The Newest Must-Have Home Amenity for the Rich: Purified Air
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The Newest Must-Have Home Amenity for the Rich: Purified Air

Pollution, allergens and Covid have homeowners focusing on filtration systems and flexible designs to improve indoor air quality

Thu, Mar 7, 2024 9:07amGrey Clock 7 min

Visitors to John Bautista and Pedro Salrach’s San Francisco home can’t get enough of the lap pool, sauna and movie theatre. But they also get a whiff of something else they value: clean air.

“The house smells new—and after two years it still smells new,” said Bautista, an attorney. “I know when I’m home because it smells clean and fresh.”

The Glatts’ Maryland home has five HVAC units and eight thermostats to regulate air quality in individual zones. They also added UV lights to the system to prevent mould.

The six-bedroom home with seven bathrooms and two half-baths includes an elaborate air-filtration system meant to deal with the region’s varying air quality. The tightly sealed floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors offer hilltop views of the bay and access to the backyard without sacrificing air quality.

Bautista plans to further upgrade his system this year with the aim of filtering and recirculating indoor air rather than fresh outside air during periods of heavy pollution. Despite the home’s superior air quality, the family can still feel a difference on days when the outdoor air is filled with smoke. “We’ve suffered, as most people have in the Bay Area,” he said. “What we want to have is isolation.”

Developer Gregory Malin, who specialises in wellness-focused real estate, sold Bautista the home for $32 million, he said, plus an additional $5 million for fixtures and furnishings.

The Glatts gave priority to air quality in their $2.5 million home. PHOTO: MELISSA LYTTLE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Luxury homeowners are known to splurge on sleek kitchens, custom decor and art, but they are increasingly turning their attention to something less visible. Forest-fire smoke, the pandemic and increased awareness of sensitivities to mould and other irritants are making their interior environment a priority.

Many are investing in complex systems and flexible designs that promise healthier indoor air but still include spaces, such as glass-enclosed rooms, that make being indoors feel natural.

Listings are increasingly touting pollution-fighting amenities to lure home buyers. In Santa Rosa, Calif., a 13-acre estate for sale at $15 million has a whole-home air purifier. This spring, the Dovecote building, under construction in Manhattan’s Harlem neighbourhood, will offer six, three-bedroom condos built to strict green and clean-air standards, starting at $1.5 million.

Malin, founder of Troon Pacific, a San Francisco-based developer of $15 million to $45 million properties that he calls healthy homes, said he focuses on the smallest details that can affect air quality. New tools allow for more-precise measurement of various particulate matter and carbon dioxide levels, he added. “Covid changed people’s perspective on connecting air quality to health, and the [wildfires] only enhanced that.”

The Bautista home has windows and doors that shut tightly so unfiltered outdoor air doesn’t seep in. PHOTO: JACOB ELLIOTT/TROON PACIFIC


The home has views of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. While the area’s air quality is generally good, wildfires cause spikes in air pollution. PHOTO: JACOB ELLIOTT/TROON PACIFIC

His company’s newer homes have exhaust fans, tied to ventilation systems, in laundry rooms and under sinks, where there are various pollutants and harmful cleaning products, said Malin. Their garages have separate exhaust fans that go on long enough for three air exchanges after the door opens. Ionisation-based filtration systems also are included to eliminate airborne particles too tiny to see but hazardous when inhaled.

His homes also feature perforated piping with in-line fans to exhaust air from under slab foundations to keep contaminated soil vapours from entering the houses.

He said his company is considering building to the Living Building Challenge standard, in which homes have their own electricity, water and waste management. Demand is high for such standards, he said, including passive-home construction, where airtight homes are built using specific materials and energy-efficient systems that circulate highly filtered air. He said passive-home certification is costly, especially for big homes, and has limitations that some homeowners don’t want, like bulky windows. In the long run, however, he said eliminating most heating and cooling bills is probably worth it.

Caroline Smythe used hemp block to build a more breathable home in Charleston, S.C. The building material absorbs moisture and keeps humidity steady in the home to prevent mold growth.

Clean air has become more of a talking point in homeownership, added Elliott Gall, an associate professor of mechanical and materials engineering who researches indoor-air quality at Portland State University.

While high-rises are often built to be airtight, there is a greater focus now on having windows that open while adding better filtration systems, he said. Units with outdoor access sometimes give homeowners another way to control the humidity and indoor air-pollution levels inside the home, he added.

