Could some of the most in-demand housing markets be cooling off?
Sometimes, fine-tuning is all that's necessary to turn a good model presentationinto a great one.
Sometimes, fine-tuning is all that's necessary to turn a good model presentation into a great one. Witness Toll Brothers' experience in Sarasota, Fla.
|Photo by headline: Midwestern snowbirds form the bulk of buyers reeled in by the 3829-square-foot St. Thomas model at the Oaks in Sarasota, Fla. But 40% of buyers are local move-ups or snowbirds who already owned homes elsewhere in town. Above photo: By aligning pool at rear with curved, mitered glass window in liveing room, Toll achieves this stunning entry statement. Kitchen and nook (below) separate living and family rooms. (See floor plans below)|
Long established as a retirement destination for well-heeled Midwesterners, Sarasota emerged as a major Florida housing market in just the last five years, attracting a horde of national builders as job growth joined Geritol in driving housing demand. Among the newcomers is the luxury housing behemoth Toll Brothers, which bought all 87 remaining single-family lots in an established high-end country club community-The Oaks-in 1997.
By easing the price point down just a tad, Toll stoked The Oaks' sales pace in the 1998 selling season to a point worth noting. But this year, the firm opened a new model and really hit the jackpot. Curiously enough, the new model is the same basic floor plan as the previous one, both designed in-house by Toll Architecture. But genius is in the details.
Toll's first model at The Oaks opened in mid-January 1998. By the close of the selling season at the end of April, Toll had nine sales, averaging $595,000. This year, the new model also opened in January. By the end of April, Toll had 15 sales averaging $625,000 each, including four of the modeled floor plan. Moreover, in 1998 Toll included a golf club membership with each home sale. This year, golf wasn't included.
Both the 1998 and 1999 models were built from 3829-square-foot St. Thomas plans, this year base-priced at $553,975. That's near the top of a product line that runs from 2670 to 4371 square feet and priced from $456,975 to $582,975. So what's the difference?
"First, we lowered the ceiling height in the living and family rooms from 14 to 12 feet," says Toll assistant vice president Art Friedman. "Sometimes a higher ceiling can actually make a room feel smaller. And above 12 feet, I think you begin to lose the customer's perception of added value. Plus, Southwest Florida draws most of its traffic from the Midwest, and those buyers are a little more conservative than on the east coast of Florida, where traffic is mostly from the Northeast states. Twelve feet may just be the right ceiling height for those people.
"Then, we did a better job in the new model of positioning the pool-so that you really get a dramatic view of it as soon as you open the front door," he says.
Friedman also brought in Winter Park, Fla.-based merchandiser Kay Green to do interior design. Green and designer Randy Wolgast reconfigured several baths, including the master, where they placed an open shower behind the tub (see floor plan). Then they used art niches and spot lighting in the hall leading to the family room, to add dimension and break up the dark tunnel effect visible in the first model. They added another niche to the powder room, one with real utilitarian value-it gives a person using the bathroom somewhere to place items for a moment. Finally, Green added her signature touch-color.
"The first model was very monochromatic," says Green. "We used more color in this one, especially eggplant and bronze gold."
Just to add an exclamation point, on April 5 the model was sold, fully furnished, for $917,000, including a lot premium of $35,000-which is less than the average in the project of $40,000. Toll built it for $62 per square foot in hard costs.
Major Products Used: Insulation: Owens Corning. HVAC: Trane. Locks: Weiser. Fireplace: Majestic. Hardwood flooring: Bruce. Paint: Color Wheel. Faucets: Delta. Fixtures: Kohler. Whirlpool tub: Jacuzzi. Cabinets: Yorktowne. Countertops: DuPont Corian. Appliances: G.E. Intercom and Central Vacuum: NuTone.
Variety is the Spice of Life Forms
Housing as Fashion
Don't Fence Me In
Rustling Up Sales at Cinco Ranch