Last month, I attended NAHB’s midyear meeting in Miami and had the pleasure of sitting in on a presentation by Daniel Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines-based architecture group BSB Design.
Tucked Away Winner
Creating a special townhouse that fits within a green building environment was MBK Homes' goal in Ladera Ranch, California's Terramor neighborhood. These Briar Rose tuck-under townhouses are new floor plans, created specifically for Terramor. "The product itself is one of the more efficient we have done, from a land planning standpoint," says MBK president Tim Kane.
Creating a special townhouse that fits within a green building environment was MBK Homes' goal in Ladera Ranch, California's Terramor neighborhood. These Briar Rose tuck-under townhouses are new floor plans, created specifically for Terramor. "The product itself is one of the more efficient we have done, from a land planning standpoint," says MBK president Tim Kane. "We call it density revenue optimization."
Through market research, MBK determined not only what the price point should be, but also that having a hidden garage was a must. "We specifically identified that it was going to be important to do the tuck-under garage because of the density," says Jeanne Stott, MBK's vice president of sales and marketing.
Of the three plans offered, residence three stands out from the rest. "Plan three seems to be extremely popular," says Kane. "We continue to add premiums to plan three and it's still selling." To date, residence three is at the top of sales, with 26 of the 71 units released so far.
The tuck-under townhouse has garages "tucked" under the main floor of the residence, which allows MBK to provide extra storage space in each of the three floor plans. A crawlspace area, ranging in height depending on the topography on each particular property, helps maximize that storage space.
"It was critical when we designed these [plans] that we provide additional storage underneath the living room, off the garage," explains architect Robert Williams of KTGY Group, who led the design team. "The plan three, which is the widest of the units, has what is really a two and a half car garage, so there's a lot of storage on the side."
Residence three also offers other features that attract buyers, because of its location on the end of a building. We added a wrapped porch," says Kane. "The front porch wraps around the side, which increases the attraction of an end unit."
The grading for these tuck-under townhouses posed a problem because they are very tight. "The common areas required some effort to make the townhouses work, given all the grading and elevation changes on the site," says Kane.
"It was an engineering exercise that was tedious. It didn't set us back, but we might have been able to get more density if we had had a flatter site. It just took a lot of effort to get things to work."
Once the grading was complete, the next challenge was the construction process. "Orange County decided to put the inspectors from their commercial division into attached home housing," explains Kane. "At any time during the process, they would use commercial codes rather than residential codes.
"It wasn't that they used commercial codes on A, B and C, and residential codes on D, E and F," says Kane. "There was no standard to it. It was 'Nope, I don't like the way that is, so let's change it to the commercial way.'
"The only positive to it is we knew several other builders who had been through this in a previous stage. They gave us a heads-up, so we had some opportunity to plan for it," Kane recounts.
Beyond the grading and construction, there were also difficulties with the layout of the floor plans. "We had to make it look like a two-story house, knowing really a three-story house," states Williams.
"With multiple levels of stairs — half flights, full flights — the problem is to avoid the feeling that you're going up the stairs all the time," says Williams. "With that in mind, you have to make it feel more open, which makes the rooms more difficult to design because of constraints of the level changes."
Because residence three is the largest plan, it offers more features that attract the buyer. "When you walk into residence three, it has a very open feeling with the placement of the windows and the natural light," says Stott. Milgard windows make this natural light possible.
"All the windows are 8 feet tall on the main level, which has 10-foot ceilings, says Williams. "That's something you don't normally see in a townhouse.
Pre-wiring the residence for high-speed computer technology is a big draw to buyers. "It's all pre-wired so you can network within your own home," says Karen Hoover, director of purchasing for MBK.
The kitchen is a big attraction: GE appliances are used with the option to upgrade to stainless steel. Eurodesign Cabinets is the standard kitchen cabinet supplier. That standard is a basic white, but MBK allows the buyer to upgrade to maple or different stained colors.
In the kitchen and bathrooms, ceramic tile countertops are standard, but often upgraded. "A lot of people select granite as an upgrade," says Hoover. "We also have a lot of people selecting DuPont Zodiaq kitchens and Corian bathrooms."
Another popular feature of residence three is the Heatilator three-sided fireplace that can be viewed from the family room, kitchen and dining room.
In the master and secondary bathrooms, dual sinks are offered with the Delta Victorian series faucet fixtures. TOTO USA toilets are also used to reach the green building low-flow requirements of California.
The interesting part of Briar Rose is that MBK targeted first-time and move-up buyers, but its target was way off. "What we discovered are buyers from all across the demographic spectrum," explains Kane. "We had move-downs, families with kids in high school or kids in grade school, people with infants, newlyweds, people that have been married for a while, people that transferred in, people moving to Ladera because the school system is so good, or because this was their opportunity to get into Ladera within the price range."
"It turned out so well, they have used this plan on other projects," says Williams. "It's been very successful for MBK." It hasn't been a cheap one for them to build because the storage, multiple levels, and the retaining wall are not cheap, but it definitely helps sales because it's a unique product in Ladera and the Terramor area, which is all green development."