In the midst of the recession in 2009, designer Marianne Cusato envisioned a type of home that could help pull Americans out of their financial burdens and into homeownership.
Since prospective buyers delay making the investment in a home if their financial future is uncertain, Cusato knew her prototype had to be affordable and flexible. She had heard from consumers who were afraid that they could end up stuck in a home that no longer fit their needs down the road if their finances change, they have more children, or need to care for an aging parent.
Intended to change with the owners’ needs, Cusato’s adaptable New Economy Home appealed to recession-weary buyers by allowing them to adjust the home to their lifestyle. It responded to the factors that prompt buyers to move—or to sometimes avoid homeownership all together.
The original concept for the 1,771-square-foot home featured a ground-floor walk out suite that adjusted to fit a family’s personal economic needs—a boomerang child returning home, an adult parent that needed to move in, or a room-for-rent as a source of extra income. The adaptable suite has a large closet space that can be plumbed out and transformed into a kitchenette. Though building expenses may vary, Cusato estimates the cost to construct a New Economy Home ranges from $200,000 to $230,000.
“I think there is a universal quality to this plan,” says Cusato. “The discussion of economy in general is one piece, but what we’ve seen with the plan is that it universally works in different ways for how we’re living and shifting in our home, and that becomes the bigger issue.”
Today, her New Economy Home continues to woo buyers even though the economy has begun to rebound.
Cusato says the plan continues to sell, with at least 25 built across the country, from Washington state to Virginia. Many have been built in New Urbanist communities such as Warwick Grove in Warwick, N.Y. and New Town at St. Charles in Louisville, Ky., where the model is targeted toward a wide variety of demographics.
The popularity of the design led Cusato to recently introduce the New Economy Home 2.0, a second version of the plan that incorporated the most common changes requested from buyers. (See sidebar at left.)
While the economy has brightened, not all prospective home buyers are feeling optimistic. Cusato points out that just because numbers are improving on national economic reports doesn’t mean they’re improving on prospective buyers’ bank accounts. That’s why a flexible floor plan is relevant even in good economic times, she says.
“The reality of what we can all individually afford changes,” she says. “We tried to address that flexibility, so you can expand or contract to be able to justify moving in. Homeownership really only works if you’re in it for the long term.”