September 12, 2004
The vocabulary is expanding beyond upscale and luxury to describe some of the newest among north Scottsdale’s growing number of custom-built homes.
Homebuilders and real estate agents talk about "estates" and "monster houses" as leading examples of a trend that’s seeing the area’s scenic, high-priced desert landscape increasingly sprinkled with supersized residences.
When RS Homes began building in the north East Valley during the mid-1990s, houses in the luxury market averaged about 4,000 square feet, said company president Richard Sinagoga. He estimates that many high-end custom homes being built today in north Scottsdale are almost twice that size.
The cost to build such homes starts around $1.5 million, with many at about double that price, Sinagoga said.
But that’s not the limit.
"The market for 10,000- and 15,000-square-foot homes is hotter than it’s ever been,’’ said Brent Harrington, a vice president for DMB Associates, developers of north Scottsdale’s DC Ranch master-planned community.
About 300 lots, most of them 2 acres or more, have been sold in DC Ranch’s exclusive Silverleaf development, Harrington said.
Homes being planned for those lots are averaging more than 11,000 square feet. Silverleaf is designed for at least 600 home sites and most of the dwellings likely will be similarly as large, he said.
Master-planned communities such as Silverleaf, Desert Mountain, Whisper Rock, Troon North and Mirabel are having little trouble finding buyers for 1- to 3-acre residential lots, even with per-acre prices starting in the high six figures.
For some, the lots available in such planned communities still aren’t big enough, said Ron Coleman, an executive with Arizona Land Investors, which tracks development throughout the Valley.
"There are some monster houses out there,’’ Coleman said, noting several north East Valley enclaves where "estatesized’’ homes are being built on lots of 5 acres or more.
Toll Brothers, which is developing Sierra Norte and Tre Viso, is seeing more demand than anticipated for the largest of several home models the company offers, said regional marketing director Linda Hanford.
The basic version of Toll Brother’s Mirador model is 5,100 square feet with two garages and a big courtyard. But some buyers are adding enough options and amenities, such as basements and a bathroom for each of several bedrooms, to boost their homes to as much as 8,000 square feet, Hanford said.
"It seems the bigger we can make (houses), the happier our buyers are,’’ she said.
Some say it’s the visually striking Sonoran Desert environs that are the inspiration behind their sizable investments in dream homes in north Scottsdale.
"I saw a magazine with a picture of a home where you could see this beautiful view of Pinnacle Peak in the background. I said, ‘I want to live there,’ ’’ said Guyann Russell.
She and her husband, Robert, plan to move permanently from Michigan into a 6,300-square-foot home to be built on 2 acres in the Talus development in Troon North — with a good view of Pinnacle Peak.
It also will have some of the features builders said are seen in many of the new breed of north Scottsdale custom homes.
The Russells’ home will include a guest "casita," a rooftop viewing deck, a game room, a large kitchen and dining room and patio areas for family entertainment. The view from the master bedroom’s bathroom looks out on a waterfall cascading over large boulders.
There are arrays of big windows arranged to provide panoramic views of surrounding scenery. View corridors are high on clients’ priority lists, homebuilders said.
North Scottsdale "has the best of what Arizona has to offer, these incredible vistas,’’ said Mike Veltri, who is building a large home in Desert Mountain that looks out over a broad swath of the mountainous north East Valley.
Just west of Desert Mountain, Mathew Alagna is building a 7,000-square-foot home in Carefree. The scenic vistas from Veltri’s and Alagna’s homes are important enough to them that both have purchased open lots adjoining their properties to ensure their views won’t be blocked by other developments. Homebuilders said it’s no longer unusual for luxury home clients to buy multiple lots, sometimes simply to protect views.
Veltri’s and Alagna’s homes sport some of the other popular features of new luxury homes. Those include custom swimming pools, big front porches and covered patios and courtyards adorned with waterfalls and multiple outdoor fireplaces, indooroutdoor dining and entertainment areas, fully-equipped home offices, home gyms, wine rooms and five-car garages, and media rooms with bigscreen televisions, movie screens and state-of-the-art sound systems.
Herb and Arline Cover’s home in Whisper Rock exemplifies another trend: Eclectic residential architecture. It’s a combination of Mediterranean, Tuscan, Spanish mission and American Southwest design, said Herb Cover. Homebuilders said such stylistic blends, often with ultramodern contemporary elements mixed in, are no longer the exception.
Alagna plans to move into his home in about four months, but doesn’t feel pressed to put his current north Scottsdale home in the upscale Winfield community up for sale any time soon.
"That’s because it will probably sell in about a week,’’ he said.
Real estate agents said he’s right. The luxury residential property market in north Scottsdale is booming despite big jumps in home and lot prices in the past few years.
Scottsdale’s zoning is designed to prevent urban sprawl and protect natural desert terrain in the city’s northern expanses. In many areas, only a single dwelling is allowed on 1-, 3- or 5-acre tracts.
In addition, about 20,000 acres the city intends to add to its McDowell Sonoran Preserve is at least for now offlimits to development, and the last of the other tracts big enough for master-planned communities have been scooped up by developers.
Add to the constricted supply of developable land is the impact of Loop 101, which provides much easier access to the once far reaches of the north East Valley.
"It’s like the perfect storm has formed to drive up (land and home) values,’’ said John Bullington, who has brokered sales of large tracts in north Scottsdale for development.
Real estate consultant Norm Kitzmiller estimates there are at least 250 homes on the local market priced at $1 million to $2 million and about 200 others priced at more than $2 million, including roughly 100 homes at $3 million or more, and about 20 at $5 million.
Longtime Valley builder Phil Nichols has nine home projects under way in the north East Valley, with costs averaging about $1.8 million and one house coming in at $4.5 million. A budget of less than $1 million for a lot and a home "won’t get you the house of your dreams today’’ in Scottsdale, he said.
Valley housing market analyst R. L. Brown doesn’t see the big-lot, big-house trend slowing despite the high costs.
North Scottsdale "is where the bigger houses have always been built (in the Valley) for the past 20 years, and it’s going to continue,’’ he said.
The bigger the better
The trend in north Scottsdale luxury residential properties is for bigger homes with more customized amenities. Among popular features:
• Guest houses or smaller "casitas"
• Large patio areas and courtyards with entertainment areas and outdoor fireplaces
• Media rooms (big-screen televisions, surround-sound systems, movie screens)
• Complete home personal and business offices
• Wine rooms
• Game rooms
• Rooftop viewing decks
• Boulders and waterfalls integrated into landscaping and swimming pool designs
• Gourmet kitchens with industrial-size refrigerators, ovens, stoves and outdoor grills, big sinks and food-preparation areas
• Negative-edge swimming pools
• Large front porches
• Large windows to frame surrounding scenic views
• Upgraded wiring to increase capacity for an array of home electronics and provide improved Internet access
• Homes wired throughout for stereo sound and video
• Breakfast nook off main kitchen
• "Great rooms" that combine dining and living room areas
• Large, round banquet tables
• Interior and exterior high-grade stone walls