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America's best-selling communities.

Concocting a Best Seller

The exact formula for creating a best seller remains a mystery, though certain key ingredients' definitely add magic to the mix.

Dave Mandarich is grinning big these days. Mandarich, president of Richmond American Homes, guessed right on Richmond Crossing, a Denver community of value-priced homes with distinct elevations. It's selling out at a rate of nearly seven houses a month.

"It's my biggest hit ever," says Mandarich, whose company builds in six states, "except for a California project we built in 1989." Mandarich attributes the success to a low price per square foot compared with the competition and to colonial styles, imported from the East Coast, that stand out in an otherwise staid Denver market.

But that doesn't explain the success entirely. Mandarich offers the same product at lower prices on the other side of town. If price is the secret ingredient, then that project should be selling even faster. But it's selling at half the pace of Richmond Crossing.

Location explains the difference. Richmond Crossing is situated in Grant Ranch, a master planned community with heavy landscaping, a great community center, and strong design aesthetics. The amenities create about a 20% premium for lots. In fact, when Grant Ranch first came on the market, Mandarich balked at the price. Then, as the amenities went in, he realized the development possessed important intangibles.

Mandarich can't explain how he knew Grant Ranch would be worth the premium. "You don't really know until you do it," he says. "You just look at it and guess that the amenities, the aesthetics, and the location will bring a little higher dollar, and you'll be able to make your numbers."

Builder intuition often seems like the most important ingredient in the recipe for a best seller. Still, more tangible ingredients show up again and again in the hottest communities. After five years of identifying and reviewing hundreds of best-selling communities in major and not-so-major markets across the country, BUILDER has identified the prevailing factors. Here we share our formula- and a few examples. In the following pages, we review more than a dozen of the nation's hottest properties, projects where smart builders came up with just the right mix of product, price, and location for just the right target market. Here's what those builders and other industry experts have identified as the universal elements.

Value

Mandarich value-engineered his product at Richmond Crossing and elsewhere to achieve a price advantage. "At under $50 a square foot, including hard and soft costs, I'm building 10% cheaper than my competitors," he claims. That's not unusual for a best seller, says one expert, Jeff Meyers, who heads The Meyers Group, an Irvine, Calif.-based firm that tracks sales in California, Arizona, and Nevada. "Typically, hot product is 'value-priced,' relative to the market. That might mean the lowest price per square foot, but it doesn't have to. It just has to be the best perceived value by the customer."

Location

No matter how good its price, no community sells well without the appropriate location. "Triple A locations are the first thing," contends builder Bob Youngentob, president of Eakin/Youngentob Associates in Arlington, Va., who makes a habit of finding them.

Eakin/Youngentob builds primarily on infill sites that can't be beat for convenience. But he says that every community, whether infill, suburban, or exurban, needs to be accessible to work, schools, and shopping.

Aesthetics

Looks count. It's a fact of human nature that "people want to live in an area that's aesthetically pleasing.," says Norm Stuard, development vice president of Simeon Residential Properties, developer of Grant Ranch in Denver (see story, right). That's true of the houses they live in as well. "People will pay more for good-looking product," adds Meyers. "We did a study for [California builder] Taylor-Woodrow and found that they were getting 8% to 12% more revenue for [their houses at] Mahogany and Mayfield than product of equal square footage across the street. I suspect the hard costs were identical, yet they got a premium. These projects offered buyers exceptional product design, something they could embrace."

Communication

A good-looking product in the right location won't move if the builder can't get the word out. "You have to have an adequate marketing budget to secure the shelf space in the buyer's mind," says market analyst Mike Inselmann, president of American Metro/Study Corp., a Houston-based research firm that compares project sales in Texas and Florida.

But the big picture isn't everything, says Meyers. One-on-one communication will make the difference in the end. "I used to be on the opposite side [of the debate], but now I feel like you can't pay good salespeople too much," he says. "Having top-notch salespeople gives your company a service-oriented image - and that pays off."

Market Knowledge

The best builders have a firm grasp of their local real estate market. They know what new-home shoppers want, either through formal research or through sheer instinct. Their knowledge may point to an underserved market niche, though with everyone looking for a void in the market, says Inselmann, those are hard to find. "Really, you just have to do a better job than the guy who's servicing that market now."

