The Great Recession was just starting to take hold when Howard “Chip” Hall left the high-tech startup industry to join his father’s vacation community development business.
As discretionary income for vacation homes depleted, the Halls saw a need for a renewed approach to their development businesses. With this in mind, Chip took the opportunity to redefine their business practices with his Silicon Valley experience by introducing tech tools that assisted in identifying customers and their desires, and at the same time, streamlined all business procedures.
The Halls also took what they learned from building vacation communities in the Northeast and applied it to the residential marketplace. Combining both the vacation “cottaging” community with residential cottage-style home communities, Cottage Advisors, since 2013, designs primary cottage-style homes and neighborhoods that allow homeowners to feel like they are on vacation all the time.
“When people are on vacation, they’re looking to make friends and build relationships,” said Chip. “We wanted to integrate this concept into residential neighborhoods, where we believed it was missing.”
Cottage Advisors weaves social fabric into their projects by prioritizing land for expansive, shared amenities such as parks, gathering areas, and pet friendly walking trails rather than for large, private lots. They build homes in clusters that are positioned closer to the streets to promote casual conversation between neighbors taking a walk and others on their front porches. They even centralize mail delivery to help neighbors interact with each other more frequently.
“Our developments provide homeowners an opportunity to form relationships in a casual way right from the get-go,” said Chip.
This built-in sense of community has been a selling point for Cottage Advisors’ core buyers, which largely have been downsizers and first-time homeowners. It’s an expanding customer base for the company, which they have been able to identify and target through tech tools like SalesForce.com, Google Analytics and AdWords and Buildertrend.
“We wanted to be able to understand who our customers are, where they are coming from, and how to communicate effectively with them,” Chip said.
With the data from these tools, he discovered that downsizers and first-time homeowners have something in common: they both prioritize outdoor living, their free time and do not want to be responsible for constant home maintenance.
To attract these buyers, Cottage Advisors engrained the low maintenance lifestyle into their developments. They even trademarked the term “Own Easy.” First, they committed to using high-quality building materials to reduce overall maintenance, which is why they use James Hardie® siding and trim products on their exteriors. Secondly, they set up their developments to include maintenance services such as landscaping and snow removal.
“We want people to actually be able to enjoy life,” Chip said. “They won’t have to worry about maintaining their homes because we’re building that into the product itself. The key component of the condominium or HOA services that we provide is to be able to take care of those lifestyle services for our owners. This way, our owners are able to enjoy their precious free time.”
Cottage Advisors continues to lean on data for business insights. For example, they noted a shortage of moderately priced homes in certain markets, which led them to introduce duplexes to new developments in these areas. They also use data to help them identify the ideal house size to incorporate into their projects.
Even as demographics and data shift, Cottage Advisors’ latest projects, The Cottages at Port Place, The Cottages at Drakes Landing and The Porches of Kennebunk, maintain the simplicity, charm, and sense of belonging within their communities that many homebuyers desire.
“Our projects all start with the cottages,” said Chip. “That’s what gives people an emotional connection to the community.”