5 Themes for Masterplan Success | John Burns Real Estate Consulting

5 Themes for Masterplan Success

The top 50 master-planned communities (MPCs) sold more than 31,000 new homes last year, a phenomenal 10% increase over 2018. Based on consulting and/or visiting almost all of the top 50, we identified 5 themes for success this year:

  • Lower prices thanks to smaller homes or higher densities
  • Clever community design elements
  • Exceptional amenities
  • Cutting-edge health and wellness offerings
  • Employment accessibility

Check out the Top 50 Master-Planned Communities of 2019 Rankings

Lower Prices Thanks to Smaller Homes and Higher Densities

Affordability concerns slowed sales volume in 4Q18, prompting many home builders and developers to pivot towards entry-level and high-density product at more attainable price points. Several masterplans on our top 50 list capitalized on the shift, offering both traditional single-family product and higher density configurations like townhomes or zero lot line plans.

  • Lesley Deutch, Principal Consultant managing the eastern region, notes that “Flowers Plantation highlights the strong demand for attainable housing in the Raleigh-Durham MSA, with most new homes selling in the $200K – $300K range. The Flowers Plantation masterplan continues to attract primarily families seeking larger homes with reasonable commute times to work.”
  • Adam Artunian, Vice President in Consulting, mentions: “The Great Park Neighborhoods have shifted to higher-density product, targeting a younger buyer demographic looking for (relatively) affordable homes in Orange County. The Great Park amenities and highly rated schools continue to be a big draw for buyers.”
  • Pete Reeb, a Principal Consultant active in San Diego and the Inland Empire, summarizes:With multiple villages appealing to a wide spectrum of household types, home builders in Ontario Ranch (in the Riverside-San Bernardino MSA) inspire an array of buyer segments to call the community home. To help overcome the high cost of housing in Southern California, housing densities in Ontario Ranch have been trending upward over the last few years. Most new homes now offered are non-conventional single-family detached homes in configurations including zero lot line, alley-loaded, cluster and green-court—with densities ranging from 8 to 14 units per acre. Townhomes plotted at 15 to 25 units per acre are also very popular, more attainably priced alternatives.”

Clever Community Design Elements

Our most recent consumer and product research survey indicates that 47% of new home buyers prefer a planned community with a variety of amenities and organized social activities. Masterplans on our top 50 list showcase thoughtful, well-planned design that create a sense of community by weaving together consistent themes, lifestyle amenities, and diverse home types and price points.

  • Dean Wehrli, Senior Vice President in Consulting, comments on River Islands in Stockton, California, stating: “It is the cohesiveness and sense of place that really marks River Islands as a true masterplan and provides residents with a sense of arrival. Water features, parks, and excellent schools mingle with carefully designed homes to draw buyers from nearby and from the Bay Area to the west. Buyers are mainly Bay Area families drawn to relatively affordable homes in a masterplan environment.”

Park at River Islands   Source: River Islands


  • Pete Reeb adds: “Open now for 20 years, Otay Ranch remains San Diego’s top selling master-planned community by offering a diverse spectrum of housing products in desirable village-oriented clusters, with an array of housing styles and community amenity options. Home builders currently offer for-sale housing programs including elevator-served flats, high-density side-by-side row townhomes, alley-loaded and zero lot line detached homes, and conventional single-family detached homes. Home sales in the next major village in Otay Ranch, Cote Vera, are projected to begin in 1Q-2021.”
  • Ken Perlman, Principal Consultant and national leader in masterplan consulting, states: “Rancho Mission Viejo (RMV) in Orange County is what a ‘community’ should be. It offers some of the most creative housing product in the country, including higher density homes for first-time buyers and great move-down options for active adults. The built amenities are some of the best I’ve seen anywhere, from the Hilltop Club with a fitness center and pool to Escencia Farm to massive open spaces. But what truly makes RMV unique is the on-going commitment to the ‘place’ itself. Set on a 23,000-acre ranch, Rancho Mission Viejo is not just about the homes themselves but about the people who live there, their connection with one another, and the land. The developers of RMV are focused on being great stewards of the land, education (both in classrooms and outside), and creating an environment that has something for everyone.”

Rancho Mission Viejo  Source: DesignLens


  • Ken continues: “A few years ago, we coined the term surban™ to describe a community that brings the best of urban life to the suburbs. Perhaps no community exemplifies surban better than Denver’s Stapleton. As we look around the country, we consistently come back to the home builders at Stapleton for great examples of higher density designs that look great and live large in a relaxed environment. Some of the best examples of urban/suburban rowhomes are found within its boundaries. Beyond the homes, Brookfield Properties and prior developer Forest City Enterprises have done a masterful job of reusing an old airport and creating great parks, including Central Park, the 3rd-largest in Denver, open spaces, schools, employment, shopping, and dining. Extensive community events and public art projects are great complements to the lifestyle elements at Stapleton.”
  • Jeff Kottmeier, a Senior Consulting Manager based in the Washington, DC, metro, states: “Brambleton offers the best of surban living in Loudoun County and continues to attract home buyers from around the DC region with its wide array of homes paired with exceptional community amenities. The masterplan offers a plethora of activities, events, and retail that serves many different buyer segments. Brambleton’s large collection of modern, new homes include urban townhomes, 55+ villas, condos, elevator townhomes, and single-family detached homes.”


Exceptional Amenities

Home buyers expect trails, fitness centers, and pools to be included in a master-planned community. However, the most successful communities go beyond expectations, offering significant water features, sports complexes, community farms and gardens, and even a Major League Baseball training facility.

