A Patio Home Primer
Barry A. Muskat
photo by kc kratt
Residential real estate sales in our region are hot. Statistics by every type of criteria for the past calendar year have set new records, and patio homes top the wish list of many current homebuyers. In the past, patio homes meant cluster housing: several houses attached to each other with shared walls between the units. The reality now, especially in the Western New York marketplace, is that while some homes are attached, many are stand-alone units.
What is a patio home?
First, a little clarification: laypeople often mix up categories of ownership with categories of building types. For example, townhouse does not necessarily translate to condominium, just as the word apartment doesn’t always mean rental. Types of ownership and types of building are distinctly different.
When renting any kind of housing, other than writing a monthly check to your landlord, you have few responsibilities other than utilities. The landlord will probably take care of the exteriors and you may or may not be responsible for repairs inside your unit. The details are spelled out in a lease.
If you decide to purchase a single family home, the transaction is called a fee-simple absolute model. That means that you have full ownership rights to that dwelling now and for the future. You can pay cash for your purchase or engage a bank for a mortgage, but you (and your lender) clearly own the house and the land on which it rests, extending to the property lines.You are responsible for all maintenance.
With condominium ownership, it’s a slightly different scenario. You typically purchase your unit in fee-simple, but you may or may not actually own the land it sits on. Instead of owning the land and all the surroundings, you have the right to use common areas. Each living unit in a condominium situation (whether it be an apartment, townhouse, or single-family dwelling) has its own deed, its own mortgage, and its own tax bills. While you are probably responsible for repairs on your unit’s interior, the owners together share in the maintenance of the common areas.
Patio homes follow—more-or-less—that condominium model. To clarify, the homes are typically fee-simple ownership. You buy them outright, and you probably own your own lot with a share of ownership in the common areas. But the formula is not universal. Condominium documents are filed with the New York State Attorney General’s office during an approval process. Therefore, there are clear guidelines that the buyer should be aware of prior to closing on any property. Those rules of the road are spelled out in the condo documents specific to each community.
The fine print
You may need to get familiar with terms such as restrictions, conditions, covenants, and easements. In summary, you can’t make your own rules; they have been predecided for you.
When you purchase a condominium, you are technically buying a unit. The unit is defined in the offering plan, so the definition is not always the same. Sometimes the unit is just the house and a share in the land. Sometimes it’s the house plus the lot, and perhaps a share in the road or some communal space.
Although there is no general template that applies to all situations, it’s generally understood that the difference between condominium homes and patio homes involves the extent of maintenance for which the community is responsible. In most cases, condominiums include maintenance of the shell (e.g., major exterior building repairs such as roof and siding, windows).
That is why monthly fees are usually considerably lower in patio home communities than condominiums. The condominium association is required to collect money (in their monthly fees) and to stow those funds away in reserves toward roof and major repairs. In patio home communities, monthly fees are lower because individual homeowners are responsible for those major repairs. Nevertheless, patio home communities usually include routine upkeep such as grass cutting and snowplowing.
Lots are smaller in patio home communities than in typical suburban subdivisions. In fact, tight lot lines are the essence of the concept, but—despite the smaller lot lines—most communities have an emphasis on green space and communal landscape. In patio home communities, owners belong and pay fees to homeowners' associations. These governing bodies budget and determine the monthly fees necessary to run and maintain the community. The associations often hire professional managers.
Patio homes appeal mostly to people who want easier lifestyles—who don’t want to be shoveling each winter morning or cutting grass weekly in the warm months. However, they may still want to plant flowers in the land surrounding their home or in container gardens. (In many cases, such expressions of individualism must be confined to rear patios.) These homeowners are usually not first-time buyers; often, they're baby-boomers or empty-nesters who no longer find large homes appealing or appropriate to their needs. They want easier lifestyles, fresh beginnings, and often need a one-floor plan.
To be sure, patio homes can also appeal to younger buyers, especially two-career families or singles who would rather spend their limited free time pursuing interests, not doing chores.
