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  • Lisa Jevens

Active adult real estate market reacts to homebuyers' requests

Snore rooms. Drop zones. Tandem garages. Conversation islands. It's 2014, and the active adult real estate market is wowing buyers with innovative features they may not have seen before. Local 55+ communities have new models and plans that are turning lookers into homeowners.

"2013 was a great year for new home sales, and we anticipate a good year this year," says Chris Naatz, vice president of sales and marketing at D.R. Horton, developer of the Carillon active adult communities.

A low inventory of homes in the resale market is helping customers sell their homes more quickly, and makes new homes more desirable, Naatz says.

Today's new active adult homes are well thought out and based on customer feedback, not trends, builders say. They are geared toward a casual, modern lifestyle with an eye toward aging. Flexible floor plans are designed to allow buyers to get rid of the things they don't want in a home, and replace them with things they do.

Laundry machines next to the garage entry are a great example. "In a lot of homes built in the Midwest, you walk from the garage into some sort of laundry facility," says Maria Wilhelm, vice president of sales for PulteGroup, which markets Chicagoland's three Del Webb communities. "We have an owners' entry adjacent to the garage, and we put the laundry near the master suite. When you walk into the owners' entry, we have a boot bench, so you can sit down and take off your boots. There is a coat closet, and a drop zone for keys, purse, wallet, mail. We have had such fantastic feedback for that space alone in our homes. "The drop zone is just one of the innovations Del Webb debuted last October, in the first brand-new set of plans unveiled in eight years. The plans are based on several years of research and surveys of thousands of active adults.

One secret the surveys uncovered is that, "as they age, husband and wife are not sleeping in the same bedroom, whether it is due to snoring, different schedules, or sleep patterns," Wilhelm says. So-called "snore rooms" solve this problem. They are dual master suites with two bedrooms sharing the master bath. "We can also build the home with two master suites," Wilhelm adds. Edgewater in Elgin and Shorewood Glen in Shorewood have three fully-furnished new models, and Grand Dominion in Mundelein has one. Formal dining rooms are vanishing from new active adult homes, with the emphasis on casual entertainment. Many buyers would rather use the space for something else, so builders offer options.

Home plans such as the Ivanhoe model at Regency at The Woods of South Barrington offers a space that can be either a formal dining room or a den/home office.

"We have fewer and fewer requests for formal living and dining rooms, even though our homeowners are typically coming from 4,000- to 6,000-square-foot homes," says sales representative Carol Molfese. Many buyers no longer want a basement, but still want the storage space. Tandem garages solve this problem, and are coming into vogue. They are built deep enough to park one car behind another, making a two-car-wide garage into a three-car garage with one extra-deep space. In the Newport plan at Carillon at Cambridge Lakes in Pingree Grove, the third-car tandem space can be built as living space instead, such as a hobby room or additional bedroom. Accessible attics are another alternative to basements. Del Webb is offering a full-size staircase from the garage to the attic.

Another space-sucking home feature buyers no longer want is the large whirlpool tub, or even any tub, in the master bathroom. They are being replaced by large walk-in showers of at least 5 feet, with multiple showerheads.

"They don't see a need for a tub. They want a seated shower, or a zero entry shower," Wilhelm says. "They are thinking, 'In 15-25 years from now, how am I going to be able to function in this home?'"

Instead of a high countertop bar separating the kitchen from the great room, there is likely to be a large island with seating that becomes a gathering space.

Del Webb has uniquely shaped islands that people are loving. "It's almost like a curved countertop. It's asymmetrical. They call it a conversational island," Wilhelm says. "The people on the ends can see each other and converse."

The term "open kitchen" has been around awhile, but builders are really opening up the space now.

"Buyers are looking for a true open concept, with an open kitchen to the great room. We have opened it up completely to the breakfast area. It's great for entertaining and daily use," Molfese says of the Ivanhoe model at South Barrington.

"As the saying goes, the party always ends up in the kitchen," Naatz says. "It needs to be part of the gathering space. It's great for children, grandchildren, having neighbors over. Say you're cooking dinner and you want to be able to watch your TV in the great room. We have designed it that way.

"We live in a world where we are all sort of multitasking. These plans speak to that."

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune Prime Time senior living section on February 5, 2014.

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