Symphony Village reflects a couple of trends that have been bubbling up in the 55-and-over world for the past few years. According to Bob Karen, an industry veteran who planned and secured all of the entitlements for the community, the 495-unit project epitomizes what he calls the “new norm.” That means an active adult resort (not a retirement village) that's built by a small to medium-sized builder (not one of the big boys), is often closer to home (not a regional destination such as Florida or Arizona), and is filled with many people who are still working.
More than anything, though, Symphony Village is just a great little spot. “In James Michener's words,” says Karen, quoting the prolific author who penned Chesapeake back in the late '70s, “it's the land of pleasant living.”
The community, located in Centreville, Md., got off to an interesting start. During the summer of 2004, as soon as the county gave its OK, Caruso Homes set up a sales trailer in the parking lot of a nearby discount mall. The builder's sales and marketing team organized something called the Founder's Club for anyone who came in and registered at the trailer. “We must have had almost a thousand people in the initial Founder's Club,” says Karen Leier, Caruso's vice president of sales and marketing. By the time reservations started being taken that fall, when only initial floor plans were available, 50 people had signed nonbonding commitments. A sizable number of those ended up converting to contracts.
“[Since getting] that core group of buyers, we've been able to maintain that traffic, often getting at least 50 and sometimes 100 visitors a week,” says Leier. Buyers can choose from seven plans, all named for composers, that range in size from 1,775 to 2,414 square feet.
Caruso even puts some of its homeowners to work, hiring about 10 at a time as “ambassadors.” They work for an hourly wage in the sales center, which has moved from its temporary, parking-lot digs to a spiffy building on the 125-acre property. Some of them are part time and some put in a 40-hour week. “It's been a phenomenal program,” says Leier. “Our three full-time salespeople don't hold a candle to our ambassadors. They're our best salespeople.”
Homeowners also take an active role in planning community events, which run the gamut from wine-and-cheese parties to family-fun days. Many of these “lifestyle” activities revolve around the 13,800-square-foot clubhouse, which features indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a ballroom, a comprehensive fitness facility, and a boccie court, to name just some of the amenities.
“We're more than halfway sold out, and we've become somewhat of a family,” says David Herzog, president of Caruso Homes. “People have started persuading their families to come on in; the water's fine.”
<<p> Project: Symphony Village, Centreville, Md.; Size: 125 acres; Unit size: 1,775 to 2,414 square feet; Total units: 495 (at 2008 build-out); Price: $337,990 to $388,990; Builder: Caruso Homes, Crofton, Md.; Developer: Waterford Centreville, Reston, Va.; Architect: Architectural Collaborative, Ellicott City, Md.; Land planner: McCrone, Centreville; Landscape architect: Denison Landscaping, Fort Washington, Md.; Interior designers: Design East, Medford, N.J.; Louis Tyler, Olney, Md.; and Model Home Interiors, Beltsville, Md.