It’s said that everything old is new again. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the metro Atlanta real estate market, where ranch-style homes have enjoyed an impressive resurgence in recent years. These long, low, one-level residences, made popular from the 1940s to the 1970s as part of a post-war economic boom and nationwide suburban expansion, popped up everywhere for decades. However, they lost their luster in the ensuing years when two-story homes and mini-mansions took over the landscape. But they’re making a comeback now, with homeowners of all ages considering them once again. With so many attractive features, you also may want to take a second look at this uniquely American dwelling.
The Metro Area Market
The ranch, which is also referred to as a “rambler” in various parts of the country, was once the epitome of modern living. With a simple and straightforward design inspired by the working ranches of the American Southwest and the designs of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the ranch-style home is known for its distinctive—and somewhat minimalistic—characteristics: a single-story structure, a low hip roof, a sprawling footprint, a brick exterior, an attached garage and a fairly open interior floor plan, among others.
For years, entire suburban communities were filled with these rather humble homes—many of them right here in metro Atlanta. Over time, a number of those ranch homes disappeared, having been purchased and torn down to make way for larger two- and three-story residences.
However, quite a few have remained. According to Randy Glazer of Glazer Design & Construction, pockets of older ranch-style homes can be found throughout the metro area in locations like Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Brookhaven, Buckhead and Virginia-Highland. William Bartlett of Home ReBuilders Design + Build adds Inman Park, Midtown and Ansley Park to that list. “Ranch homes [show up] in almost every older neighborhood, either as original builds or as infill homes,” he says. These homes offer the perfect opportunity for a renovation project. “They typically have good bones and structure, so we can do anything,” Bartlett notes.
A brand new ranch home, on the other hand, is more elusive. “Unless you are specifically looking in an active adult community, it can be challenging to find a newer ranch home in today’s market,” says Roger W. Webb of Drake Realty of GA, Inc. Those who want a new ranch home are choosing to custom build to meet their specific criteria. “Going this route, you have to find a lot or piece of land and make sure the ranch plan you want to build is allowed in that particular community,” he continues. “Most communities have HOA restrictions on the size of the home, etc. But I am seeing more ranch homes becoming available in the North Georgia market—areas of Woodstock, Canton and Cumming.”
The Ranch Home Lifestyle
In the last several years, people have started to realize once again the benefits of one-level living in a classic ranch home. Many of the basic features that may seem dated or reminiscent of the 1970s actually translate seamlessly into today’s more contemporary style.
“Open floor plans [can] add to a ranch home’s spacious, open-air feel,” Webb observes. Most older ranch homes, which traditionally were built in a U-, V- or L-configuration, feature a potentially large area in the center of the home. That space is what many homeowners want today, not only for everyday living, but also for entertaining purposes. The classic ranch often includes glass doors that open up to a patio or deck, creating an opportunity for outdoor living. And complementing the sliding glass doors is usually a number of large windows, which provide plenty of natural light.
While ranch homes are known for being one-level, some do include basements, which add to the overall square footage available. Webb explains that this space can be used for storage or expanded living space. “Finding a ranch with a basement gives a buyer the ability to have extra room below and allows for a kids’ playroom, a media room or even additional bedrooms,” he says. “Finishing a basement can double your square footage and give a family more than enough room.”
Upstairs, according to Glazer, the bedrooms themselves can be quite large, although they tend to have fairly low ceilings (usually around nine feet tall). This can be changed by vaulting the ceilings during a renovation. An additional challenge is the size of the bathrooms. In a world of huge, spa-like bathroom retreats, a ranch home doesn’t always measure up. “Ranch homes usually have very small bathrooms. A master bath can be as small as eight foot by eight foot,” Glazer reveals. This is also when renovating becomes a very appealing option. “We end up adding on to the backside or the side of the house, and many times we’re adding either a master suite or a new master bath,” he says.
