Architecture and DesignExterior Design

Designing Attainably for Homebuyers Today

Builder, developers and architects alike need to implement innovative, highly functional designs at a more affordable price point

By Dave Kosco

The buzzword for last year was “attainability,” a focused shift away from the term affordability and all the stigma it carries. Affordability in the housing industry has often implied something that is less than – below market rate or subsidized. Any or all could be true, but in many instances, none of them were. Attainable housing is that which upholds the integrity of good design yet remains accessible for the consumer. In 2023 we saw and were involved in several attainable efforts, some breaking the mold in their approach while others were smart, simple moves to achieve a goal. 

ADUs: Recent California legislation has unlocked homeowner and developer opportunities for the inclusion of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their properties. Whether existing homeowners want to build or convert a portion of their property to an ADU, or a developer looks to incorporate ADUs in new builds, the state no longer prevents it. In fact, California just passed legislation that allows owners to sell an ADU outright, whereas previous legislation limited it to rental only. 

The goal of this housing policy is to grow attainable housing stock. Developers now push for creative and innovative approaches on even the smallest of lots. The study below demonstrates how on a very compact footprint, a two-story ADU was incorporated in a very functional design while maintaining a good degree of separation and privacy from the main residence.

Even though attached to the main home, this ADU affords separation and privacy for those in both dwellings.

In Ontario, CA, New Home Co’s Lincoln at NUVO Parkside incorporates a small but sophisticated two-bedroom plus loft home at just 1,082 square feet. The simple form layered with a sophisticated elevation was one of the top selling homes on release in the master plan. Its architectural presence overwhelmingly exceeded consumer expectations for what they could have in a home for the price. A beautiful example of high design at a very attainable price.

Mixed materials and bands of color at the top and the corner combine to create a visually arresting elevation without adding significantly to cost.

Depending on where development is occurring, land can be a very substantial percentage of the overall home cost. In many markets, specifically Southern California, it can be as high as 70% to 80% of the cost of the home. With ratios like that, it’s not hard to understand why in more desirable markets, attainability is out of reach for many buyers, particularly first-time buyers. To combat that, we’ve been exploring opportunities outside of major metropolitan areas where homes are developed on standard lot sizes and sold, but the land remains on a lease to the buyer, substantially reducing the price and up front, out-of-pocket costs for the home. This model will have a significant impact for first-time home buyers who can attain a home more affordably, and as they build equity, trade up to their next acquisition. 

Creative thinking and models for development will become increasingly more important as interest rates rise and housing and land supply decrease creating an even larger gap for attainability. 

David Kosco is director of design at Bassenian Lagoni.