All posts by Camilla McLaughlin

Unique Homes Cover Showcase: The Abaco Club on Winding Bay

Dreams of a tropical sanctuary are realized in the home featured on our cover — a beachfront estate at The Abaco Club, a 500-acre private enclave in the Bahamas.

By Camilla McLaughlin

For more information, visit

Surrounded by more than one-and-a-half acres of palm trees, gardens and tropical foliage, the property is an oasis of privacy, but still a short walk or golf cart ride to everything The Abaco Club offers.

The architecture, a superbly articulated blend of transitional and contemporary styles with a Bahamian flavor, is uniquely suited to the setting. A stately entry with double mahogany doors and a coral stone staircase sets the stage; inside, a spacious vaulted great room transitions to a large dining space and a beautifully outfitted kitchen. The overall feeling invites relaxation, while a sense of understated elegance elevates the experience throughout the home.

Dynamic views of the turquoise waters of Winding Bay and miles of pristine white sandy beach form a backdrop in every room. Disappearing glass walls extend the living to a lanai and covered deck with outdoor dining organized around a spectacular pool. In the master suite, double French doors open to a very private outdoor shower surrounded by mahogany and coral stone walls. The ground level is devoted to ways to play with pool tables, a media room, guest suites and a workout room.

Few, if any, properties in the Bahamas match this singular combination of architecture, privacy, indulgent features and exquisite finishes paired with the services and amenities of an international sporting club.

“The Abaco Club is a desitnation where you can come and do nothing, or you can fill your day with biking, scuba diving, fishing and golf on what is considered the best course in the Bahamas,” shares Kristi Hull, director of sales for The Abaco Club, who is listing the home for $8.750 million. Best of all, limited access and an intimate club setting ensures that whenever you visit you feel like you are coming home.

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Outlook 2018: Back to a Slow Simmer

Inventories, consumer confidence, growing worldwide wealth, the stock market, tax changes and local dynamics are affecting how hot each luxury real estate market is throughout the U.S.

By Camilla McLaughlin

“Fasten your seatbelt, 2018 will be a fun and scary, but prosperous ride,” is how Brad Inman, founder of Inman News, assesses the outlook for real estate this year. On the other hand, developers and planners tapped by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) call for “a long glide path to a soft landing” for the economy and the real estate sector. They expect the current cycle to extend into 2018 and even beyond.

These comments perfectly illustrate the divergent opinions on the outlook for real estate this year, especially luxury real estate.

For real estate overall, it’s not an overstatement to say 2017 was a very good year. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) expects sales of existing homes in 2017 to tally at 5.81 million transactions, the best number since 2006, and 3.8 percent higher than 2016. Home prices grew by almost 6 percent, a pace NAR expects to be duplicated in 2018. Looking ahead, the forecast calls for an increase of 3.7 percent in the number of sales as more new construction amps up the number of homes on the market. December sales soared 5.6 percent, with most activity at the upper end of the market fueled by move-up buyers with considerable down payments, cash buyers and easing of inventory shortages.

For luxury real estate, the narrative, while positive, revolves around locations and price brackets, depicting a market beginning to settle into a sustainable pace after a protracted recovery. “Bottom line, we’re going to have a strong year,” says Philip White, president and CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates. “The one difference this year is the up-wind market is having a better 17 versus 16. We are going to have more transactions and a higher average sales price this year than last year.” 

In cities such as Seattle, San Francisco or Denver, demand for upscale properties outpaces supply. “Chicago now has 60 cranes in the air which has only happened twice in my 25 years here,” says Craig Hogan, vice president of luxury at Coldwell Banker Real Estate.

New York City is often portrayed as being in the doldrums. Although there has been a slow down in the ultra high end, other price points and neighborhoods all over the city are far from flat. Most active, according to Ellie Johnson, president at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New York Properties, is the $1 million to $5 million range, where multiple offers are not uncommon. From Dec. 11 through the 17, 18 properties went under contract above $4 million, which she says is a much larger number than the same period a year ago. When New Yorkers confront change, they often put buying plans on hold. Johnson says the upper price brackets are in a “strong hold pattern” right now, but she expects it to be short lived. Also, Wall Street bonuses should translate into “a very nice first quarter.”

“I already see a softening in the luxury home market with a growing inventory and properties on the very high end sitting on the market. An excess of new construction, with major homes that have been enthusiastically designed and under construction when the market was hotter, are now coming on to the scene in a different paradigm.”

— Bob Hurwitz, founder and CEO of
The Hurwitz James Company

 image courtesy / Meinzahn

Traditional luxury markets in New York, California and Florida are still strong, but brokers also see big plays in smaller markets. Lesli Akers, president of Keller Williams Luxury Homes International, illustrates with a recent $22 million transaction in Austin, “the biggest sale in the history of that market.”  ULI forecasts a shift in interest and investment dollars to smaller metros such as Seattle, Austin and even Salt Lake City as well as close-in suburbs of New York and Washington, D.C. In New York, Diane Ramirez, chairman and CEO of Halstead, says new buildings, both residential and rental, with views of the Hudson River, extensive amenities and a short commute to the city are generating interest from younger consumers in White Plains, New Rochelle and Tarrytown.

