Mobile apps, dining options among selling points at new developments: panel

Yet few home buyers are willing to pay extra for green design features

May.May 18, 2015 01:30 PM

Development-specific mobile phone apps, convenient dining options and central urban locations are increasingly common features of new residential community developments, according to a panel of Florida home builders.

Many buyers in Florida community developments “go crazy for apps that make their lives easier,” said Teresa Baluja, director of property management in the Southeast Florida division of Lennar Homes. The panelists said residents of newer Florida residential communities are using mobile apps to remotely control lighting, alarms and air conditioning in their homes. Baluja cited a mobile app that provides visitors to Lennar gated communities with a temporary bar code for entry, precluding a long wait at a guarded gate.

Baluja spoke Friday afternoon as part of a panel that explored home building trends, during the 2015 Florida Communities of Excellence conference and awards ceremony in Weston. Echoing other home builders on the panel, she said more home buyers want locations that minimize or eliminate their need for a car, where “things are accessible within walking distance.”

“One of the trends we’re seeing is a lot of people moving to the urban areas … It has accelerated,” said Harvey Hernandez, chairman and managing director of Miami-based Newgard Development Group. “If you don’t have a car, it’s okay, you can use Uber.”

People in their late 50s and early 60s “don’t want to feel old,” Hernandez said, so, along with a younger cohort of Floridians, “they’re moving to the urban core” in close proximity to banks, restaurants and medical clinics. “These people don’t want to drive.”

Hernandez also said older home buyers increasingly want dining options within their residential communities: “Food and beverage is a big selling point for us,” including programs under which hotel operators provide the food service at branded residential communities, he said.

Ronald L. Yuter, senior vice president of Boynton Beach-based Ansca Homes, said his company is responding to the same demand for dining options by offering breakfast and lunch services in age-restricted communities. In the 55-and-over market, Yuter said, “the No. 1 request by far is,  how are you going to feed me?”

Yuter and other panelists said that as members of the baby boom generation approach retirement age, they are occupying smaller, more lavish homes. “We’re seeing a huge drop in square footage,” he said. At the same time, baby boomers “are spending an inordinate amount of money on [interior] upgrades and options.”

Chris Hasty, director of land for PulteGroup, in Fort Myers, said his company has begun offering food service at non-golf residential communities, not just communities with golf courses, which was the company’s past practice at age-restricted developments.

Hasty also said clubhouse designs dominated by a large ballroom are giving way to designs with “a variety of spaces,” including fitness facilities and rooms for dinner parties with a dozen or so guests, for example.

New forms of resident interaction are unfolding along with new space designs. Hasty cited a Sun City, Texas, community where the computer club is the largest of many clubs for like-minded residents. “So they can reach out to someone when they don’t know how to do something on their phone,” he said.

Yuter, the senior vice president of Ansca Homes, said “social media clubs” have emerged to serve similar needs of residents at some of Ansca’s community developments.

Yuter and other home builders agreed “green” structural features that conserve energy, water and other resources will become more ubiquitous in the future as building codes evolve.

But few home buyers are now willing to pay extra for green design features. “It’s one in 5,000,” said Jennifer Langnell of Fort Myers-based Trifecta Construction Solutions, a provider of conservation-based building designs that promote sustainable development.

“Green building is great but the reality is, the consumer won’t pay for it,” Yuter said.

“I’d have to echo that,” said Baluja of Lennar Homes.

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