There Goes the Neighborhood

The fight to save property values in a down economy
Chris Edwards
Cathi Higgins’s subdivision is one of seventeen in Indian Trail facing the possibility of developers building homes that are significantly less expensive than was intended for the neighborhood.

Cathi Higgins loves her home in Indian Trail, a roomy brick house in a tight-knit neighborhood. But Higgins’s house is one of only two finished on her block in the quaint subdivision of Sheridan. Overgrown grass fills the rest of the open lots. And it’s the same on every street in her subdivision, which includes 200-plus empty lots among the forty homes built. Builders are finally working to change that, but the neighbors are fighting it.

Now, instead of continuing to construct a neighborhood of 2,700- to 4,000-square-foot brick houses that once sold for more than $400,000, Ryan Homes, the builder in Higgins’s neighborhood, is selling smaller homes clad in fiber cement (a building material that looks like vinyl siding) that will sell for $180,000. And Higgins and her neighbors are furious, knowing the change would affect their property values indefinitely. “We have about forty homes and we were supposed to have 245,” she says. “They were all supposed to be big and brick, but last March we got notification that the developer changed the community covenants to allow for smaller homes using different materials.”

Indian Trail Mayor John Quinn says it’s happening in neighborhoods across the area, and he counts seventeen subdivisions in Indian Trail alone dealing with similar scenarios. “The main complaint from homeowners is that the neighborhood they were buying into—from the price point to what the homes would look like—it’s all changing,” he says. “When things go bad and developers can’t sell houses, they have the right to change the rules, build cheaper houses. But that will certainly bring down values.”

That’s why the Town Council recently worked with Higgins and other homeowners on a new ordinance to try to protect existing homeowners. From now on, new builders have to maintain the style and size of the homes built in a neighborhood. But the ordinance is not retroactive. “It won’t really help us,” Higgins says, “but at least it will help others.” In the meantime, she and her neighbors are making the most of what they have. The women regularly meet for dinner and often enjoy the walking trails. But the pool they were promised is not built. Nor is the clubhouse. Only one-sixth of the homes in their planned community are built.

“I love the people,” Higgins says. “I know almost all of my neighbors and we’re a very cohesive group. I love my house, the town. What’s happening with Ryan Homes—I’ll learn to live with it. I have to.”