By Carol Morgan, Founder & President, Denim Marketing
Today’s homebuyers want more outdoor living, including walkability, greenspace, connectivity to nature and amenities. St. Bourke, Atlanta-based asset management and property development company, started thinking about placemaking and amenities differently after the pandemic.
“COVID brought social isolation to the forefront and providing places that connect people versus forcing them apart to feel isolated and disconnected has become an essential design and land development trend,” St. Bourke President Ben Simpson said. “With a distinct focus on placemaking, St. Bourke creates places where people want to live in and interact with, places that truly feel like home.”
What Buyers Want
Design and development teams now consider amenities a necessity instead of a luxury feature when envisioning a new community. Building several unvarying homes with a pool and clubhouse combination and calling it a day is no longer acceptable in today’s competitive real estate.
What surrounds the community is almost as important as the community’s features. Community amenities often extend beyond the neighborhood as developers explore what is already available and seek creative ways to connect nearby parks and amenities, such as adding a walking trail to a local park. Developers often partner with a local municipal park to create some of the best amenities. St. Bourke is currently working with the renowned Little Mulberry Park to incorporate and expand the park’s walking, biking and equestrian trails throughout the community, making the park an extension of the neighborhood.
In contrast to pre-COVID times, the St. Bourke team devotes significant time to designing and developing community amenities. In the past, communities featured the bare minimum related to amenity packages. With buyers paying extremely high prices in an increasingly high-interest rate environment, they expect more than just a house to live in within their new community. Amenities change depending on factors like the type and size of the community, but typical amenities today include a variety of:
- Walking trails – paved or natural
- Pocket parks with places to sit
- Outdoor communal areas
- Children’s playgrounds
- Swimming pools and splash pads
- Community clubhouses
- Outdoor fitness centers
- Sports lawns and courts (soccer, tennis, pickleball)
“The traditional pool and clubhouse with four tennis courts is no longer the standard amenity package,” Simpson stated. “Instead, we are incorporating pickleball courts, splash pads, event lawns, outdoor gathering areas, flexible sports fields, and communal spaces.”
Developing interactive and high-quality amenity packages is most important to build-to-rent communities where management companies market the community and homes to current and potential tenants. Many build-to-rent communities have broader amenity packages than for-sale communities in most cases. In contrast, most active adult communities focus mainly on social events and activities centered around a clubhouse and a pool.
Many people started making more health-conscious decisions within their living space after the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Infection risks increased demand for privacy and the lockdown period showcased the importance of functional outdoor living areas for physical well-being and entertainment. These spaces include:
- Private backyards, patios, decks and courtyards
- Playgrounds and parks
- Outdoor fitness centers
- Walking and biking trails
When designing and developing a community, developers should consider all the impacts caused by the pandemic – Are the lots large enough for a private backyard? If another lockdown arises, are there enough outdoor amenities for residents to stay physically fit and entertained?
“Our club Cresswind facilities across the Southeast emphasizes pickleball and creating multifunctional indoor and outdoor spaces,” said Jennifer Landers, community director of Kolter Homes. Often referred to as cruise ships on land because of the focus on social activities, Cresswind communities are designed so residents can live, work remotely if needed and play without feeling like they are missing out on essential elements.
Cresswind Georgia at Twin Lakes in Hoschton, Ga. recently opened its community garden. Residents of this new active adult metro Atlanta-area community are now enjoying the new community garden, dog park and new walking trails.
“It is so exciting to see the amenities coming together for the homeowners at Cresswind Georgia,” Landers said. “Everyone is thrilled to experience each element of the full Cresswind lifestyle.”
The community garden serves as a collaborative project that encourages social health for residents, while the community dog park offers a space for man’s best friend to run and play off leash. In addition, residents can explore the community’s serene, nature-inspired backdrop along the community walking trails.
There are currently 45 garden boxes in place for the community garden with a homeowner attached to each through a lottery process. The homeowners pay an annual fee to maintain their own box and grow whatever vegetables and herbs they choose. According to Landers, another 45 garden boxes are set to be installed to bring the total number of boxes to 90.
With these garden boxes comes a Garden Club to the community. An orientation will be offered to each homeowner with a garden box to explain the irrigation process and proper use and care of shared gardening tools.
Two additional walking trails are now open. The first is located between the new community garden and dog park, meandering to the lake, while the second is a continuation of an initial trail near the community’s wooden bridge on Twin Lakes Boulevard leading down to the lake.
Residents enjoy a wide variety of events, including a monthly Bunco game, a Mud Mask workshop with Green Girl Basics and beginner’s knitting class. In addition to the Garden Club, community clubs so far at Cresswind Georgia at Twin Lakes include a Men’s Club, Welcome Committee, Travel Club, Veterans Club and Pickleball Club, which hosts pickleball tournaments roughly every other month.
On top of demanding more from the design element of the communities, prospective home buyers also demand more from the homes themselves. With more people working and educating at home comes an increase in the homebuyer demand for flexible spaces for home offices, children’s playrooms, extra bedrooms and even storage. Buyers are also requesting updated air filtration systems for the residents’ health, fast cable and internet connections for the remote workers, incorporating smart home features and high-efficiency appliances to help offset growing mortgage costs.