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Best Warm Places to Live in the US | Moving to Arizona

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Here’s Why Luxury Home Buyers are Moving to Arizona

Mark Candelaria
Touchdown—this year’s Big Game brings dreams of moving to Arizona for luxury home buyers.

Beamed live from State Farm Stadium in Greater Phoenix, the Big Game will feature gorgeous scenes of Arizona interspersed between first downs and touchdowns. From the lush green golf courses of Scottsdale and the dramatic desert mountains of Tucson, to the red rock canyons of Sedona and the snow-capped peaks in Flagstaff, those drone images often inspire viewers to ponder moving to Arizona.

“Without a doubt, right after the Big Game, we get calls from someone snowbound in Philadelphia about seeing real estate in Arizona,” Todd Gillenwater says, CEO and an owner of Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty, one of the preeminent real estate firms in the state. “It also happens around the Barrett-Jackson car auction, WM Phoenix Open golf tournament, Spring Training and other high-profile events here.”

This year the visiting population of the Valley of the Sun will be at an all-time high with record-breaking crowds expected in town for cars, golf, championship football and the baseball pre-season. Scottsdale Airport has already alerted private jet owners and companies that fly into Scottsdale of micro-thin take off and landing windows to accommodate the volume this year. 

All that said, luxury-loving visitors will come to our city to seek fun, excitement, elite sports and passions, and then, well, this just might look like someplace they want to live.

Russ Lyon Sotheby's International Realty

Russ Lyon Sotheby's International Realty

What exactly is it about Arizona that attracts all those high profile events to the state? We asked Gillenwater, luxury homebuilder Julie Hancock, developer Todd Patrick and architects Mark Candelaria and C.P. Drewett—all experts in the luxury home field—to weigh in on the Grand Canyon State’s allure.

“It’s simple,” opines Gillenwater. “It’s the climate. We are a sunshine state, and that brings an outdoor lifestyle. People don’t come here to play shuffleboard. They come to golf, hike the Grand Canyon, explore the national and state parks and enjoy other outdoor adventures.”

An advantageous tax situation, a lack of natural disasters and the ability to go from the scent of orange blossoms to pine forests and snow in about two hours are other items on the “plus” side of moving to Arizona, Gillenwater points out.

Russ Lyon

Russ Lyon Sotheby's International Realty

Most of Russ Lyon Sotheby’s out-of-state clientele comes from California, Illinois, the upper Midwest, Denver, Seattle, New York and Pennsylvania, Gillenwater notes. Like their U.S. counterparts, Canadians have, over the years, purchased primary and secondary residences in Arizona. Where are they buying? North Scottsdale is best known to attract out-of-town buyers, with the Silverleaf community being the most luxurious of the luxurious. 

“We have a $32 million listing there now,” says Gillenwater of Ellington Heights, one of the most-exciting new builds in Silverleaf and available for purchase.

Paradise Valley’s “golden triangle” between Clearwater Hills and Mummy and Camelback mountains is also a big draw for buyers new to the Arizona market. In Greater Phoenix, Gillenwater also points out under-the-radar locales such as the Vistancia golf community in Peoria, Gilbert and Chandler for attracting tech-types. In southern Arizona, Tucson’s Foothills neighborhood is a magnet for those who love views of the Santa Catalina Mountains, big lots and natural desert landscapes. Farther south, Tubac is a charming, historic arts community that draws retirees and those seeking a low-key lifestyle.

Though Russ Lyon Sotheby’s has offices statewide, Gillenwater personally is now based in Flagstaff and also likes to tout northern Arizona locales, like Flagstaff’s three master-planned luxury golf communities and developments near the slopes of Arizona Snowbowl, the popular ski resort. 

Ellington Heights

Ellington Heights

“Sedona is also its own draw,” Gillenwater says. “It’s a stunning place to live that attracts people from all over the world. We have a $19-million listing there, right on Oak Creek. Prescott is also a high-growth luxury market for us. A lot of Californians are moving there for the small-town ambiance.”

