Thoroughly modern homes gain popularity in 

Written by:
Tom Demeropolis

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The words “modern” and “Cincinnati” aren’t often found in the same sentence. Take the city’s residential real estate market: When it comes to modern-style homes, even at the high end in Indian Hill, Hyde Park and Villa Hills, our city’s famed conservatism has left quite a mark on home architecture.

But that mindset could be changing. Real estate agents and home builders say there’s a growing market here for modern-style homes – noted by flat roofs, horizontal lines and glass walls – fed by a rise in high-end home sales.

Matt Kuhnell, owner and builder of amodern home in Symmes Township called the Zinc House, believes there’s enough demand here to start a business. “There’s a market that nobody is filling,” said Kuhnell, who just this month started a firm called Quest Modern Homes. Kuhnell plans to build four or five homes per year, targeting buyers from the $500,000 range all the way up to $1.5 million.

The numbers back up Kuhnell’s idea to target this market. More homes are being sold, and more people are building new homes at this price point.

Last year, 75 building permits were filed in Greater Cincinnati for single-family homes valued at $500,000 or more, according to NPG DataQuest. That’s almost 50 percent higher than 2010 numbers.

In 2012, 510 homes sold between $500,000 and $1.5 million in the Cincinnati Multiple Listing Service area, up from 438 in 2011. Already this year, 57 homes have sold in that range.

And with that growth has come a change in preference. “Modern” is no longer a dirty word.

John Hueber Homes is working on two modern homes, one in Clifton and another in Indian Hill. John Hueber said he’d love to build a small community of 10 to 15 modern homes.

“I’d sell out before I got the first one finished,” Hueber said.

There’s definitely a market for a few more homes in that price range, said Maureen Pippin, executive sales vice president at Sibcy Cline Realtors. And she said buyers would be interested in modern homes as an option.

“People are looking for something fresh and new,” said Pippin, who specializes in luxury home sales.

For the most part, Cincinnati is “still a brick town,” she said, adding that it’s time for new styles.

As for Kuhnell, he’s constantly moving – now living in his seventh house. “For me to stop moving, I need to continue to do this process for somebody else,” Kuhnell said.

The inspiration for a company that builds modern homes was Kuhnell’s Zinc House, a two-story home covered in zinc panels. Kuhnell and architect Jose Garcia worked for a year designing the 6,200-square-foot stucture, which looks like a piece of metal art.

Even though Kuhnell is just getting into residential building, he’s been in construction for two decades. Kuhnell’s other business, Steel Quest Inc., works hand-in-hand with the new venture. Steel Quest specializes in design/build structural steel projects, working with customers such as Duke Energy Corp. and with developers such as Al Neyer Inc. He has the employees and the capacity to add the workload.

Quest Modern Homes will work with buyers who already have an architect, or it can provide design/build services.

So what makes a home modern? Kuhnell said that’s in the eyes of the beholder, but there are a few key elements. Modern homes often have flat roofs, big, open interior spaces, lots of glass and lots of straight lines. The materials used in the home’s construction aren’t hidden, including exposed steel beams and concrete floors, and the home has a more minimalist feel.

“People are opening up to a more modern style,” said Tim Hensley, owner of Hensley Custom Building Group. He’s a more traditional custom home builder working on a modern home in Indian Hill.

The local custom home market in general is improving, said Dan Dressman, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati, but still faces challenges. The hurdle is financing. There are still homes being built and not appraising for the cost.

Still, all six of the homes built for this year’s Homearama home show at Carriage Hill in Liberty Township, ranging up to $1 million, pre-sold.

The custom home market is growing, said Jim Williams, membership director for the National Association of Custom Home Builders.

“We’re thrilled to see the trend start to improve,” he said.

While traveling for the association, Williams said he’s seen more interest in modern homes from potential buyers. They are unique and easy to make “green” with flat roofs for solar panels, he said.

Kuhnell partnered with Coldwell Banker West Shell’s New Homes and Land Division to find buyers who are looking for lots on which to build modern homes.

Kuhnell already is designing the next project he plans to work on. This home would be a little bit larger than the Zinc House, and very different. The plan is to use this next house to show what he can do with a $1 million budget, unlike the Zinc House, which had no restrictions.

If he sells the Zinc House, which is listed at $2.2 million, he plans to move into the home he’s designing. If he doesn’t sell the Zinc House, he said he and his family will be happy to stay there and build the home he’s designing for someone else.

One thing Kuhnell won’t be doing is making another Zinc House. He wants to make each home different.

“Not everybody wants the same house,” Kuhnell said.

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