Spec homes return to the market

Imagine hanging a holiday wreath on the front door of a newly-built home. In Atlanta’s resurgent real estate market, buyers ready to move up to something bigger or scale back to something cozier have a wealth of options from which to chose a new address before the year runs out.

The recession-fueled snail's pace of new construction created a shortage of available properties. But buyers who need a home now are out there, said Josh Hilscher, vice president of sales and marketing for Traton Homes.

“It’s often a relocation moving in to town, someone who’s just sold an existing home or even someone who’s in a stressful situation, like getting a divorce,” said Hilscher. “Whatever the reason, they can’t wait six months for a house to be finished; they need something next month. And we’ve got that in the 10 neighborhoods where we build across the northside.”

During the downturn, inventory homes - also called market or spec homes - were less common because builders found it difficult to secure construction loans on speculative housing. But as the market has improved, more companies find that having a mix of houses in various stages of completion can be a good selling tool.

“Typically, we run with about 40 percent inventory homes and 60 percent pre-sales, but in the last three months, the inventory homes are what people are looking for,” said Hilscher. “Right now, if you had the cash, we have two or three we could close tomorrow. We also have several that are nearing completion and will be done by the first of December.”

Just because they’re often purchasing in a pinch doesn’t mean buyers have to settle on some selections. Unless the house is completely finished or is the model, there’s usually time to pick paint colors, carpet and different flooring styles.

“A lot of people actually like not having to do the heavy lifting of picking everything out,” said Hilscher. “They may like the exterior of the house, the cabinets and the finishes and may just want to tweak a few things without going through the entire selection process.”

A completed spec home also helps buyers visualize precisely what the finished product looks like, instead of having to rely on floor plans.

“In a lot of cases we’ll go as far as having everything done except the flooring because it helps to sell something people can see,” said Dusty Talbert, marketing manager for Smith Douglas Homes. “But we do it with a degree of caution; we don’t want to have a lot of inventory standing around, but for buyers who want to get something quickly, it’s always good to have that option available.”

Inventory homes also appeal to buyers who like that a professional made the decor decisions. “Buying one of these homes is like having your own personal interior decorator who did the whole home for you,” said Brenda Lee, vice president of sales for The Providence Group, that has spec homes at Ruth’s Farm and Jamestown in Alpharetta and at Nesbit Reserve and East Village in Roswell. “These houses will have the most current design trends.”

And there’s a good financial reason why some buyers opt for a spec over a house from the ground up, Lee added. “You can lock into a good mortgage rate now, not in five or six months when the house is ready. Right now, rates are really good, but if you’re building, who knows what they will be in the future?”

In some cases, buyers may find incentives to select a spec home. The deals may include perks such as free appliances, upgrades at no additional charge or rebates. Builders with Kerley Family Homes, a company with specs in Gwinnett, Douglas, Henry, Cobb and south Fulton counties, are offering to pay all closing costs for houses closed by the end of the year. In addition, at Springdale Falls in Snellville, buyers can earn a $5,000 bonus for spec homes priced from the mid-$100,000s.

Among the other local builders with inventory ready to go are John Wieland Homes & Neighborhoods, with properties available at Meeting Park in Marietta, River Oaks in Fayette, Legacy in Cobb, Mill Park in Woodstock, Reunion Country Club in Hoschton and the Woodmont Golf and Country Club in Canton. Jim Chapman Communities has three final homes for sale at the adult community Brookhaven at Lanier Ridge in Cumming. Sutters Pond, a Cotton States Properties neighborhood in Kennesaw, has 11 spec homes priced from the $400,000s. Brock Built Homes has a mix of townhouses and Craftsman style cottages ready to close in Manget and Manor Park in Marietta and Oakhurst in Woodstock. Closer in, the company is finishing out specs at Vinings on the Chattahoochee and the Commons, a townhouse community near the Georgia Dome.

Housing hotspot: Avalon

One of the metro area’s most highly-touted mixed use projects recently opened at Avalon in Alpharetta. The project brings not just a selection of upscale stores and restaurants; there’s also a residential component of single- and multi-family plans priced from the high $700,000s to $1.6 million.

While the 25 single-family houses will be completed to each buyer’s specifications, many of the 76 attached, multi-family units are available now, said Dina Gundersen, director of marketing for Monte Hewett Homes, Avalon’s residential developer.

“All together, we have 18 different product lines,” said Gundersen. “We put the units on our website maybe three weeks ago, and we’re already working on several contracts.”

Among the units available are six live-work spaces with street level access. They feature exposed brick walls, open floor plans, granite or marble counters, terraces, garages and elevator options. “The flex space on the street level is perfect for a home office, with floor-to-ceiling windows,” said Gundersen. “Or it can be closed off to be a third or fourth bedroom.”

The urban terraces have two stories and 2,400 to 2,700 square feet. Grand row homes are also 2-story and come with 3-car garages, a front terrace and open floor plans. The 3,580-square-foot grand terraces are built in sets of three with private courtyards and flexible spaces above the garages. The main living areas have louvered glass doors that open to make the courtyard part of the living space.

“These are all new products for us and Alpharetta,” said Gundersen. “It’s really all about what the lifestyle at Avalon is like. The level of retail and restaurants is incredibly high, and our buyers can be part of that. And they’ll receive a variety of perks, from bike couriers and dog walkers to concierge services that can bring dinner right to your door. People have not seen anything like this before.”