“Luxury is starting to move into every market. As neighborhoods change, the buyers change,” says Diane Hartley, president of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, noting it’s important for agents to understand this new buyer, new price points and new expectations.

For agents, “it’s no longer enough just to be a local expert, they have to have global knowledge as well. Most of the affluent are looking to see what is happening in the global market. But it’s also who agents are bringing to look at the home,” says Anne Miller, director of business alliances for RE/MAX.

At’s fall conference, comments about local markets were all positive, something Publisher John Brian Losh says usually doesn’t happen. “Prices are directly related to the economy and consumer confidence, and right now consumer confidence is high,” he says.

More than consumer confidence is bolstering luxury sales. Adding to demand are the growth of wealth in the U.S. and worldwide, a surge in the stock market, and a rise in foreign buying of U.S. properties. There are few, if any, indications this will change in the immediate future. Paul Boomsma, president of Luxury Portfolio International, explains: “Our white paper and our global survey show a lot of interest from buyers, not only for this year but over the next two years. There is more interest on the buy side than the sell side, and that is consistent among the high end, and it extends to 17 different countries. There is a lot of interest and not just in U.S. properties.” 

Purchases of U.S. properties from foreign buyers surged from $102 billion to $153 billion in the year ending March 2017, accounting for 10 percent of dollar volume of sales. “Foreign buyers generally see the U.S. as a safe haven for investment,” says Bob Hurwitz, founder and CEO of The Hurwitz James Company, whose current clients include mega affluent buyers from Turkey, Singapore, China and Ukraine looking buy in price ranges of $20 million and up. “In a couple of cases this includes multiple properties, including commercial and development not exclusive to California,” he adds.

While most markets sizzle, the high end in some locations and price brackets is back to a slow simmer. “I already see a softening in the luxury home market with a growing inventory and properties on the very high end sitting on the market. An excess of new construction, with major homes that have been enthusiastically designed and under construction when the market was hotter, are now coming on to the scene in a different paradigm,” says Hurwitz. “Prices have already adjusted, and as developers and luxury home builders start having homes sit on the market, there will be opportunities to make good buys.”

“In the ultra high end, I think prices are being adjusted to the economy,” says Losh, noting a common issue with ultra properties. Often sellers price the home at the highest price they ever imaged. After a couple of years, they get realistic. “What really determines value is what it cost to replace a property,” he says.

The ultra high end may be cooling, but, Hogan says, the luxury market is healthy. “The $1-to-3 million, $3-to-5 million and $5-to-9.9 million sectors are strong. Not in every city but as a whole, based on our year-to-date numbers. I honestly feel that we are simply normalizing.”

“We are seeing some moderating trends in the luxury space,” says Akers. Downward price adjustments and longer days on market are signs that luxury is moving toward a more balanced market. Still, she adds, “Truly unique properties still command top dollar and cash offers.”

It would seem that the performance of the stock market might discourage real estate investment. Instead, Marci Rossell, chief economist for Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, says it has an opposite effect. “For the luxury buyer, real estate is part of a larger portfolio and portfolios have swelled in terms of stock market value over the last two years. So, from the perspective of balancing a portfolio, real estate can look attractive.” The most influential trend for 2018, particularly the high end, is new consumer attitudes. “Across all price points, the word value is critical today,” says Ramirez. “Value to a $1 million buyer and a $600,000 buyer is not the same, but both want the perception of value.”

Consumers have become even more demanding. “There is a desire for perfection. They want a property or an experience to be exactly what they want it to be. There is no desire for compromise,” says Hartley.

Price matters, but it’s not the only factor in the value equation. “If it’s been on the market awhile, bringing down the price is not going to do it. You have to see what’s selling,” says Ramirez, using the example of a $7 million property in Darien that sold in a single day. It was well priced and located across from the water. Water views continue to be in highest demand.

People want new. “If it’s an older home, it must be newly renovated,” says Ramirez. “People feel they don’t have the time for a renovation and they are unsure of the cost.”

The bottom line for sellers, according to Miller, is to listen to their agent. “We’re hoping that everybody takes a reality check on location, quality — is it unique and rare, does it have all the luxury amenities? — before they list their home.”   

People want new.

“If it’s an older home, it must be newly renovated,” says Diane Ramirez, chairman and CEO of Halstead. “People feel they don’t have the time for a renovation and they are unsure of the cost.”

Image courtesy / TobiasBischof

Also, says Kevin Thompson, chief marketing officer at Sotheby’s International, “There is a search for the unique.” This new consumer isn’t interested in cookie-cutter anything. “They want something personal and outside the norm, and they are willing to pay for that.”

Looking ahead, Hogan sees new construction, contemporary/modern, a smaller footprint and full connectivity shaping future demand.

“We’re seeing more and more of what I call the ‘Tesla consumer with the Apple watch’ — a client who’s passionate about their lifestyle and their environmental foot print. They want to do what’s right for the earth, and they don’t mind people knowing it’s expensive,” shares Akers.