To improve the air quality in her new Charleston, S.C., home, Caroline Smythe, 67, imported a hemp block covered in a mixture of lime and sand for the construction, rather than standard brick. Living in a high-humidity area means moisture can cause mould, said Smythe, whose 2,400-square-foot Lowcountry home was completed in 2023 for about $1 million, including $250,000 for the land.

Incorporating the new material allows the moisture to get absorbed in the walls and keeps humidity steady in the home. “It has very much an earthy feel,” said Smythe of her thick, soundproof walls.

Inside, the home’s two bedrooms and two offices have additional air-filtration elements, including stand-alone air filters for each bedroom. Smythe, a psychiatrist, chose a bamboo kitchen countertop and mineral-based wall paint to prevent any chemical off-gassing. “It makes a huge difference,” she said.

Homeowners have long tried to improve air quality. In the early 1900s, homes that let in fresh air were critical to good health, but by the 1950s some owners were trying to tame outdoor air pollution by focusing on better insulation. More recently, the pandemic made access to outdoor air essential, and turned the focus again to indoor-outdoor living.

Today’s picture is mixed. Climate change has made outdoor air quality less reliable, with the added problems of prolonged forest fires.

Many people are realising their indoor air quality is often compromised by a combination of poor indoor airflow, activities like cooking and cleaning, and outdoor pollutants that settle into confined spaces, said Gall. Homeowners now want better control over their wider living space, including modifiable systems that deal with both indoor and outdoor pollution, he added.

In Manhattan, the Charlotte of the Upper West Side has seven full-floor units. A heating-and-cooling system filters fresh air directly into each unit. The air is also treated with UV light. PHOTO: JOSHUA MCHUGH

Jason Glatt, a commercial window contractor, and his wife, Lauren Glatt, a stay-at-home mom, of North Bethesda, Md., built a $2.5 million home that includes a children’s slide into a basement playroom, an attic-level cigar room and plenty of entertaining space.

The 11,000-square-foot home’s most striking feature, however, may be the five HVAC units tucked inside utility closets and other closed rooms, controlled by eight thermostats that regulate the air quality as well as temperature in each part of the home. Their $120,000 HVAC system also includes UV lights to prevent mould.

Seth Ballard, an architect who worked with the Glatt family, said individually controlled temperature zones and more return-air vents promote better air flow. Costs can be $100,000 to $200,000 for a 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot house. “They are choosing this over a kitchen countertop,” he said of homeowners in general.

The Charlotte’s air-filtration and passive-home construction added an estimated 15% to building costs. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER PAYNE/ESTO

Charlotte of the Upper West Side, a building in Manhattan that opened in 2023, has seven full-floor units, each with a private entrance. The building has airtight construction with enhanced insulation. Each unit has an independent heating-and-cooling system with fresh-air filtration directly into the home that isn’t shared with other spaces.

The system can achieve full air exchange 13 times a day in normal-use mode and more than 28 times a day in boost mode, said the building’s developer John Roe of the New York-based Roe Corp. The building uses louvers outside the windows to deflect the heat of the sun and cut energy use on summer days.

Roe, who lives in one of the building’s 3,570-square-foot, four bedroom, 4.5-bathroom homes, said the air-filtration system and strict passive-home construction added 15% to the building cost.

Three of the building’s units are on sale, from $8.35 million to $17 million.

He said there is little dust in the home, and he swears it now takes longer for his cut white hydrangeas to wilt.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Millennials Are Coming for Your Golf Communities

Living on golf courses has surged in popularity since the pandemic. Many courses have upgraded facilities and broadened amenities. Now the 40-year-olds want in too.

Sun, Apr 21, 2024 8 min

Gabrielle Sloan, 30, and her husband, Brandon Sloan, 30, never thought they’d live on a golf course. Gabrielle doesn’t even play golf—yet, at least.

But in January 2020, the Sloans spent $660,000 to buy a three-bedroom, roughly 1,960-square-foot ranch house on approximately 0.25 acres that backs up to the course at Tequesta Country Club, a private golf club in Tequesta, Fla., a village on Palm Beach County’s northern border.

Gabrielle and Brandon Sloan with their son and dog at their house in Tequesta, Fla. PHOTO: JAMES JACKMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“We loved how family-friendly the neighbourhood is,” says Gabrielle, noting that the club is catering to a younger crowd. “That lifestyle is something we wanted.”

