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August 29th, 2011 - Kelley Chambers

Downsizing?


A portion of Fairview Farm is filling with smaller homes, but with all the high-end amenities as the larger ones.


 

At Fairview Farm, a neighborhood where many houses easily top $1 million, the developer and a local homebuilder are taking a big chance with the last 10 acres.

Rather than constructing their bread-and-butter homes, they are building a group of them with less square footage, and pricing them more modestly. But, rest assured, these are no shacks, starters or cheap imitations of neighboring homes.

Mark Dale, owner of Carriage Homes, and Mark Gautreaux, the developer of Fairview Farm at N.W. 150th Street and Western Avenue, formed Fairview IV LLC to build relatively smaller residences without shedding any of the quality. If they succeed, the Abbey, nestled on Fairview Farm’s northwest side, will include 34 homes with features high-end buyers have come to expect. Standard in each are granite countertops, high-end appliances, high ceilings, mixed woods throughout — like knotty alder and great white oak — and walk-in closets that are rooms unto themselves.

Plans for the Abbey date back three years, as Gautreaux looked at how to finish the 150-acre Fairview Farm he started in 1993. He could have built 15 homes on the remaining lots, but opted instead to try the Abbey.

“This seemed like a more interesting idea,” he says.

So far, the pair has been encouraged by interest in the homes from those looking to downsize, without sacrificing quality. They have built four homes in the Abbey and sold two, one of which Dale says sold before the slab dried.

But just as the project was taking off in 2008, everything changed.

“The target is the buyer who has the $1.5 million house who appreciates the lifestyle they have enjoyed in that expensive home, but don’t want the burden of scale and a yard.”
—Mark Gautreaux

“We were off and running,” Dale says. “And then the recession hit.”

Gautreaux says there were no home starts in Fairview Farm in 2009, only six in 2010, and three to four expected this year.

“Clearly, 2009 was the worst year,” he says. “In 2010, the thaw started, and it’s going to continue.”

If buyers don’t line up for homes in the Abbey, the duo may have to rethink their strategy, but with the economy looking better in 2010, the pair began building, knowing they would have to justify the asking prices. The average Fairview Farm home has between 4,500 and 6,500 square feet. In the Abbey, homes will have an average of 3,350 square feet, and are comparably priced at an average of $250 per square foot.

Dale says some have reservations because they have been down this road before, where a builder offers smaller homes that lack the quality and amenities for which buyers seek.

“Any time developers said they were going to downsize without downsizing quality, that quality always suffered,” he says.

While many potential customers initially question the value, Dale points out amenities and touches, such as the mix of woods, to ensure potential buyers they will get what they pay for.

“We finally found a market that understands the theory of that price per square foot.”

“People would say, ‘I’m not going to pay $250 a square foot for that,’” he says. “We finally found a market that understands the theory of that price per square foot.”

That segment of the market is a buyer they know well.

“The target is the buyer who has the $1.5 million house who appreciates the lifestyle they have enjoyed in that expensive home, but don’t want the burden of scale and a yard,” Gautreaux says.

To appeal to the resident of a home worth more than $1 million, but perhaps with the kids grown and gone, houses at the Abbey are one-story, as many empty-nesters nearing retirement do not want to climb stairs. Only the model home has two stories.

If the market holds, the goal is to have the Abbey completed in 24 to 36 months.

Dale and Gautreaux say some younger buyers have come to look, but they haven’t had any takers. The empty-nesters, they say, are the ones that get excited about the luxury, without the unneeded space.

To attract buyers to the Abbey, however, those people also have to be able to sell their large homes. Dale says with the market improving, he expects to see potential buyers able sell their large homes, make a little money, and begin the next chapter of their lives at the Abbey.

“We’re hoping for a nice resurgence,” he says.

 
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