Recent ultra-high-end sales in Greenwich and Manhattan are evidence that buyers are out, according to appraiser Jonathan Miller, who noted in a recent blog: “Buyers remain in the market, but the price needs to reflect 2017.”

Akers says sellers should prepare to sell at fair market value. “We’re not in a ‘dip your toe in the market and test it out’ kind of market.”

The number of homes available for sale continues to be the fulcrum on which markets balance. Regarding real estate overall, Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist says: “Home prices, after multiple years of fast growth, still show no signs of cooling because of the ongoing housing shortage in much of the country. The latest Case-Shiller price growth of 6.2 percent on a nationwide basis marks the strongest rise in over three years.”

High-priced markets are not immune to inventory challenges, but it’s not in every location. Instead, it is likely to be places that have had strong buying for years and strong population growth. White uses the example of San Francisco, where anything that is priced right is snapped up. Inventory constraints, according to White, are not unique to the U.S. “In Hong Kong and Japan, there are stories where people are lined up to buy high-priced units in new buildings, even to the point where they will sell their place in line.”

This year, for the first time since the downturn, inventories eased ever so slightly, and forecasts point to more new construction in the next few years. Javier Vivas, director of economic research for, sees 2018 as “a significant inflection point in the housing shortage, with increases in inventory felt initially in the mid- to higher-price points above $350,000.” Vivas says Boston, Detroit, Kansas City, Nashville and Philadelphia are predicted to see inventory recovery first.

As inventories grow, sellers need to understand that homes that are dated or not priced accurately will fall to the bottom of prospective buyers’ list of target properties.

At year-end, tax changes and continued political uncertainty loomed over every forecast. “For buyers worldwide, I think policy changes will matter more than economic climate. This is a year when tax policy could drive some location decisions. If you are a first-time buyer in a high-tax area and you are looking to put down roots, you will think long and hard about the tax consequences of a location. Even on the European front, we know Brexit will affect location decisions. Already we are seeing relocations out of London to Frankfurt,” shares Rossell. “The homebuying decision is part of a large mosaic, and the tax implication of that decision used to be a smaller tile, and it will become a larger tile.

Looking ahead: “The economy and housing market will grow like crazy. Job creation is at record levels; unemployment is at a 17-year low, wages are feeling upward pressure and companies are investing at a fast and furious pace,” commented Inman. “A backdrop of political uncertainty will not slow down the global economic thoroughbred that is galloping at a full run. Left in the dust will be housing affordability in many major metros.”



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What Now? Series: The South Real Estate Market Report

In 2017, Unique Homes is traveling the U.S. to find the dominant stories in each region of the country — This issue covers the South.

By Camilla McLaughlin

Courtesy Arquitectonica

Not too long ago, the siren call of the South was fun in the sun. Miles of coastline might translate into some of the most desirable second home and resort locations in the county, but more than fun in the sun is creating vibrant real estate markets. Instead, catalysts are strong fundamentals, new job opportunities and investments in infrastructure. Cities are reorganizing, and a number, such as Atlanta, Nashville and Charleston, have risen to new prominence, nationally. Fledgling tech hubs are being incubated, and no matter where you look, new neighborhoods and master-planned communities are on the rise.

Ten years ago, a few prognosticators speculated it could possibly take more than a decade, if ever, for Florida properties to recover from the recession. Today, real estate is thriving in cities across the South from Florida to Texas. Coming out of the recession, Dallas, Houston and Austin set the pace with some of the country’s best real estate markets. Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte all number in Urban Land Institute’s top 10 markets to watch and are believed to have excellent overall prospects for real estate in 2017.


Boom times may not quite be back, but Florida markets have racked up an impressive record in recent years. July marked the 68th month of increases in median prices statewide with single-family prices up 7.1 percent and condo and townhouse prices up 6.8 percent. Florida’s economy is expected to grow faster than the national economy with the gross state product reaching $1.074 trillion by 2019, according to a forecast from the Institute for Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida. Based on current rankings by the World Bank, that number today would make Florida’s economy the 16th largest in the world.

Seven of the top 10 fastest growing cities in the U.S. are in the Sunshine State. Orlando is booming, ranking at the top of Forbes cities with the highest projected job growth, boosted by a growing technology sector as well as innovative strategies such as Creative Village, which integrates education and high tech in a single setting. It also will be one of the largest transit-oriented developments in central Florida.

Orlando recently placed second in the nation for single-family home sales. “It is definitely Orlando’s time, and it’s a confluence of many different factors,” observes Jessi Blakley, director of communications and public relations for Tavistock Development Company, the developer of Lake Nona, one of the fastest growing communities in the U.S.

New projects in the pipeline for Lake Nona include a $400 million training and innovation center for KPMG and an Amazon high-tech fulfillment center. Also on the drawing board is a mixed-use luxury development that includes an 11-acre Crystal Lagoon, dynamic town center, art installations and a hotel designed by Miami’s Arquitectonica. The location adjacent to Lake Nona’s Medical City, a 650-acre health and life science park comprised of several hospitals, academic institutions and bioscience facilities, underscores a growing emphasis on wellness. “We consider ourselves to be a living lab, so you are going to see innovation across the entire community. And that’s going to be everything from our healthy homes to a partnership with Delos,” says Blakley.

