For some homebuyers, neighborhood amenities are just as important as a fireplace in the family room or the number of bathrooms upstairs. But other buyers might regard such community facilities as clubhouses and swimming pools as luxuries they’re willing to forgo in order to get a better price.
Some things to consider about the bigger picture and what to ask of a builder’s sales representative when shopping for a new home:
What’s Available — And When?
Obviously, such amenities as jogging trails, party rooms, children’s playgrounds, etc., might not be ready for viewing or for use if it’s early in the development of the community, but a builder’s sales kit usually will provide an itemized list of what’s on the agenda. The salesperson also ought to be able to explain where along the builder’s timeline these facilities will be ready — in a big community, it might take as long as a couple of years, which is important to know if you’re itching to swim a few laps in the pool.
What’s Hot, What’s Not
Real estate agents who are experienced in new home sales say that, generally, homebuilders are less likely to be constructing the mega developments of 1,000-plus homes (and the amenities that routinely went along with them) that were seen a decade ago.
That’s partly because of land shortages and also economic concerns — particularly for golf-course communities in which the residents are members of the adjoining course, at least in Florida, according to Nancy Cardone, a business development consultant for Lang Realty in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
“The entry fee (for such a golf community) could be hurting potential buyers, especially if they could afford the home but not the monthly cost — a lot of people could afford a $300,000 home, but not a $500-a-month club fee,” she said.
So, even if the big golf clubs may be on the wane, many developments are still including community features that encourage socializing, as well as other good-for-you amenities. “The social aspect of a clubhouse is still important in dealing with a large community,” Cardone said. “People want to get together with friends without always hosting at their homes.”
She said that’s particularly true at developments that are marketed to older buyers, where trails and fitness facilities are not unusual. “They aren’t golfers necessarily any more, but they’re runners and cyclists,” she said. “Fitness is important to them, as is a pool for relaxation.”
And in age 55-and-up developments, the activities list may be even more elaborate. “They may have banquet rooms, places to play cards, host book clubs and play games,” said Alex Moore, a broker with Blackstone Realty Group in El Dorado Hills, California. “Another huge amenity for this age group is cooking demonstrations.”
Initially, the builder or developer may be managing the facilities or paying a management company; at some designated point in the community’s development, the responsibility is likely to shift to a homeowners association.
That hand-off process should be made clear in writing, the agents said. And if the homeowners association already is in charge, potential homebuyers should be able to get a clear look at the likely costs. “In California, at least, the economics of the association, their bylaws, covenants that run with the land — they’re part of the title and any prospective buyer should be given all that material,” Moore said.
Many experienced real estate agents also develop familiarity with local management companies, and may be able to weigh in on which ones have the best reputations, Cardone said — so again, it pays to ask.
What You Don’t See
And, even if you’re utterly cost-conscious, the amenities list won’t necessarily be totally blank, the agents said. “In some smaller communities, every square foot is so important that you’re not going to find things like jogging paths, but you might have a pool with a small clubhouse that’s only big enough to accommodate restrooms,” Cardone said.
Keep in mind that some amenities won’t be found inside the new-home community, but right next door. Some residential developments are planned eventually to have retail stores and other services, such as dry cleaners or independent day-care centers, on adjoining land that’s not officially related to the residential development — another case where buyers should ask how far they’d have to go for day-to-day conveniences. Some planned communities also eventually will include schools and taxpayer-supported recreation facilities, so again, inquire about a timetable.
Freelance writer Mary Umberger has covered real estate and home-related products for publications such as The Chicago Tribune, Inman News and other leading print and online publications.