A burgeoning local trend
Patio home communities in Western New York are multiplying as local builders cater to the demand. Standard models come in one- or two-story plans, but, either way, the feature most in-demand is a first floor master bedroom. Separate living and family rooms are no longer the norm, with open-floor plans and large great rooms preferred. First floor laundry rooms are also high on wish lists. Most models have two bedrooms (with a possible third).
Patio homes come at different price points, from entry-level to luxury. Maranno Marc Equity is the pioneer of patio homes in Western New York. “We fill a niche in the market,“ says John Mann, vice president of sales. He reminisces that buyers who used to approach them would ask, “Do you have a ranch model?” He adds that the new patio home buyers may not need swing sets or sandboxes—like the Rob and Laura Petries of the sixties—but they are looking for active adult communities.
Snowbirds, an increasing number of northerners who head south to secondary residences for the winter months, also like the security of patio home communities. Mann reports that sales have been brisk. “We’re now closing out communities: Springbook (140 units) in Elma, Laurel Park (fifty-eight units) in Clarence, and Courtyards at Pleasant Meadows (120 units) in Lancaster.” He concedes that it’s hard to keep up with the demand for buildable lots, “but these communities have been hugely successful whether they’ve been located in Orchard Park, Lancaster—wherever.”
Western New York’s most prestigious patio home community is Marrano’s Greythorne, a development off Main Street in Williamsville. It is a gated community, well located, and lushly landscaped. It offers various models (which are mostly only available as new construction build-orders) aimed to appeal to high-end buyers. “Greythorne is one-of-a-kind,” says Patrick A. Marrano, president of Marrano Marc Equity. “This is the area’s most desirable location; a premiere community like this will never be duplicated in Western New York.”
Set on park-like curvilinear streets, the architecture—inspired by European manors—uses a combination of stone, stucco, and brick. With color palettes in complementary tones, the textures and styles are custom-built to buyers’ selections. Premium lots border the greens of the Country Club of Buffalo. Streets have just been paved for phase three, which opens the final thirty-five lots in the community. Maranno has several other communities in process, either in development or in the system for the attorney general and towns’ approvals.
The nearby Hampton Hills community features traditional red brick construction in models that are single family or conjoined in pairs with a communal wall. Set on a hill that climbs the escarpment from Sheridan Drive to Main Street, this community also boasts well-established trees and evergreens. Composed of three separate divisions, Hampton Hill offers different features and degree of luxury, dependent on age of construction, and there are three non-related homeowners associations. The units now only come on the market as resales and tend to sell quickly.
Located between Greythorne and Hampton Hill, the infrastructure for a new patio home community called Windstone is underway. Finding land sufficient for another development in the heart of the Town of Amherst is unusual, and it is expected that these new units will be in high demand. Initially, there will be forty-two single-family patio homes (construction to start this spring), to be followed by forty townhouses and forty condominium apartments.
It’s a fact that all condominiums enjoy the benefit of lower taxes in New York State. This is not the local tax assessor's prerogative. When a community is approved and granted condominium status by the New York State Attorney General’s office, local tax assessors are directed to follow Real Property Law Section 339-Y. That determines assessments by an income approach to value (similar to a rental property) as opposed to the standard market approach. The lower assessments are normally fifty-five to seventy percent of the market value yielding taxes in that same proportion.
Whereas some traditional homeowners may think it unfair that these communities can advertise “lower taxes” for their homeowners, in truth, the municipalities do not come out shortchanged. Towns benefit by the higher density, (there are more homes paying these taxes). They also experience huge long-term savings because the individual communities install, pave, maintain, and plow their own roads as opposed burdening the municipality in which they’re located.
Patio Home Communities in WNY
(Disclaimer: There is no reliable, comprehensive list of patio home communities in Western New York. Below is a partial, non-scientific list of these communities assembled from a survey of real estate closings. The length of the list depends on how broadly one stretches the parameters of the term patio home. There will be unintentional inaccuracies or omissions.)
Hollows at Loch Lea
Hampton Hill Villas
Read more about Western New York's hottest trend—patio homes—right here.
Barry A. Muskat is Spree’s architecture critic, who's been lured by city living, but clearly is in the demographic to whom patio homes appeal.