs down isn’t as much of a concern, but homes are still becoming less grand in terms of design and square footage, according to Marsha Ulbrich of RE/MAX Unlimited Northwest in Lake Zurich, IL.
“We are building somewhat smaller homes in the $1 million-plus segment of the market, but what we are seeing more of are high-tech amenities, such as centrally controlled light, sound and security systems,” said Ulbrich. “There are still homes of 10,000 square feet or more being built, but most are two-story homes totaling 5,000 square feet, with perhaps another 3,000 square feet in a walkout basement level.”
Ulbrich also sees a new emphasis on coziness, with fewer grand spaces and volume ceilings.
“Not long ago it was difficult to sell a luxury home without volume ceilings, but now families want more of a sense of intimacy along with entertainment capabilities,” she said. “These buyers are doing more of their entertaining at home, rather than taking guests out.”
One trend Ulbrich isn’t seeing in most luxury homes is the first-floor master suite. “The families building these homes tend to be young enough so that they still have children in the house, and the parents want their bedroom on the same level as the children’s bedrooms. The exceptions are in homes built specifically for empty nesters, where a first-floor master is becoming quite common.”
According to Susan Rhoades of RE/MAX Suburban in Wheaton, IL, most new upper bracket houses being built these days are custom projects.
“The major changes we’re seeing are in the kitchen/family room area,” she said. “Kitchens have become very elaborate and are open to large family rooms, while the more formal rooms in the house, the living room and dining room, have become smaller.”
Baths, like kitchens, are getting additional upgrades, such as multi-head shower units and full-body sprays, as well as saunas or steam showers. Energy saving features, including tankless water heaters and floors with radiant heat, also are being included.
Another shift that Rhoades has noticed is the growing importance of basement areas, which have, she said, “become a continuation of the upstairs living areas.” These contemporary basements, typically accessed via a wide and open staircase, include such features as a home theater area, wine cellar and recessed lighting, allowing the builder to deliver more finished high-value space at less cost.
“Patio areas are becoming more sophisticated and have replaced decks as the preferred setting,” contends Rhoades, and they often include such features as an outdoor kitchen, fireplace and seating walls.
Two features that seem to be showing up with increasing frequency in new single-family homes across the pricing spectrum are the home office and the three-car garage.
“People want a home office because so many folks now work from home much of the time,” said Debbie Maxvold. “We even see families that would like two home offices because both spouses work at home, but in those instances, they usually convert a bedroom into the second office.”
As for garages, “the three-car garage is here to stay, but to save money when necessary, you will see more tandem designs where the third parking space is behind the other two, rather than garages with three separate doors,” reports Kathy Dames.
In the luxury home market, noted Ulbrich, four-car garages have become the standard, and most homes in that category provide even more parking because it isn’t unusual for a family to have five or six cars if there are teenagers in the house. While new home construction nationally is at its slowest pace in many years right now, Dames believes that when the housing market does turn around, new home developments will be the first to come back, in part because many of the homes being offered will be more affordable than in the recent past.
“The homes we’ll be seeing at that point will be closer in size to those built in the mid-1980s than to the homes built between 1995 and 2005,” she said.
For more information, visit www.illinoisproperty.com.