Small Sells: Homes on Micro-lots Prove that Size Doesn't Matter

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The Cottage Series at Forest Creek features spacious single-family homes on micro-lots - at prices that turn heads.

September 01, 2008
Sidebars:
Making A Community Sell
The Community Buy-In
Project Profile
Cottage Series Creation Timeline
Swift Sale
Rose Cottage's Floor Plan

Within reach of much of the home-buying workforce, the Cottage Series at Forest Creek in Parris, Fla., has architectural details generally not found in lower-cost housing. The Rose Cottage is the smallest yet sells best. 
Photos: Neal Communities

In the summer of 2007, Pat Neal, president of Neal Communities, had the same problem as most builders: he had to figure out a way to deliver homes people could afford in a slumping economy, and he had to do it fast.

Also working against him, besides the housing downturn: the land he had in his Forest Creek development in Parrish, Fla., was zoned for townhomes, while his buyers wanted the American dream of a single-family home with a yard.

Research and consultation with longtime colleagues Jerry Messman with BSB Design, John Bews at Davis Bews Design Group and the Neal Communities team brought him to what would become the Cottage Series, three styles of single-family homes no more than 1,600 square feet with 2 or 3 bedrooms and 2 to 2½ bathrooms, all on lots 27 feet wide.

The entire process — from conceptualization to zoning approval to finished models — took about six months to boot (see the timeline at the bottom for a breakdown of how it happened).

Prices started then in the $120,000s and now begin at $144,900, which includes front porches with columns, rear-loaded garages, private courtyards and floor plans that respect residents' privacy. As of mid-August, 27 of 70

To ensure the homes looked better than affordable, Neal Communities included amenities such as stainless steel appliances and added a special finish to cabinets.

homes have sold.

In addition to single women and active adults, parts of the original target markets, buyers have included couples and even small families. And surprisingly, it's the Rose Cottage — the smallest, with 1,200 square feet — that's netted 13 of the sales so far. “It's very open, has lots of windows in unexpected places, larger hallways, storage — it offers everything in a small space, and everyone loves it,” says Neal Communities' Marketing Director Ashley Herweg.

What really stands out in the Rose Cottage and the other cottages is how much fits in a small space: homes are 20 feet wide on 27-foot lots. But the team made sure a little house went a long way.

To keep the price low, Messman, a consulting partner with BSB, concentrated architectural details on the front elevation, adding Craftsman columns, fish-scale siding and a pitched roof. The details help the cottages blend seamlessly with the rest of the Forest Creek community, which includes upscale homes.

Inside, Messman took standard features and added a twist. The master bathroom, for example, isn't larger than a typical full bathroom, but it's attached for privacy. The master bedroom has a walk-in closet so homeowners wouldn't have to sacrifice storage space because of the price they paid. He also vaulted the 8-foot ceiling throughout the home to add volume.

The Rose Cottage's living room, like the other cottages in the series, have high, fixed windows that add light to the living/dining room. A vaulted ceiling opens up the space.

The Cottage Series project has its own story to tell. Check out the the examples below to find out how the team made it work.


Pack It In

Want to do a lot with a little space and money? Homes in the Cottage Series at Forrest Creek are 20 feet wide and sit on a 27- foot wide lot. Yet they still pack 1,200 to 1,600 square feet of the great indoors for homeowners to treasure while the prices stay low. The team behind the Cottage Series at Forrest Creek offers these tips to make a small home attractive, affordable and desirable.

Let the Light In

While one wall in the living room in the Rose Cottage has a 6-by-5-foot window, the adjoining wall features high-fixed windows that add natural light and leave homeowners room to place furniture.

Stagger the Setbacks

Only one foot separates Cottage Series homes on one side; the other side is a roomier six feet. This made it easier to design for privacy and adds variation to the home's exterior.

Make the Indoors Private

Where you place windows is crucial. The homes' large windows face the neighbors' high, fixed windows, so homeowners don't have to worry about looking in on their neighbors — or feeling watched themselves. This way, you can put another house right next to it without compromising privacy and still maximize your land.

Reserve Outdoor Space That's Private

If you're going to have a courtyard or small yard, include a high wall, as all homes in the Cottage Series. Even if homeowners are living a few feet from next door, they'll have an outdoor nook to call their own.

Don't Forget the Front Porch

All homes in the Cottage Series offer a front porch; the Rose Cottage's is 50 square feet. Although it's a public area, it's a homeowner's own social space. Plus, porches are a luxury — a simple way to add value to a lower-cost house.

Keep It Open

Open floor plans are a must. It might be a boxy house, but that doesn't mean it should feel boxy. Wide hallways lend a larger field, as do vaulted ceilings.

Build A Simple Structure

Think inside the box. All homes in the Cottage Series have a simple box shape, which keeps costs down. Focus more expensive details that create character on the front of the home, and use fewer architectural details on the side to save money.

Keep Curb Appeal

If it's charming and has character — key attributes the Cottage Series needed to fit into an upscale neighborhood — homeowners will be more likely to forget the smaller and less elaborate features of a lower-cost home.