Nowhere is the luxury story quite like that of Miami’s, where a legion of international starchitects have remade the skyline with visionary new towers, including residential projects from luxury brands such as Porsche Design, Armani and Fendi. Condo construction is now a multi-billion-dollar industry. Since 2011, 86 new towers, and 8,749 units have been completed east of I-95 in Miami Dade County.

Mega projects including the Brickell Center, Miami Worldcenter, and City Place Doral are reviving sections of the city and enhancing Miami’s status as a retail hub for the Americas.

This year, Miami’s ultra market moved from sizzle to simmer. “The year of the buyer” is how Ben Brissi, an agent with EWM Realty International in Miami, characterizes 2017. “With the third quarter underway, we are still seeing a high supply of inventory, which provides great opportunities for buyers,” he says.

Sellers are taking notice. They are “becoming more realistic with pricing, especially at the top of the market,” shares Coral Gables Realtor and Chair of the Miami Association of Realtors Christopher Zoller. New construction is excluded from Miami Realtor data, but sales of existing luxury condos surged in July, and overall single-family home prices have increased for 68 consecutive months. Prices for sales of existing condos have increased for 71 of the last 74 months.

Although “the season” still holds sway in enclaves like Palm Beach, Manalapan, Miami Beach and Naples, many brokers see fundamental shifts underway. Summer is usually quiet, but this year Florida Realtors say they have been busy. “There was a definite pickup this summer. From a purchase standpoint, I am seeing a shift from a seasonal to year-round. People look in the early season, but they come back in the summer to buy,” says Tade Bua-Bell, a broker associate at John R. Wood Properties in Naples. “More people are lengthening their stay, often to eight months. We’re also finding lots of kids coming in the summer.”

Courtesy The Fite Group Luxury Homes ERA Powered and ©

“The season is elongating. Now it’s starting out in October, and many are not leaving until late spring or early June. It is much busier in the summer,” says David Fite, principal of The Fite Group Luxury Homes ERA Powered in Palm Beach. 

“We really don’t have a season anymore,” says Brenda Donnelly, a Luxury Collection specialist with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Knight & Gardner Realty in Key West. “Every month we have a festival of some sort; we are really a year-round vacation resort.” Donnelly, who also owns Historic Key West Vacation Rentals, says the market is booming, with a limited inventory and so many renovations that it can take six to eight months to get a builder. The potential for long-term rentals, here and in other resort settings, is becoming an added incentive to purchase.

Bua-Bell says, “We had a lot of big sales this summer over $10 million. People are purchasing a little more.” The reason, she says, is simple: “People just want to live their lives. People aren’t just buying real estate, they are buying lifestyle. There are only so many warm places where people can go.”

Another shift in the Sunshine State is toward year-round communities. “Our impression is there are many people now moving to Palm Beach County full time, who 10 to 15 years ago would have been snowbirds,” says Fite. More than $2 billion in development and 1,000 residential units downtown are expected to come online in West Palm Beach.

Most Expensive Listings

Palm Beach area: $195 million compound in Manalapan.
Miami: $150 million for 4 waterfront lots on exclusive Indian Creek Island; a $65 million estate on Star Island is available for the first time in 30 years.
Orlando: $7.588 million in Golden Oak at Walt Disney World Resort, with access to the Four Seasons Resort Orlando.
Naples: $65 million estate on 4.08 beachfront acres.
Also notable: $26.5 million estate on Longboat Key. 

Design Miami

“Right now, the condo market in Miami has really taken a swing; it is much more modern. Lobbies are sparser,” with many more amenities, says Kevin Gray, owner of Kevin Gray Design. Hotel services are popular although Gray finds clients often see that as an invasion of privacy.   

“Architecture is becoming cleaner,” he observes. The preference for kitchens is white lacquer cabinets that open upwards. Additionally, in both New York and Miami, homeowners want ecofriendly materials. “For a while everyone loved the white marble floors or terra cotta. Today, people are doing composite materials, and you can hardly tell the difference,” says Gray.

Lighting has become important in the upscale market, and instead of the fixture the focus is on the lighting itself. “People are more aware of the quality of the lighting and of good lights, he says, pointing to new LEDs. Also “taking off like wildfire” are square recessed lights. “No one wants round anymore,” he says. On the horizon, look for more casings lined with black instead of white. 

Courtesy The Fite Group Luxury Homes ERA Powered


The story here is population growth as existing companies add new jobs and the promise of top talent from Georgia Tech and Emory University lure new enterprises to the area. Recently, Atlanta was celebrated as the top city for making movies, and the film business adds to both state coffers and the city’s luxury cachet.

An old nickname for Atlanta was “The City of Love,” and newcomers here are finding a lot more to love thanks to infrastructure enhancements and an urban revitalization that promises to roll from midtown to downtown. Buckhead remains the city’s prime luxury enclave, but many other areas are acquiring a luxury persona. “Midtown is on fire,” says Christa Huffstickler, owner of Engel & Völkers Atlanta, pointing to new luxury towers, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, even a food and wine festive. “Finally, it feels like a real city. We are going to see a shift, and, in the next 10 to 15 years, downtown will be as vibrant as midtown is now.”

