For much of the last decade, spec homes were built, and people came—until the recession, which made the idea of constructing a house without having a buyer lined up first seem unwise. But like rays of light emerging from a cloud, developers are taking risks again, no doubt heartened by last year’s $19.25-million Sagaponack Greens spec-house sale.

This summer, there have been about three dozen spec homes for sale south and north of Route 27, which is about three dozen more than there were a few years ago, according to brokers and builders. And as the number of prime empty lots dwindles, diminishing chances of somebody putting up the home of his or her dreams, the appeal of spec homes has only grown, says Christopher Burnside, a senior director at Brown Harris Stevens and a spec builder for Hampton Pointe.

Indeed, custom-building a home can be incredibly time-intensive, what with securing permits, approving designs, and supervising construction. Besides, you might end up shelling out for a Hamptons rental in the meantime, which makes the idea of simply showing up and putting a key in a lock so powerful. “People don’t want to wait two years,” says Burnside. “They just want to come out now and enjoy the summer.”

Burnside has put up nine homes in the past 12 years, although in the thick of the downturn, he struggled to sell a five-bedroom on Sagg Road in Sagaponack North. Originally listed at $2.9 million in 2008, the home failed to secure a buyer, so it had to be rented that summer for $75,000. It finally traded the following spring, but at $2.1 million, meaning Burnside barely broke even, he says.

This past summer was a different story. Burnside is storming ahead with two specs: a five-bedroom on Meeting House Lane in Amagansett at $5.4 million, and an even bigger home with ocean views on Hedges Lane for $15 million, which already has an offer pending.

Finding a spec isn’t always easy. Many brokers won’t use that term in a listing, as they are afraid it will connote a lack of high-end finishes or poor construction, says Michael Schultz, a senior vice president with the Corcoran Group. But, he says, nothing could be further from the truth with the 5,500-square-foot home on Windsor Lane in Wainscott by Daniel Scotti, which Schultz is now marketing for $5.5 million. It features a heated gunite pool, 1,200-bottle wine cellar, and tongue-and-groove millwork.

When a spec does come to market today, brokers say to expect something of similar size with textbook East End f lourishes like shingles, gables, and gambrel roofs; south of the highway, a place to swim and play tennis will usually also be included. And while properties north of the highway got slammed in the recession, developers don’t seem afraid to give them a try again, like with Fair Hills in Bridgehampton, a 22-unit subdivision planned near Brick Kiln Road in Bridgehampton North by the builder Villadom.

Four homes here, which are expected to be completed by January, are currently listed for around $3.5 to $4 million, and another four homes will be breaking ground in the next few months, says Zachary Vichinsky, The Corcoran Group broker who’s marketing them. “It’s one of the largest clusters of lots to be sold in the last few years,” he adds.

But they’re not alone. The area’s predominant spec-builder, Joe Farrell, who hammered his way through the downturn, is two homes away from selling out his 17-home Estates at Sagaponack Woods, although the $3 million prices are off his prerecession fare. Similar prices will be found at his new Oceanview Farm, on Deerfield Road in Water Mill, a seven-home spec project, he says. He also has a $16 million spec house complete with movie theater and, curiously, a two-lane bowling alley, for sale on Bay Lane in Water Mill.

Although classic styles generally rule with specs, not all are created equal. New offerings from longtime Plum Builders of East Hampton feature joined, wide-open living and dining rooms that are meant to evoke the airiness of Soho lofts, says Al Giaquinto, the firm’s president. “There was just too much inventory of the old shingle-style homes,” he says.

His specs also boast eco-friendly touches: Steel, which is made using high heat and then trucked across the country, is taboo; wood comes from trees that are harvested sustainably. Four of Plum’s homes are being marketed this year at about $4 million, versus zero homes in 2009, Giaquinto says.

Of course, specs can be just a starting point because they often catch the eye of buyers midway through the project and turn into custom jobs, says builder Jay Bialsky. In fact, in the last two decades, of the 18 specs he’s started, buyers have snapped up 17 of his homes in mid-construction, he says.

Now, after taking off a few years to launch a zip-line company and ride out the recession, Bialsky is newly bullish on specs, including a 12,000-squarefoot spec house in Sagg Main, scheduled for completion in 2013 that he’s pricing just under $22 million. He believes this type of real estate can avoid umpteen hassles, especially between couples. “I save people a tremendous amount of heartache and time,” he jokes. “I save marriages.”

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