Prime Infill Property

Home buyers find themselves at the center of everything in this suburban infill project that is November's Best Address.
By Mark Jarasek, Senior Editor, Electronic Media | October 31, 2008
Something for Almost Everyone
The Early Delivery Concept
Property with a Point

This infill project in a mature suburban setting puts a blend of buyers at the center of everything.

As we stepped out the doorway of a duplex model, a colleague who has been reporting on residential real-estate in the Chicago area for more than 20 years said

Details such as 9-foot first-floor ceilings and hardwood flooring entice buyers to move right into homes at Waterbury Place.
 Photos: Jess Smith

to me, “This is the most charming streetscape I have ever seen.” I took a closer look and had to agree. This community's address works well on several levels: aesthetics, benefits and location. So, does it sell?

Waterbury Place is an infill project nestled on a 31-acre pie-slice parcel in Buffalo Grove, Ill., a mature, upscale suburb located about 35 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. Waterbury Place is the creation of Edward R. James Homes, the home building affiliate of Edward R. James Partners, which is an active developer/builder in select Illinois, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin markets.

In an effort to sustain and complement the composition and vitality of the established neighborhood that surround it, the developers have included a full spectrum of housing types at Waterbury Place: townhomes, row homes, villas, duplexes and single-family homes. The eclectic mix has attracted a full assortment of buyer type: entry, move-up and empty nester. There are families, couples, single professionals and retirees that make up the community.

“It's a wonderful variety of household compositions — really a good mix,” says Jeanne Martini, director of sales and marketing for Edward R. James Homes.

Winning aesthetics

We were facing west with the late summer afternoon sun casting a yellow-orange glow that spilled over the roofs and onto the street scene before us. Railroad tracks were visible in the distance, elevated on a berm just beyond a line of row homes that forms one of the community's boundaries. The distinctive architecture, meticulous landscaping and curvilinear roadways all came together in that environment to make those railroad tracks look downright perfect for the part (see sidebar, “Property with a Point”).

Landscaping is a signature feature of developments undertaken by Edward R. James Homes, and the attention to landscape detail at Waterbury Place is no exception. Mature landscaping adorns the community; it has more than 50 varieties of trees, ponds with fountains, open green space and a one-acre park.

Martini says landscaping contributes significantly to setting the tone and appeal of the community for the prospective buyer. “It tells the buyer that you're not only delivering the sticks and bricks, but how the community will truly take shape,” she says.

The Lakota Group, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in planning, urban design, landscape architecture and community relations, served on the Waterbury Place design team as the land planner, community relations liaison and landscape architect.

“The concept behind the design was to create a sense of place and community using a mix of more naturalized and park-like open space features conducive to a range of activities, from quiet reflection to active recreation,”

The kitchens in Waterbury's early delivery homes feature 30-inch-high wall cabinets; appliances from GE; and double-bowl iron sinks and faucets from Kohler.
says Brian Wirth, project designer with The Lakota Group. Pretty perks

For those busy commuters who barely have any free time to spend on leisure activities or time with their kids, Waterbury Place touts a “maintenance-free living” concept. Residents don't have to bother with snow removal or landscaping tasks such as watering the lawn — an underground sprinkler system throughout the community services that. And select exterior upkeep projects such as painting and tuckpointing are also provided.

Four large ponds with fountains scattered along the eastern slice of the property, generous green space and a one-acre park all contribute to create an inviting, tranquil environment.

“The site is linked by a network of pedestrian pathways that encourage the residents to experience the site's many amenities, and interact with their neighbors,” Wirth says.

Location: You are there

Those railroad tracks we saw in the distance in front of the setting sun happen to carry the Metra, which is a vital commuter transportation link between the suburbs and downtown Chicago. The station for the Buffalo Grove stop is a short walk across the street from Waterbury Place. Highly desirable award-winning schools — high schools, grade schools and middle schools — all surround the community, many of them within walking distance.

Martini says that many buyers are attracted to the community because of its location to the top-rated schools. “Parents love that their children will be able to walk home after classes or extracurricular activities,” she said. “That's a real convenience for working parents.”

A huge map subtly placed on the wall of the sales center serves as an effective prop that underscores the

Lush landscaping graves the entire community and includes flowering perennials, shrubs, ornamental trees and grasses. Plantings were chosen for native and indigenous qualities.

locational benefits of Waterbury Place. The map is sprinkled with dots that depict an abundance of shopping, entertainment, dining, golfing and outdoor recreational destinations that surround the property.

The community is also centrally located to many of the main expressways and roadways that serve the greater Chicago area, making it easy to access airports, downtown Chicago and escape routes for weekend getaway trips.

What about sales?

Martini says sales efforts at Waterbury Place kicked off in June 2005, with plans set for the community to be sold out by mid-2009. The first two phases of the project comprise 134 homes, of which 93 are occupied and eight are currently under contract. The community will ultimately consist of 156 homes after a third and final phase is completed. The most popular have been the row homes and townhomes, which range from the mid $300,000s to low $400,000s. “They're at a great price point for this location,” Martini says.

