Counties across Maryland, including Prince George’s and Charles, have also seen a small increase in permits in recent years, despite the fact that resale and distressed inventory continues to linger in some areas.
“It takes time for the market to absorb that inventory before the demand will increase on new homes,” said Mark Nosal, the Maryland vice president for Toll Brothers. “But in many parts of Maryland, that inventory has been coming down rapidly. In new homes, we’re starting to see more demand.”
But to lure buyers from cheaper resales, and even-cheaper short sales, builders have to think beyond the standard, boxy single-family home.
For one thing, home buyers are more practical these days, builders say, and they are willing to dispense with the home theaters, underused rooms and other trappings of the McMansion era.
“The biggest emphasis is to look at how do people actually live in their homes and design a house for that,” said Scott Gallivan, president of Integrity Homes of Virginia. “The living room and dining room are expensive to decorate, and they don’t get used. So why do we have them?”
More and more buyers are forgoing the living room entirely, opting instead for layouts with one big open space on the ground floor. Julie Cronan, a Long & Foster realty agent in Southern Maryland, said the buyers opted for no living room in the last five contracts she had written.
“We’re seeing more of a casual living space with an open floor plan and flex spaces that can be used in a variety of ways,” said John Halak, vice president of construction at Pulte homes.
What’s more, kitchens have been promoted from cramped, utilitarian necessities to massive, breezy social hubs. Another Willowsford resident, Jennifer, who preferred that her last name not be used, chose a layout with a kitchen that flows into a large living space.
“It felt like a really nice, friendly space,” she said. “Everyone gathers in the kitchen anyway.”
Many developers are also allowing buyers to choose the number of bedrooms they’d like, providing the option of a large loft space instead.
“We put the decision to have more bedrooms in the hands of the buyer,” Gallivan said. “For people who have two children, the fourth bedroom is sometimes nice to have, but it can also become a collection of ironing boards and junk.”
Mike Brown and his partner recently moved into a townhouse in the Chancellor’s Row development, near the Brookland Metro station in Northeast Washington, which was built by the EYA development company. He said the customization options were part of what drew him.