By David Peterson, Star Tribune
Disputing 'McMansion' label
Toll Brothers dislikes the term "McMansion." Salespeople for the Eagan project say they outlaw cookie-cutter construction, meaning they won't build identical facades side by side.
But, of the big national firms producing thousands of homes from standard patterns in dozens of states, Toll Brothers is the only one in the luxury niche, with average prices far higher than any other firm. Base prices start around $600,000, but buyers say add-ons add up fast.
"You look at the wonderful model, and don't realize that everything you're seeing is an 'add-on,' " said Susan Dub, a computer industry executive who recently moved into a carriage home at Steeplechase of Eagan.
Although few buyers have moved in yet -- 10 townhomes are occupied of the 95 planned -- the company has sold another 24 and has deposits on a few more, Noonan said.
"Is that slower than we would like?" Absolutely," he said. "We would love to have sold them all by now. But it's a market challenging to all builders."
Among the challenges: as much as a family might want to buy, it first needs to sell what it has. And that's tough in a market in which buyers are waiting for markdowns. Just ask the Tschidas.
"We put our old house on market last spring," Nancy said, "and it took six months to sell. We had to make double mortgage payments for a couple of months. It was a little stressful. And we had to drop our price by a lot."
Happily, some buyers say, Toll Brothers had to be flexible as well.
"They've offered some nice incentives from a pricing perspective," said Dave Gagne, an executive who sold a $1 million house in Inver Grove Heights and expects to move into a 4,000-square-foot luxury townhome along a creek at Steeplechase within six months. "They threw in a couple of substantial options that probably saved me 5 to 7 percent."
New owners seem unconcerned about the pace of sales. Toll Brothers has various means of trumpeting sales when they do occur, encouraging a sense of momentum: Signs on lots make the point, and Monopoly-like houses on pins change color on a big map of the development inside the model home.
The model is a jaw-dropper, with its own home theater, video arcade, 18-foot ceilings and hand-scraped walnut floorboards that look as if they'd been retrieved from Mount Vernon or some other historic stately home.
And if most people's actual homes are a bit more real -- "I can only afford so many flat-screen TVs," Dub told a friend as she moved in, after being gently mocked for the old-fashioned version on the kitchen counter -- buyers say they appreciate what some call East Coast or Southern touches of an out-of-town builder, including 5-inch white trim everywhere.
All in all, said Nancy Tschida, "we are very, very happy here," in their 6,200 square feet of space. "We had some negotiating power, as early buyers, and got a good deal."
David Peterson • 612-673-4440 • firstname.lastname@example.org