In 2016, the top 50 master-planned communities (MPCs) in our annual ranking sold over 24,000 homes, representing:
- a 9% increase over 2015
- 4% of all new single-family home sales nationally
- a new record for sales volume in the seven years we have been compiling our list
Strong fundamentals supported 2016 housing demand. Low mortgage rates, steady job growth, improved income growth, and low resale and new home inventory levels all contributed to strong new home demand in 2016. A growing number of first-time buyers purchased new homes in 2016, and many more are shopping around. Demand in the move-up price bands remained steady, although we identified pockets of heavy competition in many metros where average sales rates declined and incentives grew more common.
Mostly Warm or Hot market conditions. Throughout 2016, we continued to rate most of the 50 top new home markets as Warm or Hot, based on current sales and pricing trends. Warm market conditions reflect normal sales and pricing trends with broad-based demand across buyer segments.
Execution matters. While market conditions were favorable, the developers had to stay focused and creative to compete. Our consulting team consulted on or visited every one of these communities in 2016, frequently noting careful segmentation, thoughtful amenity packages, consideration for walkability, outdoor living and social interaction, and outstanding development execution at just about all of them. We highlighted the unique amenities offered at several of the top masterplans in October and featured several of the top communities throughout the year in our DesignLens subscription.
More sales needed to qualify for this year’s top 50 list. The threshold for our Top 50 ranking was 298 sales this year, up notably from 263 last year. The competition was very close for the last five spots in our ranking, with 10 masterplans reporting sales in the 275–300 range.
Giant sales increase at Cadence. With a 242% year-over-year increase, the Cadence masterplan in Las Vegas wins the prize for most improved sales.
Two developers placed four MPCs each in the top 50. Johnson Development accounts for four of this year’s top 50 masterplans, all in Houston. Lennar also claims four of the top 50 masterplans, including those developed by its Friendswood Development and Five Point Communities affiliates as well as ventures with other builders.
32% of the Top 50 call Texas home. By region, 16 (32%) of the top 50 masterplans are in Texas, 9 of which are in Houston. Florida contributed 11 of the top 50 (22%) followed by California with 8 (16%). Las Vegas scored 5 top-selling masterplans, and both Phoenix and Denver produced 3.
The Northeast’s housing recovery continued to lag other regions in 2016, as high new home prices, competition from the resale market, political uncertainty, and weaker economic fundamentals hurt new home sales. Despite these headwinds, Willowsford ranked at #45 on our list—an amazing feat considering that the most affordable homes in this community start at the high $500s. Also, Willowsford bucks the local trend towards higher-density attached product, as the masterplan offers all single-family detached homes.
Manager Kristine Smale notes, “The West Villages makes its debut in our ranking this year as four thriving communities recently combined to operate as a master-planned community. The 8,000-acre property is already home to several national builders, including Lennar, DiVosta (a Pulte brand), and WCI Communities. Located in Venice, the West Villages offers homes across all price points and primarily targets retirees and second-home buyers, but it has also attracted families due to the highly-ranked Sarasota County schools. With three new neighborhoods opening in 2017, we expect additional builders to enter the masterplan this year.”
Although new home prices in Naples continue to climb, challenging the limits of what buyers can afford, Kristine says, “Ave Maria in Eastern Collier County increased sales by 20% in 2016, proving the strong demand for relatively affordable housing in the Naples area. Ave Maria has seven active neighborhoods with prices starting in the low $200s, including an age-restricted Del Webb community. The MPC offers a variety of product that appeals to families and retirees alike. The masterplan is also home to Ave Maria University and a 57-acre commerce park anchored by Arthrex, a global medical device company.”
Kristine continues, “FishHawk Ranch, a masterplan by Newland, has been a regional powerhouse in Tampa for several years. David Weekley Homes introduced its first age-targeted neighborhood, Encore at FishHawk, in 2016 and has successfully attracted buyers wanting to live near their children and grandchildren, but in a distinct neighborhood. The 12 builders operating in the masterplan provide a variety of home offerings, from entry-level to custom residences. The masterplan is approximately 80% built-out, and we expect it to continue to capture strong market share until completion.”
Kristine points out that “Lake Nona at #12 remains the best-selling masterplan in the Orlando region and the 5th-fastest selling in the state. The significant attraction of industry and high-wage jobs fuels housing demand in the masterplan. The community is known for its Medical City campus, which is home to the UCF College of Medicine, Nemours Children’s Hospital, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Institute, and the future Orlando VA Medical Center. The new USTA National Headquarters will also open in the masterplan in early 2017, and KPMG recently purchased land to build a $430 million training and conference center.”
