OCT 11, 2011

What Will $200,000 Buy?

Take the new home you eyed five years ago but could not afford because your budget didn't allow you to go over $300,000. Add stone countertops, taller ceilings and other goodies. Welcome to your new home. And you still haven't spent more than 300 grand.

The housing downturn forced builders to rethink home designs and price points to compete with foreclosures and resale properties. The average new-home price in the Midwest is $232,800, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

The low-hanging fruit of the housing market, homes in the $200,000s have square footage, amenities and finishes that would have hiked them past the $300,000 mark a few years ago. They are sized for today's buyer, who wants some luxuries but doesn't want the utility bills and real estate taxes that come with extra-large homes.

"I got a lot for my money," said Eydie Glassman, who bought a $270,000 Lexington Homes town house in July after decades of renting. "The interest rate is low, and I get the tax breaks of owning instead of renting."

Renting worked while Glassman was in the Air Force and in sales because she moved often, she said. But after she became an attorney and knew her job would stay put, it was time to overcome her "fear of a 30-year mortgage commitment," she said.

The price of Glassman's town house at Lexington Park in Des Plaines included such upgrades as hardwood flooring, ceramic tiles in the bathrooms and a fireplace. The builder paid the closing costs. The 1,605 square feet is plenty of room for Glassman and her dogs, she said.

"Now I'm encouraging co-workers to buy," she said.

A few Metra stops to the north in Palatine is R. Franczak & Associates' development, The Heritage of Palatine. The remaining two-bedroom, two-bath condos start in the mid-$200,000s. Prices include hardwood flooring, granite countertops, balconies and heated indoor parking. For $279,900, you can buy the 1,518-square-foot penthouse, which includes black-cherry flooring and French doors.

City dwellers can buy a one-bedroom loft at Van Buren Lofts in Chicago for $239,900. The historic building, once home to a paper mill, includes a fitness center and common roof deck.

In Plainfield, attached ranch homes at the Villas at Fox Run by Epcon Communities include six inventory homes ranging from $169,990 to $249,990. The development includes attached and stand-alone homes, with exterior maintenance covered. They share a clubhouse and swimming pool.

For buyers 55 and older, eight condos are for sale at Belle Plaine Commons in Chicago. Add a garage space and you are still under $200,000 for a one-bedroom unit, or slightly more for units with dens. Amenities include 9-foot ceilings, appliances and tiled bathrooms.

M/I Homes has developments in Aurora, Carol Stream, Hanover Park, Naperville, St. Charles, Streamwood and Winfield. Prices range from the mid-$100,000s to low $200,000s.

The town homes typically include two or three bedrooms, 21/2 baths, ceramic tile in the master baths, finished lower levels per plan, 9-foot first-floor ceilings, kitchen islands and two-car garages.

The homes feature a 5-star-plus Energy Star rating for high energy efficiency. Popular options include additional bedrooms and baths per plan, volume ceilings, fireplaces, hardwood flooring, gourmet kitchens with 42-inch cabinets and crown molding in a variety of woods and colors, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and deluxe spa bathrooms.


Additional space

Like many homeowners ready to move up from a multifamily unit to a larger single-family house, Sarah and Brendon Coari could not sell their town house. The solution: They bought a house from William Ryan Homes, which partners with a property manager that arranged for their town house to become a rental.

"If the market improves, and we can sell it for the price we want, we'll sell," said Sarah. "In the meantime, the rent covers the mortgage and real estate taxes, and it helps with our income taxes."

The Coaris' new house at Rockwell Place in Lakemoor gives them the 2,200 square feet, plus basement, they wanted.

"Now we have four bedrooms, so we can keep this house after we have a family," said Sarah. Their new backyard suits their dogs, she said.

For $215,000, the Coaris got standard features such as 9-foot ceilings and granite bathroom counters, plus upgrades such as a kitchen island, surround sound in the family room and a concrete driveway.

At William Ryan Homes' Lakewood Prairie community in Joliet, houses start at $170,990 and include amenities such as sodded yards and brick fronts.

Other single-family developments in the $200,000s include J. Lawrence's family-friendly subdivisions in Channahon, Joliet, Lynwood, Minooka, North Aurora and Wadsworth. For less than $300,000, you can get as much as 3,000 square feet (depending on location) and extras such as sunrooms and lofts.

In Romeoville, Beechen & Dill Homes offers single-family houses with up to five bedrooms and 3,000 square feet for under $300,000. The two-story and ranch models are attracting a mix of buyers, said the builder, including young families and singles. Like the Coaris, many are renting out their previous homes instead of selling them.

In Lockport, Hartz Homes is building the 55-plus Lago Vista community, which includes single-family houses and town houses that start at $199,900. The largest is the 2,100-square-foot, detached Del Ray. The development has a clubhouse and swimming pool.

For the homebuilder, this is the time to do what is needed to stay in the game. For the buyer who can save up for a down payment and pass muster with a lender, red carpets await.

"They met my expectations with communication on this process."

- Syed Q.