Heavenly Deal

At first sight, Denver's Grant Ranch looked like heaven on earth. A rare 500-acre infill parcel, it lay nestled between two reservoirs, a 220-acre regional park, and a 3-million-square-foot retail center. Yet local developers turned up their noses when it went on the market.

"The site had entitlement problems," explains Norm Stuard, development vice president of Simeon Residential Properties, which ultimately developed the site. "It straddles three municipalities, so none of the local guys would even consider going there." Stuard saw things differently: "My partners and I are California builders - this was no tougher than what we're used to."

Stuard took on the challenge of dealing with Denver, Jefferson County, and Lakewood County; all had different ideas on street widths, sewer, and open space. "We had to get them comfortable with looking at the community as a whole, rather than as three portions," he says. "It took an extra six to nine months to work out the bugs."

Stuard's plan allowed for a broad variety of product - everything from first-time buyer condos to empty-nester patio homes - figuring the diversity would speed absorption. "We wanted to matrix the land so there would be something for everybody," he says.

Although he's charging about 20% more for lots than Highlands Ranch, a master planned community across town, builders are happy to get in. David Mandarich, president of Richmond American Homes, is not the least of them. Mandarich says his Richmond Crossing community is "the only project in 22 years and 50,000 houses where I didn't build a model [for the first year] because we sold so much out of a trailer."

Richmond's product is the hottest in Grant Ranch, partly because it offers value - the lowest cost per square foot - and partly because it's different. Richmond copied traditional centerhall colonial plans from its East Coast communities to stand out in a sea of typical Denver-style architecture. But the Grant Ranch setting is a significant factor, says Mandarich. "It's outselling the same product on the other side of town by two to one," he says. "The location is great, and it helps that we're not competing against 20 other builders."

Project: Grant Ranch; Sales started: July 1996; Total number of units: 1,900; Number released: 849; Sales through October 1997: 354; Price: $128,000 to $900,000; Unit size: 1,109 to 7,300 square feet; Density: 3.96 units an acre; Developer: Simeon Residential Properties, Denver; Land planner/Landscape architect: Paradigm Affiliates, Denver, and Anthony Guzzardo Associates, San Francisco; Ad agency: Miles Advertising, Denver

Lofts and Lifestyles

"The only word I could think of was 'Wow,'" says Concord Homes' Roger Mankedick, recalling the first time he saw the 81-year-old Sexton building. Harold Lichterman, president of Chicago-based Kenard Corp., had approached Mankedick to see if he wanted to join forces to turn the site into a residential community. The prospect brought one more word to Mankedick's mind: "Yes."

Kenard, the developer, purchased the site at auction for $12 million in the autumn of 1996. "Nobody had ever paid that much for a building in Chicago," says Mankedick. By the time the project is complete in 2000, the Sexton will have yielded something between $75 million and $78 million.

Named after the innovative food supply company that built it, The Sexton is located in the city's booming River North neighborhood. It's within walking distance of some of Chicago's newest and best restaurants as well as clubs, theaters, galleries, shopping, and mass transit. And it's right on the Chicago River. It would be hard to find a better infill location.

"Chicago is going through a renaissance," notes Mankedick. "Empty-nesters are moving back to the city, new household formation is growing, and the 20-somethings are in the market."

The Sexton has something for them all. Four products and price points make up the project: single-level lofts built in the old concrete portion of the complex, single-level penthouses and duplex penthouses in the timber section, and new townhouses built along the perimeter.

The lofts have been a big hit: Through September 1997, 13 I had been sold, even though buyers can't close on them until 1999. The townhouses will come later.

Besides providing an ideal location, the developers have enhanced buyers' lifestyles by creating a retreat in the middle of the city. The Sexton contains a large courtyard; the penthouses and townhouses come with sun decks and private patios. In addition, residents can use a common exercise facility, a valet dry-cleaning service, a package delivery room, and a roof deck.

Project: The Sexton; Sales started: February 1997; Total number of units: 252; Number released: 235; Sales through September 1997: 131; Price: lofts $127,200 to $428,000; penthouses $200,300 to $428,000; duplex penthouses $241,000 to $466,200; townhouses $462,000 to $495,000; Unit size: lofts 647 to 2,287 square feet; penthouses 1,080 to 2,287 square feet; duplex penthouses 1,318 to 2,538 square feet; townhouses 2,542 to 2,703 square feet; Developers: Concord Homes, Palatine, III., and Kenard Corp., Chicago; Builder: Concord Homes, Palatine, III.,; Architect: Pugsley & LaHaie, Lake Zurich, III.; Interior designer: Lynn Rosenberg Design, Chicago; Ad agency: Leibson McGrath, Northbrook, III.; Public relations agency: Taylor Johnson Associates, Chicago

Community Boost

There were no residential infill parcels in San Diego before California Pacific Homes marched in and created one in late 1995. Cal Pac bought an old commercial space minutes from downtown and then it went to the city government for a zoning change.