Principal consultant Lesley Deutch adds that “Summerlake nearly doubled the number of homes sold in 2016 and now ranks as the 6th-fastest selling MPC in the state. Summerlake has succeeded in a very crowded Horizon West submarket through a combination of diversifying builders and offering new home products and lot sizes. Summerlake has also benefited from being one of the few developer-owned MPCs in Orlando selling finished lots to builders.”
Principal consultant Ken Perlman says, “Austin is one of the most competitive housing markets in the country, making its two entries in this year’s Top 50 list even more impressive. Siena in Round Rock is one of Austin’s best kept secrets and quietly garnered 476 home sales, proving that the basics matter. Attainably priced homes with solid schools and a good location proximate to employment and downtown have been the keys to Siena’s success.”
Ken adds, “Home buyers in Austin have many choices, and Mayfield Ranch continues to prove that well-priced housing product in a great, central location is a formula for success. Near employment in Round Rock and downtown Austin, Mayfield Ranch combines homes priced to the heart of the single-family market with built amenities and natural open spaces. Location, price, and execution matter.”
Few housing markets in the country have been as strong as Dallas, which features four entries in the top 50. Ken Perlman observes that “Paloma Creek’s biggest advantage is its location. The masterplan offers attainably priced homes, particularly compared to substantially higher-priced Frisco just to the east, good schools, and excellent proximity to Lewisville Lake, one of the largest recreational lakes in north Texas. Artesia, a newcomer to the list, similarly offers a small-town feel with well-regarded schools at prices that are more affordable than Frisco. And speaking of Frisco, Phillips Creek Ranch is in the heart of the metro’s fastest growing cities, with access to all sorts of employment opportunities, services, and amenities. Internally, the masterplan offers more than 100 acres of open space, parks, pools, and gathering spaces. Phillips Creek Ranch registered more than 350 new home sales in 2016 and deservedly commands some of the highest new home prices in the MSA. One of the most unique masterplans on our list, Hillwood’s Harvest masterplan in Northlake offers choices from five different home builders, amazing resort pools and strong schools. However, the centerpiece of Harvest is a private farm and greenhouse that provides produce for several restaurants around the metroplex and the community gardens where Harvest’s ‘resident farmer’ can help residents grow their own food.”
Senior Vice President David Jarvis summarizes: “Riverstone is a high-end MPC with limited opportunities to buy a new home as it nears sell-out. Riverstone is located close to Houston medical centers and the Sugar Lane Town Square. The upscale community is designed around water-themed landscaping and is served by some of Fort Bend County’s best performing schools.”
David adds, “Aliana is an example of excellent execution. The community is thoughtfully designed around the outdoors with amenities such as tennis, swimming, fitness, open spaces and parks, some great places for a weekend barbecue, and space for a formal reception at the community center.”
“Cross Creek Ranch is an upscale, fun master-planned community centered around their Adventure Island Waterpark. The enormous resort-style swimming pool features a 140-foot water slide perched atop the community’s iconic Hill, which overlooks the main lake. Adventure Island has a wading pool, dedicated lap lanes, and tanning shelves with water jets.”
“Wildwood at Northpointe is well-located in northwest Harris County with easy access to work centers, shopping, parks, golf courses, and popular schools. Wildwood offers an excellent value for young and growing families.”
“Woodforest is a 3,000-acre wooded masterpiece located on a 27-hole golf course, offering everything from affordable homes to spectacular custom homes on golf course home sites ranging up to one acre. Parks, playgrounds, a splash park, and miles of hike-and-bike trails make Woodforest an entertaining place to live.”
Cane Bay moved up three spots this year to #7, as the launch of its latest phase The Lakes at Cane Bay (including the successful grand opening of K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons active-adult community) have offset the approaching close-out of Del Webb’s decade-long anchor position there. As Senior Vice President David Kalosis points out, “Cane Bay has maintained its prominence as the most popular masterplan in the state, even as record new home prices within Cane Bay and increased competition from other new masterplans within Charleston’s popular Summerville market offer competitive alternatives for both traditional families and active adults alike. Cane Bay’s established brand within the community and its outstanding land design featuring a 350-acre navigable lake as its newest centerpiece keep the masterplan performing well ahead of local competitors.”
A newcomer to the list this year, Briar Chapel, continues to be one of the Triangle’s top-selling communities, with 314 closings in 2016. Senior Consultant Tene Hunt notes, “Briar Chapel attracts residents of all ages, from young families to active retirees, with wide-ranging product options: townhomes, villas, and traditional single-family homes. Large-scale amenities, multiple parks, and an extensive greenway system help to physically and socially connect the community and its residents. In addition to its idyllic setting with picturesque streetscapes, programmed social activities and events are a part of Briar Chapel’s appeal. The first of four planned commercial parcels recently opened, introducing over 42,000 square feet of dining and retail options as well as professional offices within walking distance.”
