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Ranch house plan sets standard for convenience

| Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband
The exterior of the Harden Road ranch house has a classic ranch look. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Jasmine Goldband
The Harden Road ranch house has a Florida room added to the back of the home. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Jasmine Goldband
The Harden Road ranch house has an expanded interior where the kitchen has been doubled in size to 19x12 feet. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

Names of the design vary greatly, but one-story homes now or in the 1950s are often the same thing.

You can bet the ranch on it.

“The functionality is the whole thing,” says Roxanne Hughes, a sales agent for the east regional office of Coldwell Banker Real Estate. “The true, no-step ranch gives you a way to avoid stairs when the joints are getting achy.”

For the younger buyer, though, ranch homes or other forms of one-story design offer maintenance that “can be done with a step-ladder” and flexibility that “always gives you the chance to add onto it,” says Royce Rice, from the McCandless office of Howard Hanna Real Estate.

Single-story design has changed quite a bit from the days when the simple, low-roof-line ranch became a staple of post-World War II America. But whether they are called villa homes or are part of multi-unit patio homes, the one-story style is doing what the ranch does.

“Empty-nesters like them because they are downsizing or because they can avoid steps,” says Darlene Hunter, vice president of new home sales for Howard Hanna. “But young people like them, too. There often is a nice price point, and they get you into a house with low maintenance.”

Single-story design has remained popular through the years, according to the Washington-based National Association of Home Builders. The group says construction of single-story homes has never fallen below 43 percent of total work in the past 40 years.

Area interest also remains high, even at a time when the bulky homes known as McMansions show off their heft in area developments.

Colleen Ruefle-Haley, vice president of Suncrest Realty in Murrysville, says about 50 percent of the homes that company has built in the past eight years have been of single-story. Those homes are so popular, she says, the company searches out property suitable for those designs rather than changing the design to fit the land.

But, she adds, those one-story homes often take on a look far removed from the classic ranch, even if they provide the same one-floor ease.

Coldwell Banker's Hughes says she gets inquiries for single-story units about 30 percent of the time.

Hunter thinks the interest might be growing as the national population ages.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports a 60-plus population right now of 17.8 million with a 55 to 59 population of 20.1 million right behind it.

“So that ranch market could boom,” she says.

Greensburg architect Lee Calisti says the role of culture shows up all the time in architecture, and is playing a part in the strength of the ranch.

When ranches emerged in the housing boom just after World War II, he says, they were part of a look at the “new American freedom” that was taking first-time homeowners away from the city to the developing suburbs.

More spacious living was attracting buyers to flat homes that spread across a lot, far different from the vertical homes in cities, he says.

Now, however, that low-slung design is more popular to an aging homeowner with deteriorating joints.

“People are living longer now or they are inviting their parents to join them,” he says.

Anthony Alofsin, an architect and architecture/art historian, says a great deal of interest in ranch homes has developed because of the fascination with “mid-century modern” design and style from TV's “Mad Men” series.

But in Pittsburgh, functionality is the key, real estate professionals say. Chris Sinker, general manager of the western division of S&A Homes, says if a client has an interest in a ranch it usually is because of a desire for some form of one-level living,

He says his company has a model with a higher roof line than the classic ranch, but basically it offers the same features.

Armand Ferrara from the Mt. Pleasant office of Coldwell Banker says the patio home, often built in units of two or four, provide the one-level advantages classic ranches do.

“They might not look like ranches, but they are,” he says.

Calisti believes ranches often maintain their popularity among their owners because of their relative flexibility. Being one level, they can be modified easily. Rooms can be expanded or added without a second floor getting in the way.

“Around here,” he says, “you never see them going up for sale. People who own them just turn them into what they want them to be.”

Such is the case for a home Rice is handling in Ross. The ranch was purchased by a couple when they wanted a simpler, smaller home after their family grew up. Then they expanded the kitchen and added a Florida room to make it suit their desires.

But one design element can be a problem for ranches in Western Pennsylvania: putting a flat building on a hilly terrain. Such placement often leads to what is called a “raised ranch,” a home that sits on a garage on the sloped side.

Coldwell Bankers' Hughes says classic ranches have their garages on the side, letting owners stroll right into the home. The raised ranch still creates the need for steps, an element many ranch home owners are hoping to avoid.

“The raised ranch doesn't solve the problem,” she says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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