6 best-selling homes that hit buyers' hot buttons

Builders share the key features behind their best-selling plans, including strong curb appeal, flexible living spaces, indoor/outdoor connections, and memorable details.

By Susan Bady, Contributing Editor | February 17, 2012
Builders share the key features behind their best-selling plans, including stron

If you look closely at a builder’s top-selling home design, several things will become apparent. For one, it typically isn’t the largest or most elaborate in the portfolio. Also, in most cases, the floor plan creates long sightlines and takes advantage of natural light. Most rooms serve more than one purpose. The front elevation is attractive but not over designed. And the plan incorporates details that stay in the buyer’s memory.

It pays to keep the elements of good design top of mind whether you’re developing new plans or reworking old ones. “We push ourselves to find new ways to do simple floor plans,” says Rob Bowman, president of Charter Homes and Neighborhoods in Lancaster, Pa. “We spend a lot of time thinking through garage placement and design. And we tell our people, ‘Nobody pays for complexity behind the drywall.’ What they do pay for are details, such as that little wall that separates the living room and the dining room.”

When asked how they’re marketing the homes featured in this article, builders invariably mention Facebook and Twitter. But for a blockbuster like DSLD’s Reims plan, no special tactics are required. “We aren’t currently offering any promotions on this home because we haven’t needed to,” says Saun Sullivan, senior partner of DSLD Homes in Denham Springs, La.

1. Trading Up Made Easy

Plan: Davis
Square footage: 2,397
Date introduced: December 2010
Sales to date: 9
Builder/designer: Charter Homes, Lancaster, Pa.

Base-priced at $222,990, the four-bedroom Davis targets “buyers who want to move up as efficiently and affordably as possible,” says Charter Homes and Neighborhoods’ president Rob Bowman. It features a living room and dining room designed as one shared space but visually divided by a low wall.

The Davis also has a second-floor game room, a feature that most competitors don’t offer at this square footage, Bowman says. “That space seems to resonate with people, whether they use it as a game room, a study, or a place for the kids to watch television.”

Like all of Charter’s designs, the Davis features long sightlines and a large number of windows. “The loft and staircase on the second floor line up with the game room, so you can actually see the front and back of the home from that space,” he says.

First-floor options include an English garden room, a sunroom, and a morning room. By far, the most popular is the morning room. Bowman says, “It brings a ton of light into the kitchen and gives buyers a space that can be a separate sitting area or another dining area.”

Charter is using social media extensively. “If you look at Facebook and Twitter, you can see that we’re pushing a lot of information out, but we’re also engaging people,” he says. “Our big pitch with the Davis and our other homes is, ‘You get more style.’ Then we demonstrate in the sales office why our homes offer a better value than re-sales.”


2. On Top of the World

Plan: Residence 2 at High Lights, Granada Hills, Calif.
Square footage: 1,230
Date introduced: April 2010
Sales to date: 22
Architect: Bucilla Group Architecture, Irvine, Calif.
Builder: Trumark Homes, Irvine, Calif.

High Lights was a distressed project that Trumark Homes purchased and turned into a hit. Architect Greg Bucilla reworked existing floor plans and designed new ones to sharpen the community’s appeal to first-time buyers with jobs in Los Angeles.

The gated community, which is close to several major freeways, offers townhomes with two-car attached garages, starting in the low $300,000s. Buyers are predominately singles and couples in the 26- to 30-year-old age group, says Trumark CEO Michael Maples.

Residence 2 has an open living room, dining room, and kitchen area that make it feel much larger than 1,230 square feet. The master suite and living areas are on the second floor to capture views of the San Fernando Valley below. The first-floor bedroom and bath can be used as a guest room or home office, but it’s also perfect for a roommate.

“Several buyers have commented, ‘Oh, I can rent this bedroom out,’” Maples says.

The builder’s marketing strategy includes regular e-mail blasts to buyers and brokers; Facebook and Twitter pages; a community blog; on-site and off-site signage; and promotions such as online photo contests. A series of videos on YouTube feature model-home tours with Barak, a local comedian and actor. One of the videos has been viewed more than 2,000 times, says Maples.

“We chose Barak because he has a following around Los Angeles consisting of the demographic that is our buyer profile,” he says. “We knew he would be humorous and even make fun of us at times. We feel the sales encounter needs to be more authentic and transparent, thus we don’t want to come off like we are ‘selling’ them.”


3. Perpetual Vacation

Plan: Plan Two at Sandalwood at La Costa Oaks, Carlsbad, Calif.
Square footage: 3,563
Date introduced: May 2011
Sales to date: 4 
Architect: Woodley Architectural Group, Santa Ana, Calif.
Builder: ColRich, Carlsbad, Calif.

