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Your house, their work

Want to own your own place without the mowing, weeding, painting and raking? That's no longer a problem.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 5, 2002


It's all about priorities.

Would you rather spend weekends working in your yard or playing by the pool?

Yes, some people like pulling weeds in 90-degree heat. But if you'd rather play, homes marketed as "maintenance free" leave more time for having fun.

The homes aren't totally maintenance free, but they are relatively low maintenance.

"We call them maintained because if you call them maintenance free it makes you think everything's free," says Mike Belmont, district president for Centex Homes. "We do roof maintenance, painting and groundskeeping, but we won't come in and change light bulbs for you."

Maintained homes are nothing new. They've been a mainstay of retirement communities for as long as there have been senior citizen discounts.

But they're popping up more and more in master-planned communities and other neighborhoods, usually as townhomes, which may include four homes per building, or villas, which may be either two homes per building or even small single-family homes.

Residents in maintained communities typically pay from $100 to $250 a month to a homeowners association that makes sure the landscaping looks good and periodically cleans the roof and paints exterior walls.

Centex Homes has been building in Tampa for at least 15 years, but only introduced maintained homes in the past three years, Belmont says.

The company has villas under construction at Edgewater Place on Waters Avenue and Westmont Oaks on Linebaugh Avenue, and is building townhomes at Bayshore Pointe in South Tampa. The homes come with 1,200 to 1,800 square feet and cost between $110,000 and $230,000.

"With people's work schedules and social activities, it's nice not to have to worry about maintaining the outside of your home," Belmont says.

The village of Devonshire, currently under construction at Arbor Greene in New Tampa, is a gated community composed of 74 villas. Built by Beazer Homes, four different floor plans come with about 1,300 to 1,900 square feet and range in price from $120,000 to $170,000. Residents at Devonshire pay $140 a month for care of the roof, building exteriors and lawns.

Devonshire is Beazer's first maintenance-free community, company spokeswoman Marianne Eastwood says.

"It's a great thing for people who are real busy, who travel a lot, or who use it as a second home," says Sharon D'Onofrio, marketing director for Arbor Greene. "I live in a maintenance-free villa. I love it. It's too hot down here to work in the yard."

Bayfair Properties started its foray into townhouse construction three years ago at the Town Homes of Harbour Bay on Harbour Island. Now the company is building Lakeside Preserve in Carrollwood, where 74 townhomes with 2,000 to 2,700 square feet of living space start at about $200,000. A $250 monthly fee includes yard maintenance and as-needed exterior paint and roof care.

"You can basically close your door and leave -- go away for the summer and not worry about it. All they have to do is maintain the inside," says Dave Seidenberg, vice president of Bayfair Properties.

Maintained communities are attractive for a variety of reasons, says Michael Slater, president and owner of TRIAD Research & Consulting, a real estate economic consulting company.

"Some people are attracted to the lower maintenance lifestyles," he says. "Some people are attracted to it because it's more affordable."

By buying a villa or townhome, Slater says, single parents, active adults, empty nesters and young professionals find they can enjoy all the amenities of a gated community without paying $300,000 for an executive home.

Belmont predicts the market for maintained homes will continue to grow.

"It's becoming a much bigger share of our business," he says. In the past, such homes comprised less than 30 percent of Centex's construction, with most of the company's resources going into single-family homes. Belmont expects villas and townhomes to grow to at least 50 percent of Centex's new home construction.

"We see that's what the market is demanding," he says. "And we try to follow the demands of the market."

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