Living smaller: Cottages at Willett Brook downsize one’s lifestyle
By Gail Geraghty
So many empty nesters can see the wisdom and necessity of simplifying and downsizing their lives — but they can’t see the way. Reorganizing the architecture of life at middle age is especially challenging for those who aren’t wealthy, yet want to find a smaller place that’s easy to heat and close to the home they’ve always known.
So it was a compelling curiosity to many local folks, when the tiny model home, offering simplified living in new construction, went up last summer on the side of Portland Road. So much so, that when development partners Justin McIver and Mark Lopez held an open house there over Memorial Day Weekend, people were literally standing in line waiting to get inside.
“When you have 150 people come through in two days, you know you’re onto something,” said Lopez, who said nearly everyone was amazed at how much bigger the home seemed once inside. “So many people came in, and the first thing they said was it’s about time someone did something like this.”
More than 600 prospects toured the model in the first six months. Around 40% of them were from Bridgton, with 25% from out of state and 35% from surrounding towns.
Just 16-feet-wide and 40-feet-long, the little cottage from the outside appear to be, well…a little too small. Yet with its highly-efficient use of space and cathedral ceilings, the one-bedroom cottage with spare room or den, a full kitchen and cozy living room offers a space for every comfort an older single person or couple might need.
“This simplifies your life by getting rid of all of the clutter,” Lopez said. Like kids in a candy store, they showed off all the space-saving features, such as a fold-up coffee table, behind-the-door bathroom cabinets and side-sliding doors. “You’re not giving up any of the amenities of a full size house.”
The base price of $129,900, and yearly total energy costs of $400 a year if they opt for rooftop solar panels, makes it all the easier to overcome any lingering emotional resistance to embracing the small-home concept, they said. A 30% federal tax credit for the solar comes with the 12-panel package; opting for a few more panels would result in zero annual utility costs, McIver said.
Many older people own their own homes outright, and can pay cash. But even if the total cost were financed over 30 years, the monthly mortgage payment for one of the mini homes would be around $700.
“It’s a matter of understanding homeowners’ needs,” said McIver, standing by the full-size stainless steel refrigerator behind the kitchen’s center island. Over the decade that he’s built high-end, highly energy-efficient homes as owner of Main Eco Homes, McIver said many people have said they loved his work, but wished he’d build something more affordable.
“People love to be here in the Bridgton area, and they need the housing to be here,” said McIver. “As a homebuilder and Bridgton resident, it’s pretty rewarding to be able to do this.”
A mini home community
After successfully testing the mini home concept, it was time for the two partners to take it to the next level. Building small is only part of the answer for simple living, they said. To complete the package for the 55 and older crowd requires creating an entire mini-community.
The result is the Cottages at Willett Brook at 234 South High Street, a 60-unit age-restricted community on 29 acres designed for maintenance-free living with an emphasis on socializing. The concept is common in Florida and many other states, but as far as Lopez is aware, the development will be a first in the state, in terms of the uniformity of the project’s design.
“It’s unique to Maine and New England, and well beyond New England,” said Lopez, who built two other age-restricted projects in New Hampshire and should know.
Five units have already been sold, and they expect the first 10-unit complex, or “pod,” to be completely sold out by next spring.
The partners, acting as Criterion Development, have just begun breaking ground on the new 1,800 square-foot clubhouse that will be built to the right of the entrance, called Community Way. A two-level building, the clubhouse is scheduled to be completed in the spring and will have a full kitchen, bathroom and large common area that residents can reserve for parties or large family gatherings. In keeping with the need for an active senior lifestyle, the lower level will have a fitness area with cardio equipment and weights.
Each mini home will sit on its own .13-acre lot around a semi-circle (pod) at the end of a side drive. Lopez said people especially like the fact that they will own the lot their home sets on, unlike many community-living developments in other states where residents pay a monthly fee. At the entrance to each pod, onsite storage and garage units will be available to each owner. In the middle of the cul-de-sac will be a garden area where residents can plant flowers or vegetables.
The residents won’t have to worry about shoveling snow, raking leaves or mowing their small lawn areas; all outdoor maintenance is taken care by the homeowner association fees. Their own maintenance needs will be few, as well, they say, because of the vinyl-sided construction of the new home on a slab.
The men say the project’s biggest demographic will be single women, and everything about the Cottages at Willett Brook was designed with comfort in mind.
“It’s a big change emotionally” to leave a large home where you’ve lived a long time, McIver said. “It’s a commitment for someone to embrace this concept.”
The partners are confident, however, that the whole town will embrace the Cottages at Willett Brook, once they are done.