Dublin, Ohio-based active adult builder Epcon Communities last week announced a complete change of floor plans and a redesign of its amenities. The seven new plans, the Classic Courtyard Collection, will include detached homes, a first in the company’s history.

In a briefing with BUILDER, Epcon Communities co-founder Phil Fankhauser said the decision was based on extensive research into buyer preferences, both in terms of floor plans and community amenities. “Designs as recent as 2005 are dinosaurs,” Fankhauser said. “They’re too big. The market for that product is disappearing.”

As always, Epcon’s goal is to appeal to “Main Street” buyers in the middle of the market. Their seven new plans – three detached and four attached models -- will range from 1,100 square feet to 2,000 square feet, with base pricing from $150,000 to $300,000. Responding to a common complaint that condominiums lack outdoor living space, all seven plans incorporate an enclosed courtyard, with optional fountains, arbors and firepits. They also have expanded storage and two-car garages. And for the first time, Epcon will offer a plan with a basement.

Click here to view photos and floor plans of the new collection.

The redesign process started with buyer research. Epcon worked with nationally recognized active adult consultant Margaret Wylde, who did detailed surveys with more than 6,300 consumers in Epcon’s target buyer range. Survey respondents included those who were happy in their current homes and have no plans to move, those who had moved in the past two years, and those planning to move.

In terms of community amenities, Wylde confirmed that walking continues to be the top feature for active adult buyers, “but not just walking for the sake of walking,” Wylde said. “They like to be in a place where they’re walking to some destination … that something is happening new. They want to have ready access to a nice fitness center. They sort of feel like getting in the car to get to a fitness center defeats the purpose.” 

In addition, buyers wanted a clubhouse or community center where they could meet friends, and they enjoyed a swimming pool, especially it there was a good aerobics program.

As a result, Epcon also is redesigning all of its clubhouses to include fitness centers, swimming pools and a lounge. Walking trails will be upgraded to include fitness stations and spots where residents can stop and paint, read, or meditate. “We’ll do better than ever with walking,” Fankhauser says “There will be walking clubs .. and all kinds of fun ways for people to make this most-desired amenity part of their lifestyle routine.”

The new floorplans were the result of a design competition in which architects were given the buyer profiles and preferences from the research results, Fankhauser said. The architects selected were Columbus, Ohio-based Glavan Feher Architects for the detached plans and Dean Wenz Architects of Bexley, Ohio, for the attached product.   

The new plans were launched in February at Sugar Run, a Columbus community that had the necessary zoning for both attached and detached homes. “We’d been in the community for 11 months and gotten one contract,” said Nanette Overly, Epcon’s vice president of sales and marketing services. “We’re averaging four to five sales per month, more than double of any existing community in Columbus … and we still don’t have models completed.”

Currently, Epcon staff is observing construction, “looking to make every tweak we need to do,” Fankhauser said. Affordability will be a priority, both in the design and finished detail, but also in the site design--both product types are designed to permit 5.5 units per acre--and in the standard features.

“One of the big things is we’re going to become more of an options-oriented builder,” Fankhauser said. “Clearly, it’s a way to drive prices down.”

In another innovation, Epcon is building all seven plans in Sugar Run as a national model park that will open in mid-September. “It’s a unique opportunity for customers and builder partners to come to one location and see all the homes,” Fankhauser said. “It’s a great place for us to bring our builder partner teams and do on-site training.”

Design Environments of Atlanta, Ga., is merchandising the four attached models at the national model park; Englewood, Colo.-based Lita Dirks and Co.  is handling the three detached plans. 

Pat Curry is senior editor, sales and marketing, at BUILDER magazine.