Elaborate home theaters, heated driveways and indoor water falls are just a few features that, though considered luxuries by most standards, are becoming increasingly common in Routt County's ever-growing high-end home market.
Commercial-grade appliances, multiple bedroom suites and high-quality metal, wood and stone work top the list of features affluent buyers expect in their second or full-time homes.
Homes aren't just getting plusher, they are getting bigger -- much bigger, say local building contractors, such as Mark Folkestad of Amaron Folkestad General Contractors. He recently began work on a 12,000-square-foot home, which is about three times bigger than the largest home he remembers building in the early 1990s, he said.
Still, buyers always seem to have their sights on bigger, flashier homes, and it's the resale of luxury homes that largely is creating inventory that attracts more high-end buyers, according to some real estate brokers.
"Americans are so progressive," said broker Becky Ferguson of Mason & Morse Real Estate. "They move forward and capitalize on their ideas. ... They are going to build newer and better homes."
Buyers' tastes are gravitating toward classic mountain homes that are more elegant than rustic. But with most luxury homes averaging about 6,000 square feet, builders and designers constantly are challenged with making interiors feel inviting rather than cavernous.
"What I've seen in a couple of new homes, is they are trying to get a better feel for warmth," said Joan Shenfield of Colorado Group Realty, adding that she's seen a lot of glazing and distressing of walls and finishes.
Custom homebuilder Rob Albertini of Albertini Construction said he has gotten a lot of requests for hand-hewn timbers and wrought-iron hand railings artistically formed in the shape of leaves and branches.
Other popular finishes include colored concrete countertops, as well as natural stone tiling, countertops and back splashes. Slab granite, travertine and marble are common choices.
Homeowners also are seeking comfortable floor plans that can accommodate quiet family-only nights and large parties equally as well.
Main-level master suites are very common, and more homeowners want an extra laundry room off the master closet. Other bedrooms often are mini-suites with private bathrooms and walk-in closets.
"They (buyers) are definitely looking for a well-designed home, not just from an architectural standpoint, but in terms of the kitchen and bathrooms -- using designers specific to those areas," said Joan Conroy of Steamboat Village Brokers.
She said tubs that use air jets rather than water jets, to prevent molding, are the new popular item in bathrooms.
One of the most important aspects of homes is the kitchen and dining area, which should be bright, open and ideal for entertaining, Ferguson said.
More kitchens are being designed with top-of-the-line, six-burner gas ranges, as well as double ovens, Subzero refrigerators and two dishwashers.
Homeowners also aren't having any problem using all the space in the homes, which typically include at least a few specialty rooms geared toward hobbies and entertainment.
Full exercise rooms with mirrored walls, hot tubs and saunas are fairly common, Tom Fox of Fox Construction Inc. said.
Home theaters, complete with stairs, large chairs and thousands of dollars in audio visual equipment also are popular, said Fox, who recently built a home that included $250,000 of equipment in one room.
Folkestad said he's had a lot of requests for custom craft rooms and art studios for painters, sculptors, sewers and quilters. A stargazing dome, complete with high-powered telescopes, is one of the more interesting rooms Folkestad has built, he said.
Outdoor areas are just as important as indoor spaces for many buyers and homeowners. Heated driveways, walkways and even heated decks provide snow-free comfort in the winter.
Fox's clients have requested various water features, including lighted streams, outdoor fountains and sheets of water that come down walls into reflecting pools indoors, he said.
To manage their homes, homeowners are requesting complex computer systems enabling them to adjust heating, cooling, security and lighting systems with the touch of a button.
Computers also allow residents remote access to lighting and other systems through the phone.
Depending on the scale of finishes and amenities, high-end options typically bring custom home costs to at least $300 a square foot, Albertini said.
"Money is not a problem for these people," he said.
The size and caliber of many custom homes is keeping most contractors busy year round. Folkestad remembers the days when it took about six months to build most homes, leaving a little time in the off-season for a breather.
Now, very few homes take less than a year, said Folkestad, who expects the 12,000-square-foot home to take about two years.
"Now, there's never any time off," he said.
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