The parties struck an ambitious deal: In return for permission to build houses, Cal Pac's San Diego division agreed to design Stonecrest Village, a pedestrian-oriented master planned community for families, complete with front porches and picket fences. The arrangement was a political shot in the arm for Mayor Susan Golding and the San Diego Planning and Development Department; the two had been working to halt urban sprawl and bring more family-oriented development downtown.

Spring Street, Stonecrest's top-selling subdivision with 10 sales a month, has become both a buyer's and a land planner's dream since opening in July 1997. "We were trying to create a community where people could live, work, play, and shop, all without a car," says Cal Pac's San Diego division manager, Sherm Harmer.

The project's appeal stems from its terrific location - just north of prime shopping, beaches, and the historic Gaslamp Quarter. A narrow site forced Spring Street's architects to pull forward the entry and living area of each model and to build on comparatively small (4,000-square-foot) lots, making for a social street scene. To comply with San Diego's strict environmental regulations, the builders purchased 15 acres of off-site land, also within city limits, to add as open space.

Part serendipitous, part shrewd, Cal Pac's plan to work with the government instead of fighting with it has the builder living a dream of its own.

Project: Spring Street at Stonecrest Village; Sales started: July 1997; Total number of units: 60; Number released: 31; Sales through September 1997: 30; Price: $234,900 to $285,000; Unit size: 1,581 to 2,364 square feet; Density: 7.8 units an acre; Developer/Builder: California Pacific Homes, San Diego; Architect: JBZ Dorius Architects, Irvine, Calif.; Landscape architect: Robert Goto & Associates, San Clemente, Calif.; Interior designer: DESIGN-TEC, Costa Mesa, Calif.; Market research: Marketscape Research & Consulting, San Diego; Ad agency: Hayes-Martin & Associates, Costa Mesa; Local market Information: The Meyers Group, San Diego

Grande Views

The goal is simple at The Grande on Sand Key: Turn tourists into year-round residents. The natural setting - palm trees, sandy beaches, and blue-green water - provides a powerful inducement. So do the spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico and Clearwater Harbor from the two graceful towers of this 234-unit condominium community.

The inducements are working: Sales are averaging seven a month since the opening of the first tower, the Somerset, more than two years ago. The second tower, the Watermark, is already 85% sold out, and it will not even be completed until May. "A lot of people rent condos and vacation in Clearwater year after year. We convince them to settle down in a larger, more permanent home," says Steve McAuliffe, sales and marketing vice president of JMC Communities.

McAuliffe attributes the project's success to the combination of a phenomenal site and a strong amenity package. JMC used focus groups and surveys to find out what would attract year-round residents and empty-nesters to the 10.5-acre beachfront community. The research resulted in a community that combines the best of both worlds: A heated pool and cabanas create a resort-like atmosphere, and a business center and concierge help with everyday activities.

Spacious floor plans, with lots of storage to promote year-round living, certainly help. Each building features six floor plans ranging from 1,427 square feet for two bedrooms to 5,029 square feet for a penthouse.

The site plan considers water views from every conceivable angle while providing privacy for each unit. This is accomplished through the unusual tower design; angled profiles make each unit feel like a corner home. Floor plans face outward with large windows and oversized terraces to capture panoramic water views.

The Grande's two towers stand about 800 feet from the water's edge. JMC built a boardwalk and brought in sand to create additional dunes on the beach. To maintain isolation and exclusivity from other beach communities, the 21-story towers are set back 450 feet from the main road. McAuliffe explains that many other condominiums in the area are only a few feet away from the road's constant traffic.

Ironically, all the publicity surrounding hurricanes in southern Florida contributed to the project's success. After the region was hit by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, building codes required new beachfront condos to be built to withstand high winds. The Grande features a reinforced concrete foundation and laminated windows made to resist flying debris. Local media were all over this aspect of the first building's construction. McAuliffe says the hurricane-proofing helped maintain the community's presence in the newspapers.