Another big transformation is the development of the Beltline, which is similar to New York’s High Line. Even though only several miles are complete, residents can already see how it will change the city. “We are seeing developers gravitating to the Beltline. It’s going to become as important of a draw for consumers as Buckhead. And our city has been starving for that connectivity.”

Atlanta has been a city of suburbs and those markets are still in demand, but new condo offerings beckon people back to town. “When our real estate cycle came back, we saw a shift in the condo market and a transition in what that product offered. There was more thoughtful design, smaller boutique-sized buildings, and more square footage. Rather than first-time buyers, they were oriented toward a move-up market as well as downsizers.”

Most expensive listing in Atlanta: $15.8 million Mediterranean estate in Buckhead.

South Carolina   

Stop in any small-town coffee shop along coastal South Carolina, and there is a good chance you will encounter newcomers meeting with real estate agents, and there is no better testimony to vibrancy of real estate in coastal resort locales as well as farther inland. Home values in South Carolina increased by 5.5 percent over the last year, and predictions call for an additional 3.5-percent rise next year. New resort developments such as Palmetto Bluff and classics like Hilton Head bring vacation buyers and full-time residents. Master-planned communities are in the works statewide, but the biggest news for upscale real estate has got to be how much Charleston’s star has risen in the luxury firmament.

Charleston has always been a top southern destination, but the city’s ascendancy to the luxury elite this year is undeniable. From Top Chef to Travel + Leisure, it seems to be on everyone’s list of top markets, including Unique Homes’ annual “Markets to Watch.” Christie’s ranks Charleston fifth, ahead of Paris; Portland, Oregon; and Sydney on its Luxury Thermometer, a gauge based on demand and growth. Austin and San Francisco outpaced Charleston at fourth and third.

“Charleston has always stayed ahead of most areas just because of how desirable it is. When other areas are depressed, Charleston comes along at a decent pace, because of the draw of history, beaches and the overall charm of the Lowcountry,” says Michael Robert Smith with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Carolina Sun Real Estate. Lower taxes are another incentive for businesses to relocate here, and a growing tech section is bringing more millennials to the area. From antique residences along The Battery to oceanfront at Kiawah Island, the range of luxury housing here is amazing.

There is a lot of new construction, particularly away from the water. But the big news for some perspective residents, according to Smith, is “the Low Country is still affordable. West of Charleston you might be able to get a mansion for $500,000.”

Charlotte, North Carolina

Although Raleigh-Durham has been the epicenter for growth in the Carolinas, the push now is to revitalize uptown Charlotte with new cultural venues, educational institutions, parks, walkable streets, new housing, and retail.

The light rail added in 2007 led to a boom of apartments and retail in the South End that is expected to be replicated in NoDa and the University area as the rail expands north of Uptown. Charlotte also aligns with a national trend in developing cities, in which luxury rentals are offering a huge range of amenities, pet perks and a high level of design within individual units.

Also included in the remake of city center Charlotte are a number of parks, including Romare Beardon Park, adjacent to a new minor league baseball park and the Carolina Panthers football stadium. Jump starting the refurbishment of nearby Stonewall Street is Crescent Communities’ new mixed-use development, Stonewall Station. Plans call for two hotels, a Whole Foods Market and upscale apartments.

Most expensive listing in Charlotte: $6.3 million set on 20 acres in South Charlotte.

Cinnamon Shore, Texas

New resorts are a rarity these days, but a well-established vacation community for Texans along the gulf holds the promise of rivaling those in Florida and the Carolinas. Located on Port Aransas and Mustang Island, an 18-mile island near Corpus Christi, Cinnamon Shore is slated for a $1.3 billion, two-phase expansion, which in the next decade will include new two-to-five-bedroom vacation homes, an upscale boutique hotel and a 10-acre lake ringed by a mile-long boardwalk.

Plans call for approximately 3,300 of beachfront, triple the size of the current beach at Cinnamon Shore, as well as a town center with retail, dining and entertainment. Organized around the concept of New Urbanism, the community will be the kind of place where front porches energize connections and kids can be kids.

Courtesy of Toll Brothers

New Home Designs in Texas

For Texas homeowners, particularly downsizers, collected interiors that include items with a personal meaning or story are important. “We do see a yearning from people wanting that authenticity,” says Kate Brennan, director of accounts at Mary Cook Associates, a Chicago architecture and design firm that works with homebuilders nationally. For empty nesters, it might be something acquired on a trip or a collection. “It is often something that has a story that relates to them,” says Brennan. In the Lone Star State, rustic elements are also desired, but, Brennan adds, with clean lines so the end result is “sophisticated and collected.” The indoor-outdoor connection is important in Texas and it continues to be refined. Look for more seamless applications of finishes to connect the two spaces.

