True, much of the news about the housing landscape these days is gloomy. But not all of it. People still need houses to live in, and there are those who still want to buy new. It’s just that they aren’t part of the McMansion crowd, and they don’t look like the new-home buyers builders came to know so well during the boom times. Today’s home buying households are generally smaller, more frugal, and more energy-aware. Many are first-time buyers who don’t have the contingency burden of unloading existing homes. Those who work are less inclined to tolerate a commute that takes them through an entire radio news cycle or newspaper before they reach their desks. And by the looks of the projects on the following pages, the old “bigger is better” mentality has, in many instances, given way to an affinity for more intimate living quarters. Builder visited 10 strong-selling neighborhoods to determine what it was that got buyers off the fence and into their new homes.
Townhomes disguised as coastal estates strike the right balance.
When developer Tom Hastings broke ground on BackRiver Townhomes, a collection of 45 upscale attached residences in the Boston suburb of Hingham, Mass., his competition wasn’t the other builder across town. It was the comfy single-family homes his target buyers, aged 55 to 65, were nicely settled into and reluctant to leave. Resale gridlock wasn’t holding them back (property demand in Hingham and nearby Wellesley had been unfazed by the downturn), and neither were the $1 million-plus price tags on some of the townhomes (after all, these folks were plenty wealthy). Rather, it was a simple matter of convincing discerning empty-nesters that a low-maintenance community of shared walls could feel even better than what they already had.
At six units to the acre, the townhomes are a close lot, but they breathe well and actually feel rather grand. With their crisp blend of Newport- and Nantucket-style architecture, residences arranged in clusters of three look like big old houses on the outside, not unlike the shingle-style beachfront retreats that dot the New England coastline. Cupolas with flared light wells flood interiors with natural light, and each home enjoys either a walk-out garden or river view.
Giving the property an air of permanence was essential. (The town of Hingham was founded in 1633, not long after the first pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, so many surrounding properties are historic.) Hastings says a $25,000 investment in landscaping, including hand-hewn stone walls and mature tree plantings, was well worth it. “We always try to create an environment that looks like it’s been there a long time,” he says, noting that trees provide the added benefits of erosion control, shading, and coastal wind buffering.
Ten units were presold before construction began, and half of the entire project was sold—all to empty-nesters—before the model opened.—J. Sullivan
Location: Hingham, Mass.
Community: BackRiver Townhomes
Total acreage: 7.4
Date opened for sale: Spring 2007
Product: Townhomes from 2,200 to 3,800 square feet
Price range: $875,000 to $1 million+ (five affordable units reserved for low-income buyers are priced at $198,000)
Sales to date: 22 (of 29 released)
Total number of units at build-out: 45
Builder/Developer: The Hastings Cos., Hingham
Architect: Steffian Bradley Architects, Boston