Project: The Grande on Sand Key; Sales started: May 1995; Total number of units: 234; Number released: 117; Sales through October 1997: 216; Price: $229,000 to $1.26 million; Unit size: 1,427 to 5,029 square feet; Developer: JMC Communities, St. Petersburg, Fla.; Builder: JMC Design & Development, St. Petersburg; Architect: Architects Consortium, West Palm Beach, Fla.; Consulting architect: Gillet Associates, Longboat Key, Fla.; Landscape architect: Swan, Moody & Associates, Bradenton, Fla.; Consulting landscape architect: Warrent E. McCormick & Associates, West Palm Beach; Interior designer: March-Michaels Interior Designs, Winter Park, Fla.; Market research: Rose Residential Reports, Tarpon Springs, Fla., and Market Perspectives, Carmichael, Calif.; Ad agency: Seidenberg & Associates, Clearwater, Fla.

Greener Acres

Backyard views of lush fairways and distant mountains could explain the lightning-fast sales pace at Positano, a 112-unit golf course community. But that would understate the hard work and design ingenuity that went into achieving those views.

Columbia Communities used "Z" plotting to make the most of the narrow lots - some as small as 42 feet - in its 20-acre parcel. The technique allowed designers to create private courtyards and open interiors with fairway views appealing enough to win over even nongolfers.

The builder took extraordinary pains to fine-tune every aspect of the design. Modifications were made throughout the planning and model-construction phases. "We moved windows, adjusted walls, changed interior elevations," says Columbia's CEO James Weinberg. "We tried to do it fight. It feels good that we spent the effort in the right place."

It took Columbia two years to buy the land for Positano from the Resolution Trust Corp. But the result was that Columbia could offer buyers a unique proposition: in-town homes on a golf course.

Positano marked the company's return to residential construction after several years in commercial building, and the company wanted to make a good first impression. Columbia's project manager works with every home buyer throughout the building process, touring each home with its buyers during key phases of construction.

The company's research had shown that move-down buyers and other empty-nesters strongly preferred single-story homes. And sales, so far, have borne this out. Of five models offered, the two smallest - both single story - are by far the most popular. Columbia also gave buyers a wide variety of options, including a popular addition with a bedroom and three-quarter bath and a separate entrance.

All this hard work and attention to detail is paying off in huge dividends. Weinberg initially projected a sellout within three years. At the current sales rate, though, Positano should be sold out in as little as two.

Project: Positano; Sales started: August 1996; Total number of units: 112; Number released: 60; Sales through September 1997: 56; Price: $193,900 to $269,900 (excluding lot premiums); Unit size: 1,603 to 3,045 square feet; Density: 6 units an acre; Developer/Builder: Columbia Communities, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Architect: Berkus Design Studio, Santa Barbara, Calif., and CSA Architects, Santa Barbara; Landscape architect: Florian Martinez Associates, Tustin, Calif.; Interior designer: Hart Interior Design, Tempe, Ariz.; Marketing consultant: Tenzer Co., Los Angeles; Ad agency: The Martz Agency, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Vision and Guts

To most builders, Ford's Landing was a nightmare parcel. Its "amenities" included a deserted Ford Motor plant that would require millions to restore to Old Town Alexandria's historic preservation covenants. The site was approved for 210 condos and townhouses, which couldn't possibly bring in enough to cover costs, and no builder wanted to fight the notoriously strict architectural review board for new approvals. Plus, it had taken a previous builder four years to sell 15 townhouses there.

Yet Bob Youngentob and Terry Eakin somehow saw the piece as a dream come true. The infill. location would work perfectly for their company, Eakin/Youngentob Associates, which specializes in upscale infill communities for singles and couples. Youngentob and Eakin spent 12 months working and reworking the land plan, finally getting the project reapproved - this time with 136 townhouses. They convinced preservationists that the Ford plant restoration wasn't economically feasible and that they could make better use of the waterfront location.

"The old plan gave the internal units little access to the water. We recreated the Old Town Alexandria grid pattern where the streets dead-end at the waterfront - that way everyone in the community has a view," says Youngentob.

In the end, about $12 million - $90,000 a unit - will go into site work, including the plant demolition, extending a building platform into the river, and adding a boardwalk. But the builders' vision and investment are paying off: The project reaped $30 million in sales in its first six months, and buyers continue to plunk down anywhere from $360,000 to more than $1 million at the rate of six sales a month.

