One of the top-rated less expensive amenities in Schleimer's survey are small neighborhood parks. A park doesn't have to be anything spectacular, just a place within walking distance where Mom can take the kids to play.
The highest-rated social amenity was a strong set of rules for governing the community. "Most builders think buyers don't read the covenants and restrictions," says Schleimer, "but they want control of the quality and character of the place where they live."
Another highly desired soft feature is a Neighborhood Watch program. It outranks guarded entries, another expensive hard-cost amenity that is considered a must today. Not that security isn't important. It's "vital," Halter said, but only in some places. Furthermore, the survey found that home owners would rather have roving patrols than stationary gate houses.
Other popular social features are community events such as farmers' markets, founders' days and the like.
And the most important "emerging" programs--"We had the most handwritten comments on these," Schleimer said--are youth sports leagues, instructional classes and seminars and volunteer programs.