Top Master-Planned Communities of 2015
In 2015, the top 50 masterplans listed in the table below sold nearly 23,300 homes, representing:
- A 14% increase over 2014
- Roughly 4.7% of all new home sales nationally
- The highest sales volume in the 6 years we have been compiling our list
In most cases, historically low mortgage rates, solid job growth, low levels of resale competition, and outstanding execution by the developers drove demand. Our consulting team consulted on or visited every one of these communities in 2015, frequently noting fantastic segmentation, amenity packages more focused on experiences than large facilities, and outstanding development execution at just about all of them.
The Magic Number
Eleven communities exceeded 500 sales, a rarely achieved industry milestone that usually requires an excellent location, thoughtful segmentation, extensive marketing, and a strong market. Improved sales and many more competing communities raised the bar for this year’s top 50 masterplans from 226 sales last year to 256 sales this year. Research Analyst Devyn Bachman notes, “Our research confirmed a dramatic increase in the number of masterplans selling 200 to 300 homes annually.” Devyn and Jody Kahn compiled a ranking of 230 communities to publish our ranking. Please contact them if we missed yours or you hope to be in the 2016 ranking next January.
Texas continues to lead the country. The state boasts 17 of the top 50 best-selling master-planned communities, including 9 in Houston, the most of any metro area, 6 in Dallas, and one each in Austin and San Antonio. California contributed 11 top sellers, Florida had 7 communities, Las Vegas contributed 4, and Denver had 3. After getting shut out in 2014, 3 Phoenix communities joined the list, including Vistancia and Verrado, due to a revival in sales, and newcomer Eastmark.
Our Houston leader David Jarvis notes that “MPCs are extremely popular in Houston. Since Houston has little zoning, planned communities have stepped in to provide the lifestyle and amenities that home buyers desire. 5th-ranked Riverstone’s high-end homes, resort style pools, tennis courts, fitness center, lakes and miles of walking trails persuaded 609 home buyers last year!”
Annie Radecki, who recently joined us from Pulte’s Texas region, says that “Light Farms in Dallas proves that buyers will still commute for value. 402 buyers last year took advantage of low prices relative to closer-in areas, great amenities, and the promise of great access once the Dallas North Tollway is completed.”
The Irvine Ranch retained the #2 ranking this year with 1,674 new home sales. Adam Artunian observes, “The Irvine Ranch’s international reputation for great schools continues to attract many Asian buyers, with prices ranging from the low-$500Ks to well over $2M. Two luxury masterplans within the masterplan, Orchard Hills and Hidden Canyon, completed their first full year of sales, helping boost sales above 2014 levels.” Mollie Carmichael consulted with nearby Baker Ranch, which has capitalized on the high prices in Irvine and sold 355 resort lifestyle homes at a compelling value to nearby Irvine.
Mollie adds, “The Great Park Neighborhoods is a masterplan to watch, with really unique village amenities and new product ideas for single-family attached and detached product types. The neighborhoods have been very popular among Asian consumers looking for excellent schools and proximity to employment, retail, and a nearby airport.”
Pete Reeb commented on Del Sur in San Diego, noting, “The location near employment and in one of the best school districts in San Diego County attracted 289 buyers despite $1 million+ price points at many of the neighborhoods. The community includes three new schools, multiple parks, and also preserved a substantial amount of permanent preserved open space, creating a high quality of life.” Far northeast of Del Sur, in Southern Riverside County, Canyon Hills had another great year, selling 263 homes. With more than 2,500 new home sales over the last 15 years, Pete noted that “the community has a strong sense of place and great values for Southern California, priced from the low $300,000s to the low $400,000s.”
Two Sacramento area masterplans made our top 50 ranking, and two masterplans in the northern Central Valley narrowly missed. Dean Wehrli pointed out that 26th-ranked Madeira “sold 90% more homes in 2015 due partially to marketing efforts that highlighted the excellent reputation of Elk Grove schools and the commutability to downtown Sacramento.” On the opposite side of the MSA, Aaron Stubblefield observed, “WestPark in Roseville sold 140% more homes by appealing to a family-friendly suburban lifestyle, as well as an upscale retail profile in the region.”