Such a wide price range allows Eakin/Youngentob to attract a broad market. Though the prices are steep, buyers are quite willing to pay for the close-in location, the historic-looking plans, and the water views.

Project: Ford's Landing; Sales started: October 1996; Total number of units: 136; Number released: 90; Sales through October 1997: 73; Price: $360,000 to $1.25 million; Unit size: 1,350 to 3,000 square feet; Density: 19.4 units an acre; Developer/Builder: Eakin Youngentob Associates, Arlington, Va.; Architect/Land planner: The Lessard Architectural Group, Vienna, Va.; Landscape architect: Studio 39, Burke, Va.; Interior merchandiser: Carlyn & Co. Interior Design, Great Falls, Va.; Ad agency: The Bomstein Agency, Washington, D.C.

Hillside Retreat

"Be Prepared to Lose Yourself Just Over This Hill," reads a welcome sign for Capilano II at Silver Creek Valley Country Club. And that's just what about eight buyers a month are doing, once they see Capilano II.

Shea Homes Northern California's 109-unit community, carved into a scenic hillside, offers sweeping views of Silver Creek's golf course and San Jose. Part of a gated 1,500-acre master planned community boasting 500 acres of open space, Capilano II is only 10 miles from the city, yet it manages to feel like a resort getaway.

Silver Creek's country club amenities and the burgeoning high-tech market in San Jose combine to create a huge potential buyer base. But according to Joanne Anderson, Shea Homes' vice president of sales and marketing, highly customizable floor plans are what seal most deals: "We offer move-up families good basic designs with several customizing features at competitive prices. Our best seller has 12 floor plan options alone. No other community in the area offers the level of customization we do."

Homes in Capilano II are selling much faster than anticipated. "Silver Creek as a whole was slated to be developed over 10 years, but is now projected to be developed in half that time," says Anderson. In response, Shea has upped the ante: From one release of homes to the next, the company raised prices by $30,000 - and there's a lottery for those.

Project: Capilano II at Silver Creek; Sales started: March 1997; Total number of units: 109; Number released: 73; Sales through November 1997: 71; Price: $485,000 to $560,500; Unit size: 2,500 to 3,256 square feet; Density: 3 units an acre; Developer/Builder: Shea Homes of Northern California, San Jose, Calif.; Architect: BBG, Clark Butz, Newport Beach, Calif.; The Dahlin Group, San Ramon, Calif.; Landscape architect: NUVIS, San Ramon; Interior designer: Creative Design Consultants, Costa Mesa, Calif.; Marketing consultant/Local market Information: Howard Englander, Laguna, Calif.; Ad agency: Gauger & Silva, San Francisco

Back to the Woods

There aren't a lot of tree-lined streets in Houston. So when the owners of Cypres Realty had a chance to buy a heavily wooded, 774-acre tract on the city's up-and-coming northwest side, they jumped at it.

And as builders put 1,436 single-family homes on 470 of those acres, says Tim Clark, a principal of the company, they are building around the trees.

"We made a huge effort to save the trees, to save the environment, to wind the roads so that you're always driving through trees," says Clark. The 30-something couples moving into the homes - which go for $120,000 for a production house to $600,000 for a custom home on the master planned community's 27-hole golf course - choose them for the surrounding greenery. "Everybody who buys out there buys because they want to live in the forest," he says.

In fact, Clark says, the lush landscape has attracted more affluent customers than the developer expected. The first homes in the Longwood community were moderately priced from $120,000 to $200,000 in an effort to attract what a local research firm identified as an underserved market. After 18 months of successful sales, however, the company recruited custom builders to offer more elaborate homes to older buyers who were asking for them.

Cypress Realty appeals to the buyer's fascination with the forest in newspaper and billboard advertisements that feature a bright red cardinal and a back-to-nature theme. "It's our constant message," says Clark. "We kind of fit what people had been looking for."

Sharon O'Malley, a freelance writer based in College Park, Md.

Project: Longwood; Sales started: April 1994; Total number of units: 1,436; Number released: 1,105; Sales through September 1997: 921; Price: $120,000 to $600,000; Unit size: 1,750 to 4,700 square feet; Density: 3.05 units an acre; Developer: Cypress Realty, Houston; Land planner: Kerry Gilbert & Associates, Houston; Landscape architect: The Broussard Group, Austin, Texas; Engineering firm: Jones & Carter, Houston; Marketing and advertising consultant: Boswell & Partners, Houston; Public relations consultant: Thomas Business Communications, Houston

Toast of the Coast

It's the community everyone's talking about in Huntington Beach, Calif., and not just because of its on-the-beach location, distinct architecture, or strong community identity. "This market hasn't had a new product in a long time," points out Lorry Lynn of The Meyers Group/Orange County. "There's pent-up demand for new housing."

