A swimming pool, an expensive car and a $2,700 lawn mower no longer beat the Joneses.
Today it takes a water slide, a horse trail or a marina on a private lake to keep up with those pesky neighbors who seem to have the best of everything.
Developers of high-end subdivisions say homeowners are demanding million-dollar amenities - everything from shopping centers to bike trails to special pools where swimmers wade in, as at a beach.
“If you have a large piece of property, you need something that is a hook or a lifestyle that is hopefully different from people down the street,” said Pat West, director of sales and marketing for Atlanta’s Hedgewood Properties.
Upscale consumers are willing to pay an average $13,500 extra for a house in a community with unusual amenities, according to a study published in February by Urban Land Magazine, which surveyed home buyers in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and California.
Here at Windward, a 1,600-home community in Alpharetta, a suburb north of Atlanta, the average home costs $347,000. Residents also pay a mandatory homeowners’ fee of up to $500 a year, on top of fees to use water parks, horse parks and other amenities.
“You work in Atlanta, you live in a resort,” said Bob Nyquist, a three-year resident of Windward. “Most people buy into the lifestyle.”
Amenities became popular in the 1970s when strained municipal budgets made it harder to build and maintain public swimming pools, tennis courts and golf courses, said Gus Bauman, a land-use attorney in Washington.
Since then, amenity-laden communities have developed in suburbs of many major cities, especially Phoenix, Denver, Chicago, New York, Washington and Los Angeles.
A new development on the Chattahoochee River near Buford, a few miles east of Alpharetta, will have an equestrian park. About 100 houses have been sold there at up to $400,000, and 15 percent of the homeowners have horses, said Ms. West, whose company is building the subdivision. The homeowners’ fee is $450 a year.
And coming soon are subdivisions with planned business center and entertainment complexes, including restaurants, movie theaters and even virtual reality arcades.
“The person who’s truly affluent can make more demands and the amenities become much more prestigious,” said Sanford R. Goodkin, a real estate analyst in San Diego.
The National Association of Homebuilders found that more than 50 percent of home buyers in seven major cities and California wanted a park, a swimming pool, walking and jogging trails and playgrounds. Ten percent to 20 percent wanted soccer fields, equestrian facilities, a day care center, a business center, a clubhouse and a lake.
Barbara Hurt-Simmons and her husband paid $1,500 up front plus nearly $500 a year to belong to the Windward Lake Club, which has two pools, 16 tennis courts a marina and 700 members - all residents of the community. They also pay $450 annually in homeowners’ fees to maintain all those extras.
With two young children, ages 2 and 6, Ms. Hurt-Simmons believes the price is worth it.
“We felt it is a community - almost like a mini city,” she said as she sat on a beach chair at Windward Lake Club, where kids swarmed a spiraling water slide overlooking a man-made lake with six miles of shoreline.
The community is planning a $1.5 million clubhouse with a fitness center, restaurant and banquet rooms, as well as more tennis courts, a roller-hockey rink, batting cages, a volleyball court and pontoon boats.
Some homeowners have complained that huge amenity packages have made their subdivisions too big. And Bauman, the lawyer, said another risk is that homeowners unable to meet the rising maintenance costs as the amenities become more elaborate will ask local governments for help.
“People are not only wanting a big house, but they’re looking outside,” said Gopal Ahluwalia, director of research for the National Association of Homebuilders.
“They want things to be within reach. It is like a disease. It’s like, ‘The Joneses have it, so we have it.”’
xxxx WHAT HOME BUYERS WANT IN A SUBDIVISION What home buyers in California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas want in a subdivision, according to a 1995 survey of nearly 5,000 prospective buyers, published in February in Urban Land Magazine: Natural, open space - 77 percent Walking and biking paths - 74 percent Gardens - 56 percent Convenience stores - 55 percent Wilderness areas - 52 percent Outdoor swimming pool - 52 percent Community/recreation center - 52 percent Easy walk to parks, stores - 52 percent Shopping center - 51 percent Interesting little parks - 50 percent Exercise/fitness center - 50 percent Town center with shops, coffee bars, meeting places - 48 percent Neighborhood recreation activities - 47 percent Library - 47 percent Places of worship - 46 percent Tennis courts 39 percent Golf course - 39 percent Teen center - 36 percent Golf clubhouse - 33 percent Amphitheater - 26 percent Organizer to start clubs and community events - 23 percent Community concierge - 18 percent
Source: American LIVES Inc. and InterCommunications Inc.