Not Your Father’s Old Lake Cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee
If you are a real estate agent and have sold any waterfront homes on Lake Winnipesaukee then you know who Joe Skiffington is. The lakefront homes that he builds are recognizable no matter what the square footage. Skiffington Homes is one of the preeminent home builders in the Lakes Region with 20 years of experience and over 400 residences constructed on and around Lake Winnipesaukee. In my book, that’s a lot of houses. These homes all have that “lake home” feel and they are all something very special. That’s in part because Lake Winnipesaukee is a special place but it’s also because Joe’s clients demand the very best and he delivers.
Joe’s buyers come mostly from a 20 mile radius of Boston, but others are from as far away as the West Coast, Florida, and the UK. His clients are affluent, they know what they want, and they have the wherewithal to obtain it. Buying or building a new home on the lake isn’t cheap, especially today. The homes that Joe started building 20 years ago were smaller lakefront homes that were typically modified capes with an open concept living area with cathedral ceilings, a fireplace, lots of glass facing the lake, and a fantastic screened-in porch. Joe is originally from downtown Boston but his grandparents owned property in Balmoral in Moultonborough. They were going to sell it so Joe bought it and started building vacation homes here in the late eighties. He had already been in the construction business in Boston for some time but building second homes became a new and fun venture for him. He equates building second homes to selling ice cream cones as everyone wants one and his customers all are happy with smiles on their faces. While the smaller homes he started building are still very appealing, the market has changed and they aren’t selling as well, so Joe is now focusing on larger, high end, estate type homes with equal success.
I met with Joe at a beautiful 9,000 square foot home on Lake Winnipesaukee that he built a few years ago for a client. This client needed more space for his family and friends to come and share the experience and the serenity on Lake Winnipesaukee. So Joe is building him a garage with additional living quarters above, an outdoor kitchen, plus a pool and hot tub area. The home is a classic looking Adirondack style home, but Joe describes this home, and others that he has built, as basically a ranch. He points out that the home provides the owner with a single level living lifestyle with an open concept custom gourmet kitchen and great room combination, a sumptuous first floor master suite, and an amazing screened-in-porch for summer get-togethers. While no expense has been spared with the high end finishes and quality materials, this home is very comfortable and provides that laid back lake home feel that is so sought after.
But the important point here is that this home, as well as the others that Joe builds, are not the energy consuming mega-mansions some people might think they are. In reality, they are highly energy efficient, high tech wonders on the lake. “Big homes, low impact,” as Joe puts it. The buyers for these homes now tend to be very conscious of their carbon footprint and have the wherewithal to pay for the systems and building materials that will reduce the energy consumption of their new lakefront home. This particular home has separate high tech furnaces and in-floor radiant heating for each living level, as well as on-demand hot water heating systems, and highly efficient foam insulation to create an air tight building envelope. It even has a high tech computerized control system that can be accessed through the owner’s iPhone allowing him to turn the heat up and down, the water heaters on and off, the spa temperature up, the lights on, and even turn the music on from anywhere in the world. Aaahh, the good life…
The construction techniques and control systems Skiffington utilizes allows the home owner to have significantly less environmental impact than expected. Joe pointed out that while everyone would like to have more energy efficient green homes, his clients are able and willing to afford the extra 10% or so of upfront costs associated with green building systems and are more likely to be willing to spend it than those buyers looking at a less expensive residential home. Skiffington Homes builds “Green” and on a big scale. Joe feels that if you aren’t building green, you aren’t really building.
Joe also says “Most of my clients never had any intention of building. They decided to build out of a lack of options. That may seem a little odd with literally hundreds of homes on the market, but these buyers know what they want. They came up here with handsome budgets …. and could not find a property to buy, couldn’t find exactly what they wanted; so building a new home was the best option! They feel that if they are going to have their dream home on the lake then they might as well build new and get exactly what they want. In addition, the home is going to be much more efficient and economical to heat and cool because the technologies have advanced so far. If you have a five year old house, it is antiquated.”
A consistent theme with Joe’s clients is that they want their home to be very comfortable for just two people, be able to live on the main level, but also be able to accommodate twelve to fourteen guests. The house that we are in has a 2,500 square foot main level and the owners never go upstairs or use the space unless needed. So while this is a truly large square footage home, it is like owning a small ranch that has large auxiliary spaces that are only used, as needed. “Every single thing I suggested that they put in here to reduce the carbon footprint, they did! Without exception,” Joe said.
The economic impact on the Lakes Region of the clients that Joe serves is immense. The job he is currently on will keep his crews and subcontractors busy for the winter. Joe will build anywhere from four to seven homes a year. There are a number of other high end builders on the lake that do the same. And, “after a client spends anywhere from $2 to $8 million to build a new home they generally spend another $100,000 to $300,000 a year in the Lakes Region on everything from property maintenance to recreation!” And that money gets spread around. Joe points out that “it not only goes to the towns to help support the schools, fire departments, police departments, etc; the funds also go to a multitude of service providers including landscapers, painters, cleaners, pool companies, and so on. Every one of houses we build turns into an annuity of $100,000 to $300,000 for the middle class people living in the Lakes Region.” This segment of the housing market pumps millions and millions of dollars each year into the local economy, not only providing steady employment to the local tradesmen that construct the buildings but, also to the local service companies that maintain them. Reiterating how important this economic impact is, “We have all these ‘guests’ that come up and provide such an income for so many people and so often it doesn’t get recognized. And I am just one builder out of how many?” Let’s hope these “guests” continue to come for many, many years to come…”