Here's how to make a house a home.
It’s not the most economical way of doing it, but people building a home in the Milwaukee area are increasingly paying the extra dollars it costs for the customization required to create a true dream home.
“We are getting move-up buyers who have the means to be a little more specific on what they want in the house, and where they want to be,” says Jim Doering, the outgoing president of the Metropolitan Builders Association (MBA), director of development and acquisitions for local land developer Zilber and general manager of the Wisconsin region at Homes by Towne.
These homebuyers want to make their homes special, says Shelly Basso, the MBA president for 2020 and president of Aspen Homes in Pewaukee. For example, she says, “White is still in style for kitchens, but they are choosing warm wood accents to soften it up and give their homes uniqueness, their own touch.”
She points out that decorative wallpaper, brightly colored cabinets and ornate light fixtures are all fun, customizable home additions that generate interest. There are other points of customization as well, such as laundry centers, which she says are now often more colorful, “something cheerful and happy.”
The latest figures from MTD Marketing Services of Wisconsin bear out these trends. For the first 11 months of 2019, the average value of homes with new building permits in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties was $399,300, up 4.6% from the same period of 2018. Those homes’ average square footage increased 3.6% to 2,994, and the number of building permits decreased by about 10% to 1,243.
By comparison, for the first nine months of the year, the average cost of existing homes sold in the area was $297,715, up 4.3% over the same period in 2018, according to the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors.
Tom Langan has designed and sold more than 450 Wisconsin homes for Badger Home Builders of Waukesha – more houses in Wisconsin than Frank Lloyd Wright designed. He says his customers now do lots of research before contracting to build a house. They do not want a standardized light or flooring package. “They want everything custom-made.”
“If you would’ve told me 10 years ago that people would be looking at my designs on YouTube, I would’ve thought that you’re crazy,” he says, of his YouTube videos showing off his houses.
Another aspect of the homebuilding market is teardowns: when a buyer finds an older house on an appropriately sized lot in a desirable area and removes the house to build a more modern one.
In Elm Grove, for example, the village has issued 20 single-family residential demolition permits since 2015, says Thomas Harrigan, the village zoning and planning administrator. Over the same period in Whitefish Bay, 17 homes have been excavated and 19 new houses built on these cleared lots, says Joel Oestreich, one of the village’s two building inspectors.
Many of the Elm Grove teardowns occurred in the northeastern section of the village.
“Elm Grove is a desirable community with first-rate school districts and is close to major businesses for the residents to shop and work,” Harrigan says. “The village has a rural-urban feel to it, a sense of place.”
People often spend from $275,000 to $300,000 to buy an older house and the land, he adds. Most of the new houses are being built close to the maximum allowable size.
“We joke about the new setup,” Harrigan says. “They’re pushing the envelope on how big they can build.”
Why go through the cost of that? There are currently fewer than five vacant lots in Elm Grove, Harrigan says.
The Whitefish Bay teardowns were done for families who liked the neighborhood but wanted larger, more modern homes, “having amenities for the 21st century, rather than 1940,” Oestreich says. “They don’t want a house with 7-foot-high ceilings.”
He knows of only two vacant lots in the village, owned by adjacent homeowners, and the lots are not for sale.
New apartments are another important aspect of the homebuilding scene. Possibly the most noteworthy new complex, owned by Northwestern Mutual, is 7SEVENTY7, a 35-story apartment high rise at 777 N. Van Buren St. that was completed in 2018.
The building has 310 apartment homes, including studio convertibles through three-bedroom penthouses that rent for $1,600 to $8,200 a month, says Lauren Schramka, the property manager. As of early December, 96.5% of the units were occupied.
Among the complex’s many amenities are a game lounge with a golf simulator, shuffleboard and billiards, along with an outdoor heated saltwater pool and a 24-hour fitness center and studio. The complex also has a dog run and pet spa. The newest amenity within the complex is the Urban Market grocery store.
An apartment complex competitor, Stewart Wangard, chairman of Wangard Properties, says Northwestern Mutual “has set the bar for us all. They have supplied a new higher-end product that no one else has addressed.”
Wangard Properties has built three Downtown apartment complexes and is getting ready to start constructing two other complexes, also Downtown, for Weidner Apartment Homes.
One more homebuilding element, home entertainment devices, is helping to make households sanctuaries. Samsung’s Frame TV displays artwork or pictures when the set is not on so the TV blends into the room decor, says Dan Steybe, a sales and merchandise manager for Flanner’s Home Entertainment. And all the new big-screen TVs have wireless streaming capability from favorite content providers, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.
People also can hook up legacy audio components, such as phonographs, cassette decks and CD players, to play through the Sonos speakers in a house, so the music of their youth can be relived in their new home.
Basso, the new MBA president, has some parting advice for people putting together a plan for their new home: “Don’t worry about resale. Build to enjoy your house!”
Homebuilding, Landscaping and Home Entertainment Trends
AN UPTICK IN ranch-style homes is occurring with empty nesters wanting single-floor living, and younger families desiring lower levels that can be expanded later. New houses also have softly colored kitchens, cream colored cabinets and light tiles. Colorful laundry centers also are popular.
– Shelly Basso, Aspen Homes, Pewaukee
PEOPLE OVER 50 are building somewhat smaller second homes, but still require big kitchens, master suites with lots of closet space and sizable garages. These houses often will include a guest bedroom and an extra room for an office den or for a bedroom if grandchildren visit.
– Tom Langan, Badger Home Builders, Waukesha
NATURAL MATERIALS, such as clay pavers and flagstone, increasingly are being employed in landscape remodeling. The materials reflect and complement a home’s exterior. Pavilion-like structures provide shelter from weather, and gas fire pits enable longer use into cool evenings. Smaller front yard patios are being built in Wauwatosa, Bay View and Whitefish Bay.
– David Guthery, LandCrafters, Wauwatosa
WIRELESS AUDIO HAS grown spectacularly. Sonos provides speaker choices for home theater surround sound and speakers for music from any room in the house. People want comfortable and supportive power recliners to watch movies and TV at home. Big screen TVs keep getting bigger and smarter and offering higher resolution.
– Dan Steybe, Flanner’s Home Entertainment, Grafton and West Allis