When Trumark Homes purchased a site under the small lot ordinance in Silver Lake, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, the builder knew understanding the eclectic enclave would make or break this development.
“Silver Lake is very picky: they’re artsy, they’re critical, and they hate big builders,” says Michael Maples, co-founder of Trumark Homes. “Other [builders] have gone in with some old rural look. They’ve just done their traditional big builder look and it hasn’t worked.”
Particularly for builders taking advantage of the small lot ordinance, most residents are against the increased density in the already crowded city. Coming in with a plan to cram in more houses that don’t do the area justice isn’t going to fly with these buyers. “We had to be all about the community,” says Maples.
That started with design.
The Trumark team familiarized itself with the core psychographics of the targeted buyer and used that to inform every aspect of the design—from site planning to model decor—for what they’ve coined a “design-centric” approach.
Maples says the SL70 site is in an A+ location but is probably a C site. Despite its proximity to LA, the lot is located next to a freeway off-ramp. And while local amenities are walkable, they’re up a steep hill and just far enough to possibly discourage buyers from the development.
Instead of the traditional-styled single-family detached home most production builders currently produce, the design team went for a contemporary look to match the neighborhood. The end result is simple and neutral, with pops of color that bring it to life.
Trumark built about 20 units per acre for a total of 70 units, which are all two-car, side-by-side garage, detached, three-story homes. Maples notes it’s an achievement considering 20 to 22 units per acre for three-story attached homes can be hard to accomplish, and even then, 40% of the garages have to be tandem to meet the parking requirements.
The units were designed with main living on the second level where the kitchen, dining, and living areas are one open space to encourage entertaining. Large windows bring in natural light on both ends of the home, and 10-foot ceilings enhance the size of the open area. The team used commercial-grade windows in the units because, as Maples notes, “authenticity matters” in this neighborhood.
The designers put the powder bath on the first floor to save space for entertaining, and to reduce the awkwardness of a guest walking out of the bathroom into the living area. The third floor holds the bedrooms and additional bathrooms, and the stairs continue upward, providing access to the rooftop deck which overlooks downtown LA.
The model units were decorated with a vintage appeal in mind. The design team scoured shops for retro and used furniture so it didn’t look like a brand new, production builder-styled house. The goal is that the models look like the home of someone who has a well-curated collection of pieces.
While the development as a whole needed to feel and look consistent, the designers understood the units needed to act as blank canvases for their targeted buyers to express their own style. “They like a sense of community, but they also want to be individuals,” Maples says.
They didn’t include islands in the kitchens of three of the four models, but rather showed them some possible design options where the buyers could bring in their own self-selected style, which also saved on costs of building the island.
The buyers have also found that the rooftops offer the best creative outlet. The terraces offer some privacy, but you can still see your neighbor’s space for the most part. “That’s where the battle of design has gone on,” Maples says. “They’re all trying to one-up each other.”
The Right Momentum
The design approach seems to have worked. Trumark has sold 65 of the 70 homes on the SL70 lot in the past 15 months. The homes are selling at about $50 more per square foot than the local competition.
Prices have ranged from the upper $500,000s to lower $800,000s; most sales have been around $700,000. “Our price isn’t necessarily so high for the area, it’s just we’re selling them less square footage at that price,” Maples says. “Our buyers have gone to other places and have said, ‘I can get more per square foot over here, but [SL70] feels bigger—it lives bigger.’”
Planners from Anaheim, Calif.—where Trumark plans to build a similar project—would agree. When they came to check out SL70, they guessed the 1,275-square-foot unit they walked through was 1,500 square feet to 1,700 square feet.
“Our team did a great job. If they had missed reaching out to the broker community, if they had missed on design, if they hadn’t gotten momentum when we did our first sales, if we priced too high—everybody would have thought, ‘Oh, I don’t know about it’,” Maples says. “But we got the momentum early on and we were able to push the prices a lot since then.”