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Yuppies, empty-nesters flock to townhouses

“We wanted our freedom back,” says Diane Cort. “We spent too much time on the lawn and maintaining the outside of the house.”
The solution?
The Corts, like more and more Monroe County professionals, invested in a townhouse. Townhouses offer the same benefits and luxuries as owning a single-family home without the added commitment of maintenance. Despite reduced privacy and minimal control over one’s surroundings, townhouse sales have been strong.
“Townhouses can have huge living rooms, formal dining rooms, dens, master suites, two-car garages, multiple bathrooms and kitchens with eating areas,” says Allen Shankman, associate broker for Mark IV Construction Co. Inc., the leader in townhouse construction in Monroe County. A monthly fee to a home-owners’ association takes care of maintenance and upkeep.
“Many monthly fees include snow removal, lawn care, exterior maintenance and roof maintenance,” notes John Walsh, associate Realtor for Re/Max Portfolio of Properties Inc. “This is the appeal to buyers.”
“The market for townhouses began in the 1970s in a significant way,” explains Jerry Charipar, planner for the Monroe County Department of Planning and Development. “This kind of housing was popular and just being introduced to this area of the country.”
But what began as a trend has become a long-term change of lifestyle for many people. “I think it primarily is a question of choice with what people want to do with their money and discretionary time. A home takes up a lot of discretionary time that could be spent traveling or on other recreations,” Charipar notes.
Shankman agrees there has been an upsurge, and points to one segment in particular: the baby boomers.
“There is an aging market, a whole generation ready for townhouses,” he says.
“The baby boomers are starting to reach 50. There will be a huge number of townhouse buyers within 10 (to) 15 years of that age group,” Shankman adds.
According to a number of local real estate firms, the people many agents are dealing with in townhouse sales are those who have had a home and now want a low-maintenance lifestyle.
“It’s long term; there’s no question about that,” says Shankman.
And baby boomers are not the only ones taking advantage of the freedoms that come with owning a townhouse. Young professionals have been a target market for real estate agents as well–young professionals who do not have the time to spend on a house and like the appeal of low maintenance.
“Ultimately it’s worry-free,” Cort says. “It’s safer because it offers security, (and) there is a residential environment with tennis courts and a park.”
She and her husband recently traded in their Rochester home for a comparably priced townhouse in Penfield.
“There was increasing crime in our area, and the investment value was decreasing. It was also getting harder to turn over the property,” Cort says.
Shankman notes that those who choose to build townhouses are going for higher-priced units with more luxuries.
“As we see with construction of new homes, we are seeing many people building (town)homes for a reasonable price with today’s interest rates,” adds Rick Herman, executive vice president of the Rochester Home Builders Association. “We are also seeing older America downsizing into smaller homes or townhouses.”
Townhouses are being built in a wide range of styles and prices. Mark IV Construction, for instance, builds everything from ranch-style townhouses to colonial models.
Agents say resale townhouses or rental properties that have been converted into townhouses can go from $40,000 to $50,000, while other models can be had for less than $100,000 or upward of $500,000.
Shankman says higher-end townhouses prevail. “Ten years ago it was 50/50, but today it’s 80 percent luxury and 20 percent less-expensive townhouses being built.”
Many of the luxury townhouses are in the eastern suburbs of Henrietta, Penfield, Perinton and Webster. Greece and Chili are popular westside locations.
However, Shankman says, “it’s difficult to find (available) land in the suburbs we want to build in.”
“The market is oversaturated as far as available units,” agrees George Criticos, a real estate agent at Nothnagle Realtors.
The number of townhouse units being built in Monroe County has declined since 1970, though observers say it once again is on the rise. The Monroe County Department of Planning and Development issued 4,679 permits from 1970 to 1979, 3,858 permits from 1980 to 1989 and 1,191 permits from 1990 to 1994.
“The big numbers came in the late ’70s (and) early ’80s. They went down, and now they are going up (again),” Herman says.
Charipar sees this movement toward townhouses as a shift in the realization of the American dream. “People generally want safe, affordable shelter that reflects lifestyles and values, but that does not necessarily translate to the single-family home on a quarter-acre lot.”
(Laura LaBella is an intern at the Rochester Business Journal.)

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