Pretend someone invented a camera that could take a picture of your life. If you took a picture of your life for 5 years in a row, do you think the images would change a little? Not at all? A whole lot?
I think we all know the answer.
Our lives change rapidly and constantly. Children getting older. Parents getting older. Spouses getting older (notice a theme?) as well as job changes, losses, promotions, transfers all contribute to a change in the housing needs.
Sometime around 2000, the home builders began to notice a trend, especially here in Richmond, of people finishing the 3rd floor of their home into a playroom or another bedroom. The walk-up attic space that was filled with junk and boxes not often used was cleared out and some poor guy (many times the owner) had to drag drywall up 3 flights of stairs. After the many cubic volumes of drywall dust settled, the house now possessed a new playroom (+/- 400 SF) that was accessed through the 3rd bedroom closet and operated at a 15 degree difference than the rest of the house….but it was finished! Once the obligatory window unit was installed, it was usable most of the year.
Perfect.Builders began to take note of the trend and modified floor plans to offer walk up attics from the hallway (not the back of the closet) and would specify HVAC units to handle additional finished space (sort of). Many times, the buyer could have drywall placed in the attic for finishing at a later date. It has almost become standard practice.
In effect, the market called for a home with flexibility to handle the growing needs of the family. The builders answered.
Yet while we have accomplished building flexibility into the housing stock, what we have failed to do is build flexibility into the neighborhoods (with a few notable exceptions).
Many suburban new home neighborhoods are simply a collection of lots designed to accommodate similarly designed, sized and priced homes. This is unfortunate, because while the homes may offer some form of flexibility (see above), the neighborhoods do not.
One of the best examples in Richmond of a neighborhood that allows this is Wyndham, located in northwestern Henrico County along the 295 corridor.
Wyndham was a relatively new concept to Richmond in that it was one of the first subdivisions to really offer housing at all price and style points. From entry level apartments to true starter homes to million dollar homes on the lake (and all points in between), Wyndham could offer a family the opportunity to put down roots in an area, establish a network of friends for themselves and their children and be able to stay, regardless of how their lives evolved.
Most times, when a family outgrows a home, it requires a change in neighborhood or area. The buyers are lucky if they don’t have to change schools, but are almost assured of changing neighborhoods. Wyndham offered the option of moving 3 to 4 times within Wyndham and never being more than a short bike ride from where they last lived, making the trauma of moving almost non-existent. “Hey family, we get a new and bigger house but you get to keep the same friends and teachers.” That is a powerful message.
I hope that the trend continues. Life changes and making it easy to accommodate those changes is something that the market will always value.