Tucked between Allegheny and Butler Counties to the east, Ohio and the West Virginia panhandle to the west lies the 444 square miles that comprise Beaver County. Somewhat of a quiet, hidden gem among Western Pennsylvania counties, Beaver County boasts a vibrant recreational landscape, quality educational and health care institutions, and more recently, has been reenergized with business and industrial projects such as the Shell Cracker Plant in Monaca and the Amazon Distribution Center and Pittsburgh International Airport in nearby Allegheny County. Helen Kissick, President and Executive Director, Beaver County Chamber of Commerce, believes that Beaver County is perfectly positioned as having a “really good supply chain, distribution and manufacturing infrastructure to serve those and other businesses.” Darlene Hunter, CNHS, Vice President and Regional New Home Manager for Howard Hanna Real Estate Services sees the pending opening of the Cracker Plant as creating an overall awareness and excitement in the entire Beaver corridor, one that can influence the success of surrounding businesses and amenities. “It certainly puts Beaver County on the map,” she said. It would follow then, that the need for new housing has come into focus as witnessed by recent and pending developments including Pinehurst Village and Evergreen Heights, to name a few. Many point to the construction and completion of the Cracker Plant as a real reason for growth in the Beaver County housing market. “Housing development is definitely increasing year over year,” noted Natalie Rossa, Regional Account Manager, James Hardie Building Products. “There hasn’t been a lot of growth in Beaver, but with the Cracker Plant, it is a new resource for employment so people are migrating here.” She posited that when production builders start moving into an area, it can mean that more growth may come into the market, given the extensive research and demographic information performed by those production builders. She also cited that availability of land in the county as another perk for builders and buyers. “With Covid 19, people craved more space,” she added. “With the close proximity to the airport, shopping and Downtown Pittsburgh, this [county] becomes ideal.” Joe Gradwell, Owner, Richwell Custom Homes, saw Covid shut down many aspects of the construction industry. “What happened then, was that demand grew beyond supply, hiking costs and reducing available resources, including building supplies and laborers,” he acknowledged. He continued that despite the challenges, the future in home building and buying looks promising, given the low interest rates that could offset higher lumber and other costs. “Some recent thinking is that the real estate market in general, in which the seller is favored, may continue through the fourth quarter of 2022 and into the first quarter of 2023.” Hunter sees new builds increasing as larger builders have re-entered the Beaver market, Brighton Township and Chippewa, all “popular” areas. “Builders have found Beaver to be a more thriving market over the last couple of years as you see larger production builders, like Maronda and Ryan Homes, entering this market,” she noted. “Perhaps it’s the overall growth of the Cracker Plant that has inspired them to return as well as the overall lower taxes compared to Allegheny County, and, of course, this drives the buyers.” She also finds that there is more interest in single family homes in the Seven Oaks community, with that phase of the community located in Ohioville. “Those buyers are looking for ranch-style homes,” she added. “We also have a new builder carving out an in-fill patio home site in Monaca, Central Valley Schools, called Barrington Reserves, starting at $339,000.” Others view the Cracker Plant as a focal point with a potential for further growth in the near future given ramifications from the recent past. “The Shell Cracker Plant definitely increased demand for rental property including homes and apartments during the construction phase,” observed David Buckenheimer, Partner, Third Street Beaver Associates. “Much of this employment is temporary and will taper off as the plant moves toward commissioning phases.” He continued that Covid’s impact has also been felt through interruption of construction, disruption of supply chain, and increased costs of materials and labor. But he also sees this arising from the pandemic: Increased demand for housing and a short supply of that housing. On the flip side, Buckenheimer believes that houses are more attractive and affordable in Beaver County and Western Pennsylvania. “The county is home to many ‘river towns’ with the county seat of Beaver a consistent, top ranked Pittsburgh neighborhood,” he asserted. “The area has also boasted a well-balanced white and blue-collar work force, strong public and private school system, close proximity to Pittsburgh and many other cultural and recreational amenities.”
