Chalk it up to the increasing popularity of "staycations" in a struggling economy. While a pricey vacation may be out of the question, spending time close to home is one of life's simpler pleasures. Outdoor living areas are viewed as the perfect environment for entertaining, enjoying family time or unwinding at the end of the day.
Whether buyers are looking for a taste of Tuscany or their own putting green, West Point Gardens in Elgin can tailor landscaping to fit the budget and lifestyle.
The development of 470 single-family homes and town houses is built around a 13-acre park. All homes have front porches and many have gardens.
"Buyers can sit down with our landscape designer and choose elements from their favorite garden, while eliminating those they don't want or are not within their budget," said Patrick Curran, president of Hinsdale-based West Point Builders.
"For example, the Fireside Garden in the Camelot single-family home is highlighted by a large outdoor fireplace with furniture arranged in a conversation grouping. Also included are a hot tub, large deck, covered walkway and deck between the home and garage plus an open landscaped lawn. A buyer may want to eliminate the fireplace but may want the hot tub and other elements of the garden. The garden is designed to the buyer's preferences, and the price adjusted accordingly."
The enclosed gardens are ideal for kids' play areas and warm-weather entertaining, Curran said.
Homebuyers also can upgrade to a porch on the second floor.
"Homeowners (with second-story porches) enjoy their lifestyle from a more private setting," he said. "They can see what's happening in the neighborhood and at the park, but from a more private, elevated vantage point."
Rooftop decks are another way to get a bird's-eye view of a neighborhood. Where yards are small, they offer much-needed outdoor space too.
Rooftop terraces are available at Airhart Construction's new-home developments in Wheaton: College Station and Courthouse Square.
"A lot of times in tighter developments, people are looking for a place not to kick a soccer ball but to sit out and have a cup of coffee, entertain friends; to simply have an outdoor space," said company President Court Airhart. "Their focus may no longer be on the backyard, but they still want to be outdoors."
A big factor in the success of the Lexington Square row homes in Chicago was Lexington Homes' decision to create rooftop decks, said company co-principal Jeff Benach.
"We knew this would be a single-family substitute, and because the homes were likely to interest families, we knew we had to create outdoor space," Benach said.
"If you want plants, you can have a pretty extensive garden up there," he said. "You can have some nice patio furniture, can grill up there and have a great time."
In addition to a rooftop deck, each Lexington Square row home has a rear balcony off the kitchen and a fenced-in front yard.