Though Camelot Homes projects are largely in Greater Phoenix and Scottsdale, Julie Hancock, the managing director and co-owner of the multi-generational company, has deep roots in the state and institutional knowledge of the local building and development scene. 

“My husband’s parents started the company in 1969,” she notes. “My father-in-law was one of the first licensed contractors in Arizona. My husband and I took over in the late 1970s.”

Focusing on developing and building high-end residential communities and custom homes, Hancock estimates that about 40 percent of Camelot Homes’ buyers are from out of state and notes an uptick in visitors to their model homes around the time of Arizona’s signature events, such as the Big Game. 

Camelot Homes Bronco

Camelot Homes

“Our buyers come for the climate, the outdoor activities, the great restaurants, the good schools and a myriad of other reasons,” she says. “When they move here, they want the change, they want something different. Our buyers from Chicago don’t want the traditional look and lifestyle they had there. They want a new experience.”

With new communities such as Scottsdale’s Bronco and Shadow Ridge, Paradigm in Phoenix and Stone Crest in Gilbert—plus custom homes—Camelot Homes varies its architectural influences from community to community, as well as within the development, eschewing a cookie-cutter look. 

“People want sophisticated architecture, not trends,” Hancock notes. “We have our own in-house architects and partner with outside architects for our projects.”

While Camelot Homes’ architectural styles vary from cottage and urban farmhouse influences to contemporary and modern Spanish, Hancock sees certain elements that are particularly attractive to sunshine seekers. “We promote an indoor-outdoor lifestyle,” she says, “but it’s not just having a retractable door. With our homes, we create courtyards and patios that are part of the living room, so you can’t really tell the difference between indoors and out—and you can be outside in February.”

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Paradigm

Camelot Homes

Garage space is high on the list for out-of-town buyers, who often bring collectible vehicles to the state and want to showcase them. 

“Four-car garages and larger are common for us now,” Hancock says. “Many buyers want showroom-style spaces for their cars.” (Did they just return from Barrett-Jackson?)

The pandemic brought an increased demand for home offices—and in many cases, two offices—for those who can work remotely. Detached guest houses for visiting adult children, grandchildren, in-laws and friends are popular, along with big kitchens and huge islands that double as entertaining space as well as food prep zones. Drilling down even more, Hancock points out laundry rooms that include pet baths and feeding stations, as well as interior courtyards for buyers with pets. 

“We do a lot of amenities for pets,” she says. “People worry about coyotes and other desert critters here, so having an interior courtyard lets your dog be outside and still safe.”

Overall, Hancock firmly believes that Arizona is, and will continue to be, a strong residential market. “Like other states, we’ve had our peaks and our valleys, but the market is always going to go up.” 

Camelot Homes

Camelot Homes

Architect Mark Candelaria has also seen his fair share of out-of-town clients—some 60 percent, he notes, from places like California, Chicago and the Midwest, New York, Pennsylvania, even Canada and China. 

“There are no bugs, no mosquitos,” he says with a chuckle, “but on the serious side, people see that the Phoenix area is a clean, beautiful and friendly community. Property taxes are low. It’s easy to get around here.” 

Having launched his own Scottsdale practice in 1999 after working for another firm for 18 years, Candelaria has become the go-to architect for gracious estate homes that have occasionally been designed with über amenities, such as large-scale equestrian facilities, gun ranges, bowling alleys, beauty salons and glass-walled car showrooms that can be viewed from within living rooms.

Candelaria’s projects—both new builds and extensive remodels—can be found throughout Greater Phoenix, particularly in Paradise Valley, Scottsdale and the leafy Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix. He’s also done show-stopping homes statewide, from Flagstaff and Sedona, down to Yuma.

Mark Candelaria

Mark Candelaria

“Our out-of-state clients’ architectural style preferences have ebbed and flowed over the years,” he says. “While it was once Pueblo and Tuscan, the preference these days is toward a cleaner, more modern look. What seems to have the longest hold is some form of Santa Barbara style here. It’s classic and maintains its value.”

