The phrase trending on the street is “new urbanism.” It’s popping up in communities as nearby as Crown whose tag line is “smart urban living.” The concept is anything but new to the vibrant neighborhoods in Kentlands and Lakelands. Ask Re/Max Metropolitan Realty’s Elaine Koch (pronounced ‘Cook’), a Kentlands resident since 1998 who says she has the distinction of being the longest active selling agent in the communities.
“We’re all so busy today. In Kentlands and Lakelands, everything’s here. We have schools, doctors, stores, activities—to be able to have all of that in one community is fantastic and to me that’s what new urbanism is—to have it all,” said Koch.
Tom Natelli, CEO and president of Natelli Communities, was a master developer of Lakelands where his company built 60 homes. He said, “Kentlands and Lakelands were truly groundbreaking in the country. This was the first large-scale attempt to bring the new urbanism concept into mainstream development in the United States, and it remains one of the highest concentration of homes in the new urbanism style. Joe Alfandre gets credit for having the vision to take that on.” There are over 4,000 homes in the two communities.
Natelli noted there are places in certain markets and locations where development under the urban design principles makes sense. “I’m an advocate for that style where it works in the marketplace. Not everyone has the discretionary income for an urban community. In areas where higher densities are possible and price points are getting pushed up like Montgomery County, those dynamics work. It’s very expensive to do it. You compromise … giving up acreage and two road systems are required to include alleys,” said Natelli.
Like the narrow streets of alleyways, it was the nooks and crannies, small staircases, and numerous fireplaces in the historic property Koch’s parents purchased in Olney that were the blueprint for her interest in real estate. The home was built in 1829, and Koch was fascinated by its unique features that included an attic where the original log cabin portion of the house could be viewed. While in high school she was drawn to Sandy Spring Museum to “dig up” photographs and information about the house. She got her license as a realtor while simultaneously attending college and working for a homebuilder. The history and charm of Kentlands naturally lured her.
She has witnessed an evolution in real estate. She said that in bygone days, realtors represented the sellers. Today, they represent both buyers and sellers, and she noted that technology has made the real estate landscape more efficient. “From the buyers side today, they’ve essentially seen half the house before they get there because they’ve done virtual tours. Sites such as Zillow have really educated our clients on ideas of what their home might be worth. We’re all more educated and informed in advance. But, what I’ve found that I think will never go away, is that no matter how savvy a seller thinks they can be about what their house is worth, they still want that professional opinion. They want a professional side-by-side guiding them and advising them,” said Koch.
She noted that realtors see the home from a buyer’s eye and know the trends and features buyers want to see in properties that increase the value of the home. “I put that plan together and at the end of the day, the seller gets top dollar for the house,” said Koch.
Clients sometimes ask to look in Darnestown but always come back to Kentlands. She added, “It’s challenging in general in here because the turnover is low in Kentlands and much higher in Lakelands. Once people are here, they don’t want to move.”
Koch said her long-standing reputation in the area is a key asset for listings and sales. She added, “Having a strong knowledge of the community is important because this is tough in here—every house is different. It’s not like going into a subdivision where every house is the same.”
Natelli explained that rather than using niche or small builders, developers incorporated the larger national building community who had the marketing muscle and could build for less per square foot. “We made a long, concerted effort to work with the builders to create a whole series of guidelines builders had to follow to take a somewhat standard product and offer variety in elevations. Joe Alfandre trailblazed on this and it resulted in a beautiful execution,” said Natelli.
What are some of the keys to Koch’s success? She said, “You need to be top in your field, to be honest and diligent, and show care and compassion. Selling a home is a very emotional process. You can have a first time homebuyer that’s scared to death or I’ll work with a client that’s had a home for 40 years, and no matter what it is, you just have to make them comfortable the entire time.”
Emerging trends Koch has observed are renovations that include decks, screened porches, bathroom and kitchen remodeling, and outdoor living enhancements. “We’re just at that time period if you’ve been here since the beginning, you want to make some changes—you want to bring your home up-to-date.”
Natelli indicated that the new urbanism movement is getting away from the traditional home model. In return for that, customers are getting a community design. “That’s more attractive for people that want to be in a neighborhood with front porches and a walkable community. In a conventional community, buyers want the most square footage in the house—it’s not about delivering something special in and out. With new urbanism, it’s not just the living experience inside the house but executing the entire living environment where people feel good about the spaces they’re in all the time.”
Is there competition with Crown? Koch smiled and said, “Okay, here’s my quick and dirty take on that. Yes, whenever you have new construction and something new, people flock to that. I think we will consistently have a group of people in Kentlands who won’t (look at Crown) because people love our schools here. This to me is more of a community feel. People will recognize that in here you know what you’re going to get. Many have tried to do the same kind of feel, but what we have here is so unique. The green space, the historic part of the community—the mansion, the Arts Barn—you don’t see those kinds of things in the new urbanism communities. My daughter and I can walk across the bridge and go watch a show. I will say this forever, you can’t duplicate this anywhere else.”
For more information, visit www.ElaineKoch.com.