Builders of new homes in the Valley say open concept floor plans still are popular among new homebuyers. As such, many new homes are being built without walls dividing living areas and kitchens, as pictured here in this De Young Properties model home at the company’s Leonard Welcome Center in Clovis.

published on November 30, 2018 - 7:00 AM
Written by David Castellon

After years of being apartment renters, Owen and Marisa Goldsworthy are ready to make a change.

“We’re kind of tired of paying rent,” said Marisa, a self-described stay-at-home mother, while her husband, a resident physician in training in Fresno, added that it would be nice to own their home and build equity in it.

“We are looking for a house to kind of get into the next phase of our life, and we have a 1-year-old and are looking for our own kind of space for our family,” Marisa said.

The couple is leaning toward buying a new, as yet unbuilt home in one of the housing developments springing up across the Valley, but during a seminar put on Monday evening by Fresno-based De Young properties, the Goldsworthys discovered that choosing where to live may be a far simpler task than the many other choices to be made before the home is built.

“Some have more options, and I like that,” Marisa said of the large home developments she and her husband have visited.

“It’s a little bit overwhelming. I think, ‘how much you can customize these homes?’” said Owen, noting that he and his wife have a broad vision of what they want in their new home and a specific idea for flooring, but making the myriad other choices they would have to make –cabinet colors, doors, door handles, the type of heating and air conditioning systems – seems a daunting challenge.

Decisions to make

Those choices have changed in recent years, as large developers and builders ofcustom homes offer options that weren’t available just a few years ago, responding to national trends and the evolving interests of Valley homebuyers.

Among the biggest changes of what people want in their new homes are how they look from the outside, said Victor Gonzalez, sales manager and broker for Granville homes, which builds communities in the Fresno and Clovis areas.

“There is a higher want for design and uniqueness,” he said. “People are looking for that wow factor. They’re not just looking for four walls, basically.”

The industry is responding, said Gonzalez, noting that when he first started at Granville a dozen years ago, the company offered just five house designs. Today, the company’s Copper River Ranch subdivision offers a choice of 22 base models, along with numerous choices for exterior walls, doors, decorative elements, etc., allowing buyers to further make their new homes’ exteriors unique.

In smaller subdivisions fewer home models may be available, but most of the larger developers are offering more base options than they used to, he added.

A little bit country

“I think we’ve changed to people wanting a craftsman- or country-style home rather than a Mediterranean-style home” here in the Valley, said Ken Felder, president of Integrity Building, doing business as G.J. Gardner Homes, which specializes in designing and building individual custom hones in Clovis, Fresno and Madera County.

“I think in California – 20 or 30 years – you saw the majority of homes being done Mediterranean,” but now traditional American styles are regaining popularity, he said.

Generally, homes in new subdivisions are being built on smaller lots, resulting in less lawns and garden spaces.

Large subdivision developers are responding by incorporating communal outdoor spaces in some of their subdivisions, including walking trails and small parks.

While lot space isn’t necessarily as limited when building custom homes, Felder said his clients generally don’t want big lawns and elaborate gardens.

“They want landscaping to be low water usage and minimal maintenance requirements,” which usually involves including more “hardscape” outside – concrete, pavers and crushed granite among them – and shrubs that don’t need much water and pruning, he explained.

A look inside

The interiors of new homes also are changing, said Ashley De Young, vice president of properties for De Young Properties, which builds new neighborhoods in the Fresno and Clovis areas.

“The open and flexible floor plans are really important, and the indoor and outdoor feel is very important,” she said.

As such, one of the most popular features in new homes now is the wall of windows, sometimes called “sliders,” essentially a massive patio door, often about 10 feet high and 16 feet wide that can be opened wide to connect a living room or den with a patio or backyard, making a larger space for parties and other gatherings.

“It really makes you feel like you’re hanging out in your great room, but you’re experiencing the nature of outside,” De Young said.