Huntington Seacliff is filling that need at the speediest rate in town. It has averaged 45 sales a month from its eight subdivisions combined since the first - Westport by Lennar Homes - opened in January 1997.

Though he had demand on his side, PLC Land Co. President Chris Gibbs left nothing to chance. He strove to give the community strong character. Top-of-the-line landscaping, signage, and entry monuments throughout Huntington Seacliff's two major neighborhoods do the trick. A coastal infill site close to jobs in Los Angeles and Orange County adds to the appeal. Architecturally strong designs complete the picture, making the Huntington Seacliff buzz a lot more than just chatter.

Project: Huntington Seacliff; Sales started: January 1997; Total number of units: 773; Number released: 491; Sales through October 1997: 450; Price: $220,000 to $800,000; Unit size: 1,540 to 4,168 square feet; Density: 6.5 units an acre; Developer: PLC Land Co., Newport Beach, Calif.; Landscape architect: Lifescapes International, Newport Beach, Calif.; Ad agency: Intercommunications, Newport Beach; Local market information: The Meyers Group, Irvine, Calif.

Wooing Weekenders

Building condos for the high volume of regular weekend visitors to this historic area was a no-brainer as far as Frank Spadea was concerned. Spadea, president of The Franciscus Co., had been talking to them for six years in the shopping center he'd developed next door to the project.

Spadea knew that his target market - 50-somethings who travel often to southeastern Virginia to play golf and enjoy the unique colonial atmosphere - sought a comfortable, yet easily affordable, second or third home. He had just the place to build it.' a 13-acre parcel left over from the shopping center development.

The lack of competition in La Fontaine's price range - as low as $72,500 - was one sign that this buyer group was largely untapped. The few properties under $100,000 were marketed as rentals for college students. Custom single-family homes and upper-end condominiums dominated the resort area.

Despite LaFontaine's relatively inexpensive prices, high-end features such as vaulted ceilings and circle-top windows are included in the design. Fireplaces, spas, and decorating options appeal to more affluent buyers. The best-selling floor plan is the largest - and most flexible - of the six models.

Extensive market research plus years of experience building 10-plexes made for a positive profit picture and brisk sales. During the first 10 months, Franciscus sold 100 of the 160 units. And many buyers paid cash.

Project: La Fontaine; Sales started: November 1996; Total number of units: 160; Number released: 110; Sales through September 1997: 107; Price: $72,500 to 499,900; Unit size: 824 to 1,255 square feet; Density: 11.76 an acre; Developer/Builder/Architect: The Franciscus Co., Virginia Beach, Va.; Land planner: Langley and McDonald, Virginia Beach; Landscape architect: Doug Aurand, Norfolk, Va.; Interior designer: Goodwin Interiors, Virginia Beach; Marketing consultant: Marketing Directions, Virginia Beach; Ad agency: Marketing Directions, Virginia Beach

Condos by Choice

Until a few years ago, says Scott Hall, vice president of Burnstead Construction Co., the only people who bought condominiums in the Seattle market were those who couldn't afford single-family homes - and those made up just a miniscule percentage of the overall market. So when Hall decided to develop a hilly 60 acres his company had owned for a decade in suburban Woodinville, he thought that rental apartments would make more sense than condos.

But between 1993 and 1995, recalls Hall, the local rental market declined. So he redesigned the project and built condominium townhouses and flats. By the time Hawthorne opened in July 1997, the company had a list of several hundred people who had expressed an interest in buying one of the 45 homes released in the project's first phase.

Before the company released its second group of homes in November, it was able to raise prices from the $145,450 to $204,950 range to the $155,000 to $220,000 range. "I started out pricing fairly conservatively," says Hall, who estimates he's earning a 12% return on the project. "I knew I could get more, but I didn't know exactly how high I could go. Now, I've raised prices quite significantly."

