Luxury Real Estate

By Carol Tisch April 1, 2011

The Sweet Spot 

Americans are right-sizing their homes, and nowhere is the trend more obvious than in master-planned communities. We’ve grown accustomed to less-is-more since the economy faltered, with low-key quality replacing overt excess in clothes, travel and cars. Now, as we climb out of a national real estate debacle, people are aspiring to a new easy-lifestyle-luxury in homes.

Right-sized homes are the builder’s equivalent of the accountant’s zero-base budget. The goal is to put your money into great design and quality details instead of exorbitant square footage and to eliminate the stress and cost of high-maintenance oversized homes while reducing your carbon footprint (as well as energy bills). It’s a growing collective mindset that’s not really achievable in built-up suburbs overloaded with McMansions. And no one is advocating mass tear-downs of existing homes, which would add even more waste to the landfill.

Faced with that option, master-planned communities have a decided advantage over cities and haphazard suburban sprawl. And Lakewood Ranch, the largest green community in the country, is at the forefront, with enough wide open spaces to respond to homeowners’ changing tastes. Since its inception, Lakewood Ranch has astutely planned and managed growth, selectively adding pods of intense development surrounded by nature preserves, landscaped areas, golf courses and walking trails. What’s more, LWR Communities has been ahead of the sustainability movement, building only green, environmentally responsible neighborhoods since 2005.

With all the publicity generated by 4,000-plus-square-foot glamour models in Country Club East and the private Lake Club homes (and resales in the completed Country Club section), it’s easy to forget that Lakewood Ranch began as a live-work community with affordable starter homes. Just like Anywhere, USA, there will always be a market for impeccably built manses with all the bells and whistles of Lakewood Ranch’s über-exclusive neighborhoods. But the master-planned community has always been about diversity—being a city within a city (or in this case, a city within Manatee and Sarasota counties).

"When we started out-pricing the people who worked here, we decided it was time to go back to our roots—to the firefighters, teachers and families who moved into $89,000 homes in Summerfield 15 years ago," says Milt Flinn, LWR Communities president. "Central Park is the new Summerfield," Flinn declares, referring to the brand-new village sprouting up on the north side of S.R. 70.

Central Park at Lakewood Ranch is being developed by Neal Communities, with about 800 green-certified homes planned for a community of six neighborhoods across 380 acres. Initial models built by Neal Communities and Bruce Williams Homes have attracted an average of 500 visitors a week since Central Park opened in July 2010. In addition, Tampa-based builder Cardel Homes recently unveiled models in the community’s newest neighborhood, Gramercy Park, which include the 3,000-square-foot Kingfisher II. Those models start at $469,000.

The smallest homes in Central Park are found in the Piedmont Park section. Floor plans range from 1,040 to 1,509 square feet, with prices from the low $100,000s. For about $141,490, including home and site, Neal’s Valor model offers 1,162 feet under air, a two-car garage, two bedrooms and two baths. Price points, outstanding design and light-filled interiors of Central Park homes are attracting first-time homeowners as well as retirees.

At Forest Park (the next step up from Piedmont, with homes from 1,290 to 2,442 square feet), prospective buyers can choose from six plans and then decide whether to build in the Forest Park neighborhood or for an upcharge in Brickell Park, one of the village’s maintenance-free communities.

Flinn hopes to lure a diverse population of baby boomers, snowbirds, young families (and more of the 12,000 people employed by Lakewood Ranch’s 1,200 businesses) with an amenity-rich lifestyle, easy commutes and affordable right-sized options.

Working with consultants who’ve advised other top name master-planned communities (among them Irvine Ranch in California and Summerlin in Las Vegas), Lakewood Ranch commissioned a market study and found the time was right to add more rental apartments to its mix.

The new Lost Creek Resort Apartments, set to open this fall, reflect the significant role that rentals will be playing in our region and across America. The first major apartment complex in either Manatee or Sarasota counties since 2005, Lost Creek will be built on a 20-acre property north of S.R. 70. The phase-one, 272-unit complex will include swimming pools, hammocks, indoor basketball court, exercise facility, aerobics facility, computer lab, garages and storage space.