Landscape It Right

Windows on the side of Cottage Series homes face a trellis, so homeowners don't have to look at their neighbors' siding. And pay attention to the streetscape and overall look of the community; if it's not pretty, it won't work as well (see sidebar at right).

Get A Good Association

To make a high-density neighborhood work — and to keep intact the charm and character — make sure to work with an association to control property. You chose the color palette for a reason; if it starts to get sloppy, your development could turn ugly. And what if neighbors store four cars on a lot and put up a shed that blocks everyone's view? Control the property, and the pleasant and affordable community will remain that way.

Plan for Proper Drainage

Municipalities often have codes about this, but if they don't or if they're weak, don't skimp on proper drainage. Get creative with it; you don't want standing water if a storm hits.

 

Summer Lake represents a staple of Neal Communities: luxury amenities that sell easily.

Making A Community Sell

Word on the street is that Pat Neal really knows how to sell a community. His landscaping is best described as dramatic, says Leisa Weintraub, vice president of land development and creative director; Pat Neal calls it the “30-second look” that sells. For example, if you're a Forest Creek resident, you'll see an 18-acre lake as you enter the neighborhood. That's coupled with elaborate foliage that emphasizes the natural environment, a staple for Neal Communities entrances. Streetscapes include old-fashioned lights and winding streets. Amenities abound: recreational areas and club houses are the norm.

Pat Neal meticulously chooses everything from the color palette of homes' exteriors to the type of grass. He'll make changes if necessary.

Such drama factors into the mindset of project partners. “You want to buy in that community before you even see the house,” says Jerry Messman, a consulting partner with BSB Design, the firm charged with the Cottage Series concept. “Then it's the architect's responsibility to not blow the sale. ... Once you get inside, too, you can't un-sell the house. The charm and character has to be inside as well.” 


Pat Neal

The Community Buy-In

The Forest Creek community had a price point of about $550,000 when Neal Communities announced it would build homes starting in the $120s. The county swiftly approved plans (see timeline below), but it wasn't until the models were built that some neighbors — a small but loud minority — started speaking up, concerned less expensive homes would downgrade the neighborhood.

Neal Communities took a proactive approach, says John Neal, who focuses on land development and acquisition for the builder. The team held clubhouse meetings with residents to answer questions and wrote letters to the editor to educate the community on the changes; they underscored the purpose of more affordable housing was to make sure workers had great housing, too.

They reached out to residents on the Web also by answering residents' questions on blogs — a move new to everyone on the team. “This was a new experience in community messaging,” says Leisa Weintraub. “We're still getting used to it. … We decided to put our own information out there.”

Says Pat Neal: “They liked we were building homes within reach. We've had a tremendous amount of support since.”


Project Profile

Community: The Cottage Series at Forest Creek
Location: Parrish, Fla.
Model: Rose Cottage (right)
Size: 1,200 square feet
Builder: Neal Communities, Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
Architect: BSB Design

Products Used

Appliances: GE, Hotpoint
Floors: Mohawk Carpet, tile and Conguleum vinyl
Hardware: Dexter
HVAC Equipment: Trane
Lighting: Kichler, Maxim
Paint: Sherwin-Williams
Plumbing Features: Sterling fixtures, Moen faucets
Roofing: Elk High Definition Shingles
Windows: Florida Extruders
Siding: James Hardie


Cottage Series Creation Timeline

8/11/2007

After determining the market wanted more affordable housing that still offers the dream of a single-family home, Pat Neal and a team visit a BSB Design home near Tampa, Fla., featuring infill single-family homes on 25-foot lots. They decide to proceed with a similar scale and form, including a front porch and rear-loaded garage. The lots the builder intends to use for what will become single-family cottages are zoned for townhouses, a plan that was scrapped when the market and buyer interests turned.

8/16/2007

Neal Communities contracts with BSB for schematics on the Cottage Series that would feature 27-foot lots of single-family homes 20-feet-wide.

9/7/2007

Manatee County planning director approves plans for single-family homes.

9/18/2007

Neal Communities files for approval with Manatee County. The builder begins to plan for longer setbacks before receiving approval.

11/2007

Neal Communities begins building models for the Cottage Series.

12/18/2007

County approves single-family homes with longer setbacks. “Ultimately, they liked the price level and liked the fact we were providing housing for workers,” Pat Neal says.

2/23/2008

Models completed. Opening weekend garners 1,100 visitors.

8/11/2008

27 of 70 cottages sold; 13 of them are Rose Cottages.

   


Swift Sale

Neal Communities typically expects local government to take 12 to 14 months to approve plans; the Cottage Series took about three. Pat Neal credits established relationships that have a lot of trust and respect (30-40 years experience with key officials helped, he says, as did having a good reputation from completing 82 projects in the county); detailed presentations to the board that showed a well-thought-out project; and a price range that matched what the county sought.


Rose Cottage's Floor Plan

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