When the swing toward Victorian architecture hit the Washington area's new-home market a few years ago, many builders and real estate agents shunned those dwellings as part of a short-term trend.
But in today's marketplace, Victorian-style detached homes and town houses are selling well in almost every price range, giving builders an additional product to appeal to buyers not attracted by their other offerings.
Smaller builders are constructing many of the homes, which often replicate the details and colors of the old Victorian homes that dominate San Francisco and Cape May, N.J. And many Victorian features are being blended into the two-story colonials that remain the most popular basic model in developments of single-family homes. Victorian elements also are becoming part of some of the most popular and best-selling town-house developments in the region.
For example, town houses "with a Victorian flair" are especially good sellers in town-house section of the Little Rocky Run development near Centreville, according to Dave Hunter, developer of Little Rocky Run. Scarborough Corp. is the developer there.
Hunter said the units have Victorian-style porches and other touches that attract buyers to detached Victorian homes.
Developers George R. DePalma and Bill Taylor started Taylor-DePalma Homes, a Vienna-based building firm, two years ago. They build only Victorians. Taylor and DePalma researched Victorian homes to make sure their detailing is authentic. Their bright and bold color combinations may shock those who are not accustomed to them, Taylor and DePalma admit, but they say the colors are authentic.
"We don't have ambivalent customers. They either love the houses or they hate them. There's no middle ground," DePalma said.
The two men said what they do is as much fun as it is work. Both had worked for other builders before starting their own company.
"I had been a carpentry contractor for about 10 years. I had been building square-box colonials for 10 years," Taylor said. "It is exciting to be creative," Taylor said. "The louder the colors are , the more I like them. But I try to keep them authentic."
Taylor and DePalma often combine pinks, lavenders, blues and yellows on the exterior of a single house. They have just built one like that for a joint-venture-development partner in a project in Falls Church for Marge and Richard Boehlert. The Boehlerts have combined the Victorian exterior and stained glass with special space for a large built-in hot tub and exercise room with private office facilities.
The builders also often use bright oranges, deep blues and raspberry colors to create what DePalma calls "depth perception" to intensify the visual effect of the design of the house and the intricate gingerbread which adorns their Victorians.
Gary Garczynski, head of Signature Communities and president of the Northern Virginia Builders Association, agreed that Victorian-style houses have "their niche" in today's market. But he said "their acceptance has probably narrowed" in recent months.
He said many of the popular features of the Victorian houses "have been homogenized" by builders into other designs. According to Garczynski, the "front porch look" that is popular today in every price range may reflect the influences of Victorian houses.
"Some people would love to buy one, but are afraid to," a Maryland agent said. "I'm not sure if they're worried about what their friends might say or about the resale possibilities."
DePalma said that people "want to make a statement" about themselves when they buy the brightly colored houses he and Taylor design .
Industry sources said buyers in general are seeking larger entrance halls, bigger and brighter windows, ceiling fans, wider staircases, extra rooms that can be used for parlors or offices, cathedral ceilings, fireplaces, recessed lighting and porches or decks in the homes they buy.
Marie Dunn, marketing services manager for Ryan Homes in Virginia, said "light and the image of open space" are extremely important.
Buyers now demand homes that admit more natural light to cut utility bills for lighting and heating. Larger entrance halls and foyers provide more private and formal feelings, agents said. That can be especially important in a town house or a single-family house in the Washington area, where many buyers entertain expensively, agents said.
Ceiling fans update the look of existing and new homes at modest prices while providing more cost-efficient heating and cooling, builders said.
Stained-glass windows, old or new, are popular with buyers. Some buyers ask builders to install old stained-glass or leaded-glass windows that they have purchased, according to one Montgomery County builder.
Builders and agents said that developers and buyers are paying more attention to window styles in town houses and detached homes.
Sally Swanson, a McLean-area agent, said many people in Northern Virginia are expanding kitchens and bathrooms and incorporating skylights in their renovations to make sure their homes could compete if they had to sell them in Washington's fast-moving market.
"Skylights are an expected amenity," she said.
Swanson said fireplaces are strong points in the resale market. She recently sold a contemporary home overlooking three wooded acres in McLean. The major strong points of the house were its big windows, decks and floor-to-ceiling fireplace. "The house had an open flow, open floor spaces and a feeling of large expanses of space," she said.
Wayne Van Ostrand, head of Ryan Homes sales in Prince George's County, said buyers there are looking for "traditional but updated floor planning" offering the same feeling of open space that agents around the Beltway say their clients are seeking.
The combination of light, skylights and cathedral ceilings are all a part of the lure to new homes in the Kinsman Farm development off the Beltway near Route 29 in Maryland, according to a spokesperson for the developer, Stanley Martin Cos. Inc.
Garages are at top of the list of features sought by many town-house purchasers, agents said. However, developer Hunter said town houses with garages are hard to find under $140,000 in Fairfax.
Buyers can find town houses with garages in the Potomac Ridge development near Gaithersburg for under $100,000. Agent Sandy Books said garages are an important feature, but stressed that the project's size -- small compared with many town house developments -- can be a major factor in selling town houses in the Washington area. "There are only 69 units, and the project sits in the middle of our single-family units development," she said.