A High-Rise Built
for Me.

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In a bid for wealthy suburbanites, some city developers let buyers customize almost every aspect of a luxury condo before closing.

Over the course of 2½ years, Oliver and Dianna Von Troll met with the director of sales at Auberge Beach Residences and Spa, a luxury condominium building under construction in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., more than 10 times. Yet they still wouldn’t make an offer.

“Nothing really met our needs,” said Mr. Von Troll, 46, a builder of high-rises who said his work in the industry has given him very specific tastes. In February, sales director Wendy Marks hit upon a solution: The Von Trolls could buy two units, combine them and have the building’s architect draw up a new floor plan. Satisfied, the Von Trolls paid $5.2 million for a 4,700-square-foot condo.

After years of marketing turnkey, designer-finished condos to high-end buyers, a handful of developers are going dramatically in the other direction, offering extreme levels of customization before the building is even completed. The switch is a bid to attract wealthy downsizers, who developers say are a target market for luxury downtown living, but who can be reluctant to give up the custom-built suburban homes they are used to.

Some developers are anticipating such demands from day one, engineering their buildings to accommodate buyers who want to enlarge rooms, move kitchens and bathrooms, or combine units. In buildings already under construction, other developers are willing to eat some of the costs incurred when buyers redraw where the walls will go.

Wayne Mailloux, a 69-year-old retired executive, and his wife Penny, a 69-year-old retired teacher, were ready to move out of their 10,500-square-foot home in a suburb near Scottsdale, Ariz. Their destination was the Optima Kierland, a building slated for completion next March in the upscale North Scottsdale neighborhood. They liked the idea of being able to walk to restaurants and movies, said Mr. Mailloux. What they didn’t like: The largest units in the building maxed out at 1,709 square feet.

“We’ve grown accustomed to space, and we like to entertain,” said Mr. Mailloux.
The solution was for the couple to buy three three-bedroom units and two one-bedroom units and combine them into a three bedroom, 6,574-square-foot unit with three terraces. The Maillouxes hired their own interior designer to create a plan to reconfigure the space. Mr. Mailloux declined to discuss what they spent on the condo. Three bedroom units in the building have sold for an average of $930,000, and one bedrooms for $350,000, said Mike Akerly, regional manager at Polaris Pacific, a San Francisco-based company which is handling marketing and sales for the Optima. Typically discounts aren’t given to buyers who combine units, he said, adding that about 30% of buyers have combined two to five units.

The building also charges $75,000 for the first combination of two units, plus $25,000 for each additional unit to be combined. This fee covers the cost of resubmitting plans for city permits, and mechanical and engineering work to accommodate a client’s design, said Mr. Akerly.

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