Hike and bike trails. Cultural arts centers. Waterparks. An observatory. Sound like the features of a high-end resort? Not quite.
Today’s leading master-planned communities offer more community amenities than ever before. If you’re considering moving into a new home community, give some thought to the lifestyle you want for yourself and your family. Odds are good that the perks of your new home extend well beyond your property lines.
A variety of factors will determine which community you choose — a location near your job, quality schools, close proximity to good shopping, etc. Beyond the obvious qualifications, consider your lifestyle. Do you have young children? Or are you a newlywed with no children? Are you downsizing to a smaller home because your children are grown? Do you like to spend your time jogging around the lake and exploring open land or would you prefer tai chi and cooking classes at your community center?
With a little bit of research, you can find a new home community with amenities best suited to your needs. Smart homebuyers investigate amenities early in the buying process; after all, you aren’t just buying a new home, you’re joining a new community.
Attention to Detail
Long before families move in or before any houses are built, developers create a master plan for their communities. Master planned development requires a team-oriented approach to building, with many disciplines working together to ensure a quality community that looks and feels just like home. In order to appeal to buyers, planners must be creative and forward-thinking when developing their communities.
“We know we’re successful when residents say they live in ‘Savannah’ instead of Dallas or North Dallas,” says Phillip Huffines, co-owner of Huffines Communities, a real estate and land development company based in Dallas, Texas. Developers strive to create a sense of place unique to the community, dependent not only on location and the homes themselves, but also on community amenities and resident lifestyle, he explained.
In his latest community, Viridian, Huffines says, “it took vision to imagine moving 15 million yards of dirt to fill gravel pits” along the Trinity River. “It also took a ‘Triple P,’ or Public-Private Partnership,” he added, “and years of planning by a team of land planners, environmentalists, engineers, marketers, product managers and financial experts.” The result? A 2,300 acre sustainable and green community in the heart of a heavily populated area. With 1,100 acres of protected wetlands and open spaces, 20 miles of trails along the Trinity River, and 450 acres of lakes, Viridian will be the only Audubon International Gold Certified Community in Texas and one of the largest so-called in-fill communities in the nation.
Evolution and Inspiration
“You can buy a house anywhere, but you can’t buy a lifestyle just anywhere,” says Phyllis DeWitt, of DeWitt Marketing. With more than 30 years’ experience in residential master-planned mixed-use developments and new home sales and marketing, DeWitt has played an important role in the evolution of master-planned communities. DeWitt has worked on many cutting-edge new home communities including Savannah and Providence, both Huffines communities, that offered some of the first large-scale water parks for residents in the nation.
DeWitt says that smart land developers are mindful of offering amenities that will appeal to buyer’s needs and budgets — and equally able to tune-out amenities that don’t appeal to today’s homebuyers.
Developers are responding as more homeowners seek community features that reflect their lifestyles and that they will use every day, such as hike and bike trails and pocket parks located closer to their homes. “While early community amenities were based on country club facilities, homeowners wanted more,” DeWitt says. “So developers and builders got really smart and started looking at what people use daily. They can build all of these amenities that are gorgeous, but if they are not used and maintainable through affordable HOA dues, then it’s a failure. … To be competitive, developers have had to be really creative in what they offer.”
Like most top developers, Arizona homebuilder Fulton Homes begins community planning even before purchasing the necessary land. Their team figures out what a buyer wants and makes sure the assortment of homes and amenities they will offer matches the needs of buyers, says Dennis Webb, vice president of Fulton Homes. Naturally, larger communities offer more opportunities for amenities, such as playgrounds, pools, basketball courts and open spaces with hike and bike trails.
Colorado homebuilder Century Communities takes the same approach. “Our land team evaluates the surrounding areas to determine what offerings will match the needs of buyers,” says Century’s Director of Marketing Mike Davidson. “We’re always looking for the competitive edge and for ways to be different.”
Davidson says that since developers such as Century look to hotels and resorts for inspiration, it’s not surprising to see communities with waterparks, especially in high-end communities.
When it comes to what’s in store for community amenities in the future, DeWitt predicts that homebuyers will see more lifestyle amenities being offered. “What you’ll see is a continuation of water amenities, whether it’s a pond, reflection pool or a jogging path around a lake — people love water,” she says.
Developers are constantly looking for ways to improve upon the water amenities they offer, such as beach-style entry to pools — with a gentle slope, instead of steps, allowing for easy access by all ages. Larger communities will often offer multiple pools that appeal to all types of buyers. For instance, a pool for children and families as well as a separate pool available only to seniors.
Of course, water features are an ever-popular element of landscaping in master planned communities. Webb, of Fulton Homes, recognizes that “being environmentally conscious is very important, so we use grey water in water features and common areas.”
Access to jogging or hike and bike trails is also important for a growing number of health and environmentally conscious buyers. Some community club houses even offer kayak or paddle board rentals to their members.
For homebuyers with children, some master planned communities offer sports complexes and aquatic centers. For those with younger children, developers have created splash pads and “tot lots” designed with small children’s safety and fun in mind. Junior Olympic-sized pools attract youth swim teams and casual lap swimmers, while water slides and games provide fun for the whole family.
Developers are also paying more attention to green lifestyles by making their communities walk and bike friendly. Some communities offer a community trolley that facilitates getting around and reduces the need for driving short distances.
Davidson, of Century Communities, says that the base price of homes in its Candelas community in Arvada, Colo., includes a 20-year lease on a solar energy system (including maintenance and the potential to upgrade). He anticipates that “LEED-certified buildings and energy efficiency will continue to be a hotspot for buyers,” especially because LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Energy Star certifications not only reduce utility bills and help conserve energy, but also add to the resale value of a home. Environmentally friendly community amenities, such as community gardens, urban farming and farmer’s markets are also increasing in popularity.
In today’s world, everything is driven by technology. According to Dewitt, “buyers are increasingly interested in data they can access and control through their smartphones.” These days, homeowners can lock their houses, adjust the temperature and control certain appliances from their smartphones.
Because of the emergence of smartphones and tablets, DeWitt sees developers and communities moving toward more tech offerings. DeWitt anticipates community and business centers wired for the latest technological advancements. “It wouldn’t surprise me,” DeWitt said, “to see data-driven community amenities such as work centers for telecommuting, after school tutoring centers, or baby-sitter check-in services.”
Additionally, many builders use social media sites (especially YouTube) to promote the amenities their community offers. However, social media doesn’t just benefit builders — communities often create a page on Facebook in which members can organize ice cream socials, start clubs and give feedback to their homeowner’s association.
Technology plays a double role in the Ironwood Crossing aquatic center. “We have cameras in the pool areas and are able to control entry to the aquatic center using key cards,” Webb says. “This not only allows us to track the usage of the pool, but increases the safety for our residents. We can determine the peak use hours of the pool and assign a pool monitor accordingly.”
When it comes to master-planned communities, nothing is left up to chance. Developers pay close attention to every detail in their communities — from signage, landscaping and placement of water to curbing and layout and width of street — to create a sense of interconnectivity.
Community amenities are just one more way for potential buyers to evaluate whether their lifestyle meshes with that of the community. Because your new neighborhood will likely be the epicenter of your activities for years to come, it’s important to choose one that will fit you and your family’s lifestyle.
Seve Kale is an award-winning freelancer writer and former content intern for NewHomeSource. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in December 2013 with a degree in Government, Humanities and Spanish.
Prior to working with NewHomeSource, she interned in the Press Section at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires and traveled extensively throughout South America