Of the four plans offered at Sandalwood, Plan Two is the most dramatic, says Kelly Hiltscher, director of sales and marketing for the builder, ColRich. “It has an open floating corner with a larger outdoor room off the entire rear of the home,” says Hiltscher. “People love this custom feature, which is complete with a vanishing panoramic door system.” Apropos of Sandalwood’s location, the blend of indoor and outdoor space suggests an oceanfront resort.

Plan Two has a three-car garage, split into two-bay and one-bay configurations. Options for the one-car garage include a casita and guest suite. Upstairs, buyers can opt for a fifth bedroom in lieu of the loft. But it’s the outdoor spaces that really sizzle: a covered patio wraps around the back of the home and there’s a spacious courtyard outside the front door. The kitchen, breakfast nook, and great room open to the patio, while the formal dining room has optional French doors to the courtyard.

ColRich has sold 11 homes at Sandalwood since opening the model in May, which is quite a feat in a tough market — especially since prices start in the high $700,000s. Plan Two accounts for four of those sales so far, making it the bestseller.


4. Broad Market Appeal

Plan: Payton at Braden Court, Clovis, Calif.
Square footage: 1,883
Date introduced: February 2010
Sales to date: 77
Architect: Bassenian/Lagoni Architects, Newport Beach, Calif.
Builder: McCaffrey Homes, Fresno, Calif.

The Payton was designed with versatility in mind. “We wanted to appeal to multiple market segments — families, multigenerational households, and young couples,” says Karen McCaffrey, vice president of McCaffrey Homes. The first-floor bedroom suite offers privacy from the rest of the house (ideal for older children or relatives) and can also serve as a home office, a guest room, or an additional media room.

“The upstairs is very appealing to families with its 15 x 14-foot master bedroom and two 10 x 11-foot secondary bedrooms, which share a bath with split vanities,” she says.

The entry is on the side of the home, with a volume ceiling that creates drama and offers sightlines to the great room, dining room, and kitchen. These spaces flow together, making the home explode with natural light and reinforcing the connection with the covered patio at the rear. Starting at $244,990, the Payton feels bigger than 1,883 square feet, McCaffrey notes.

The Payton has been selling steadily at the builder’s Braden Court community. “We have a strong core of buyers that are coming from the Fresno/Clovis area,” McCaffrey says. “We also have buyers moving from large properties (5 to 20 acres) in outlying communities.” A third group of buyers are relocating to the area for jobs at Clovis Community Medical Center, which is undergoing a major expansion.

McCaffrey Homes is using online banner ads, newspaper, and radio to market the community. Facebook and Twitter have been particularly useful tools. “We did a Facebook post about Braden Court the day after Thanksgiving and a home shopper we’ve been working with asked, ‘What’s your Black Friday special?’ We were able to schedule an appointment with him for the following Monday,” she says.


5. All the Luxuries

Plan: Carrington IV
Square footage: 4,276
Date introduced: October 2010
Sales to date: 41
Builder/designer: Schumacher Homes, Canton, Ohio

Schumacher Homes sells the Carrington IV at all of its locations — a total of 20 communities in 32 markets. That’s because the plan offers the design quality, details, and luxury features buyers would expect in a more expensive home. Depending on the elevation, the home is base-priced from $327,590 to $348,396.

The Carrington IV is well suited for families with older children. The foyer, dining room, and great room are at the center of the plan and flanked by a den and master suite on one side and informal living areas (kitchen, morning room, and hearth room) on the other side. For convenience, there are two staircases, one in the foyer and another adjacent to the kitchen. Two secondary bedrooms and two full baths are upstairs, plus a loft that opens to the great room below.

The hearth room is angled off the morning room to embrace backyard views. The well-equipped kitchen has a center island with a breakfast bar, dual pantry closets, and plenty of elbow room for cooking.

“We have a strong online presence, but these days you have to diversify, so newspaper advertising and signage are also part of our marketing strategy,” says Mary Becker, VP of sales and marketing for Schumacher.


6. Rooms Without Borders

Plan: Reims II
Square footage: 2,490
Date introduced: May 2009 (Elevation A); March 2010 (Elevation B)
Sales to date: 155
Builder/designer: DSLD Homes, Denham Springs, La.

The Reims has been a bestseller for DSLD Homes for more than two years because it does away with walls, says Saun Sullivan, senior partner.

“Our buyers seem to comment most about the completely open floor plan,” says Sullivan. “From the foyer, dining room, and living room to the breakfast area and kitchen, the home is wonderful for entertaining friends or spending time with family.” Only a single column visually divides the foyer from this large open space.

The single-story plan includes three bedrooms, two baths, and a two-car garage. The living-room fireplace is standard along with crown molding and a computer niche adjacent to the kitchen.

“Buyers love the niche outside the laundry room, and are enticed by the master bath with its two walk-in closets, separate shower, and jetted tub,” Sullivan says.

Due to the popularity of the Reims, DSLD introduced a second elevation in March 2010. But Elevation A is still the leader,
with 112 sold compared to 43 Elevation B’s.



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