Experiencing a Home Before It Is Built


KUMAR KUNAPARAJU traveled from his rented home in Elmont to Islandia recently with a very specific idea of what he wanted in a new house: a price near $450,000, a neighborhood no more than a one-and-a-half hour commute from Manhattan and a model that conforms to the Indian tenets of home design and orientation called Vaastu.

No problem.

"I researched the whole thing online," Mr. Kunaparaju said of his search for a home for himself and his wife, Sarata, and their youngest daughter, who is planning to join her older sister at the State University of New York at Stony Brook after graduating from high school.

Ultimately, he landed on a Long Island-based home builder's Web site, that of the Beechwood Organization (www.beechwoodhomes.com).

Beechwood recently opened its regional sales and design center in Islandia, which is where Mr. Kunaparaju went to check out Country Pointe at Medford, a gated community of 74 single-family homes. Beechwood is only now leveling the ground for construction but is planning to have buyers moving into the homes beginning in December.

The sales and design center provides one-stop shopping, said Joyce Skarka, Beechwood's director of sales and marketing, for the builder's developments, including Country Pointe at Medford, a gated community of the type that has been popping up all over Long Island in recent years.

Centers like Beechwood's are an increasingly popular tool for large residential developers. A visiting home buyer can spend the day looking at detailed miniature home models from several communities, get close up to the interiors that pull out of the models like drawers, and flip through brochures over espresso and cookies in the cafe.

After choosing the community and the home model, buyers can walk down a hallway (dropping off the children in the playroom first) and apply for a mortgage. Up one flight of stairs is the design center with choices of wooden flooring, carpeting, staircase designs, kitchen countertops and cabinets, walk-in showers, spas and whirlpools.

Mr. Kunaparaju looked at the center's miniature models and pored over details of the different home layouts. The house, he said, must have two important Vaastu requirements: the front door must face northeast, and the master bedroom must be in the southwest corner of the home.

Sure enough, Beechwood's Laurel model, so long as it sits on an east-facing lot, fits the bill.

"The only minus is that it's far from the city," Mr. Kunaparaju said, although his wife's commute, currently by bus and subway from Elmont to Manhattan, will take about the same time on the nearby Long Island Rail Road.

The new sales center is particularly attractive to people 55 and older who may not be first-time buyers, said Kathy Sheck, Beechwood's director of merchandising and design.

"The empty-nester wants everything kind of done for them," Ms. Sheck said. "When they come in the home, they'll find it's more finished than what a typical builder will do."

In a small theater inside the sales office at the Hamlet at Willow Creek in Mount Sinai, a 185-acre gated community of 177 single-family homes and an 18-hole golf course, a computer-generated movie gives viewers the feeling of flying into the finished community and then driving along tree-lined streets, past trim lawns and shrubs. A handsome digital couple talks beside an S.U.V. in one driveway. Turning onto the circular driveway to the clubhouse, viewers see a digital man near the front entrance looking distractedly in the distance, as if waiting for his ride.

It's not Fellini, but the tour does have a surreal, almost hypnotic, quality: imaginary residents are talking, gardening, applying suntan lotion or discussing their golf technique on the links, but viewers cannot hear them.

Prospective buyers may want to see the film a few times to get the details (what kind of carpeting is on the card room floor?), an easy task as the movie keeps repeating.

The Montreal-based company Alpha Vision Inc. produces the films based on design information from the home builder.

"When we speak with the developer, the first thing we need is the architectural plans, the colors of the homes, the clubhouse, the gatehouse, the types of exteriors," said Marc Lamoureux, president of Alpha Vision. "For the interiors we need all of the information from the designers. We match every single fabric, finishes, the marble; everything is matched perfectly, which is very important."

The Alpha Vision tour "really brings the presentation alive," said Ron Bloomfield, director of sales and marketing at the Holiday Organization, who has worked there for 28 years. Builders, he said, can sell homes much earlier now, using the high level of detail in virtual tours.

"It always amazed me to see how the movie came to look this complete," Mr. Bloomfield said as he pointed out the carpeting in the real clubhouse at Willow Creek that appeared as a computer-generated building in the virtual tour before construction began.

Alpha Vision's computer programmers, artists, designers, landscapers and architects create a computerized three-dimensional rendering of the community. The 12-year-old company has a library of footage of people filmed in various situations against a blank screen (the same way meteorologists report the weather on television news programs). The characters are cataloged according to their ages.

The Holiday tour uses digitized versions of the models, but Alpha Vision's latest technology integrates the actual footage of the models into the film, making them seem less surreal. "It's almost like making people live in an architectural program," Mr. Lamoureux said.

Beechwood's Islandia sales and design center does not yet have its virtual tour up and running, though the smell of microwaved cookies wafted very realistically through the air. The company plans to present an Alpha Vision virtual tour in the future, Ms. Skarka said.

But there was enough information for Mr. Kunaparaju to find the right home and community using his online research, the information at the design center and a visit to the site of the Medford community.

He plans to make a deposit on the Laurel model, he said by telephone a few days after his visit. "After seeing this design center, I can imagine how our house will be," Mr. Kunaparaju said. "That's a big help."