Across the U.S., millennials like the Sloans are moving to where the grass is greener: private golf communities. “Millennials are starting to solidify their lives,” says Cindy Scholz, a real-estate broker with Compass in New York City and the Hamptons, on New York’s Long Island. “And they are strategically using real estate to shape their lifestyles.”

In Texas, about 10 miles west of downtown Austin is Barton Creek, a community where the Barton Creek Country Club is a selling point. “Before the pandemic, millennials were sporadically buying in Barton Creek,” says Stephanie Nick, a Douglas Elliman sales agent. “Now it’s a full-bore, ‘let’s get going on the country club lifestyle’ movement.”

In Barton Creek, Nick says millennial house hunters typically budget about $3 million to $4 million. In 2023, she sold a millennial a four-bedroom, 5,500-square-foot house for $3.5 million. Recently, she showed a $5 million house to a young couple with one child.

Nick believes millennials—born between 1981 and 1996—are tired of paying more for less in the city. In Austin, $3 million might buy a roughly 3,000-square-foot house on a small parcel, she says, whereas that same price in Barton Creek might buy a 5,000-square-foot to 6,000-square-foot house on a half to one acre in a community with easy access to four 18-hole golf courses, tennis, workout facilities, swimming and more.

In Georgia, Mary Catherine Smith, a real estate agent with Corcoran Classic Living, says millennials are moving to Jennings Mill Country Club, less than five miles south of downtown Athens. In March, Smith listed a typical Jennings Mill property—a five bedroom, 4,984 square foot house on 1.07 acres—for $965,000.

One reason Smith thinks young homeowners gravitate to the club is for its social life. “Many Jennings Mills residents have golf carts,” she says. “They’ll trolley around together on the weekend.”

“There are millennials who have never picked up a golf club, and a country club neighbourhood is still the only place they want to be,” says Byron Wood, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty – Westlake Village Brokerage, about 10 miles from Los Angeles’s city limits.

Millennials moving to private golf communities is a trend that might have seemed unthinkable before the Covid pandemic, when such enclaves seemed destined for the rough due to waning interest in the sport, especially among young people.

Then an unlikely coincidence occurred.

A bucket of balls at the Bermuda Dunes Country Club. PHOTO: OLIVIA ALONSO GOUGH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Golf play surged during the pandemic and continues to grow: In 2023, more golf rounds were played than any other year on record, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Meanwhile, since the Great Recession, there are private golf clubs that have been transforming themselves into amenity-rich lifestyle hubs, whose resort-style pools, sports facilities, fitness centres, dining and social programming have broad appeal, says Jason Becker, co-founder and CEO of Golf Life Navigators, an online platform that connects golfers to golf clubs and golf communities across the U.S.

At the same time, during the pandemic, millennials started turning 40 years old. Research from Club Benchmarking, a private golf club business intelligence firm, shows that the average age of new private golf club joiners is early 40s, says Michael J. Timmerman, the company’s chief market intelligence officer.

That means at the same time golf and private golf clubs came back into style, the next generation of Muffys and Skips were primed to start their country club years.

Consequently, the NGF has seen a shift toward younger private golf club members on the heels of the pandemic. Since 2019, the number of golfers at private golf clubs has increased by approximately 25%, from just under 1.5 million to 1.9 million, according to the NGF. Adults under the age of 50 comprise 60% of those memberships, with young adults, ages 18 to 34, representing about 30%. The latter can include adult children of members, typically up to a certain age.

There is no one-size-fits-all U.S private golf club community. Some clubs have housing within their gates; other clubs are integrated within regular residential neighbourhoods. Roughly speaking, a top-tier club’s golf initiation fee could be $250,000 or much more, with annual dues in the mid-tens of thousands and up. However, there are also clubs with golf initiation fees and annual dues in the low thousands or less. Typically, there are lower-priced membership options that don’t include golf, such as social or pool- and tennis-only memberships.

In December 2021, Tyson Hawley, 37, and his wife, Maital Hawley, 40, paid $1.15 million for a turnkey four bedroom, 4,272 square foot house on 0.4 acres backing up to the golf course at the Bermuda Dunes Country Club. It’s located in California’s greater Palm Springs area, which has more than 110 golf courses, of which more than half are private.