For those who plan to renovate, it’s important to look at the home’s existing features—some of which are actually coveted today. “Older ranch homes may have added appeal due to brick exteriors, brick fireplaces, hardwood floors and even some original interior brick work,” Webb says.
Clearly, there are both pros and cons to the traditional ranch-style layout. However, there are some specific features that may just make particular homeowners lean towards this reemerging plan.
“Ranches are easier [for everyday living] because they have no stairs,” notes Michelle Ballard of Solid Source Realty GA. For those who are getting older, have had surgery or have to deal with bad joints, the lack of staircases is a welcome feature. Baby boomers and retirees in particular enjoy the prospect of one-level living. “Having that master on the main level is a big plus for aging in place,” Bartlett observes.
What’s more, while ranch homes have a large footprint, they are generally smaller in size. “Baby boomers are at an age where they are selling their larger homes and downsizing to smaller homes,” Ballard explains. “And most want ranches because they want to be able to stay in their home forever.”
Also enjoying the lack of stairs are families with young children, who don’t have to worry about their toddlers taking a scary spill down the steps. When everyone is on one floor, it’s easier to keep track of little ones. Of course, it may seem that everyone will be on top of each other with only one level of living space. On the contrary, Webb observes that the traditional ranch layout is great for growing families. “Sprawling ranch layouts that have rooms located down long hallways can be much quieter than two-story homes,” he says. “This is especially true when today’s two-story homes include open foyers or great rooms with two-story cathedral ceilings.”
Furthermore, wide ranch homes tend to be found on wide, spacious lots—which can be difficult to come by in metro Atlanta these days. “Children really enjoy the larger lots,” Bartlett says.
“You should consider a ranch home for your first home purchase or your last home purchase,” Ballard states. Strictly from an investment standpoint, a ranch home is an ideal option for a first-time homeowner. “Many ranch homes offer a lot of space for the money,” Webb says. “It’s a great choice because the cost of living in a ranch home is much cheaper than a two-story property. Overall expenses will be cheaper.” For example, the cost of heating and cooling one level is much less expensive than that of a two-story home. As Bartlett concludes, “The ranch is a great place to start. Buy it and adapt it to your needs over time, and you will have a great investment.”
The Choice Is Yours
Of course, you can always turn a ranch home into a two-story dwelling should you choose to undertake a major remodel. If this is your decision, Glazer recommends ensuring that the foundation is strong and stable enough to handle your vertical renovation plans. But if you take a good look at what you have, you may want to stick with the simple, no-frills layout of a ranch-style home. With the ability to extend off of the main level and add any bells and whistles you like to the interior décor, you can make this once outdated style something truly modern and spectacular. The choice is yours.
A Universal Idea
A traditional ranch-style home lends itself beautifully to the concepts associated with universal design—the processes and design principles that are used to make spaces accessible for everyone, from young people to older people and even those with disabilities.
The one-level layout of a ranch home makes it ideal for easy accessibility. No stairs mean smooth transitions from room to room, and having everything on one floor allows people to access what they need without difficulties. And since many older ranch homes are renovated to make them more modern, it’s the perfect time to add in an array of universal design elements, such as:
- Pull-out cabinetry and slide-out shelves
- A larger turning radius for easy mobility (for those in wheelchairs)
- ADA-compliant appliances
- Lowered light switches throughout the home
- Home automation systems with alarms and sensors
- Showers and bathtubs with grab bars and rails
- Comfort-height toilets
- Smooth entrances into and out of the home
Axios Architecture, LLC | AxiosArchitecture.com
Drake Realty of GA, Inc., The Webb Real Estate Team | www.WebbRealEstateGA.com
e3 design | DesignWithE3.com
Glazer Design & Construction | GlazerConstruction.com
Home ReBuilders Design + Build | www.HomereBuilders.com
John Rogers Renovations | JRRenovations.com
Solid Source Realty, GA | SolidSourceRealty.com