  • Lesley Deutch summarizes: “CoolToday Park, the home of the new Atlanta Braves spring training facility, opened during 2019 in the West Villages masterplan in the Sarasota MSA. The stadium includes 6,200 seats and a capacity of 8,000. This project is the result of cooperation between state and local officials, the Atlanta Braves, and Mattamy Homes. In addition to baseball, the facility will host a multitude of special events throughout the year. The Braves have committed to a 30-year facility operating agreement in West Villages.”

Atlanta Braves spring training facility  Source: Major League Baseball


  • David Jarvis, Consulting Senior Vice President based in Houston, notes that “Towne Lake is centered around a 300-acre lake, the largest private recreational lake in Houston. With over 14 miles of shoreline and a 6-mile continuous boat ride, Towne Lake offers unique lakeside living. Trails, waterways, and scenic coves allow homeowners access to the lake and community amenities.”
  • David adds: “Santa Rita Ranch in Austin has invested some $8 million in amenities for their Ranch-themed community, including pools, parks, trails, on-site schools, and family sports complexes for each village. The masterplan also offers a full calendar of events facilitating a family-focused entertaining environment every day.”

Santa Rita Ranch  Source: Santa Rita Ranch


  • Ken Perlman mentions: “Among the key themes for great masterplans are community and connectivity, and Eastmark in Phoenix does a phenomenal job. Like the other great masterplans in our list, Eastmark offers home choices for all ages, from families to active adults, in a manner that truly creates multigenerational living. Just as importantly, Eastmark is about the lifestyle of its households. The community offers employment (a technology district), great schools, recreation (with amazing community parks that include The Great Park which features the Orange Monster) and events. The community hosts more than 100 unique carnivals and festivals each year. The Bus Stop—a retrofitted bus with seating where children of community residents can do homework, hang out, and play games—is one of my favorite amenities anywhere.”

Eastmark  Source: DesignLens


Cutting-Edge Health and Wellness

All masterplans are including fitness-related amenities. Some are incorporating new expressions of a wellness orientation, including locally grown food and science.

  • Lesley Deutch summarizes: “In 2019, Lakewood Ranch in Sarasota partnered with Massachusetts General Hospital and the Academy for Brain Health Performance to open the Brain Health Initiative at Lakewood Ranch, which will study a group of community residents over the long term in order to identify factors associated with brain health and performance. Lakewood Ranch was chosen for the study due to its multigenerational community and its commitment to provide a healthy, environmentally responsible place for people to live. The masterplan continues to diversify both its housing options and employment and lifestyle offerings.”
  • David Jarvis observes: “The Harvest masterplan offers a working commercial farm in the Dallas MSA, operated by a professional farmer who shares his expertise with homeowners. Private garden plots and community demonstration gardens helps homeowners go green. Harvest is a truly unique master-planned community.”

Harvest  Source: DesignLens


Employment Accessibility

Master-planned communities require large acreage, which typically translates to outlying locations in most metropolitan areas. As a result, residents often face commutes to employment nodes within the metro area. However, jobs are increasingly locating near the rooftops, as employers compete to attract skilled workers who are resistant to hours of commuting. In addition, technology and fast Internet make working from home, at least a few days a week, more common for many workers.

  • Lesley Deutch notes: “Viera in Brevard County, FL, continues to benefit from the expansion of the space industry, including both private and government-funded space programs. 2019 saw the move of Boeing’s Space and Launch Division Headquarters as well as expansions by Blue Origin, SpaceX, Firefly Aerospace, United Space Alliance, and others. Housing demand from space-industry workers is apparent in both the for-sale and apartment market.”
  • Some masterplans in our top 50 list offer extra high-speed Internet service. Ontario Ranch in Riverside-San Bernardino was among the first masterplans in the nation to install fiber-optic cable in each home, which supports Internet connection speeds three times faster than most Internet services. Santa Rita Ranch in the Austin MSA also offers 1-gigabyte speed, providing a tool on its webpage to demonstrate the difference.

Employers and providers of medical, financial, and childcare services are increasingly moving inside the community perimeter, offering additional convenience to community residents. Developers are also looking at driverless vehicle technology and new facilities to manage package deliveries, expanding the convenience and connectivity.


Click here to download the Top 50 Master-Planned Communities of 2019 Rankings

Click here to view prior years’ top 50 rankings and press releases.


The John Burns Real Estate Consulting team of experts congratulates the developers and builders who contributed to each of the top 50 masterplans achieving strong 2019 new home sales. Please view our website for earlier rankings and articles featuring master-planned communities.

For more information on the master-planned community rankings, please contact Jody Kahn, Devyn Bachman, or Kate Guthrie.

For information on our Housing Design Summit, please contact our DesignLens Senior Manager Jenni Lantz.


Where Great Design, Research, and Profitability Converge
February 20–21, 2020 | Scottsdale, AZ

Each year, the smartest executives in community and home building design meet to learn from each other and to build a network that helps them make great decisions year round. At the Housing Design Summit, executives will tour great design, share their recent successes as well as lessons learned, and listen to provocative educational speakers.

Each year, the smartest executives in community and home building design meet to learn from each other and to build a network that helps them make great decisions year round. At the Housing Design Summit, executives will tour great design, share their recent successes as well as lessons learned, and listen to provocative educational speakers.

Click here to learn more about our Housing Design Summit Conference




Jody Kahn If you have any questions, please contact Jody Kahn, Senior Vice President at (603) 235-5760 or by email.
Devyn Bachman If you have any questions, please contact Devyn Bachman, Senior Research Manager at (303) 956-9881 or by email.