The hilltop project, says Burnstead marketing vice president Jolyn Davis, fills "a hole in the market. We realized there was a whole market out there that wanted to own a condo for lifestyle reasons" and was willing to pay top dollar for high-quality, low-maintenance homes. The project, which is located in the heart of a corridor of high-tech businesses (like Microsoft), appeals to affluent young professionals, but it draws even more 50-ish couples who are beginning to downsize.

Phase two, says Davis, will be more of a sales challenge because several of the builder's competitors have begun building similar product in the area. Still, the project's hilltop location - secluded enough to be out of the way but fairly near a major highway - is unique to Hawthorne. "Some of the competitors are on main roads," Davis says. "They just don't have the setting that we have."

Project: Hawthorne; Sales started: July 1997; Total number of units: 140; Number released: 45; Sales through September 1997: 33; Price: $155,000 to $220,000; Unit size: 1,056 to 1,607 square feet; Density: 11 units an acre; Developer: Burnstead Construction Co., Bellevue, Wash.; Builder: Rolling Meadows, Bellevue; Architect: Hackworth Architecture, Seattle; Interior decorator: Deborah Hulls, Redmond, Wash.; Ad agency: Subert, Gregory and Woodstrom, Mercer Island, Wash.

Wish Fulfillment

With world-class amenities such as a 195-acre private lake, a marina, and a membership golf club, Windward seemed to have it all. But Atlanta's 12-year-old luxury residential community was missing one thing: product for first-time and first-time move-up buyers.

Last September, the community's developer filled the gap with Compass Pointe, a 66-unit subdivision with homes priced from $180,000 to $250,000. Young professionals quickly jumped at the opportunity to enjoy the Windward life; they're buying at a rate of three a month.

Builder Dave Booreson of Peachtree Residential knew it would take more than tony surrounds to ensure the project's success. A review of Windward's customer base and talks with local Realtors revealed a strong desire among potential buyers to customize their homes. So Booreson took a daring step: He allowed buyers to voice their wishes in preconstruction meetings rather than force them to pick from planned options.

Peachtree kept administrative costs down by empowering its field personnel to interact with customers and make custom changes throughout construction. Popular options include moving walls, changing door or window locations, enlarging rooms, upgrading tile and floor materials, and changing color sequencing.

Buyers haven't been shy with their ideas. According to Booreson, by the time a Compass Pointe home is done, "25 to 30 custom changes are not unusual." Buyers spend about $8,000, on average, for those changes.

Mary Petrusewixz, a freelance writer based in Washington, D. C.

Project: Compass Pointe at Windward; Sales started: May 1996; Total number of units: 66; Number released: 15; Sales through September 1997: 58; Price: $180,000 to $250,000; Unit size: 2,300 to 3,139 square feet; Density: 2.03 units an acre; Developer: Westerra Windward, Atlanta; Builder: Peachtree Residential Properties, Atlanta; Architect: Garrell & Associates, Norcross, Ga.; Land planner: Bill Bruce, Community Concepts, Atlanta; Interior merchandiser: Kay Graham Design, Atlanta; Communications management: Jackson, Spalding, Ledlie, Atlanta

Side Benefits

Champion Homes had a hard time convincing the 25 landowners of the parcel it chose for Clearwater Canyon to part with their properties. "It took over a year, "says president Terry Manley. "Most of them hadn't thought of selling." Since the Las Vegas builder succeeded in mid-1996, however, it's been smooth sailing.

The Estates, Clearwater Canyon's first phase, adjoins Green Valley Ranch, a master planned community whose parks, schools, and jogging paths belong to the city of Henderson. So its residents get the master plan's advantages without its higher prices.

Champion researched its target markets (young families and empty-nesters). The findings: The computer-savvy, outdoor-oriented buyers wanted home offices and three-car garages for boating equipment to use at nearby Lake Mead. Plans that fit these needs, plus entry-level prices and good-looking elevations, have sales steaming along at eight a month, proving the old saying true: If you can't beat 'em, adjoin 'em.

Project: The Estates at Clearwater Canyon; Sales started: January 1997; Total number of units: 145; Number released: 82; Sales through October 1997: 80; Price: $168,500 to $201,000; Unit size: 2,250 to 3,007 square feet; Density: 6 units an acre; Developer/Builder: Champion Homes, Las Vegas; Architect: KTGY Group, Irvine, Calif.; Interior designer: Linda Baxter, Las Vegas; Market research: The Meyers Group, Las Vegas
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Author:Herron, Melissa
Publication:Builder
Date:Jan 1, 1998
Words:5614
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