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The economy is on an upswing. And so is the interest in luxury housing in the metro market, according to area home builders who specialize in custom homes.

“Everyone has felt the effects of the downturn in the economy the last few years,” says Jim Harmeyer of Tyler Homes in Altoona. “But things are definitely turning around,” says the busy builder who constructs 20 to 25 custom homes each year. Homes costing $500,000 and above fit into the luxury category, in his opinion. He has been in the business for 22 years.

For some, luxury might be measured in square footage. But Harmeyer says it’s not always about the 7,000- or 8,000-square-foot home. “A home in the 4,500-square-foot range can cost $1.5 million or more, depending on the amenities and materials. People tend to want a huge kitchen, a large master bedroom suite with volume ceilings, large foyers, and lots of windows.”

In the Midwest, Too

A recent story in the New York Times discussed the cutbacks and now the return in luxury home interest in larger markets around the country. But the trend also is hitting Iowa, say the local builders. Buyers never really abandoned the idea of luxury homes. Instead, they just took a sabbatical. And now they are back.

“What’s interesting,” says Kevin DePhillips of Homes by DePhillips, “is that many homeowners are skipping one phase in the upscale market. Some clients who built earlier in the $300,000 to $400,000 range would normally move up to the $600,000 to $700,000 range for their next home. Instead, though, they’re jumping directly up to the $1 million-plus range. It’s very interesting.” Kevin works with his father, Mick DePhillips, who started the company in 1973. They build about a dozen custom homes each year.

Kevin Johnson, who started Accurate Development in 1991, has about 30 housing starts this year. He mostly builds custom homes and also does some specs. “That way, people can see what we can do.”

Return of Confidence

Johnson feels the economy is rebounding at a nice pace and homeowners are more confident about building. “While 5,000 square feet and above fits into the luxury market, it’s not really about the size of the home. It’s really more about the choice of higher-end materials and about how the space is to be used.”

He says clients are choosing homes that are less formal and with more usable spaces. There’s a bathroom for every bedroom, along with nicer details throughout the home.

Other luxury home options that are catching on are the large laundry/mudroom areas with lots of built-in storage wherever possible. The mudroom area, often with cubbies, provides a spot to store backpacks, coats, and boots near the entrance to the garage.

Media rooms, sunrooms, and the so-called “dirty kitchens,” or prep kitchens, are must-haves for some homeowners. DePhillips has added some prep kitchens locally. “It’s a separate, smaller kitchen space off the main kitchen. It’s a place to prep food for a dinner or a party without the mess being in the main kitchen,” he explains. “It’s also the place where smaller appliances such as the coffeemaker or the espresso machine or the big mixer can be placed and left out. That way they don’t clutter the counter space in the main kitchen.”

Another must for many is the walk-in pantry, again to cut the use of space in the bigger kitchen. “They keep getting larger and larger,” says Harmeyer. Some years back he started adding the “grocery getter” to his pantry plans. A small door from the garage directly into the pantry offers a means to unload groceries directly from a vehicle into the pantry without carrying bags through the house.

Other Luxury Trends

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) cites other trends for the luxury market. One is green building, reflecting an interest in concern for the environment. Features such as solar panels, water-saving appliances, and renewable building materials are becoming more important to many homeowners.

Still other clients want the addition of yoga studios, resistance pools, and dedicated fitness rooms. Screened porches for entertainment and relaxation also make many wish lists, along with high-tech amenities often to be controlled by smartphones.

A newcomer to clients’ wish lists is elevators, Harmeyer says. “I’m seeing that clients in their mid-40s are taking a good hard look at the future. They might want a two-story home for this phase of their family life, but they understand that a two-story might not be what they want or need 25 years down the road. They are wanting to put in elevators to allow for those changes. They are looking at their home as a luxury investment in the future.” He is currently building a home with an elevator in central Iowa.

Another trend Harmeyer sees is the aspect of multigenerational living. “They might be thinking that their aging parents will need a place to live at some point. Health issues are becoming a focal point for them. It’s a form of long-term planning to consider these matters while they are building now. It’s a way to create suites for their parents instead of care facilities.” Such suites might include a living area, kitchenette, full bath, and bedroom spaces. It gives the family members some privacy but still has them close by.

The NAHB also says universal design, which features wide doors, lower countertops, and minimal stairs, is a consideration for many clients looking to build a home to stay in as they age.

“The sky’s the limit, that’s for sure,” says DePhillips.

Johnson agrees. “The industry truly is back in the swing of things.”