Custom Home Living at Its Finest
Among the new, custom home builds in Beaver County is Evergreen Heights, located in Brighton Township on the former grounds once owned by Michael Baker Jr., founder of Michael Baker Corp., a worldwide engineering and consulting firm. The property, sold by the estate of the person who bought it from Michael Baker Jr., was subdivided, with parts chosen for luxury carriage homes built by Hallam Construction. “There is a high demand for the carriage-style craftsman homes being built at Evergreen Heights,” explained Buckenheimer. “Initially, emerging retirees and active seniors have been looking for this ‘easy living’ lifestyle. The emerging demand for work-from-home lifestyles brought on by the pandemic has increased interest from a younger demographic as well.” The laid-back lifestyle at Evergreen Heights offers low maintenance living and easy access and proximity to the Parkway (I-376), Pittsburgh International Airport, Cranberry and Robinson shopping areas and Downtown Pittsburgh. Closer still are a multitude of shopping, dining, recreational and cultural amenities in addition to primary and secondary schools, colleges and technical schools. Home sizes here range from 1,800 to 2,400 square feet, sitting on lots varying between one-third and one acre. Builder Mike Hallam sees interest growing in the Evergreen Heights development, given the lack of homes targeted toward those currently living in Beaver County and beyond. “These duplex homes feature first floor living aimed at empty nesters, those wanting to downsize, retirees and active seniors,” he said. “The Home Owner’s Association (HOA) includes lawn and snow service. The development is located within two miles of the quaint town of Beaver, where you’ll find walkable streets, many nice shops and eateries along with friendly people to visit and enjoy a cup of coffee with at a sidewalk table.” More importantly, Hallam stresses the high quality of the homes, ones described by realtors as “carriage home living at its finest.” Starting at $389,900, the homes feature a first-floor master with ceramic, frameless glass and rain head shower, and heated ceramic floors; bamboo hardwood; stainless steel appliances; Moen fixtures; granite countertops in the kitchen with a deep, under mount sink; recessed lighting, and high efficiency HVAC. An open loft, overlooking the open living room and floor plan, boasts an additional bedroom and full bath for visiting children and grandchildren, accessed via a classic stairway. “The custom build of the carriage homes has made a flexible floor plan adaptable to new, emerging trends in the work from home amenities,” added Harry Kunselman, Partner, Third Street Beaver Associates. “The topography will permit a variety of layouts from walk-out basements to decks with one of the highest, rustic views in Beaver County.” He continued that carriage home buyers also will have rear patios and backyards enhanced by the buyer’s personal touches. “Multiple, flexible work spaces for privacy and accommodation for electric vehicles are among the available customization options the builder can provide.” In addition to Evergreen Heights, Hallam also is working on multiple, single-family, custom-built homes in Beaver County ranging from $350,000 to $1.5 million. “Our custom homes are built according to your family’s needs and wants, and within the price range of your budget.” He finds that Beaver County is an attractive option for new homes, given its accessibility to employment, lower taxes and school districts with remarkably high ratings.
George Juba, too, views Beaver County as having much to offer. “In terms of amenities and those facilities operated by the county, along with plentiful recreational opportunities such as boating, hiking and fishing, all add to the ambience of the area,” he said. “The small-town atmosphere, quality education offered in the 15 school districts within the county, and having the city of Pittsburgh and the airport within a very reasonable driving distance are all additional positives in attracting new residents to the county as well.” As president and CEO of the Greek Catholic Union (GCU) in Beaver, which owns Seven Oaks Golf Course and County Club, Juba understands the intrinsic value of expanding this property to include new homes. As such, the GCU Real Estate Company, Inc. has become the Master Developer overseeing construction activities at what is called Congressional Place, a single-family home development with only seven lots remaining for sale. As the first development of its kind in Beaver County, the community continues to attract golfers and non-golfers alike, given the high end, custom designed single-family homes and carriage homes gracing the 700-acre property. Juba explained that the GCU’s initial foray in development began in the mid-1980s as the Village of Seven Oaks, a grouping of multi-family units. By the early 2000s, a second venture of multi-family homes was underway, known as Muirfield Village. Most recently, a third phase of multi-family units began construction in 2019 with developments by Castlebrook Development Group, LLC, with oversight by the GCU Real Estate Co., Inc. and is called Pinehurst Village. The 35-unit project sits immediately adjacent to the Seven Oaks Club House. “The demand for Pinehurst Village has always been there,” reported David Laffey, COO, Castlebrook Development. “What we are seeing now are homebuyers making decisions more quickly. If it weren’t for the current issues with material shortages, and if the contractors weren’t booked up to six months in advance, the development would be sold out.” Now, the expected sold out time table is early 2022, with a new development, called Constitution Heights, set to break ground within the next few months. “Even