State’s Biggest Open House
Spring home tour gives public a look at what’s out there on the real estate market.
April may be the cruelest month – or so writes T.S. Eliot – but on the plus side, it’s also the month of Wisconsin’s largest open house.
That’s what Natalie Riley, communications manager at the Metropolitan Builders Association of Greater Milwaukee, calls her organization’s Spring Tour, which runs over three weekends starting April 21.
This year, the tour features over 60 projects, mostly model homes but also including condominium units.
It’s one of the MBA’s three large-scale annual events – with its Home Building & Remodeling Show at the Exposition Center at Wisconsin State Fair Park, in January, and its Parade of Homes in August.
Jonathan Synovic, president of the association and also president of Brookfield-based Source 1 Project Solutions, sees the tour as a way for prospective homebuyers to take the ideas they’ve gathered for their dream home or remodel project and see how they apply to projects in the real world.
The tour, which is free, supplies consumers with a map and project list in seven Southeastern Wisconsin counties – Waukesha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine, Jefferson and Walworth – and allows them to plan their visits over the three weekends. The properties are open from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays on each of the three weekends.
Spring Tour, Synovic says, means, “Now I can pick and choose. ... If I’m looking for a condo I can look at the condos; if I’m looking for new models I can look at that.
He adds, “It’s a carefree environment,
It’s a carefree environment, with
no hard sales.
with no hard sales.”
But it also gives you practical information about how much these properties might cost. “With all these models,” he says, “you can see a whole variety of price points. That’s helpful to see: What does $400,000 get me, and what does $600,000 get me?”
As for trends that visitors will see on the tour, Synovic says there should be architecture that’s more diverse than what’s been common in the years since the downturn in the economy – and real estate in particular – in the years before 2010.
“Some of the architecture that we’ve maybe left over the years, simplifying it for cost [reasons],” he says, “now we’re starting to see those amenities pop back: curved arches, even curved walls now are coming back. We’re seeing more diversity in architecture that we weren’t allowed during the tougher years, because people were stripping down towards the bare minimum in order to meet a price point.
“We’re starting to break back to the ‘Give me a little bit of the wow factor. We’re going to spend money.’ In the Spring Tour we’re going to see a little bit more of that wow factor come back to life, and a lot more in the Parade of Homes. That’s the buzz I’m getting with all the builders right now. We’re feeling comfortable enough that people are willing to spend a little more money to get some of that ‘wow’ back.”
Besides the curved arches and walls, the elements providing the “wow” could include mudrooms, and especially 9- and 10-foot ceilings, he says.
The taller ceilings (8 feet is standard) are a trend that started in the South, Synovic says. They’re replacing the cathedral ceilings that were popular before the downturn, partly because of the cost of heating and cooling all that air up to the ceiling.
“What that does is it holds the heat. People are being more conscious about what it is we’re heating and cooling.” With the 9- and 10-foot ceilings, he says, “I can contain the air, but I still can get the volume of space. What we’re seeing in architecture now is we can get the ‘wow’ in a more usable space, without this big vastness we were working with.”
Another example of wow factors? “The kitchen being the central place in the home where everyone gathers,” Riley answers. “A lot of people are building houses with kitchens for entertaining.”
And screened porches are another amenity that’s starting to make a comeback, Synovic notes. “Our climate is such that we have only a couple weeks without bugs, and then we get mosquitoes, followed by the end [of the season] and there’s another bug that hits us.”
Another benefit of the Spring Tour, he says, is that it allows you to shop for a builder with whom you’d be compatible. Many of the individual builders have a signature design element – with screened porches or impressive kitchens being two examples – and consumers can match up with the one that appeals to them.
Of course houses are not the only projects you can look at on this tour. Condominiums are also featured, and Synovic identifies a quirk of the housing market that makes them an important stop. These properties are popular with people in the beginning and at the end of their home-owning years, he says – the latter, of course, because they have empty nests and are less enthusiastic about the yardwork that goes along with owning a house on a generous lot. But first-time homeowners are often forced into the condo market because of the prohibitive cost of starter homes.
Outside of Milwaukee, it’s difficult to find a single-family home for less than $200,000, Synovic says. With condos, you may find prices much lower than that.
Plus, he says, there’s a large consumer demand for smaller houses in general, but most subdivision rules and municipal zoning restrictions don’t allow new houses of less than 2,000 square feet.
“What condos offer that most new homes can’t is we’re still dealing with subdivisions requiring 2,000 square feet or more,” says Synovic. “What condos offer is that solution to someone who’s sitting in a home right now who says, ‘I want to live in 1,400 square feet or 1,600 square feet.’”
In addition, condos are designed better than they were before the recession, when they were mass-produced, he says. “The newer condos are really focused on the layout of new home construction and we see a value there, and then downsizing that into the 1,400- to 1,600-square-foot range.”
The project listings are published in this section, so you can start planning what you’re going to see right now.
For more information, go to mbaonline. org/spring-tour.html.
In the Spring Tour we’re going to see a little bit more of that wow factor come back to life.
A Homes By Towne house in Pewaukee on the Spring Tour
Alesci Homes Inc. house in Muskego on the Spring Tour