Mashing up the home

Speaking of outside, “What’s really popular right now are outdoor kitchens, with barbecues, sinks, refrigerators” and even televisions, said Stan Ratzlaff, owner and president of Cornerstone Homes in Fresno, a real estate broker as well as a builder and designer of larger, luxury custom homes.

As for flexibility, in new subdivisions much of that has to do with developers allowing buyers to make changes to their interior floor plans, which includes relocating or eliminating some walls to expand or reduce room sizes.

In fact, Gonzales said, he has had buyers opt to turn entire bedrooms into big closets, while De Young said some of her company’s models allow for the addition of a room.

“Younger families will ask for a Jack and Jill setup, meaning two bedrooms will share a bathroom, but that bathroom is not accessible through a hall,” Felder said.

As for older people building new homes, they tend to want upgraded kitchens, which usually includes higher-end appliances and cabinets that allow items to be pulled out in sliding racks and trays – eliminating the need to reach deep back to get pots, spices and other things – and self-closing drawers and cabinets doors, he added.

The chef’s domain

For new luxury homes, kitchens can be upgraded even more, especially when it comes to appliances, Ratzlaff said. “You’ve always had an oven in the house, but you haven’t always had a $17,000 freestanding, 48-inch Thermador [oven and stove]. It’s got six burners, a griddle.”

High-end buyers tend to want even higher-end appliances, from built-in coffee makers and vegetable steamers to professional-grade ice machines – now virtually standard in new, upper-end homes – that not only produce more ice than ice makers built into most home freezers but also make purified ice that is clear and doesn’t alter the flavor of beverages, Ratzlaff said.

Flooring also is important.

“Let me put it this way: Hard surface is in,” with carpeting being installed less in new homes,” Ratzlaff said.

The other builders contacted agreed, noting that tile floors are booming in popularity, particularly wood-like tiles – ceramic tile shaped and colored to look like wooden planks. The advantages of these over actual woods floors is the tiles are more scratch resistant; they don’t show wear much in high-traffic areas, as real wood flooring may; and because they’re water resistant, they can be installed in bathrooms, without the threat of water damage, the experts said.

Behind the scenes

Some of the changes in what people want in new homes are less visible, particularly that new homes are built energy efficient, and people often want products that further cut down their costs, including energy-saving appliances, LED lighting and tankless water heaters, De Young said.

Additionally, some of the newer air conditioning and heating systems can filter the air coming into homes, which can be a boon to allergy sufferers, she noted.

As for solar systems being built into homes, that will become a requirement for most every new home built in California starting in 2020. While the large home developers said customers largely want solar panels in their new homes now, Felder said his custom homes clients seem largely indifferent – though they do want their homes built energy efficient.

Smart homes

Tech also is big in new homes, with buyers wanting lights, heating and air, security systems, sound systems, etc. that can be operated from smart phones, Rartzlaff noted.

Also big are smart thermostats that can be programmed to track the heat and cold preferences of residents and adjust temperatures accordingly.

“Most of our people want us to install cameras, and once again you can tap your iPhone and pull up eight to 10 images of your home,” he said, adding that “It’s a security trend. People want to see what’s going on.”

Among the newest smart home innovations are heat sensors – usually mounted in areas with high fire risks, including kitchens, laundry rooms and attics – that reportedly can detect house fires and activate alarms faster than smoke detectors.

Part of what’s pushing these trends is that with the improved economy, the ratio of people wanting to move is growing, compared to the number of people needing to move to get more space for growing families, relocate for jobs, etc., Gonzalez said.

“When people want to move, it’s because they want a little more luxury or a different neighborhood, “ he said.

Fatigue factor

“I think because there are so many options it seems exciting, at first,” Marisa Goldsworthy said. “If there are too many, I can see how it could get overwhelming fast.”

And of course, there is one vitally important factor to consider.

“It will come down to cost: What is it going to cost me to get all those bells and whistles,” asked Danelle Dettman, who along with her husband and two children, have been living with her parents in Clovis while they determine in what subdivision they want to have their new home built.

“So that kind of knocks down the challenge a little bit.”

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