Like Julie Hancock, Candelaria sees certain home features high on the list for newcomers considering either a vacation home or permanent residence in Arizona. “We do a lot of guest houses,” he remarks, “and multi-car garages, often with lower levels.”

One design element that has become in demand for clients is an indoor-outdoor bar, Candelaria points out, often straddling the kitchen and a poolside patio. “We remodeled the classic El Chorro restaurant in Paradise Valley several years ago and designed one there,” he says. “Now everyone wants one.”

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And, always, Candelaria notes that the firm designs for the indoor-outdoor lifestyle that all sun-seekers want. “Here in Arizona, we wait for Halloween, not necessarily for the trick or treaters,” he says. “That’s when the heat is over and we can enjoy our beautiful weather.”

The indoor-outdoor lifestyle is something that Scottsdale architect C.P. Drewett is all about. Since launching his practice more than two decades ago, he has earned a high profile as a modernist, creating sleek, dramatic, award-winning homes that are perfect for entertaining. 

Werner Segarra Photography

Werner Segarra Photography

“People are starving for sunshine,” Drewett says of his clientele, 50 percent of which come from places like Chicago, New York and Canada, as well as California. “They want glass, glass and glass, and an absence of formality.”

While Drewett is careful with solar orientation and shading all the glass walls that his clients want, he says that they have embraced his bold take on contemporary design. “Arizona is a melting pot,” says the architect, a Louisiana native. “Everyone’s from somewhere else, so people are more open to something different here than what they may have experienced in their home states.”

Drewett, whose projects are largely in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, finds certain details popular with his out-of-town clients, such as outdoor living spaces, lavished with outdoor kitchens and grills, bars, drop-down TVs, fireplaces and fire pits, sophisticated lighting and even heated patio floors to take the nip out of midnight dip in the pool on a winter’s night. 

“Outdoor furniture, including lighting and rugs, is remarkable these days,” he says. “The patio is no longer an afterthought.”

Ellington Heights

Drewett agrees that homebuyers in Arizona are car-crazy and finds himself creating not only multiple garage spaces, but ones that double as man caves and sports bars, as entertaining spaces. Kitchens, too, he says, have become entertaining spaces. He often specs two islands (one for prep, one for guests to hang out) and a back, or “dirty” kitchen that can be used to hide cooking messes or for catering access. One feature Drewett’s vacation home clients don’t request much is a lavish wine cellar. 

“If they have a major wine collection, it’s usually back home,” he explains. “People don’t tend to leave a lot of wine in their second home.”

With or without wine cellars, big kitchens and multiple garage spaces, Drewett points out, “People want to live here. They want that open, casual way of living.”

Todd Patrick, the vice president of sales and marketing at Replay Destinations, says that he’s seeing a split between people who want to live in Arizona full-time and those who just want to stay for the cool seasons.

Ascent

Ascent at the Phoenician

“People are either are moving to Arizona full-time, or they’re buying for seasonal reasons, with the goal of retiring and spending more time here,” Patrick says. Replay Destinations is behind Ascent at The Phoenician, a five-star super-luxe community on resort grounds with an ICONIC mountain location and the pinnacle of luxury living, and the first resident just moved in recently.

Patrick says his clients are buying for the location first, being at the base of the ICONIC Camelback Mountain, minutes to Scottsdale Fashion Square and Old Town, and close to the airport. Next, the architecture and design has captured the imaginations of buyers. Plus, the lock-and-leave aspect and buyers having access to the amenities of five-star Phoenician Resort are perfect perks. The community will likely be complete by the Fall of 2025.

Cullum Homes is building its newest community within the gates of Ascent.

As you watch those golden-hour scenics of Arizona’s desert, forests and mountains during the Big Game, remember—you are not alone in your desire to relocate here. 

“We’re predicted to grow another 26 percent in population here during the next 20 years,” says Julie Hancock. “That means we’ll be adding about two million people to the state.” 

Adds Mark Candelaria succinctly, “Arizona is an easy and beautiful place to live.”

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