In Switch From Niche Approach, Builders Aim For Broader Appeal



ASK MICHAEL DUBB whom he is trying to appeal to in the Beechwood Organization’s new project, Country Pointe, and he’ll tell you: everyone. The Melville development has 82 attached town homes. In the end units, priced at $240,000, the master bedroom is on the main floor, to attract senior citizens who don’t want to climb upstairs. The town home units in the middle, with all three bedrooms upstairs, carry a $205,000 price tag to appeal to first-time buyers. Don’t want a town house? Country Pointe also has 111 detached single-family homes priced from $255,000 to $295,000 to appeal to trade-up and trade-down buyers.

“The more product you have, the more buyers you can reach,” said Dubb, president of Beechwood, based in Williston Park. The plan has paid off. Since Nov. 8, Country Pointe has sold 51 units – 32 single-familyhomes and 19 town homes – to every age group, he said. Beechwood is not the only developer using this everyman marketing strategy. While many complexes still aim at specific market segments, more builders are trying to appeal to as many buyers as possible by offering not only a wide spectrum of models and designs, but also an array of recreational amenities and financing options. This marketing is a reaction to the tough housing market of the early ’90s, said David A. Scro, president of the New York State Builders Association, a trade group. In the mid-’80s, when practically everything sold, builders begantargeting specific niches. There were communities for singles, golfers and even tennis players. But when the real estate market soured in the late ’80s, niche community builders had a harder time selling their product than those going after a general market. Some projects went under without selling a single unit. “The tough times taught builders they had to be more flexible,” Scro said. They became wiser and realized that “the broader the spectrum of buyers you can attract, the more you can sell.” At Forest Brook Estates, a nine-lot subdivision in Bayport, Chase Builders offers 10 basic models, including a colonial, cape, Victorian and raised ranch. Each of the models can also be individually designed to appeal to any type of buyer, said Terry Cullen, president of the Bayport company. If a senior wants a colonial, the master bedroom can be moved from the second floor to the first. If a trade-up buyer wants the same model, but with a bigger den on the main floor, walls can be moved. In the raised ranch, the 1,200-square-foot basement can be converted into a family room or even a bedroom suite for a grandparent coming to live with a family. The house is redesigned while the buyer and builder sit before a computer screen displaying the model’s blueprints, Cullen said. The homes are priced from $169,000 to $225,000. The same options are available at Chase’s other projects in East Islip and South Bayport.

Sometimes a development opens its doors with certain buyers in mind, and finds it has attracted an unexpected clientele. This happened at Country Woods at Lake Grove. When the development opened last fall, it offered five models starting at $289,000 meant to appeal to buyers including singles and trade-ups, said Ron Bloomfield, director of sales. But the development of 121 single-family homes also attracted seniors and empty nesters, middle-aged couples whose kids have grown and moved away. The developer, Holiday Organization of Westbury, quickly added a sixth model with a master bedroom suite on the first floor to accommodate these buyers. As a result, 15 percent of the 62 sales have been to empty nesters. In at least three cases, middle-aged couples bought one house and their adult children, with their own families, bought another. Dubb has seen a similar sales pattern at Country Pointe. While today’s young people may not want to live with their parents, they often want to live near them. Several older adults bought town homes at Beechwood’s project while their kids bought single-family homes. People in their 30s and 40s are closer to their parents today than people the same age were a decade ago, said Susan Barbash, president of the Barbash Building Organization in Babylon, builder of the Villages at Huntington in Melville. Like Country Pointe, this homeowners association development includes 58 town homes starting at $165,000 and 190 single-family homes priced at $275,000 and up. The town homes were included to meet the Town of Huntington requirement that affordable housing be part of the project.

The Villages appeals to a wide array of buyers, not only because of its product mix, but also because of its location off Route 110 and near many corporate offices, Barbash said. It’s also near the Long Island Expressway, offering easy access to Manhattan, and is served by the Half Hollow Hills School District No. 5, one of Long Island’s better school districts. A number of developments are trying to be “intergenerational,” said Jerold L. Axelrod, president of the Commack architectural firm Axelrod & Cherveny. He said this cross-marketing works best when there’s a mix of products, such as single-family homes and town houses, like that at Country Pointe, which his firm designed. But intergenerational appeal is also achieved with recreational and other amenities offered in homeowners association developments, he said. At the Villages, there’s a clubhouse with a pool and tennis courts as well as walking trails and a playground. Country Pointe’s recreational facilities include a card room, which appeals mostly to seniors, as well as basketball and roller hockey courts for younger owners. At Summerfield, a 431-unit single-family homeowners association development in Holtsville, also designed by Axelrod, there is a swimming pool, walking trail, card room and day care center.Fox Ridge Associates, the Smithtown company building Summerfield, is trying to create a community of all age groups, said Stanley Gross, a partner. “There are older people who don’t want to live only with other older people,” he said.

However, when the project opened in the fall, the first prospective buyers were mostly families attracted by the publicity for the day care center. New advertising targets other age groups, including seniors, Gross said. When the project is fully sold, he expects that 10 percent to 15 percent of the owners will be empty nesters and seniors. Another way Summerfield is trying to appeal to different age groups is by making the homeowners association rules less restrictive than those of a condo or co-op, Gross said. Not all house exteriors have to look identical, as some condo rules require. Owners can paint their front doors different colors and put up fences around their property.

In addition, the monthly maintenance fee of under $100 at Summerfield does not include mowing lawns or shoveling snow off front walks and driveways. If owners want the association to perform these services, there will be an additional, still undetermined, monthly charge. The Villages offers a similar option. It allows people to individualize their landscaping and keep monthly costs down, Barbash said. But Axelrod is not sure this maintenance option is the best approach for a homeowners association. His firm recommends that landscaping and snow removal be included in the monthly maintenance fee and handled by the association for a uniform look. Unkempt lawns and shrubs could lower all the properties’ resale value, he added.

In general, multigenerational marketing raises a development’s resale value, Barbash said. What appealed to buyers in the first place helps them at resale time. Even in a depressed market, owners will be able to attract more buyers with a spectrum of amenities, she said. Many of Country Pointe’s sales pavilions reflect the array of options. Photos show different age groups. Country Pointe spent $250,000 on its sales center, which includes a play area to amuse kids while parents look over the models. Some builders also offer a variety of financing. For example, Barbash works with a mortgage broker who helps first-time buyers obtain mortgages with as little as 5 percent down.