Both downsizers and Millennials like single-level floor plans. “People downsizing are looking for a place that will promote health and wellness,” she says. Boomers are looking ahead and they want homes that will support future transitions. Millennials also like single-level floor plans because they are easy to maintain. But they want flexible open plans that can be adapted to their individual lifestyle.

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The Modern Amenity — Contemporary Architecture

Increasingly, real estate developers are placing value on contemporary architecture.

By Camilla McLaughlin

For years, innovative designs from starchitects have been the focus for new buildings in New York and Miami. Now, developers of single family communities are employing the same approach with developments and communities organized around a single architectural style. In some instances, notable architects are also on board to create a statement as bold as those broadcast by dramatic urban towers. In others, the architectural vision builds on research into consumer priorities. In every instance, the architecture is taking prominence.

In Nevada, the premise for a new ultra luxury development, Ascaya, is a specific architectural style, in this instance contemporary and specifically Desert Contemporary. It’s a vernacular characteristic of the Southwest and especially fitting for a project located in the foothills above Henderson, nine miles south of Las Vegas. Six notable architects have been commissioned to bring unique expressions of desert contemporary architecture to fruition. The designs are visionary, offering varied takes on the aesthetic combined with innovative construction, energy-efficient features and floor plans that align with lifestyle aspirations. Two inspiration homes are finished, three are under construction and a design from Pritzker winner Richard Meir & Partners is nearing completion.

A new community in Palm Springs, Linea, takes a cue from the area’s legendary modernist ties, offering fresh interpretations of the iconic style. Residences here appear as works of art rather than manifestations of an architectural style. For this project, developer Andrew Adler and architect Anthony Poon drew inspiration from abstract sculptures and Bauhaus painters. Homes rise as white cubist forms against the craggy backdrop of surrounding mountains. Stark white facades punctuated with soft hued doors, sculpted massing and a linear composition offer a fresh new take that pushes the modern aesthetic to a new level of expression.

Located on a terraced hillside setting in Henderson, Nevada is Axis, a new community developed by Pardee Homes, a member of the Tri Pointe Group, offering designs with elevations that are as much contemporary as they are transitional with modern floor plans. The architecture is forward-looking. The homes in Axis also integrate outdoor courtyards, balconies and rooftop decks in ways that transcend typical limitation of indoors versus outdoors. Strada, another new community, is geared toward millennials with its own individual architectural expression that grew out of consumer research of this demographic. 

Ten years ago, it was difficult to build a contemporary home, except for Modern Tuscan, in Las Vegas unless it was on an individual lot outside of a development. The Ridges was the first to allow contemporary architecture and another recent development, The Summit in Summerlin, also leans toward contemporary.

“There is definitely a move in the direction of contemporary, and it’s started to come down to the higher-end, semi-custom tract homes. That’s had a big push. It hasn’t really come down to the starter home, yet. That’s the next wave,” says Eric Strain, CEO of Assemblage Studio and an architecture professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

For the first inspiration home at Ascaya, completed this spring, SB Architects drew on its experience with resort and hospitality properties and approached the home as a smaller scale resort. “We see a lot of crossover with private estates wanting more resort amenities, and hotels yearning to feel more intimate,” says Matt Page, LEED AP, vice president at SB Architects.

The home presents as a well-orchestrated composition of simple massing and long horizontal planes. The impression is one of balance, symmetry and subtle elegance. A series of clerestory windows add to the sense that the roof seems to float above the structure. Private-entry courtyards transition to a generous great room and kitchen that take in dynamic vistas of the Las Vegas Strip extending across the valley to distant peaks. Expanses of glass and telescoping walls and doors make inside and outside appear as a single space, incorporating the desert setting into the experience. Extensive decks and patios are augmented by a roof deck with a fireplace. Also accessed from a private sitting area tucked behind the great room, it becomes a privileged escape to watch the west’s technicolor displays at sunset.

Flexible spaces enable the home to be eminently adaptable to a variety of settings and experiences. The connectivity among different rooms and areas of the home is striking. Textural elements and extensive use of warm woods tame the volume, so even a solitary visitor sitting in front of the fireplace does not feel overwhelmed. According to Page, such chemistry doesn’t happen by accident. Instead, it’s the result of thoughtful design, which begins with the site and then filters down to the smaller architectural details.


Photos courtesy of Shay Vilich photographer / Shapiro & Sher Group / Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nevada Properties and David Blank

A new take on Mid-Century Modern, Carlisle at Parasol Park in Irvine, California.

A second inspiration home, orchestrated by Marmol Radziner, a design-build firm based in Los Angeles, was completed this summer. A green roof frames the entry, which is shielded from the street. Architects paired bronze anodized aluminum panels, vertical grain western red cedar and local natural stone with warm and rustic materials and color palettes to reflect the desert landscape.

Sustainability is part of the Modern vision. The home designed by Hoogland Architecture, the only local firmed tapped to design an inspiration home, incorporates passive strategies such as deep overhangs oriented to the solar patterns of the site and aggressive day lighting. Even the infinity pool is incorporated as a design element and reflects the lights of the city at night.

