Ranch houses: Trendy again

Ranch houses: Trendy again

More homebuyers are considering one-story homes.

By Amy Hoak of MarketWatch

More and more, people are starting to crave the practicality of one-story living.

That’s why more one-story homes are being built, new two-story homes often come with a master bedroom on the first floor, and even older ranch homes are getting a second look.

“People who want to have a one-story house are looking for [ranches] and buying, including boomers but also young families who don’t want to be running up and down the stairs,” said Alan Hess, author of the book “The Ranch House,” who said there is a growing resale market for the homes, even though their heyday was in the 1950s and 1960s.

“The old ranches provide an alternative for people,” he said.

It’s only recently that an increasing number of homebuyers have been more interested in doing all of their living on one floor. In 1973, one-story homes made up 67% of new-home construction. That dropped  to 43% in 2006, before reversing course and rising to 46% in 2011, said Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders, citing Census Bureau information.

While it may be too early to call a trend, it’s only logical that there would be an increased demand for single-story homes among baby boomers and others, Melman said. About 90% of homeowners 45 and older say they want to age in place in their existing home, according to a study by the 50+ Housing Council of the NAHB and the MetLife Mature Market Institute. And by 2020, nearly 45% of households will include someone 55 or older.

“When you think about the number of people who say they want to age in place, their biggest obstacle is climbing the stairs,” Melman said.

As people are living longer, boomers who have seen their own parents age in place often realize the benefits of single-floor living before they actually need them.

But the one-story homes being built today are “not your grandfather’s ranch,” Melman said. Modern one-floor homes are open and bright, and won’t be advertised as ranch homes by the developer, either; they will be advertised using the amenities that the homes offer.

It’s also becoming common for two-story homes to be built with the master bedroom on the first floor, said Denise Dersin, editor in chief of Builder magazine, a publication for the construction industry. That creates a more flexible floor plan, a way to accommodate family members who can’t trudge up the stairs or perhaps to create a separate living environment for an adult child who moves back home after college. Upstairs bedrooms may accommodate grandchildren or other visitors, she said.

She sees that two-story design as more of a trend than new one-story designs, adding that the bump in one-story new homes may have more to do with the industry trying to create affordable models for buyers.

New construction aside, those who want that one-floor living in a resale home may be giving ranches another look, she added. That’s especially true of people who need to move but want to stay in the same neighborhood, since the number of new homes in established neighborhoods is limited.

Ranches also tend to be affordable, the opposite of the conspicuous McMansion, and may suit more families at a time when consumers are looking to buy only as much house as they need, Hess said.

To help older ranch homes get with the times, alterations to change the face of the homes can be quite successful, said Phyllis Harb, a real-estate agent with Prudential California Realty in La Canada, Calif.

There are other options for single-story living, too. Tudor-style homes can also be single-story, she pointed out. Prairie or bungalow homes, too, are often built so that most of the living is done on one floor, Melman said.

The availability of one-story homes also has to do with location. Where land is dear, often the only affordable option is to build up, Melman said.

Of course, for those considering a home’s ease of use during retirement, one downside of living in a ranch is that it is often spread out on a large lot — meaning owners won’t escape the maintenance of a big yard.

Still, avoiding those five or six trips up and down the stairs each day may be worth it. That’s true not only for those nearing retirement, Harb said. In general, she has more clients today who say they’d prefer a single-story home than those who would prefer a two-story home.

“Interest rates are low, and none of us know how long they’re going to remain low. It may likely be that there isn’t a ‘move-up home.’ This might be their ‘forever home,'” she said, causing buyers to select a place with features they can live with today as well as that will suit them tomorrow.

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