Demand from family, retiree, and foreign buyers bolstered sales at Florida’s top-selling masterplans. Lesley Deutch states, “9th-ranked Lakewood Ranch in Sarasota continues its success with 535 sales in 2015. The community benefited from attracting new builders to the MPC, including Meritage, DiVosta, Del Webb, Mattamy, and Stock Development, who offer a wide array of home products, sizes, and prices ranging from $190,000 townhomes to $1,000,000+ custom estates.” Lake Nona in Orlando moves up to the 11th spot this year and provides a great example of creating work/life balance. In 2005, the developer donated the land and money to the University of Central Florida to build a medical city that is now growing in leaps and bounds and helped establish Lake Nona as one of the premier places to live in Orlando, offering residents homes that are close to work, retail, and entertainment. 2016 and beyond should be even bigger thanks to the planned completion of the first phase of the town center, including restaurants, office, and a dual-brand Marriott Hotel.
Moving northwest of Orlando, Kristine Smale observes, “The Villages continues to top the list at 2,294 sales in 2015, the only community to achieve 2,000+ new homes sales and, amazingly, all by the same builder. The Villages has long been the behemoth in age-restricted communities throughout the country, primarily due to its abundance of amenities and community activities at an affordable cost. Sales have declined as land in the community is running out.” Moving east to Jacksonville, Mike Willinger notes, “The nine builders in Nocatee are providing a wide array of product offerings, including townhomes, single-family, and a Del Webb active-adult community. Nocatee is probably the only masterplan on the list whose prices per square foot show little premium over the resale market, making the decision easy for Jacksonville’s price-sensitive buyers.”
Ken Perlman notes that Phoenix masterplans made a comeback this year due to strong job growth and more price incentives, after raising prices too quickly in 2013 and 2014. “DMB’s success at 8th-ranked Eastmark in Phoenix can be attributed to community amenities that include the Eastmark Great Park (a mile and a half long at its completion), an events pavilion, a community pool, and access to some of the metro area’s best schools.” Ken adds, “At 13th-ranked Vistancia, the golf, retail, and Discovery trail all serve as the perfect backdrop for great segmentation that includes a blend of high-quality single-family homes, a luxury gated community, and a top active-adult community.”
Ken adds, “DMB’s development of Verrado in west Phoenix focused on creating a modern hometown with small-town design principles. The MPC includes 66 parks and 21 miles of trails, in addition to the Heritage Swim Park and Grand Lawn designed as community gathering places. We expect Verrado’s sales to increase in 2016 with the opening of Victory, an enclave of active-adult homes from four different builders.
Ken Perlman notes, “Summerlin continues to be a shining star in Las Vegas, demonstrating that a premium location, strong amenities, and great schools—the basic tenets of master-planned community development—will drive sales. What is perhaps most impressive is that Summerlin is the best-selling masterplan in Las Vegas despite top-of-the-market pricing, demonstrating that buyers will clearly pay for those lifestyle elements they want the most.”
Two Pacific Northwest masterplans, Villebois and Tehaleh, join the top 50 for the first time. Ken Perlman notes that “limited land availability and a lengthy entitlement process add to the challenges of developing master-planned communities in the Pacific Northwest. This year marks the first time that a Northwest masterplan cracked our Top 50. And even better, there are two.” Kristin Matthews observes that “while each is unique in its own right, an emphasis on outdoor living with elements such as trails, parks, and even farmer’s markets are common themes, consistent with Pacific Northwest living.”
Ken adds, “Tehaleh, developed by master-planned community stalwart Newland Communities, is making its first appearance on JBREC’s Top 50 list this year. Located in Bonney Lake with views of Mt. Rainier, Tehaleh is approved for approximately 5,900 residential units. Seattle residents have accepted the longer commute from Tehaleh to benefit from the lifestyle and relative affordability, with single-family detached homes starting in the mid $200,000s. Shea’s Trilogy neighborhood targeting 55+ buyers added to the community’s strong sales in 2015.”
Washington, DC, Area
Despite a year of sluggish sales amid concerns about the federal budget, two Northeast masterplans remain among the top sellers: Brambleton and St. Charles. Dan Fulton notes, “Good execution, impressive product segmentation appealing to singles, couples, families and retirees, suburban walkability, miles of trails and parks, great schools, and trusted builder partner relationships keep Brambleton on the Top 50 MPC list for 2015.” Rosemary DeButts expects Brambleton’s rank to increase in 2016 thanks to a new 1,500-unit, age-restricted section.
Dan adds, “The good schools, family-oriented amenities, slower pace of life, and affordable prices at St. Charles make this community an ideal place to raise a family, while still being accessible from the Washington metro area. Along with these location and product attributes, we recognize the St. Charles development team for its outstanding execution and strong reputation in the Washington region.”