Another home, created by the firm Lake/Flato, employs rammed earth walls, which anchor and blend the structure into the surrounding terrain as well as insulate against Nevada’s intense heat. The construction is aligned with the firm’s belief that design and sustainability are inseparable, part of a place-based approach that merges the building with the surrounding landscape.

Also opening in July was the resort’s $25 million clubhouse designed by the Scottsdale firm, Swaback Partners. A dramatic copper-covered porte cochere previews a building that melds stone, copper, glass and artwork into venue in which the architecture energizes as much as the activities. 

From high-end enclaves intended for a rarified echelon to communities that appeal to a wider demographic, architecture is becoming much-desired eye candy.

Photo courtesy of Jim Doyle, Applied Photography LLC

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What Now? Series: Dynamic Housing Markets in the West

In 2017, Unique Homes is traveling the U.S. to find the dominant stories in each region of the country — This issue covers the Pacific Northwest, Nevada, California and Hawaii. 

By Camilla McLaughlin

Photo courtesy of Matthew Field

A mix of tech, entertainment and financial service industries along with sheer physical beauty and miles of coastline make California, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii unlike any other part of the country. Recognized worldwide as a mecca for technology and innovation, West Coast metros have an urban vibe that reaches across generations. Islands, bucolic country settings and premier enclaves with a worldwide reputation for ultra luxury add to the region’s singular blend of real estate. So, it’s no surprise the West has some of the most dynamic housing markets in the country with demand for upscale properties anchored by lifestyle, jobs, economic performance, gorgeous settings, and often stunning architecture.

Seattle and Las Vegas

Coming out of the recession, Seattle has been one of the strongest markets in the country, charting 32 consecutive months of year-over-year declines in the number of homes on the market. With less than a month of available inventory, homes in April sold within seven days. In Portland, Oregon and Tacoma, Washington, sales took a little longer — 10 days. Compared to a year ago, Seattle’s median price is up by 17.4 percent, and just over 62 percent of those deals exceeded the list price. The median price in Portland is up 9 percent. Even though the city has had a robust market in recent years, luxury here still commands fewer dollars, with classic estates typically priced under $5 million.

Even in Las Vegas, one of the hardest hit by the downturn, the number of homes on the market continues to decrease, and the average list price is now over $600,000. More out-of-state buyers are eyeing this desert oasis, drawn by Nevada’s favorable tax environment and lower cost of living. Equally powerful incentives are innovative new construction, striking views, a more laid-back lifestyle, easy access and new communities. Ascaya, a new development in Henderson that showcases contemporary architecture, brings a new luxury paradigm to the region. To date, 15 lots have sold, and five additional reservations are on the books. This is a big change from last year when only 14 homes over $3 million sold in the entire Las Vegas valley.

Highest Price in Las Vegas: A $30 million estate in a mountainside setting at The Pointe at The Ridges in Summerlin.

Highest Price in Seattle: $26.8 million for a two-acre waterfront estate with views of the Seattle skyline and the Olympic Mountains. 

Photo courtesy of Gorbis/Getty Images


Golden State real estate continues to amp up, with too few on-market properties the biggest drag on sales. Statewide, the May median price was $550,200, the highest level since August 2007. San Francisco prices continue to lead the state and the nation with a median of $1.5 million, but Los Angeles, home to some of the highest priced properties in the country, accounted for the second highest price increase in California in May, 6.9 percent year-over-year.

“This year’s market has been unbelievable with the highest volume of estate properties on record. Way ahead of last year, and last year was a record,” says Joyce Rey, executive director of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, of L.A.’s prime West Side markets. In the $30 million bracket, there have been 14 sales in 2017 compared to only three in 2016, an increase of 367 percent. In the $20 million bracket, 2017 transactions increased 182 percent, from 11 to 31, while those in the $10 million range were up by almost 20 percent. 

In part, Rey says this is due to the large number of foreign buyers in her market, whose familiarity with California is limited to Beverly Hills. “We just have a huge, strong demand with buyers coming from all around the world,” including China, the Middle East and Europe. “They look for move-in condition, prime locations and have a particular preference for views.” Contemporary architecture with walls of glass and light-infused streamlined interiors is preferred.

“Overseas buyers will still often look for a property that has multiple structures, or at least a guesthouse or caretaker’s quarters, but some of the most affluent buyers are Silicon Valley types or celebrity buyers who are not looking for the major estate with a lot of land but something sexy with all the bells and whistles and a lot of wow factor,” says Bob Hurwitz, founder and CEO of Hurwitz James Company.

Another luxury influx comes from the East Coast. Santiago Arana, a partner at The Agency, attributes this trend to a shift in the culture and tech advancements in the work place. “Executives and entrepreneurs are no longer bound to physically reside near work, which means they can enjoy the California lifestyle while working remotely from their L.A. home.” 

Stunning architecture and an integral indoor/outdoor synergy make this home designed by Brian Foster a work of art.

A record $250 million listing put L.A.’s ultra market in the spotlight this spring. In this rarified niche, list prices are at record peaks and sales have been strong, but the number of properties is on the rise. “There is a plethora of inventory; probably around 40 homes priced at $30 million or more on the Westside of Los Angeles, and this doesn’t include the dozens that are ‘pocket listings’ and not officially on the market or the MLS,” Hurwitz says. “In addition, there are many properties being built in the most desirable luxury home environs that will be hitting the market upon completion in the next year or so. This is thin air and the buyers who can afford and are prepared to pay such numbers are finite, so you are seeing some increasing opportunities to make aggressive offers and good buys.”

