State’s Big­gest Open House

Spring home tour gives pub­lic a look at what’s out there on the real es­tate mar­ket.

Milwaukee Magazine - - Special Advertising Section - By B.L. HOGAN

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

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