Charleston’s Cane Bay Plantation is the sole masterplan in the Southeast to achieve a top 50 ranking. Southeast senior consultant David Kalosis comments, “Cane Bay Plantation leaps into the Top 10 list this year with 520 sales compared to 385 sales last year. This established masterplan, which is located in Charleston’s bedroom suburb of Summerville, draws much of its success from relocating families and retirees to the Charleston area, which perennially ranks as Conde Nast Traveler’s Top US City. On the retirement side, Del Webb Charleston has been the active-adult anchor for the community and will be replaced by K Hovnanian’s Four Seasons this spring as Del Webb closes out. Traditional family builders have also been successful targeting entry-level and first move-up families here, thanks in large part to the recent expansions at Boeing, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, and Google.”
Mollie Carmichael notes that the Daybreak masterplan ranked #20 this year with 4 villages including 30+/- new neighborhoods in South Jordan, Utah. The developer has completely transformed the South Jordan area into one with a lake-oriented lifestyle, integrated retail, walkability, and incredible character throughout all of its villages and amenities.
Jenni Lantz noted that 4th-ranked Stapleton in Denver grew sales 31% in 2015, to 665 new home sales. Until recently, we rated Denver as one of the hottest housing markets in the country, which certainly helped. In 2016, Stapleton should benefit from a new commuter rail station with access to Denver International Airport and Union Station. Ken Perlman adds that Stapleton is one of the most unique and successful examples of adaptive reuse in the country. The reinvention of the former Stapleton International Airport features parks and paths, tree-lined streets, and architecturally diverse homes within 15 minutes of downtown.
Ken Perlman says, “Located in Castle Rock, once considered to be the southern edge of the market, The Meadows has evolved into one of the most desirable addresses in all of Denver. Buyers are choosing The Meadows based on its good value, strong Douglas County schools, parks and open space, and a reasonable commute to the Denver Tech Center.”
Jody Kahn identified four additional interesting trends this year while reviewing 230 masterplans:
- Some masterplans lacked the number of sales to make the top 50 but might qualify if we ranked by revenues. Brookfield Residential’s Playa Vista masterplan in Los Angeles captured 93 net sales in 2015, with prices starting at $2.0 million for attached and detached living. On the East Coast, Daniel Island in Charleston reported 93 net sales in 2015 with an average price approaching $850,000. Another example is the Hallsley masterplan in Richmond, VA, with 194 sales priced at the high end of the local market. In Florida, Kitson & Partners’ Talis Park community offers coach homes starting in the $700s and up to $3.6 million for luxury condominiums adjacent to the clubhouse.
- Several restructured masterplans made the top 50. At Madeira and Villebois, the original developer went out of business or lost control of the assets during the housing correction, and multiple builders purchased sections of lots or land and are building adjacent to each other. At Inspirada, one of the biggest land bankruptcies of the recent downturn, four builders operate as co-developers through a joint venture, with a cohesive community brand and marketing. The success of each of these masterplans is a testimony to the strong sales of each of the participating builders.
- Despite no developer controlling segmentation, marketing, and branding, several Texas and Florida masterplans achieved success. Oakleaf Plantation in Jacksonville is one example that did not qualify for the top 50 ranking, but that is partially because nobody is counting sales. With over 300 closings in 2015, Oakleaf might have captured enough sales to qualify for our list.
- Many of these communities have been featured in DesignLens as design leaders. Isabell Kerins notes that neighborhoods in 17 of our top 50 MPCs have received DesignLens awards highlighting innovation in architecture, design, and merchandising.
To complete this analysis we connected with developer, builder, and capital source contacts at more than 230 master-planned communities nationwide.
In 2015, our consultants based in 11 different offices nationwide completed more than 700 consulting assignments, visiting thousands of communities in the process.
Our team assists master-planned community developers and builders with research and segmentation, helping them maximize profit by targeting the right buyer profiles and offering the most profitable array of new home and community offerings.
John Burns Real Estate Consulting, LLC (JBREC) congratulates the developers and home builders that made the top 50 masterplans so successful in 2015. We considered over 230 master-planned communities (MPCs) across the country to identify the top 50 based on their new home sales activity in 2015. Please contact Ken Perlman or Jody Kahn with questions about any of the top 50 communities. They can connect you to the appropriate person.