Focus and Real Estate

Franchise finds niche home market in WM

Builder is catering to clients who are 50-plus with new communities.

June 26, 2015
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senior home franchise
Covenant Development is involved with construction of several new communities throughout West Michigan. Courtesy Covenant Development

About a dozen years ago, Peter Engles was living in Columbus, Ohio, trying to find a way into the real estate market.

Now he lives in Grand Rapids, where he is president of Covenant Developments, a successful real estate development business and franchise that builds homes for people who generally are age 50 and up.

Covenant Developments built The Villas of Ada, 830 Bridge Crest Drive SE in Ada Township, and the Villas of Rivertown, 3510 Water Walk Drive in Grandville — both of which have sold out — and is currently building The Villas of Holland at 51 Country Club Road.

Engles also will bring detached condos to the market in 2016.

In 2004, Engles became an Epcon Franchise Builder with Columbus-based Epcon Communities and built his first community in West Michigan in 2006. He now runs the Michigan territory and is considered one of the most successful franchisees in the Epcon network.

A development franchise is an unusual niche, especially one targeted for seniors, but Engles said the process was exactly what he needed.

“I was working for Time Warner Cable, and I had a friend (who) started investing in some Epcon communities, and the marketplace he chose was Indianapolis. … Through my friendship, I saw how it was working for him — and it was working very well.

“I had always been fascinated with development with the building of communities,” he said.

“One of the reasons my wife and I moved here (is) my wife is originally from Holland. I had never been here, and she said, ‘Let me take you up,’ and literally the first time I was here, it was exactly everything she said it was.”

Engles wanted to build a community he could call “part of the greater fabric.” His homes are single-floor with one-, two- or three-bedrooms and generally range between 1,500 and 2,500 square feet. The absence of steps appeals to the older generation, he said. They’re also semi-custom homes that are personalized for the clients.

Most of the people who purchase his homes are empty-nesters — but not necessarily people who are retired, he said.

“The days of saying ‘I’m retired’ don’t exist anymore. The old adage of, ‘I’m 60, 65, I’m retiring and taking a pension’ — that’s not how it works anymore. People are just working longer because that’s what they want to do. And also, people are switching careers. So to say they’re retired and not working anymore isn’t accurate,” Engles said.

“They are choosing how and what they’re going to work. Many of them work every day, but it’s all volunteer (or part time). They pursue their passion.”

Engles said the housing market for those who are 50-plus is strong in West Michigan because of the community’s family-oriented culture. Even people who spend winters elsewhere don’t want to leave behind their West Michigan roots. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need different housing options as they age. They need a housing product to make that transition more comfortable.

“They don’t want to leave their core area. They love their friends, churches and doctor. It’s just that they have this house that’s bigger than they need. What I love is the opportunity to create a community that fits their needs from a housing standpoint,” he said.

“People who are retirement age aren’t leaving. It’s the connection to family. Family is so important in West Michigan that they don’t leave. Even the snowbirds who go away for a couple months, they come back. They want to make sure they come back to see their kids and grandkids.”

It’s also important to this niche market that the homes work well for an aging population. They want an arrangement that requires less maintenance and accommodates them as they get older.

“I also love the fact that we’re building age-in-place communities,” he said. “To be clear, we’re not building assisted living communities — that’s not what they’re looking for. But they like to know they can stay in one of these homes longer because they’re built that way.”

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