Could some of the most in-demand housing markets be cooling off?
One look at Ponderosa Homes' 4,400-square-foot Palomino model, and you would think you were in the Midwest.
One look at Ponderosa Homes' 4,400-square-foot Palomino model, and you would think you were in the Midwest. The horizontal, almost Prairie-style massing, the authentic Craftsman details, the sweeping line of the wraparound front porch, and you think Kansas, Iowa or Wisconsin before California.
And that's the point. California is more than beaches, coastal vistas, urban settings and vast tracts of suburban rooftops. Likewise, its architectural heritage comes from many more places than the Spanish missions.
In Livermore, Calif., Easterners who had poured over the Sierras seeking gold and later farmland grounded the area in an architectural tradition that drew on rural Victorian themes. This tradition might otherwise have been overlooked, but several years ago Alameda County cleared the way for Livermore to develop a plan for a 1,900-acre tract set among 14,000 acres of vineyards and agricultural land at its southern border. The resulting South Livermore Valley Specific Plan preserved hundreds of acres of vineyards and detailed a unique community and lifestyle.
In 1999, Ponderosa Homes locked up 200 of these acres with entitlements to build 76 high-end homes. Averaging almost 20,000 square feet, lots in the community, aptly named Legacy, were the biggest available for production homes anywhere in the San Francisco Bay area at the time, Ponderosa Homes CEO Dick Baker says. The impressive part of the lots is that they feel bigger because of the adjacent grapevines that are permanently part of the neighborhood.
Mark Retherford, Dahlin Group
In designing each home at Legacy, including the Palomino, Mark Retherford used the design specifications set forth in the South Livermore Valley Specific Plan as a starting point. He took setback requirements and preferences for detached garages as well as deep, usable front porches and went further with the ideas, blending the best of old and new, and thus capturing the area's architectural heritage.
"My job was to capture and enhance this kind of bucolic setting and lifestyle," he says. "That's what people are buying into because it's a nice lifestyle."
More at Home
|The volume ceiling in the front room allows plenty of light from second-floor windows to brighten much of the first-floor living space.|
|In keeping with the exterior, natural colors and finishes in the kitchen anchor the rear living space of the Palomino model.|
For Ponderosa CEO Dick Baker, the South Livermore Valley Specific Plan offered an unbeatable combination of large, wide lots, views onto open space and a desirable location for families whose breadwinners commute to East Bay and South Bay jobs. The homes are an even better fit for households with two incomes and split commutes to both locations. But Baker also realized the inherent attraction the simple farmhouse-style homes set forth by the Livermore plan would have with potential buyers who annually move to the Bay area from other parts of the country.
"A decent wraparound porch is so unusual in the Bay area," says Baker. "A lot of people here have Midwestern roots, and I've tried in the past to do this kind of house on much narrower lots. It just does not come out right."
In August, the first two buyers of the Palomino model moved in. One, a couple in their early 40s, fit Baker's buyer profile perfectly. With two children age 15 and 19, they had been transferred to the Bay area from Dublin, Ohio. Their previous home was 7,700 square feet on a large lot. Legacy's relatively big lots for the area, the expansive views of open space and the Craftsman elevation helped the family feel "more at home" and eased their transition to the Bay area, says Cindy Beatty, Ponderosa's vice president of sales and marketing.
At $1.2 million, the Palomino is the highest-priced home of the three Ponderosa offers at Legacy. It's also the highest-priced home among others offered in the South Livermore Valley Specific Plan by Lennar and Centex. But despite the price point, a big part of the appeal to buyers is a value proposition not often found in the pricey Bay area, Baker says. Even though rising home prices in the area have cooled a bit, in most cases $1.2 million still buys only a three- bedroom home in the Silicon Valley versus the Palomino's five bedrooms and optional granny flat.
Traffic at Legacy has been strong since it opened in April - 125 visits per week. And at 2.6 per month, sales are better "than just about everything else in this price point," says Baker.
Old Community, Modern Spaces
|In the plan for the Legacy community, actively maintained vineyards provide a stunning sense of place along with plenty of wide-open vistas for home buyers.|
|In developing a detailed specific plan for the area, landowners and local officials created a lot of potential value for builders such as Ponderosa Homes.|
Depending on lot size, location and shape, the Palomino is offered in three elevations and a range of configurations. It can have a Folk Victorian elevation or (in a nod to what local buyers are used to) a Spanish Eclectic version. But the gabled Craftsman elevation captured the spirit of the home and was selected for the model.
"The Palomino is almost like a Prairie-style home the way it's low-slung. It's the standard height of a two-story home, but because it's so wide it really fits in well with the surrounding area," says designer Mark Retherford, who felt strongly enough about the color of real cedar that alternative siding materials were dismissed. "We used true cedar shingles on the exterior. And it does have a semitransparent stain on it for an opaque, flat look. You're picking up the patina of the wood through the transparent stain, which gives the home a nice look."
The remaining variations on the home relate to the placement of a three-car garage and the type of living space built out above it. Legacy's final land plan, by David Gates of David Gates & Associates, calls for some Palominos to have detached garages pushed to the rear of the lot and attached by a breezeway (it still counts as detached with a breezeway). Palominos on other lots feature detached garages tucked in behind the home in a way that cars must turn in from the side. Lastly, some garages are attached on the side of the home.
Much of this was dictated by the South Livermore Valley Specific Plan, which set out to ensure that neighborhoods such as Legacy feel as if they were developed slowly, over time. This feeling contrasts sharply with the home's modern, light-filled interior spaces.
Filling the Palomino with light was a priority for Retherford. Old homes with long porches are typically dark on the first floor because of shade from the porch roof. Retherford's solution was a vaulted ceiling in the front formal living space opening to a row of second-floor windows above the porch roof line. Sunlight not only brightens the home's front sections but, thanks to an open progression of spaces throughout the home, also bleeds extra light into the kitchen and great room to the rear of the home.
In this home, children and guests typically will use the bedrooms on the first floor, while the master suite and a fourth bedroom upstairs, where the views are spectacular, give the heads of household plenty of room for privacy. Loft space at the top of the landing can be incorpo-rated as part of the master retreat or converted into media/technology/reading space.
Retherford's plan for the first-floor living spaces pays homage to the porch. The kitchen, dining room and living room have large-lighted doors that open onto the porch. Even the home office/library next to the front door is slightly connected to the porch in one of the elevations.
Buyers typically select a game room off the kitchen/family room instead of a super-large family room. The family room is large enough as it is, and the game room is big enough for a full-size billiards table, Retherford points out.
Other optional spaces are available on lots that dictate a detached garage. A 650-square foot, one-bedroom granny flat with kitchen is a $100,000 option. For considerably less, the upstairs portion of the garage can be left as bonus space with a lavatory.
"There is a wide variety of buyers out there, and we were cognizant of providing options," says Retherford. "The reason is that as significant a purchase as these homes are, it is likely to be the last large home they will ever buy."