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The Washington Scene

Affluent Buyers Spur Move-Up Market

August 17, 1986|JOHN BETZ WILLMANN | Special to The Times

WASHINGTON — They're calling it move-up madness in these parts.

The strong economy, lower mortgage rates and basic sociological patterns have convinced many area builders to produce more expensive houses for the expanding move-up market.

Marketing expert Renay Regardie contends that people in this area are finding that they can afford more house than they ever imagined. Also, more luxury features now can be part of their residential life style. No matter how you slice it, that's affluency.

Regardie insists that upwardly mobile, dual-income households are really focusing on large, elegant single-family houses on good-sized lots. "It's their dream of dreams--even more than a sailboat, a Mercedes or ownership of a vacation home at the beach," he said. "They all come later. A really elegant house is now numero uno. "

But the luxury home must be something really special to turn on today's affluent house hunters. During the 1970s, so-called luxury homes in Washington, and even the sybaritic Southland of California, were slightly enlarged versions of the homes people already had, or virtually the same house but in a fancier neighborhood.

Seek Top-Notch Quality

"That won't cut it any more," Regardie contends.

Today's buyers of new and existing houses priced at more than $250,000 are demanding top-notch quality, style, ultra kitchens, glamorous baths (with soaking space and whirlpool action). Therefore, move-up communities--especially those seeking to satisfy the couple moving up for the third time--are trying to present mini-mansions that range from $200,000 in a far-out but nice location, to half-million-dollar digs in the really posh locations.

As a professional who keeps in touch with more than 600 new communities and subdivisions in the national capital area, Regardie is aware that today's builders are putting their residential goodies under a roof that shelters 2,400 to 3,500 square feet of finished space. "Big houses are in," she added.

Tradition Top Drawer

Thomas Leidy, a sales executive whose specialty is $200,000- plus subdivision houses in status-heavy Montgomery County, Md., agrees that the "feel of classic quality" is essential to motivate buyers whose family incomes range from $75,000 to $150,000 annually. Hereabouts, traditional is top drawer, and it can be Colonial, Williamsburg, New England, country or Southern. But it's got to have classic detailing in everything from shutters to front doors.

An eagle over the garage door is regarded as tacky now, but a really classic cupola with a weather vane over the two-car garage makes a positive statement.

Inside, builders are producing ample, opulent foyers to set the tone for the main rooms that are likely to have cathedral/vaulted ceilings in the family room and the master bedroom. A real mark of interior distinction is the nine-foot (or higher) ceiling. Other aspects of quality, as perceived by the 1986 affluent buyers, are marble foyers, wood floors, fine moldings, distinguished fireplace mantels and really special bay windows.

Bathrooms That Excite

Regardie and Leidy also agree that today's buyers want to be pampered. That means a kitchen with quality cabinetry, top-grade appliances, special lighting, abundant counter space and, often, room for entertaining friends and family.

Also, the bathroom must excite buyers who want to show off their success and enjoy it themselves. The master suite will have a step-up tub big enough for two and with some whirlpool capability. There must be a separate shower and possibly some closets in the bathroom. The "john" must be at least somewhat compartmentalized. And the double-bowl vanity must have custom cabinetry and an overhead skylight.

"You may even find a fireplace in the bath, plus a nearby exercise area," Regardie added. "The number of choices is mind boggling, so you must look and shop carefully.

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