By LISA KLEIN
The past couple of years turned most aspects of life upside down, notably how consumers feel about their homes and where they live.
Telecommuting, time to reevaluate lifestyles and major real estate market shifts have churned out a new type of luxury homebuyer, the affluent trailblazer, who is trading in the big-city bustle for Main Street or even a gravel road.
“I believe that the pandemic has really made all of us rethink our lives just a bit,” said Bif Carrington, an agent in Connecticut with William Raveis Real Estate.
“To reassess what is important and to feel the need to dial everything back, and really take a look at what is a priority to us as individuals, as husbands and wives, as parents and as homeowners,” he said.
A quiet place
A 2020 Coldwell Banker report found that wealthy individuals were moving to far-flung locations in droves, coining the term “affluent trailblazers.”
The explorer cohort, those seeking off-the-beaten path properties in rural areas and small hidden-gem towns, tend to be on the younger side and are family-focused.
“We believe the definition of luxury has changed,” said Elizabeth Keckler, director of sales for Splinter Creek, a forested lakeside development in Taylor, Mississippi. “We’ve seemed to drift away from the flashy, concierge-style, or even high price tag that equals luxury to some.”
Splinter Creek is a collection of eco-friendly, custom homes that meld into the surrounding woods a few miles outside of town. The development has seen buyers from retirees to young families seeking a place to slow down their daily pace and connect with nature.
“They’re looking to invest in the future or in a different lifestyle,” Ms. Keckler said of Splinter Creek homebuyers.
“There’s a lot of different kinds of people approaching us, but most are coming to us to have a meaningful experience within a different chapter in life,” she said.
To the north in Connecticut, there is an increase in buyers leaving urban areas such as New York and Boston for the smaller villages in Litchfield County in the northwest corner of the state.
“Many city dwellers seek out this part of Connecticut as an excellent location to purchase a weekend home because of its close proximity to NYC, open and lush scenery, and seasonal climate,” Mr. Carrington said.
“This kind of lifestyle is enjoyed so much that it does not take long for many to trade their primary homes in the city for their secondary home in the Litchfield Hills,” he said.
This pandemic-driven trend has had many East-Coasters looking for larger homes in the area.
Rural and small-town buyers also get more bang for their buck – a home on the Connecticut shoreline in a town such as Deep River costs a third or fourth of a similar Hamptons house.
The simple life
When Splinter Creek started out, there was not much demand for high-end modern homes in a natural setting, especially in northern Mississippi.
“Over time, as people heard more about this distinctive project for the South, the response to the place was magical,” Ms. Keckler, whose parents bought the land in the 1990s, said.
The main focus there is the three lakes and boating, fishing, swimming and kayaking along with communal docks and fire pits. The area also has 10 miles of hiking trails and is working on a fitness center and barn apartments for guests.
The development is close enough to several smaller towns – Taylor, Water Valley and Oxford – that it is not completely removed from restaurants, bars and art.
“We have the lakes, land, trails and outdoor spaces that truly allow you to feel disconnected, but you are just a few miles away from lots of active cities,” Ms. Keckler said.
In Connecticut, full-time residents fall for the charm of local festivals, town green celebrations, county fairs, antiquing and vineyard-hopping along with the much quieter and snowier winter season.
“Luxury buyers want to not only enjoy all the amenities of their home, but to soak in and enjoy the surroundings of the town or village where they live,” Mr. Carrington said.
“Atmosphere is key,” he said. “Open spaces, green vistas, farm-to-table restaurants, farmers markets and organic cooperatives all factor into making the ideal setting.”
That ideal setting has changed for many affluent homebuyers recently, and areas such as Splinter Creek and Litchfield County represent a shift in priorities for the luxury sector.
“No matter the age or lifestyle of the buyer, they’re all ready for a retreat and establishing roots,” Ms. Keckler said of Splinter Creek. “It’s a place where people see themselves and their families for generations.
“There is this great diversity of people, but they all seem to be here to catch a moment and freeze time a bit,” she said.