As those who tried to sell a condominium in the mid-1980s painfully recall, the "condo boom" of the '70s took its own sweet time coming back, and even now, after four years of increasing sales and a 16 percent increase this year over last, the condo market can hardly be described as "hot."

But despite overbuilding in the early '80s, particularly of high-rise units in the downtown area - a lifestyle alien to most native Utahns - single-unit or twin-unit "garden" condos have continued to hold a small market niche that have kept a few of their developers in business through the good times and bad.One of them is Alan Holbrook, a 35-year veteran of the construction business who has specialized over the past 10 years in projects that have the look of planned single-family communities but are technically condominiums. In an arena where many have failed, Holbrook has shown remarkable staying power.

After getting back into single-family home building in 1973 after a period in commercial construction, Holbrook got into the high-end condo market when he took over construction of the final phase of Edgemount Estates, a complex of $250,000-plus luxury condo units in the area of 3000 East and 3000 South.

The success of that project induced Holbrook to acquire 61/2 acres of land north and west of it at 2870 S. 2000 East on the old Fisher Dairy property where he launched Edgemount Homes, a complex of 46 duplex units that he markets in the range of $163,000 for one-story and $184,000 for two-story homes - although extras and customizing have pushed many of them well above those prices.

Most of his buyers, Holbrook said, are well-heeled Salt Lake area residents who have sold their large single-family homes to buy in Edgemount where they find more manageable living space, freedom from yard work and security as the major lures.

The attraction of Edgemount and other such projects is that buyers get them without giving up back yards, garages, ground-level living and other advantages of single-family homes. At Edgemount, the "culture shock" of acclimating to the condo lifestyle is kept to a minimum.

At Casto Pines, a smaller Holbrook project on Casto Lane (5060 South 2580 East), it is virtually non-existent. Casto Pines, 12 units on 3.5 acres selling for $240,000 and up, is also a condo project but a stealth one.

True, the street into the complex has an electronic security gate (as does Edgemount) and the homes all have a similar look, but they are individual units on individual lots (only one remains unsold at this writing), and the homes vary in size from a modest 2,100 square feet to a palatial 6,000.

Still, the owners don't have to worry about lawn mowers, broken sprinkler heads, snowy sidewalks, whether the exterior needs painting or the roof needs replacing. All of that is taken care of in the monthly condo fee, which also covers fire insurance, water and sewer bills, garbage collection and street maintenance, among others.

A condo buyer gets a deed to his unit and title to a share of the common area, in the case of Edgemount a 1/46th share, that is managed by an elected committee of owners.

The committee can sometimes cramp the style of an owner, who might be thwarted in his desire to, for instance, build a picket fence around his unit or paint it a different color, but his neighbor won't be allowed to either . . . nor can he put an old car up on blocks in the driveway, let his grass grow wild or do anything else that might blight the project and its property values.

With the interiors, though, Holbrook said buyers have a good deal of freedom, particularly if they buy a unit before or during early phases of construction. "We have a good deal of flexibility" in placing interior walls, he said, and the sky is the limit when it comes to cabinets, wall and floor coverings, fixtures, lighting and other custom features.

Condos may look the same on the outside, but on the inside imagination and budgets are the only restraints.