Zip lines, velodromes and children-designed play areas are among the hot new amenities uncovered by the John Burns Real Estate Consulting firm in its annual census of master-planned communities.
A 377-foot zip line can be found at Nocatee in Ponte Vedra, Florida, near Jacksonville. Part of the community's Splash Water Park, the high wire allows residents to soar from a tower to the park's lawn, gliding above the lazy river and sand volleyball courts along the way. At a speed of nearly 40 miles per hour, it's a hoot.
Perhaps an even bigger thrill ride is the velodrome at Riverwalk, a 1,000-acre project on the Catawba River in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Intended to introduce residents to the Olympic sport of track cycling, the 250-meter bike course is endorsed by USA Cycling and hosts top-caliber racing events. For the less adventurous, there are the practically prerequisite nature trails, as well as a canoe/kayak launch.
At Eastmark in Mesa, Arizona, kids helped design a dream "playscape" known as the Orange Monster. The climbing park features a pair of tandem pipe sculptures connected with almost a half-acre of netting. While the park encourages exercise, the community developer goes one better by giving away a cruiser bicycle with every new home "to promote a healthy and active lifestyle."
With a similar mind toward outdoor family fun, the developer at Viera on Florida's Space Coast donated 56 acres to the then-fledgling Brevard Zoo back in 1991. The facility is now a world-class, fully interactive zoo, home to more than 650 animals from 165 species.
Across the state in Wesley Chapel, Florida, the developer of the Epperson community is hoping their investment will pay off just as well: Any day now, they'll be breaking ground on one of the country's first residential "crystal lagoons." The seven-acre man-made pool will hold 16 million gallons of water -- a staggering amount, but still less water than it takes to maintain a typical Florida golf course -- and will be surrounded by white sand beaches. Hundreds of sensors along the pool's plastic-like lining will help self-clean the giant lake.
Among the other hot new amenties found in the Burns survey are a 200-step outdoor staircase where residents of the Meadows in Denver can get a serious workout, and a golden retriever who welcomes residents at Cane Island in Houston.
According to the marketing and research firm, the 50 best-selling master-planned properties -- it surveyed 230 -- accounted for nearly 5 percent of all new home sales last year. Nocatee was the third-best seller; Eastmark, the eighth.
In the multifamily sector, meanwhile, developers are creating more than just a temporary living space, says Kristen Gucwa, vice president of national lease-up operations at Richman Signature Properties. "We are designing rental properties that convey the feeling of a home as opposed to the traditional apartment rental."
At the Connecticut-based company's communities in Florida, Colorado and Texas, residents enjoy a variety of creature comforts, including pools, cabanas, 24/7 fitness centers, business centers, and dog parks with pet spas.
Also, with a 60-day notice, residents of one Richman property can relocate to another Richman community during their lease without penalty and without paying an application fee at the new place. "We see our residents as long-term family members," says Gucwa.
Rooftop dog parks, one with its own dog wash, are the hot amenity in Washington, D.C.'s booming inner-city market, where one report says 40 percent of renters have dogs. Most places charge tenants an initial fee to have a four-legged friend; some add a stipend to the monthly rent.
When it come to single-family residences, it's no secret that homes got larger in the years following the recession, largely because well-heeled buyers were the only ones who could qualify for financing under the ultra-strict post-recession underwriting guidelines.
Now, with lenders finally loosening their purse strings, the size of houses is trending down. Even so, of the houses built last year, more than a third had three or more full bathrooms, and 10 percent had four or more.
As for kitchen trends, granite is by far the most popular countertop, according to the National Association of Home Builders and design platform Houzz. Nearly two-thirds of all buyers pick granite over laminate and solid-surface materials. For appliances, stainless steel is the most popular finish. Just 6 percent of buyers go with black appliances, and 4 percent stick with white.