Ann and Scott Kemmitt owned their 3,000-square-foot home in Maple Grove for nearly three decades. Once their two sons grew up and moved out, the empty nesters wanted to be done with home maintenance.
"I am an electrician. I am outside all day," Scott Kemmitt said. "I didn't want to come home and weed the garden and cut the grass."
The couple sold their home and eventually leased a house in Beacon Ridge, a new neighborhood of single-family rental homes in Plymouth, becoming part of the newest trend in Twin Cities suburban living. Neighborhoods of single-family rental houses are planned or have recently been built in four Twin Cities suburbs. Altogether, more than 360 such houses could go up in Maple Grove, Plymouth, Woodbury and Inver Grove Heights — some with rents topping $4,000 a month.
City leaders say they welcome this new type of rental that meets a growing demand for flexible housing options.
"What we hear from people all the time is they want to rent and they want the option for a maintenance-free lifestyle but they don't want the shared walls," said Joe Hogeboom, Maple Grove's community and economic development director. "This really appeals to a lot of people. I think we will see a lot more of this in the metro and in Maple Grove, and it will be really welcome here."
Watermark Equity Group, based in suburban Chicago, is the developer behind four of these new neighborhoods. They're marketing the communities as suburban living with resort amenities, including pools, clubhouses, dog parks and fitness trails. The homes have high-end finishes and smart-home features, such as cameras at their front doors and keyless entry.
Rent also includes concierge-style services. Staff members plow driveways, mow and fertilize lawns, and maintain appliances.
"It's really a new product in the marketplace over the last four to five years, primarily in the South," said Ian Peterson, Watermark's director of operations. "You see a lot of these in Phoenix, Dallas, Fort Worth and even Florida."
The Twin Cities area, with its cluster of Fortune 500 companies and its thriving professional class, seemed like a ripe market for this style of housing, Peterson said.
Homes range in size from 1,500 square feet to more than 3,000. Monthly rents rival a mortgage payment. They start around $2,000 and climb to more than $4,000 depending on the location and amenities. Leases can range from one to three years.
"The average income for the folks who live in our communities is about $150,000," Peterson said. "These are people who can afford to buy, but they are choosing to live this lifestyle."
The lack of maintenance is a big part of the appeal. He said about a third of renters are empty nesters, sometimes with vacation homes elsewhere.
Another third are middle-age people, some single or recently divorced, and professionals who relocate frequently for work. The final third are younger millennial couples testing out life in the suburbs.
"They've done the North Loop thing and the Uptown thing. They are starting to have kids and want extra space," Peterson said. "They want their own four walls."
A new trend for suburbs
For decades, homeownership has been a defining feature of suburbs. More than 80% of residents in Maple Grove and Woodbury own their homes, according to census data.
Apartments and other rental properties have not always been well received in suburban communities, with homeowners raising concerns about increased density and traffic as well as substandard upkeep. But Twin Cities planners say these high-end rentals are filling a need.
Peterson said they do a lot of upfront work trying to educate city leaders and erase the stereotype of a rundown rental with "cars on the blocks" in the front yard.
Still, some cities have balked, and Peterson said Watermark hasn't pushed where they're not welcome.
The first of the Twin Cities-area rental communities, 66 houses in a neighborhood called Mills Creek, was completed in Maple Grove earlier this year — and it's already full. In September, the Maple Grove City Council approved the Excelsior Group's plan for a second single-family rental neighborhood near Cook Lake with 58 rental homes.
"There really weren't any huge concerns related to the type of housing," Hogeboom said. Instead, the city planning office has received a handful of calls inquiring how to rent there.
Construction crews have already started preliminary work at Canvas at Woodbury, a neighborhood of 81 single-family rental homes to be built in the "modern farmhouse style."
Woodbury City Planner Eric Searles said the new development fits within the city's commitment to expanding housing options, which also includes several apartment complexes that are under construction.
"They are addressing a new market for single-family rentals," Searles said.
Later this fall, the Inver Grove Heights City Council will consider Watermark's application to build 120 single-family rental homes. One of the most noticeable differences between these rental neighborhoods and conventional ones is lot size. Rental homes tend to be closer together.
Inver Grove Heights Community Development Director Heather Rand said city staff will recommend approval, though she anticipates some questions from elected leaders.
"This is definitely something new for our planning commission and City Council," she said. "I think there will be some discussion, and that's OK."
More space plus privacy
The Kemmitts, both 59, are paying about $2,800 a month for their two-bedroom rental home.
They still spend their weekends at their lake home Up North. Before moving into Beacon Ridge, they tried a luxury one-bedroom apartment. It just didn't work for their dog, who needed space, or for Ann, who co-owns a flooring company and often works from home.
The new rental house is open concept with cathedral ceilings, a fireplace, a modern kitchen and views of nature outside their back picture windows. Ann Kemmitt said she's looking forward to Christmas. She'll again have room to host family gatherings.
"It's more expensive but for us right now, it's so worth it," Kemmitt said. "It's more our style."
Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037