TOWNHOMES AND TOWNHOME-STYLE MULTIUNIT DEVELOPMENTS are increasing both on the boards and in the ground. That's because big builders must find alternatives to the single-family home on a large lot as they face consumer interest in traditional communities, a shortage in desirable land, increased costs, and sustainability concerns.

While zero-lot-line homes have contributed to the increased density and lower costs demanded by market conditions, townhouses offer advantages. In Birmingham, Ala., for example, patio homes are the standard product, according to Daniel Levitan, president of Levitan & Associates, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., marketing research consultancy. Even so, D.R. Horton is pursuing its first townhouse project there.

“In our area, the topography and the cost of land make it hard for the first-time buyer and the first-time move-up buyer to find affordable homes,” says Greg Arcara, vice president of sales and marketing for D.R. Horton in Birmingham. “Therefore, 75 percent of our product is zero-lot-line homes.” Last year, the builder quickly moved 66 patio homes ranging from $150,000 to $180,000 in an area where the average home price is more than $200,000.

However, because land has become available in a highly desirable neighborhood, Arcara is working to gain approval for the company's first townhomes in the state. “Because of the popularity of that area of town and the cost of development there, townhomes will provide the best value to the community,” Arcara says.

Sometimes even traditional townhouses don't provide efficient enough use of land. “Land issues are forcing reconsideration of plans,” says Steve Moore, partner in charge of marketing for Des Moines, Iowa-based architect Blood-good Sharp Buster. One way big builders are revisiting plans is by taking a traditional townhouse and putting it in a multiunit building, according to Moore.

For example, Beazer Homes is breaking ground this year in Atlanta on a four-story product that stacks townhomes on each other. The first level will include garages for all units and a living room and kitchen for some units; the second level will contain the bedrooms, dens, and bathrooms for those units. The third and fourth levels are two-story townhouse-style units, directly accessed by a stairwell from the garage.

Even though Cheshire Bridge will not be a large development, the desirable location of the land makes it a viable project, says Lou Steffans, regional vice president for Beazer. “Cheshire Bridge will be 42 units in six buildings in a redevelopment corridor of Atlanta that will be very popular,” Steffans says. “The person selling us the land has indicated he wants to buy three units himself. That is not bad presales.”

Attached Lookalike KB Home is finding success with a similar multi-unit product with a townhouse interior feel. Martin Lighterink, president of KB Home San Diego, says, “Higher-density attached projects were more ‘one off' for us, but as a company we are moving into high-density housing, as are most big builders.”

KB Home San Diego has had strong sales of a new multifamily product near downtown that is creatively designed to resemble attached housing. Called the Tribeca, the four-story building typically contains 16 units. The first floor includes individual entries to each unit in the front and two-car, single-width garages with private stairs directly to the unit.

The second floor contains single-level two-bedroom units averaging 1,000 square feet. Two-story two- and three-bedroom units occupy the third and fourth floors. The two-story units range from 1,244 square feet to 1,472 square feet and include a loft-like living room-dining room with a two-story ceiling.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Diego, CA, Los Angeles, CA.