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At Home on the Ranch
Across the region — and the nation — single-story home sales are hotter than ever.


Aug. 2019

The ease of attached garages and minimal stairs illustrate ranch homes’
appeal from the moment you enter.
Photo courtesy of Bielinski Homes

With their airy, West Coast casual charm, ranch homes have never gone out of style in metro Milwaukee, bucking numerous local and regional homebuying trends throughout the decades.

In fact, local real estate professionals agree that ranches are more in demand than ever in today’s frenzied housing market.

“They are going like hotcakes,” says Shorewest Realtor Jim Fisher, who works primarily with homebuyers in Ozaukee County and Milwaukee’s North Shore area.

While younger couples with larger families gravitate to two-story homes, ranches are a hit among homebuyers of all ages. “It’s just an easier lifestyle. You get these great open concepts,” says Paul Bielinski, CEO of Waukesha’s Bielinski Homes. “The ranch home has a wider appeal.”

Bielinski and John Harlos, vice president of sales and marketing for Elm Grove homebuilder Kings Way Homes, note that ranches, many of which have a limited number of — or complete lack of — stairs, appeal in particular to baby boomers, who may suffer from health conditions such as arthritis.

Photo courtesy of Bielinski Homes

Photo courtesy of Kings Way Homes

Formal dining rooms have given way to effortless open living spaces with high-end touches.

It’s not just the traditional ranch drawing in hopeful homeowners. Split-level ranch homes, or homes with staggered levels, are also in demand.

“The No. 1 priority is that people want a first-floor master bedroom,” Fisher says, noting that decks and patios attached to master bedrooms — particularly those overlooking scenic lakes and verdant woods — are sought-after home features too.

First-floor home offices and sunrooms are also popular requests. Large living areas with spacious kitchens have all but replaced formal dining rooms, a thing of the past for homeowners with hectic lifestyles and demanding careers who have little time to entertain houseguests.

Many baby boomers are empty-nesters who prefer to downsize without sacrificing luxurious housing amenities and features, such as granite countertops and vaulted ceilings. “It’s either granite or quartz. People still want that look, the natural stone look,” explains Fisher. Many homebuyers desire the pleasing contrast of dark wooden floors with white appliances; however, oak trim is decidedly outdated.

“People hate oak — it’s a four-letter word,” Fisher notes.

Kings Way Homes’ John Harlos notes that ranch home are “consistent top performers” across the region, because they allow homebuyers to both raise families and age in place comfortably.
Photo courtesy of Kings Way Homes

Often, ranch homes have finished walk-out basements (with doors for entrance and egress), lower-level spaces converted into a separate suite with a bedroom, full bathroom and a kitchenette, making the style of home ideal for multi-generational living or entertaining guests.

Bielinski says that his company’s ranch duplex condominiums — located in Waukesha, Oconomowoc and Eagle — are also hot sellers. These homes without stairs can be entered through a garage and feature wider hallways to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, step-in showers and levers on doors instead of doorknobs. “We’ve designed this with baby boomers in mind,” he says.

Seemingly immune to housing market trends, ranch homes remain perennial favorites.

“I don’t know that ranch home popularity has ever left. Ranches are consistently sold in our communities, from Brookfield to Mukwonago,” says Harlos, adding that the homes are “consistent top performers” for Kings Way Homes.

Spacious bathrooms with walk-in showers and easy-grip cabinet handles such as those in this Bielinski Homes master bath accommodate homeowners who use mobility aids such as walkers and wheelchairs.
Photo courtesy of Bielinski Homes

In today’s bustling real estate market, Waukesha County ranch homes typically start at $300,000 and 1,400 square feet, but a custom-built home on a prime lot can run over $800,000 and exceed 2,400 square feet. Fisher explains that a lack of available lot space in Ozaukee County is driving custom-built home prices up. These days, a homebuyer can easily spend more than $500,000 on a newly-built home.

“New construction costs are so astronomical right now,” Fisher says. Many homebuyers opt to purchase and remodel existing ranch homes in cities like Mequon and Thiensville, many of which were built in the 1960s and are about 2,000 square feet. These ranches, which typically contain three bedrooms and two baths, begin at about $400,000. Neutral hues, especially darker grays, are choice home exterior colors.

Fisher adds that millennial homebuyers, many of whom have bustling careers, prefer houses on very little land, which translates to less yard maintenance. “They [millennials] prefer more concrete and deck, rather than having to cut the grass,” he says.

With housing inventory in short supply, homes built on speculation, or “spec homes,” now account for about two-thirds of Bielinski Homes sales, a number which, according to Bielinski, used to be a considerably smaller percentage.

“We see a lot of people turning to spec homes,” he says. “We live in a world of instant gratification. People want a home, but don’t want to wade through the building process.”

This story ran in the August 2019  issue of: