Deep-pocketed homebuyers looking for luxury homes have long turned to Paradise Valley, Scottsdale or Phoenix's Biltmore area. But in recent years, the West Valley has seen more homes sprout with desert views, big lots, exclusive amenities and price tags approaching $1 million.
Less than a handful of luxury residential neighborhoods existed in the West Valley three years ago, but that has doubled, according to real-estate consultant Jim Belfiore.
“The reason is consumers are more optimistic about the future, they have more financial wherewithal, jobs are back and the West Valley is offering a good opportunity for folks to expand their products,” said Belfiore, president of Belfiore Real Estate Consulting in Phoenix.
City leaders in Peoria and other parts of the West Valley say this trend benefits the region, in large part by attracting commercial amenities for residents with higher disposable incomes.
Price and size are not all that define a luxury home.
According to Belfiore, the exterior of the house is typically "architecturally interesting" and not the cookie-cutter model of production homes. Inside, ceilings are 12 to 15 feet high, as apposed to the 9- or 10-foot standard.
Kitchen countertops are quartz or marble, floors are wood, porcelain or marble, and cabinets are larger and higher.
The lots also are large enough to allow for custom additions, such as an RV or boat garage, or a backyard pool with outdoor cabanas.
The West Valley offers more home for less money, Belfiore said.
"You can get a lot more home and a phenomenal piece of property on land that has topography and views at a price point that you cannot get in Scottsdale," Belfiore said. "The value proposition to a luxury buyer is great."
The average price per square foot in Peoria is $150, compared with an average of $510 per square foot in Paradise Valley, $235 per square foot in Scottsdale and $280 per square foot in the Phoenix Biltmore area, he said.
Overall in metro Phoenix, seven-figure home sales are up more than 30 percent compared with last year. In the West Valley the vast majority of these luxury developments are in Peoria, Belfiore said.
Many of the new homes are in the northern part of the city, where homebuilders tend to cater to a high-end market because rocky soil in the area hikes construction expenses, he said.
In 2005, 1,180 Peoria households had incomes above $200,000. That nearly tripled to 3,431 households in 2015, according to census estimates.
This demographic change, paired with a recuperating housing market and a stable economy are contributing to a boom in all types of residential construction, including more luxury housing options.
One of the early luxury home developments in the West Valley was Arrowhead Lakes in Glendale, which opened in the early 1990s.
Other luxury homes are near Pinnacle Peak Road in Glendale and in such places as Estrella Mountain Ranch in south Goodyear and near the White Tank Mountains in Waddell, as well as parts of Verrado in Buckeye and Sun City Grand in Surprise.
Luxury homebuilder Cachet Homes began sales of luxury condos, townhouses and single-family homes at the Wigwam in Litchfield Park in April 2016.
Cachet Homes President Matt Cody said his company chose the West Valley for the resort-style lifestyle offering at the Wigwam, the quaint city's downtown and the region's proximity to sporting venues.
Peoria's growing north end includes Vistancia, which opened in 2004 with high-end homes nestled just off Loop 303. While not all of its 5,700 homes would rank as luxury homes, the master-planned community of 13,000 residents boasts the exclusive Blackstone area, where homes start at a base price of $519,000.
The average household income in Blackstone is $250,000 and up.
Blackstone, and Vistancia as a whole, is still being built out. Toll Brothers, one of the two homebuilders at Blackstone, has 65 new luxury homes for sale, bringing its total to 117 homesites, said Dan Rhea, project manager at Blackstone for Toll Brothers.
The single-level homes range from 2,889 to 3,832 square feet with two to five bedrooms. Base price ranges from $519,995 to $559,995, and the homes feature gourmet kitchens, free-standing bathtubs, covered patios and private courtyards.
“Based on the success at Blackstone, we decided it would be a good investment to keep bringing luxury homes to the West Valley,” Rhea said.
Several miles southeast of Vistancia, another luxury homebuilder — Maracay Homes— has reported success since it opened up 250 single-family luxury home sites for sale in September at the Camino a Lago community.
“Sales have been wonderful; honestly, they’ve exceeded our expectations,” said Andy Warren, president of Maracay Homes.
So far, Maracay Homes has sold 65 luxury homes which cost between $700,000 and over a million, Warren said.
Jennifer Garbett recently moved into the Camino a Lago community. The former Glendale resident said the main driver to move to Peoria was the school district.
Garbett said the larger lots, luxury interior features, flexible floor plan and RV garage convinced her to move into this community.
"We were waiting to find the right neighborhood feel; it feels real family-friendly," Garbett said.
City leaders see the benefits of diversifying the region's housing inventory and attracting high-income earners.
In Surprise, which offers a wide swath of affordable housing, Mayor Sharon Wolcott said city leaders should strive to accommodate and retain high-income earners because they are an important component of every city.
"It’s really important to have these high-income earners have a place where they feel fits their needs in the community," Wolcott said. "They’ll support with their own checkbook by making purchases in their community. They get involved civically, typically, because they are very interested in helping to grow their community."
West Valley leaders have long focused on transforming cities from bedroom communities to employment centers. The majority of West Valley workers — 69 percent — commute outside of the region for work, according to Westmarc, a coalition of businesses, municipalities and public entities that promote economic development in the West Valley. Cities such as Goodyear report 90 percent of working-age residents travel outside the city for employment.
Beyond jobs, residents with more disposable income attract commercial amenities.
“Upscale developments often generate a demand for a greater variety of unique, high-quality amenities and retail opportunities through the increased potential for disposable income,” Peoria Planning Manager Adam Pruett said.
Peoria Chamber of Commerce President Guy Erickson said northern Peoria is "poised for growth" not only in homebuilding but in retail and business.
Peoria Economic Development Director Scott Whyte is hoping to see that happen near Vistancia.
Peoria is accepting bids for the Vistancia Commercial Core, aiming to partner with a commercial developer to transform the empty dirt lot into a mixed-use project with retail and restaurants, entertainment options, office space and a sports center.
Bids close June 30, Whyte said.