Model homes have become synonymous with illustrating a vision of what life could be like for prospective homebuyers.
A large kitchen and spacious family room echo thoughts of holiday gatherings, while the perfect primary suite sparks images of an oasis for self-care. But there's more to it than turnkey entry.
Buyers can be confronted with seemingly limitless choices when purchasing a model home, and customization doesn't come cheap; plus, some say that the process isn't always smooth. But from multimillion-dollar houses to affordable housing complexes, there's a model home for everyone.
After living in Merrick for 35 years, Susan and Scott Horowitz, 62, and 67, respectively, decided to purchase a home in Florida six years ago to use as a winter season and retirement property. It wasn't until some of their friends moved into Country Pointe in Plainview that they considered a new location back home.
"We were familiar with it [Country Pointe] and I liked the idea that it was a community, perfect for us for this stage in life," said Susan Horowitz, a retired teacher who shared that she and her husband, who owns a food distribution company, paid more than $1 million for the Madison Home model, with an additional $50,000 in upgrades. Although the options are costly, Horowitz was experienced in looking at model homes, having done so for her Florida property.
"The value was there for a model home, but the other big consideration was the fact that I know people moving there now and into other properties who are having a hard time getting in," she said.
The couple purchased the model as a move-in ready home, including furniture and décor pieces. They kept all the appliances, because new ones were back-ordered due to COVID and high demand.
"Brand-new construction with a new kitchen that was move-in ready — where else can you go and do that? It was a good situation for us," said Horowitz, who closed on her home at the end of last year.
"People want simple and convenient, especially the 65 and older population," said Irene Rallis, a licensed associate broker with Douglas Elliman. "New, clean, no issues — and they can get that all for a reasonable price." She noted that many buyers are snowbirds looking for a smaller living space while they are on the Island.
"Homeowners can view a model home purchase like this as a good investment," she said. "The carefree and downsizing mentality applies to both populations who are looking for model homes: they want move-in ready and maintenance-free."
The other side of the model home process is where affordable housing rentals come into play. Ellen Kackmann, vice president of Affordable and Workforce Housing for the Garden City-based Albanese Organization, said that in 2011, the commercial and residential real estate firm responded to the Town of Babylon's request to develop a 40-acre housing site in Wyandanch. Since then, the company has put up three buildings with a combined 301 affordable rental units, of which the majority are reserved for residents with a range of 10% to 90% of area median income.
"What some people don't understand is that these are actual homes, driven by the incomes of the individuals occupying the units," said Kackmann. "We try to lay out the units to be as user-friendly as possible, especially for families with children."
These model homes are 100% move-in ready, however, unlike other developments of model homes, the Wyandanch properties do not offer residents the ability to choose design finishes or colors and do not come furnished. The size of the units varies, from 504 square feet for a studio, to 665 square feet for a one-bedroom, to 935 square feet for a two-bedroom and a bit more for a three-bedroom.
Donald Wilkerson, 69, is an Army veteran who has lived for three years in an apartment at one of the Wyandanch complexes with units reserved for veterans. Although he had lived in Wyandanch before, it was the revitalization of the community that brought him back.
The hamlet has been a beehive of development, with apartments next to the upgraded train station, a vibrant central Wyandanch Plaza with an ice rink, and plans for park upgrades and a new senior center.
"I love it here," Wilkerson said. "It's peaceful and quiet and so far everything has been great. I'm so happy that I got into the program for the apartment," he said of the one-bedroom unit he now calls home. "It's an easy layout, and a big apartment for me, being single. I love it all — the kitchen, the living room. I'm in my apartment 95% of the time."
Like any model home community, residents have access to common areas, a gym, and proximity to shops and public transportation.
Sheldean Floyd also lives at the Washington Avenue complex, in a studio apartment. Like Wilkerson, she was a previous town resident.
"I moved from Wyandanch in 2000, but began to see the change in the area. I decided to put my name into the lottery here and it came up," said Floyd, an accountant who has been in her home for the past two years.
Floyd said she enjoys the clean, white design aesthetics and easy-to-maintain wood floors of her studio.
"Everyone is friendly," she said of the environment. "It's about the community coming together."
But not all model home encounters go smoothly.
While East Islip resident Christie Fehmel, a retiree in her 40s, loves her single-family home now, she said the process of achieving what she was looking for was stressful and frustrating and did not come close to having all the bells and whistles her family expected for the purchase price.
"I would never do it again," said Fehmel of buying a model home. "In the beginning, we contacted our contractor with any issues and he was more than willing to fix everything we needed him to, but we were taken by surprise at how much things would cost to do."
Fehmel's brick Colonial features an open floor plan, perfect for her young children. One reason she was in the market for a new house was she had been unable to find one that suited her needs.
"Everything was overpriced and we had two small kids who were becoming school age. We needed to make a move, so at the time, it was the best decision, money- and location-wise," said Fehmel.
But she was surprised at just how much she wanted to change the model home she originally picked,
The family paid $1.27 million for their house, but with upgrades and changes the total came to $1.5 million, Fehmel said. She also noted that what she discovered to be originally designed in the model home was completely different, in terms of upgrades offered.
"Things like appliances, insulation, cabinets. I tried to pick out everything I wanted, but the builder wanted it his way from his point of view. It was very frustrating," she said. "Some builders notify you of upgrades at cost, but that wasn't the case for us."
Michael Dubb, founder and CEO of the Beechwood Organization, which developed Country Pointe, said the purpose of the model home is to give the potential homebuyer a sense of what they can do or purchase with the model home.
"We have a certain type of buyer; some fall in love with the model and just want that, while others will make changes, such as a different color kitchen or countertop or different wooden floor," he said.
There are up to a dozen models at Country Pointe Plainview — ranging from 1,200 to 3,000 square feet — with prices starting in the high $700,000s to $1.5 million. According to Dubb, who partners with his son, Steven, a fully furnished home includes everything from lighting fixtures and furniture to knickknacks, bedding and window treatments. The process of making decisions on a model home begins at purchase and ends right before drywall goes up.
According to Dubb, and in Horowitz's own experience, everything cost-wise is transparent. Homebuyers are given the information upfront of what the property comes with and what each additional project or upgrade will cost. Homeowners association fees and taxes are other costs, but they are not surprise expenses.
The allure of a model home is peace of mind. "When you buy a new home, there's no mystery," Dubb said. "It comes with a warranty, the customer service is there, and all of the bugs are taken out of it. When you buy a resale, you don't know what's going on behind the walls of the house."