Another note of caution concerns foreign buying. Post-election, a few buyers from outside the country tabled purchases. Hurwitz explains: “Since a significant part of my marketing and clientele consists of targeting and representing foreign buyers, I am very attuned to this marketplace. Besides having offices and agents in a number of different countries, our business model is very proactive in terms of reaching out directly to the most affluent individuals and cooperating in a major way with wealth advisors, EB5 and education abroad entities and numerous real estate companies in these areas. I have seen some reluctance in investing in the U.S. recently due to uneasiness of the political climate. On a personal and painful note, I had my buyer, a member of the royal family in a Middle Eastern country, back out of a three-week cash escrow on a $40 million purchase of one of my listings as a direct result of the presidential election results.”

This Los Angeles home reflects a vision for contemporary interiors that is elegant, yet casual and inviting.

Photo courtesy of The Agency

On the Horizon in San Francisco:

Personalized condominiums: La Maison in San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood is a collection of 28 uniquely designed individual residences in a five-story building. Each features high-end appointments. Building amenities include organic gardens and a rooftop deck.

Luxury Adaptive Reuse in Pacific Heights: The Pacific includes 76 boutique residences, 12 townhomes and four rooftop duplex penthouses, each with a private terrace. Interiors were inspired by international hospitality brands including Bulgari and the Satai.

What’s hot:

  • Rooftop decks are the latest “must-have” outdoor amenities. They have become a staple for condos, but increasingly single-family homes also incorporate a rooftop deck, particularly if there is a view. A luxury bonus is elevator access.
  • Bunk rooms in Tahoe are a favorite second-home addition, but this trend is not limited to Tahoe. On many of our “On Location” visits we’ve found that bunk rooms, often with an adjacent playroom, are not a rarity. Even adults find it’s hard to resist the pull of such cozy appointments.
  • Basements in both San Francisco and L.A. as residents scramble for more space.
  • Hybrid designs with an exterior reflecting one style and the interiors another. Frequently seen are combos with a traditional exterior and a decidedly contemporary interior.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Mayer Photography

What Buyers Want:

When it comes to luxury, few trends can be generalized, even downsizing and simplification. “Preferences are totally mixed, and luxury buyers get what they want. Luxury buyers don’t try to fit into a box. Instead, they make the box,” says Josh Reef, with Hurwitz James Company.

Few upscale consumers are willing to sacrifice to reduce square footage. “Our buyers prefer a high square footage for all the rooms they need and desire in a home, such as personal wine cellars and gym or yoga rooms. While there is still a demand for high square footage, buyers are shifting toward a more-casual home living environment. In exchange for formal living and dining rooms, buyers are requesting rooms that allow them to fully utilize 100 percent of their home on an almost daily basis,” says Arana.

Still, brokers say the one thing almost all buyers want is to have everything done. “Even at the lower end of prices, very few are interested in a renovation,” says Trinkie Watson with Chase International in Lake Tahoe.

Photo courtesy of Martis Camp Sales

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Summer 2017. 

Click here to see the digital version.

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On the Beach in Kailua

By Camilla McLaughlin

Rarely is exceptional architecture paired with a remarkable location, but in the residence featured on our cover those two circumstances converge in an ideal synergy, very much aligned with Hawaii’s timeless connection between people, nature and architecture.

After you the pass through the African sapele wood gates and 10-foot custom wood and glass entry, what is most striking about this property is the incredible flow between indoors and outdoors. A spacious courtyard shimmers with tropical vegetation. The crescent-shaped infinity pool complements the linear composition of the structure and directs attention through the home to the ocean and miles of sandy beach beyond. Walls disappear via pocketing sliding glass doors and steel construction to merge interiors with the spectacular setting, 90 feet on one of the most pristine beaches in Oahu. Not only do main rooms open on both sides, but others, such as the master bedroom, which includes an outdoor shower and private deck, do as well. All the bedrooms have ocean views.

The sense of flow continues between interior spaces. “No matter where you are, you always feel connected to others on the property,” says Annie Kwock, owner and principal broker of Trinity Hawaii on Oahu, who is marketing the property. “It is designed to give everyone a view of the ocean. Even the guesthouse has views.” The inland side captures the changing panorama and colors of the mountains.

In addition to three bedrooms, the main house also includes an office, which is ingeniously situated to open to extensive entertaining spaces and the pool. “It is a very intimate and engaging house,” says Kwock.

As private as the setting feels, it is within walking distance to a quaint town that is a bedroom community for Honolulu. The airport is only 20 minutes away.

The architecture and landscape are exquisite, but what really makes this house remarkable is the setting — two-thirds of an acre and 90 feet of oceanfront located on more than two miles of unsullied oceanfront. The list price is $15.9 million.    

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Summer 2017. 

Click here to see the digital version.

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