Real Estate: Dreams come true at New Albany's Highgrove

Dave Ghose
Chris and Sara Zochowski with their children in their Highgrove home

In Central Ohio's ritziest suburb, the Highgrove subdivision is one of the most exclusive addresses. Homes start at $2 million in the 17-lot New Albany development—a price tag that hasn't been much of a deterrent since property in the subdivision along the New Albany Country Club golf course went on sale in 2012. Nine houses have been built since then, while five others are under construction, leaving just three lots for sale. “It's been wildly successful,” says Alan Hinson of New Albany Realty.

What inspired the project was the pent-up demand of “people who wanted to build that special house,” Hinson says. Entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, doctors and others wealthy folks have seized the opportunity to build custom homes that fit their unique needs and personalities in the development, where empty lots go for $600,000 to $1.1 million and houses range from 6,000 to 15,000 square feet. “[The homes] are all different in their own way, even though they're all Georgian by design,” Hinson says.

Chris and Sara Zochowski bought their home—a roughly 10,000-square-foot white brick estate on three acres—in May 2015. Originally built for another buyer, the home was about 90-percent done when the Zochowskis purchased it. The couple are now adapting the property to fit their tastes, ripping out the carpet in the master bedroom and adding wood trim on the ceiling and library paneling on the walls. They also plan to build a rectangular pool with a walkway connecting to a party/car barn on the grounds.

But the more you customize, the more challenging a high-end home can become to sell. Despite a booming real estate market, just eight homes sold for more than $2 million between March 2016 and March 2017, and none sold for more than $3 million. Realtor Jeff Ruff of Vutech & Ruff says there are homes to be had in that very small top-shelf market, but “either you're building your own custom home, or you want such a deal that you can go in and make it over.”

The latter, Ruff says, is a reflection of Central Ohio's corporate affluence, catering to new executives finding high-level positions here. “The upper-end relocation business is driving that segment,” he says. “They don't have time to build. They're buying for immediate need and moving their families here. Most people in that price range don't look at their house as an investment.”

The Zochowskis, however, are hopeful that their customizations will add value. They note the barn will increase storage—something that's valuable to potential buyers—and Sara, a real estate staging consultant, says the family has stuck with classic flourishes, such as the library paneling in the master bedroom, that are less likely to go out of style. That approach has helped the couple sell their previous homes even during down markets. “We stay away from things that are too trendy,” Sara says.

Still, their Highgrove home is the realization of a dream—and they hope to live in it until they retire—so the financial calculus is complicated. “There is a struggle with these bigger homes to sell because of the sometimes over-customized nature, but we're not planning to sell any time soon, so we're not too concerned about it,” Chris says.