Recent sales haven't quite kept up with the vigorous velocity when the community opened. Traffic lately has averaged about 10 prospects per week, Martini said, with most coming to the community from word of mouth, Internet leads and the local real-estate brokerage community.

However, they're optimistic about the future. Martini says they're still planning to meet their mid-2009 sell-out goal. She points out that infill development properties in mature neighborhoods are unique and have an aura of higher demand and limited supply. Says Martini: “High-quality, multi-family and single-family homes in attractive neighborhoods in award-winning school districts with a great location are going to sell.”


Something for Almost Everyone

There's an old saying that you can't be everything to everyone, but Waterbury Place is proving that wrong. This community offers a strategic mix of row homes, townhomes, villas, duplexes and single-family homes that range in price from the mid $300,000s to the low $800,000s. Sizes run from a 1,578-square-foot row home to a 3,418-square-foot single-family home.

Each home type offers a choice of several floor plans. Buyers interested in a row home, for example, have the choice between the 1,578- or 1,611-square-foot Fairmont model, the 1,785-square-foot Eden model or the 1,986-square-foot Dunbar model. The same choice holds true for the townhomes, villas, duplexes and single-family homes.

At $360,000, the least expensive units offered at Waterbury Place may not seem to be first-time home buyer material. However, the upscale demographics of this highly desirable Chicago suburban village would indeed be within a first-time buyer's means.

BSB Design served as architect for the row homes, townhomes, villas and single-family homes, and OKW Architects designed the duplex homes.

The Early Delivery Concept

Waterbury Place offers what the builder calls “early delivery homes.” These early delivery homes are essentially fully finished spec units that the Edward R. James Homes internal Design Coordination Team has put together.

It seems like a bit of a gamble to try to predict what layout, finishes and product a buyer might want, but that hasn't stopped the builder from doing it. As of mid October, Waterbury Place had 13 early delivery homes available, including five townhomes, three row homes, three villas and two single-family homes.

“Our interior designers make all the selections that go into our early delivery homes,” says Jeanne Martini, director of sales and marketing for Edward R. James. “They've worked with our customers for so many years that they intuitively know what the buyers are looking for. Most of the time they fall within a certain taste range,” she says.

Essentially, the early deliver home concept eliminates the time and stress-intensive process that new home buyers go through when faced with the task of choosing from myriad appliance finishes, fixtures, cabinet styles, hardware and everything else that goes into their home.

“Our design team does such a great job. The homes look so pulled together and attractive,” Martini says. “And our customers love the idea that they can simply move in after closing,” she says.

An industrial building, shown in the aerial view above, once occupied the property. Upon completion, the project will consist of 156 homes (top). A park-like setting features four ponds with decorative fountains, and the entire community is linked by a network of walking trails with seating areas among outcropping stone, native wildflowers and indigenous trees. The northern site perimeter consists of a landscaped berm that provides an attractive buffer from a busy roadway. Photo & Site Plan: Edward R. James Homes, LLC

Property with a Point

How does a builder end up with such an amazing location in an established, reputable suburb? Part of it could be attributed to luck, but most of it points back to the talent, experience and reputation of the builder/developer.

Prior to becoming Waterbury Place, the 31-acre parcel was used for light industrial use as the home of the old Powernail factory where nailing machines and nails were manufactured.

Powernail Co. is a family-owned business that several years ago decided to upgrade and relocate its factory to another suburban Chicago location. The family was very sensitive to what would ultimately happen to the property, so they hired a real-estate firm to assist them in putting out a Request for Qualification (RFQ) to select residential developers.

“The owner took a lot of pride in their property and their relationship with Buffalo Grove over the years,” said John Lifka, director of land development for Edward R. James Homes.

Because Edward R. James Homes has been involved in many mature suburban infill-type developments in its 50-year history, especially in the Chicago area, the company was among the firms participating.

“We put together our proposal, but I think one of the reasons we were ultimately the successful bidder was that ours is a family-owned business just like Powernail,” Lifka said. “They could relate and felt comfortable with that,” he added.

The suburban infill project came with both blessings and curses. The blessings: the property was a rare residential development opportunity in an established suburb where there simply isn't much contiguous land available. It was also a location to die for. The curse: the “to die for” location was adjacent to railroad tracks and the busy four-lane roadway, Route 22.

“It's a very unique piece of property. Our vision was to keep proper planning in line with the nature of the existing piece of land, which had a large pond on it, as well with the surrounding neighborhood,” Lifka said.

Landscaping and product placement played a crucial role in greatly diminishing the “curses” of the property. Potential eyesores and noise sources, i.e. those railroad tracks and the busy thoroughfare, were diminished by creative and abundant landscaping and strategically positioning rear-loading garages, both which serve to effectively buffer the negatives.

“The northern site perimeter consists of a landscaped berm that provides an attractive buffer from Route 22 filled with deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, along with ornamental grasses, perennials and ground covers,” Wirth said.

A mature neighborhood of single-family homes defined the eastern boundary of the property. That's where the developer decided to concentrate water features and single-family and duplex homes to complement and keep in tune with the existing neighborhood.

“It's all proper planning from the onset and strategic product placement,” Lifka says.