Lakewood Ranch also recently announced plans for the Esplanade, its first "age-targeted" (not age-restricted) active lifestyle neighborhood. A first-time builder in Lakewood Ranch, Taylor Morrison, Inc., will begin construction in mid-2011 on Esplanade’s planned 450 maintenance-free, single-family homes and single-story villas (sales are slated to begin in the first quarter of 2012). Again, the new homes will be smaller, from 1,400 to 2,700 square feet, built on 42-, 52- and 62-foot lots.

Flinn says a 62-foot lot will accommodate a 2,000- to 2,600-square-foot home. "That’s the new sweet spot, the size people are looking for now; a few years ago the sweet spot was 3,200 feet," he explains.

"It’s how we are living today. Big Hummers went by the wayside, and the same is true for big houses," says Tony Squitieri, CEO of TruLiving Homes, a new builder in Lakewood Ranch.

In fact, Squitieri formed his company to reflect that new reality. "Buyers want more streamlined, modern homes. Our idea was to create a 1,900-square-foot house that feels much larger and with the same high-end finishes as a 5,000-square-foot house," he explains. His West Indies-style Barbados home, available from $315,000 in four neighborhoods at Country Club East, fit the bill enough to be sold from a rendering before the model was built.

At the top end of the market, custom builder London Bay is redefining luxury on the smallest home sites in the tony Lake Club with its new Matera enclave of European-styled villa homes. Thirty-five luxury villas will be built from a choice of six models on 60- by 200-foot lots. "Many of our clients are seasonal residents who want to enjoy everything the region has to offer during a short window of time. We’ve found our villa homes to be particularly popular with this group in the Naples area because the pool, landscaping and exterior maintenance are all provided for them," says Mark Wilson, president of London Bay Homes.

With floor plans ranging from 2,540 to 3,822 square feet under air, the villa homes are packed with elegant appointments and designed to accommodate more than a dozen structural changes for personalization.

"Most of the designs have large window and door areas that open onto a private courtyard," Wilson says. Not to be outdone by larger homes in the Lake Club, the villas boast lush landscaping, pools and water treatments, fireplaces and large seating areas for entertaining around the summer kitchen.

"Buyers today want amenities suited to the maintenance-free active lifestyle—especially empty nesters," says Flinn of LWR Communities. "We’re putting in lap pools, Har-Tru tennis courts, card rooms, walking trails and pickle ball. The people we’re targeting with these small jewel box homes don’t want more house than they need. They’re not buying to invest any more. Homes like London Bay’s detached villas in the Lake Club are completely maintenance-free, including the pool. So you can literally lock up and leave," Flinn concludes.

Jewel-Box Homes for Every Budget

$191,900 | Carefree Living at Central Park

Neal Communities, the developer of the new Central Park village in Lakewood Ranch, offers the 1,772-square-foot Freshwater model for $191,900 including home and site in the Forest Park neighborhood. The three bedroom/two bath home features light-filled interiors, with open kitchen, large island and large dining/living area., (941) 328-1065

From $315,000 | Less is More at Country Club East

TruLiving Homes’ first model home in the Country Club East village of Lakewood Ranch is the two-bedroom/ 2½-bath West Indies-styled Barbados. The 1,910-square-foot model in the Valderrama neighborhood offers what founder Tony Squitieri says are the same high-end finishes found in 5,000-square-foot homes., (941) 840-0244

$1,369,949 | Maintenance-Free Lake Club Villa

The Emilia, from the Village Homes collection by London Bay, is one of six villa designs available in the company’s new 35-lot Matera section of the upscale Lake Club section of Lakewood Ranch. The 2,967-square-foot, three-bedroom, 3 ½-bath home features Italian-inspired architecture with covered loggias and interior courtyards. Village Homes by London Bay are maintenance-free, including the pool., (941) 556-1884

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