Renovating Central Ohio's ritziest suburb

Brian Tuckerman and his family go way back in New Albany—or rather, the modern version of the Franklin County community. When Les Wexner decided to turn the sleepy village into his slice of suburban heaven, Tuckerman, his brother Craig and their father, Steve, helped the billionaire L Brands founder realize his vision, building many of the distinctive Georgian homes that have defined the area.

Now, three decades after that transformation began, Brian Tuckerman has watched Wexner’s dreamland enter a new phase—and that’s meant a change to Tuckerman’s New Albany-focused business, Grand Construction. Instead of building new homes, Tuckerman is now primarily fixing them up. He estimates renovations comprise 60 percent of his business these days. About five years ago, the figure was around 20 percent. “There’s a much larger market out there than there was previously,” Tuckerman says.

Alan Hinson of New Albany Realty says this trend began to take hold about three years ago, spurred by the increasing value of existing homes in the city, the priciest in Central Ohio, with an average home value of $564,955, according to the real estate service Zillow. Naturally, hot spots for renovations are older areas, such as North of Woods, Fenway, Planters Grove, Brandon and Keswick. “A 20-year-old home might have a location or size of lot that a new home might not have, and there’s value in being able to walk to Market Street or walk to school versus something that’s further out,” Hinson says.

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Hinson and his wife, Lisa, bought a 28-year-old home in the Fenway area in September 2019 and then moved in three months later after completing a renovation of the whole interior of the house. Although New Albany still has some new construction, “we’re really in the final push for those homes, and I think buyers are finding value in location and existing homes,” Hinson says.

The trend seems to validate decisions made at the birth of the new community. Planners from The New Albany Co., founded by Wexner and his friend Jack Kessler to develop the area, chose Georgian architecture (bricks, columns, sash windows, symmetrical design) for its timeless appeal. “It goes back to the roots of the country and continues to this day,” says Bill Ebbing, the president of The New Albany Co. Adds Tom Rubey, the company’s development director: “You don’t drive through many of the neighborhoods here and attach it to a date.”

But architectural appeal isn’t the only selling point for existing homes. Within the New Albany Country Club area—the heart of the community—it’s become harder to find land to build a new house on anymore. The New Albany Co. controls about 38 acres of undeveloped residential land, Hinson says, but no plans are in the works to develop the property yet. In early April, Hinson said just two undeveloped lots were for sale within the country club community, both in the Ebrington subdivision. What’s more, rising construction costs have pushed buyers toward older homes. Often, they’re able to buy an existing home in a mature neighborhood, pay for a major remodeling and still spend less than they would have if they started from scratch, Tuckerman says.

New Albany, of course, isn’t the only suburb experiencing a renovation boom. Just like in Bexley, Upper Arlington or other desirable communities or neighborhoods, older homes in New Albany require updating to match how people live today. Rubey of The New Albany Co. says common renovations include additions, expanded great rooms and modified entrances, along with more standard projects like kitchen and bathroom updates. Compared to suburban peers, however, New Albany renovations tend to be less dramatic (especially to exteriors)—more like touch-ups than teardowns.

“When you talk about renovations here in New Albany, it isn’t big-time things where you pull out ancient systems and replumb and rewire,” says a New Albany resident who recently renovated her home. “The community isn’t that old yet. It’s more about spending as much as you want to put in the finishes that you want to live with.”

New Albany residents since 1994, the woman and her husband, who requested anonymity, considered leaving the community once they became empty nesters in 2012 but instead decided to move six years later to a smaller three-bedroom home on Ealy Crossing North near the village center. The couple then embarked on a yearlong renovation, adding a workout room and a bathroom in the basement, updated lights and other smaller aesthetic changes.

“We put in all the hard work and watched the community grow, so why would we leave now?” the woman says.

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