One recent afternoon, builder Duane Kees stopped to check on the work at a model home his company is building in a new northeast Fort Wayne subdivision. He left the front door open, and before he knew it, someone driving by dropped in for a look.
Kees, an owner of Quality Crafted Homes, 7202 Allenbrook Drive, still hasn’t forgotten the visitor’s reaction.
“I feel like I’m at a beach house in North Carolina,” the man said.
That feeling, Kees says, is what he’s hoping to create in the homes of Cottage Park of the Forest at Foxwood, a new neighborhood of villa homes – arguably, the hottest home type in today’s Fort Wayne real estate market.
Gina Zimmerman, Realtor with North Eastern Group, says more people want villas than there are villas to sell – especially when it comes to existing villas.
“Everyone is saying we need more villas,” Zimmerman says. “Nothing new is coming on the market, and when something does, they go really quickly.”
Zimmerman says she has current clients who’d like to buy an existing villa but have an extremely limited selection – less than a dozen – in their price range of more than $300,000.
Less than 40 existing free-standing Fort Wayne villas of all prices are now on the area’s multiple-listing service operated by the Upstate Alliance of Realtors.
Builders and real estate pros say the demand for villas – homes in which the buyer owns the house and the land on which it sits but pays a monthly fee for someone else to maintain the grounds – is largely being fueled by aging and well-off baby boomers.
They’re not necessarily interested in downsizing in terms of space, but they are tired of mowing lawns, raking leaves and moving snow.
“This wonderful winter we just had got people saying, ‘I’m not going to do this again.’ And they’re selling their house and buying a villa and even going to Florida and (also) buying something down there,” says Adam Smith, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Roth Wehrly Graber.
“A lot of them are downsizing, but a lot also want a larger (villa) – 1,900 to 2,000 square feet or more. Coming from a house, the 1,400 to 1,600 (square foot) ones seem small to them,” Smith says. “They may have children in the area, and they still want enough room to have family events.”
Zimmerman says she thinks the new-construction slowdown of the past several years has blunted the supply of villas. Smith, who agrees, also notes that villas built before that have yet to turn over as their buyers decide to age-in-place.
Local builders are starting to try to fill demand with under-construction villas but many of those areas, including Cottage Park, are in the early stages.
Lonnie Norris, vice president of sales for Granite Ridge Home Builders, Fort Wayne, says that company has three additions where it’s now building villas with relatively large footprints.
“People are not downsizing – they’re resizing,” he says. “They still want space, but they want to reconfigure.”
Granite Ridge’s new villas are in Parkers Bay, near Parkview Regional Medical Center; Harbour Villas at Chapman’s Bridge, off Wheelock Road and near this year’s Parade of Homes site; and Grey Oaks, off West Hamilton Road South. All have models open 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, Norris says.
Norris anticipates higher demand for new villas continuing for at least another decade as boomers continue to retire. Granite Ridge even took over building villas from a competitor.
“It’s becoming a niche,” he says.
Models generally have three bedrooms and three-car garages and contain upwards of 1,800 square feet. They “average in the $250,000s to $270,000s and upwards,” Norris says. Buyers are favoring amenities including open-concept living areas, sunrooms and porches, flex-space bonus rooms and walk-in ceramic-surround showers, he says, and some want other handicapped-accessibility features.
Kees says he believes villa buyers also want the privacy of their own free-standing structure, without the common walls and common driveways of many previous villa communities.
And, he says, “People are saying, I like that idea (of a villa), but I don’t like a cookie-cutter home.”
To that end, Kees says, the 32-lot Cottage Park, in which Quality Crafted is the only builder, offers about a half-dozen home styles, all with a cottage vibe – Cape Cod, English Tudor, European Country, Prairie.
The model, the Bittersweet, features a front porch and a back lanai that could be trimmed out with an outdoor kitchen.
The home also has what Kees says is “extremely flexible” indoor space.
The home can be built with or without a second floor, which contains a full bath, a bedroom and a great room and an unfinished storage room with a window.
In the model, the upstairs is trimmed out with a kitchenette area containing space for sink, dishwasher, refrigerator and stove. Kees says it could be used as a bar area for a game or media room – or even become virtually self-contained living quarters for an older teen or 20-something or a housemate.
Another area, on the split-floor-plan first floor, can become a two-room suite with a full bath, separated from the rest of the house by a double door.
The model has that space set up as a library/den and bedroom, but it could also be an office, guest or mother-in-law suite or children’s play area.
The model home can be built without its garage’s third bay. A basement is optional.
He says the home designs are going for a vacation feel inside a primary home.
The model’s great room has fireplace and a vaulted ceiling. That room, and the adjacent eating nook, have floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on woods. The woods will remain untouched, Kees says.
Six lots have been sold, but infrastructure is not in place and the Quality Crafted has barely started its marketing. The model home as is priced at $325,000 plus the lot, with entry-level homes at $275,000 for house and lot, Kees says.
Kees says he got the idea for Cottage Park after seeing something similar in Michigan. He says he’s trying to create a neighborhood with an old-time feel, where houses have individuality.
“What we’re trying to do is carry what we’ve done for the last 30 years with single-family homes into the villa lifestyle,” he says. “I’d say there has never been a community quite like this in Fort Wayne.”