“I leave my house and I’m on my club’s first tee in two minutes,” Tyson Hawley says. Hawley is a real estate agent with Desert Sotheby’s International Realty. He says within a prestigious desert club’s gates, houses might be in the multi-millions. However, there are lower priced golf community options that work for his millennial buyers, who typically have house budgets of about $800,000 to $1.2 million, he says.

undefined “It is very possible to buy a house at $350 per square foot in a golf community and be super pumped about what you get for your membership,” he says. “There are clubs that understand that millennials are in a season of their lives where they can’t hang with the big dogs paying $250,000 for an initiation fee.”

Golf Life Navigators’s Jason Becker says some private clubs have invested in their amenities, golf course and branding, while others have not and rely upon their historic status. “Millennials are very cautious by nature in terms of their finances and investments,” Becker says. “Industry officials are seeing very in-depth questions coming from millennials pertaining to the club’s financial health and long-term plan to remain healthy.”

Becker says there are, of course, golf communities where there aren’t many younger members, specifically those in the U.S.’s Southeast or Southwest that are geared toward retirees or second-home owners. “There’s just so much demand from the baby boomers,” says Becker, noting that since the pandemic, generally speaking, membership wait lists are now lengthy, fees associated with being a member are up, attrition rates are down and tee time availability is compressed. He added that the cost of being a member at some clubs can be prohibitive for younger people, especially in an era when the average initiation fee at a private club has increased 50% to 70% since 2021. In the Sunbelt, the average age of private golf club searchers is between ages 55 to 57, according to Golf Life Navigators’s data.

That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, though. In the Phoenix area, Lisa Roberts is a real-estate agent with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty. She is working with a young millennial couple at McCormick Ranch Golf Club, in Scottsdale. They recently went into contract for $1.1 million on a three bedroom, 2,550 square foot house on 0.21 acre. “They plan to upgrade once they have children and a more established income,” Roberts says, “but this house lets them lay a foundation within the club’s gates now.”

Becker says whether younger people will be battling generational stereotypes hinges on the club’s culture, which sets the tone for all members. “It is up to the club’s board and management team to lead the way of established culture, such as playing music on the golf course or wearing a hat in the clubhouse,” Becker says. “For younger, new members, the club’s culture has to be understood or frustration will likely surface.”

Club Benchmarking’s Michael J. Timmerman says, “It really depends on how the club is designed, whether the club wants to focus on programming that will attract different members.” Timmerman adds that clubs catering to younger members and families will develop social programming specifically tailored to that age group.

Around the communities of Monterey and Carmel on California’s Central Coast, there are storied golf courses including the public Pebble Beach Golf Links and the private Monterey Peninsula Country Club. Nic Canning, managing partner at Canning Properties Group with Sotheby’s International Realty – Carmel Brokerage, says retirees and second-home owners typically live around these premiere courses, where he says properties can range from roughly $15 million to $35 million around Pebble Beach, and $3 million to $10 million around MPCC.

However, the area is rich with golf—there are roughly a dozen public courses and a half-dozen private clubs—and Canning has seen an influx of millennials buying in  family-friendly private golf communities such as the Club at Pasadera, Santa Lucia Preserve and Tehama Golf Club, and the semi-private Carmel Valley Ranch. He says since the pandemic, the area has particularly attracted tech workers migrating from Silicon Valley, with San Jose being only about 70 miles north.

At these clubs, Canning has recently sold millennials properties such as a three bedroom, 2,717-square-foot house on approximately 0.23 acres for $3.792 million, and a house with roughly similar specs for $2.7 million. Another house that has three bedrooms and 4,396 square feet on 13.3 acres just sold to a millennial for $4.42 million.

“Millennials are less driven by ocean views and care more about the community, the school district and access to things like restaurants, grocery shopping, trails and beaches,” Canning says.

Similarly, millennials want to equip their private golf-club houses a certain way. Kate O’Hara, CEO and creative director of O’Hara Interiors, which is based in Minneapolis and Austin, says the country club houses her firm works on might include everything from golf-simulator rooms and yoga studios, to outdoor-access showers and expanded mudrooms for equipment storage.

Back in Tequesta, Fla., the Sloans spent about $150,000 to optimise their house to fit their lifestyle, including adding durable furnishings and built-in cabinetry and jazzing up their outdoor entertaining area. They did so with the help of local interior designer Victoria Meadows Murphy, 35, who has a knack for taking the Bob Hope vibes out of country club homes without losing the martini spirit.

Meadows Murphy and her husband, Evan Murphy, 35, are building their own house, a project budgeted at $2.8 million, on a tear-down lot on the Sloans’s same golf course. “It’s exciting seeing the turnover of houses as young people are moving in,” Meadows Murphy says.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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