Builder shifts away from Charleston-style homes, upsetting previous buyers

Liberty Hall Plantation neighbors Aaron Jagow (from left), and Betty and John Hartgrove are opposed to the new Centex homes being built in their neighborhood. Buy this photo

John and Betty Hartgrove moved into the Foster’s Creek section of the Liberty Hall Plantation in 2007, drawn largely by the neighborhood’s sea of Charleston-style single homes.

The architecture also lured Aaron Jagow roughly two years ago, and Tim and Fran Burke, who bought their home in 2007.

“We paid a $30,000 premium over the same house in other places,” Jagow said. “We bought on curb appeal, and this neighborhood sells itself.”

The neighborhood’s character is now being threatened, according to Jagow and other residents who live in a row of Charleston single homes on Old Jackson Road. Their houses are just across the street from land that Centex Homes is developing into a less expensive concept that it says buyers are looking for now.

The contemporary-style two-story homes have stone facades, front garages and slanted roofs. About half a dozen are in various stages of construction.

Jagow doesn’t like it. He said he was told the neighborhood would be filled exclusively with Charleston single homes, with features such as narrow floor plans, two-story side piazzas, detached garages and large windows.

“If I am going to buy a house in Charleston, it’s going to be a Charleston home,” Jagow said. “This looks like something I would see in Michigan,” Jagow said.

John Hartgrove agreed.

“Foster’s Creek was scheduled to be all Charleston single homes when we bought here,” he said. “Now, they made the decision to build different homes, and we’re feeling like we were left out of the loop.”

Centex defends the changes it’s making at Foster’s Creek. The builder, part of Pulte Homes, said the newer designs reflect what today’s buyers are seeking and are intended to help complete the neighborhood, which has been slowly taking shape for nearly a decade.

Liberty Hall is a 1,400-acre planned community at Liberty Hall Road and North Rhett Extension. The project was started in 2004 and was to have as many as 849 homes spread over three neighborhoods. Mulberry Park and Brick Barn Pointe contain a mix of home designs and started as low as $120,000 in 2004. The Charleston single homes in Foster’s Creek when it started were priced higher and could top $200,000, depending on the details, according to advertisements.

The newer homes in the neighborhood are less than $200,000.

Centex said its change of strategy is backed by market research.

“In fact, we have had success in positive traffic and increased sales as a result of introducing the product line in this specific neighborhood, indicating that these floor plans and elevations better resonate with today’s homebuyer,” spokeswoman Valerie Dolega said in a written statement.

Elaine Worzala, director of the Carter Real Estate Center at the College of Charleston School of Business, said Foster’s Creek isn’t the exception. Design changes are becoming a common occurrence within partially completed neighborhoods.

“The developer purchased that land and they have been slowly developing it and their idea was probably to sell out well before now,” she said. “For a while, nobody could get financing, but now people are coming back into the market and they are a much smarter buyer. They might not be able to pay the higher price, and they could be demanding a smaller space because then costs would be cheaper.”

Foster’s Creek residents like Fran Burke said the new homes are out of place.

“Everything is about aesthetics and we understand that, but why would they put in houses that aesthetically and architecturally don’t fit,” she said. “It is mind-boggling why wouldn’t they keep this community the way it was.”

Also, she’s worried about the impact on the Charleston-style single homes when she and other owners try to sell.

“This causes our property values to go down,” she said. “You don’t even have the neighborhood you were promised.”

Worzala said she sympathizes with owners like Burke, but added that “you would rather have the land developed than have the neighborhood go underdeveloped. If you have too much underdevelopment then the developer goes under and the development could go into foreclosure.”

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