Builders are busy again now that the housing market is rebounding. More importantly, buyers are buying. Sitting on the sidelines for years didn't stop future homeowners from dreaming big, with a long list of bells and whistles on their wish lists.
Now that buyers are spending money, they want what they want. Items that were once rare expensive add-ons are now becoming more commonplace.
And when buyers demand it, builders deliver it, often as part of the base price of a new home.
Now, with the touch of a button, you can dim the lights and close the blinds as a movie screen lowers from above.
Or if you're out of town, a high-tech security system lets you log onto a computer and view the inside and outside of your house from many angles.
Som condominiums are including concierge and maid services. On top of that, the penthouses have private pools and guests of the owners can stay in their own units for the duration of their visits.
"It's part of the mentality now," said Truly Burton, executive vice president of the Hollywood-based Florida Atlantic Building Association, a trade group for local builders. "People have begun to expect that in their homes."
First-time buyers and young professionals aren't likely to find these amenities when shopping for new homes priced at $300,000 or less. But the extras are becoming more common for move-up buyers looking for properties below $1 million.
That wouldn't have been the case before the bust.
"Higher-end homebuyers have been the ones who have seen the biggest rebound and improvement in their overall financial situations," said Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com in North Palm Beach. "They're not only able, but willing, to make these luxury purchases."
Home construction was largely dormant during the six-year housing bust as prices cratered, buyers walked away from contracts and the backlog of unsold homes swelled.
Builders sought bankruptcy relief or went out of business entirely. But now the survivors are trying to out-do one another in an effort to capture buyers willing to pay for luxury and convenience, said Ken H. Johnson, an economist and real estate professor at Florida International University.
"They're upping the ante to remain competitive with other builders," Johnson said. "The reason they're doing this is so they can say, 'My product is better than the other builders — choose me.'"
Ronen Gabbay and his family moved in February to The Bridges, an upscale development being built by Sunrise-based GL Homes near Delray Beach. Prices there range from $600,000 to $1.6 million.
Gabbay, 46, has a home automation system that lets him control lights and temperature remotely. He can even activate his pool pump from an app on his smartphone.
A decade ago, an owner would have to shell out thousands of dollars to have a home automation system installed, Gabbay said. Now that cost is included in the price of many homes.
But Gabbay said one of the best parts of his house has nothing to do with technology. It's a so-called summer kitchen, with a gas grill and sink built into the patio – another feature that builders have started offering in recent years.
Gabbay, a New York native, figured it'd be foolish to move to Florida and not take advantage of the backyard on a year-round basis.
"We love it," he said. "If you're not enjoying the outside more, you could be living anywhere."
It used to be that his-and-her sinks and Roman tubs were upgrades, but now those items come standard in many South Florida homes. Even secondary bathrooms feature dual sinks.
Lennar Corp. and other builders also are offering homes with separate living quarters to accommodate families with parents or adult children living with them. These "multigenerational" properties have a private entry, kitchenette, bedroom and bathroom.
Not only are buyers insisting on more amenities, they're also taking active roles in designing the homes, said Jim Carr, principal of CC Devco, the builder of the Monterra development in Cooper City.
"What we're seeing is that customers want more choices," he said. "They want to customize their homes far more now than they did in the past."
Condo developers also are taking luxuries to a new level.
J. Milton & Associates plans to break ground next year on Parque Towers at St. Tropez, a 300-unit condo in Sunny Isles Beach, just over the Broward County line in Miami-Dade County. It will offer perks more commonly seen in top-end hotels.
A concierge can drop off and pick up dry cleaning for residents or help them make reservations in the on-site restaurant. Residents can escort guests to their own living quarters, while owners of penthouses will swim in their own individual pools.
Parque Towers also will have a town center with a mix of boutiques, shops and bistros. Gil said he already has more than a third of the units under contract. Prices range from $750,000 to $1.5 million.
"Something like this makes people fall in love with the project, big-time," developer Yosi Gil said. "It's worth it."
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