Principal consultant Ken Perlman states, “It’s really impressive that a market like Las Vegas—that is still so early in its recovery—can post two master-planned communities in the nation’s top 10 and five in the top 50. Summerlin by Howard Hughes continues to be one of the tops in the nation and only appears to be gaining momentum. With as many as nine new neighborhoods slated to open in 2017 and Toll Brothers’ Regency active-adult community hitting its full stride, 2017 should be an even more impressive year for Summerlin. We’re excited to watch William Lyon’s Affinity village that will epitomize surban™ living in Las Vegas. Cadence is a newcomer to this year’s list and demonstrates the perseverance of the Las Vegas market and The LandWell Company, the community’s developer. Years in the making, the 2,200-acre masterplan in Henderson really embraces the concept of interconnected living with abundant open space, trails throughout, community wi-fi, and a bike-share program—all on a reclaimed expanse of land with views of the Las Vegas Valley.”
Three Phoenix masterplans make this year’s ranking, including two by DMB. Ken Perlman notes, “Eastmark is the metro’s largest masterplan and anchors east Phoenix. Eastmark proves that while great location is important, community execution is what really matters. The 3,200-acre masterplan offers housing that appeals to all buyers, from entry through the active adult (AV Homes’ Encore), great community amenities (including the Great Park and the Orange Monster play structure), and one of the highest-ranked charter schools in the country. DMB has also managed to anchor the west side of Phoenix, with more than 400 sales at Verrado in Buckeye. Verrado’s Main Street helps residents embrace the concept of small-town living while golf, parks, and amenity centers offer substantial recreational opportunities. The Victory District is Verrado’s active-adult community and is among the first 55+ communities in the country to feature homes from several different builders.”
Ken says, “Forest City’s Stapleton is the embodiment of surban living. Built on the site of the Stapleton International Airport, the 4,700-acre masterplan has become the poster child for urban redevelopment. A variety of architectural styles (some of which incorporate traditional neighborhood design) and a pedestrian-friendly lifestyle make Stapleton its own small town in Denver, eventually housing as many as 30,000 residents. Events such as farmers’ markets and concerts in the park help promote the sense of community in Stapleton. We seem to always discover cool new housing designs or a great amenity at Stapleton.”
Co-author and Research Analyst Devyn Bachman adds, “Denver’s northern suburbs are now growing at rates that used to be limited to the southern suburbs. The Arvada submarket offers relatively affordable homes priced from the $400s, excellent schools, proximity to employment, and an exceptional quality of life. One of the largest and most notable masterplans is Leyden Rock, at #43 in our ranking, which has sold over 600 new homes in the last two years.”
Pete Reeb, a Principal consultant based in San Diego, states, “The Irvine Ranch (#1) is perennially one of the top-selling master-planned communities in the country. Composed of a series of well-defined villages, each with their own unique identity and amenity program and each with multiple product lines, The Irvine Ranch appeals to a broad spectrum of buyers. The Irvine Ranch also benefits from a central location in Orange County, CA, with substantial local employment opportunities in the community itself, top-rated schools, and easy highway access.”
Pete continues, “The Great Park Neighborhood in Irvine has a fresh and innovative feel with an emphasis on people and connectivity. The Great Park Neighborhood has a more intimate and ‘homey’ ambiance than many masterplans, achieved through great community design, multiple community parks and amenities, and a busy social calendar. A wide array of innovative housing products is offered from townhomes to large single-family homes, appealing to everyone from first-time buyers to retirees.”
“Including both primary and age-qualified housing products, Rancho Mission Viejo successfully appeals to a wide array of household types. With a location in South Orange County, Rancho Mission Viejo offers relatively more affordable homes than closer-in locations such as Irvine. Rancho Mission Viejo has multiple recreational centers for both the primary and age-qualified segments.”
“Baker Ranch has been successful in capturing new home buyers looking for a location close to jobs with great schools in a ‘resort-like’ setting, but at slightly lower price points than homes in nearby Irvine. Incorporating multiple community and neighborhood parks, as well one for the dogs and a 1/3-mile-long ‘Promenade park,’ Baker Ranch encapsulates the active and healthy Southern California lifestyle.”
“The Del Sur masterplan’s location near employment and in one of the best school districts in San Diego County as well as the wide array of products offered translated into 300 home sales in 2016 despite $1M+ price points at many of the neighborhoods. Instead of one large community recreation center, the masterplan includes multiple smaller amenities throughout the community, making recreation walkable to all residents.”
Senior Vice President Dean Wehrli summarizes: “Greater Sacramento has stronger fundamentals than many realize. Westpark (#26) has taken advantage of that, with a great location in one of the most appealing submarkets in the region. Mountain House (tied at #49) in Stockton has grown to be one of the strongest masterplans in Northern California, providing family-friendly product, great schools, and a cohesive environment to draw mainly Bay Area families into the nearby Central Valley.”