without breaking ground, we have received a lot of interest in this newest project,” Laffey added. Pinehurst Village offers upscale patio homes with the greatest interest from retired individuals and avid golfers. The smallest units measure about 1,400 square feet featuring a two bedroom layout without a loft starting at $345,000. Floor plans do range to more than 2,000 square feet with four plus bedrooms. Every unit, though, incorporates a two-car garage, countless options and includes cabinet and granite selection as well as expanded decks, finished basements and lofts. Constitution Highlands will consist of 200 units with involvement from Dan Ryan Homes, Scarmazzi Homes and Castlebrook Development. Of course, what also makes these homes so attractive is the quiet, rural feel but with amenities within walking distance. “Being associated with Seven Oaks affords our residents the ability to enjoy the pool, workout facilities, golf and the dining room within the distance of an urban block from your doorstep,” Laffey remarked. And those perks come as no accident. In 1972, delegates to the GCU convention approved the purchase of 740 acres of land in Beaver County known as the Seven Oaks Farm, owned by the Michael Baker family. According to George Juba, the vision for this property was to develop it into a recreational and residential community. The initial phase was the construction of the Seven Oaks Country Club, which opened in August 1978 as the inaugural real estate development followed by the Villages of Seven Oaks in the mid-‘80s. Fast forward, after years of previously mentioned home building, the plan is to continue developing the land in and around the clubhouse and golf course given the 375 acres of vacant land available for additional single family and multi-family units. So, what does the immediate future hold at Seven Oaks? Juba explained that the current project is a new, resort-style swimming pool and racquet complex under construction, with upscale amenities to be completed and scheduled to open the 2022 Memorial Day weekend. “Further, the master plan calls for the construction of lodging facilities that will enhance Seven Oaks Country Club as a real destination point for golf outings, weddings, banquets, sales seminars and a multitude of additional reasons to select Seven Oaks to host an event,” he added. “Overall, Seven Oaks is marketed as a recreational golf course community offering a safe and fun upscale lifestyle that provides a full array of activities. The Club’s amenities include its 18-hole, championship golf course, junior size and toddler swimming pools and two Har-Tru tennis courts in addition to countless activities throughout the year for each gender and age group.” A multi-million dollar renovation was recently completed to the clubhouse and golf course.
Locally owned since 2004, Richwell Custom Homes have graced the property at Seven Oaks as well as throughout Chippewa and Brighton Township. To aid customers with a meaningful experience, Owner Joe Gradwell and his team offer a custom home build process from “conceptualization and design to construction and occupancy,” one that includes help with financing through preferred lenders First National Bank and Home Savings Bank. From carriage homes and multi-family dwellings in Seven Oaks to single family homes in Hunter’s Ridge, Waterside Estate, Brighton Fields and Antler Ridge, high quality, upscale construction is key in all Richwell homes. Across his builds, however, Gradwell has noted a desire for two trending homes styles – the popular Craftsman and the Modern Farmhouse, the latter with “farmhouse attributes” inside but further stylings, such as black windows, white siding and cedar posts, on the exterior. Natalie Rossa, James Hardie Building Products, agrees that the modern farmhouse has come into vogue. “The ‘board and batten’ look is very popular, with a flat profile and shiplap,” she said. “At the same time, there is a growing demand for a contemporary style, with a dark exterior and panels and channels for a more industrial look.” And, as customers look for durability and longevity in their product choices, James Hardie Building Products routinely invests in research and development, looking for the next, best possible design options. Builders, such as Joe Gradwell, utilize these products in custom, upscale homes such as those found in his most recent project, Antler Ridge, where lot sizes range from one-half to eight acres of rolling, pastoral land. The pleasantly rural setting, allowing for a peaceful, retreat-like feel, is just minutes from I-376, shopping, dining and much more. With an abundance of square footage (about 3,000 plus), these single family homes range from $850,000 to $900,000 and feature upgraded granite countertops, high-end bathroom finishes, crown molding, and upgraded window packages, among many others, for the discerning buyer. “Exterior finishes to the home, such as an angled roof line, offer more dimension to the home for an aesthetically pleasing look,” Gradwell added. Hunter’s Ridge, located in Brighton Township, also features single-family homes on three-quarter acre lots, starting at $800,000. With just four lots left, this smaller community offers 3,200 square feet of upscale living space. Perhaps not surprisingly, an older population is prominent among buyers but Gradwell is seeing young professionals or “step-up buyers” beginning to dominate the market among his builds.
With the continuing growth of new construction coupled with educational, recreational, cultural and healthcare options, Beaver County can be an idyllic and convenient setting for new home seekers. Or, follow Beaver County Chamber President Helen Kissick’s simple invitation to “come into the county and see how much has changed!” NH