Real Estate Round-up
Bigger must be better in Houston and its suburbs.
In the latest rankings of the top-sellers of new houses in the nation, Cinco Ranch, The Woodlands, Telfair and Sienna Plantation all placed in the Top 10 in 2009 sales, according to a survey by the RCLCO firm. Cinco Ranch, located in far west Houston, had 887 new home sales to lead the nation last year, RCLCO reported.
Why is Houston so strong when it comes to selling homes in its suburbs? For one thing, the Houston economy is better than most parts of the country, even though home sales are definitely much slower than they were a couple of years ago. But the huge-scale master-planned projects just work well in Houston. And that’s nothing new.
For years, home buyers in the Houston area have had a tendency to flock to the major master-planned communities, says Laura Cole, vice president of Washington, D.C.-based RCLCO. Houston’s large-scale master-planned communities, with more than 1,000 acres, generally have good schools, ample retail, parks and pools, and nice public landscaping. The master-planned projects are indeed planned, with land-use controls and uniformity that isn’t found in the unzoned turf inside Houston city limits.
What Do You Want for $86 Million?
The genesis of Cinco Ranch began in 1984 with the $86 million purchase of 5,000 acres of flatland prairie from Josephine Abercrombie and Robert Mosbacher and their family trusts. The horrible real estate crash of the1980s put the project on hold and it took more than five years before the first homes were built. There were some ownership changes, partners were bought out and new ones brought in.
But when it finally got some economic traction, things took off for Cinco Ranch. It now has thousands of homes, some priced at more than $1 million, schools, a public library and a satellite campus of the University of Houston. The project, which now covers 7,600 acres, is adjacent to the Grand Parkway.
New home sales in Cinco Ranch were up 14 percent in 2009, compared to the previous year. Home sales have been boosted by federal tax incentives to home buyers. But any way you cut it, getting a double digit percent increase in sales during a recession is impressive.
Both Cinco Ranch and Telfair are developed by Newland Communities, a San Diego-based development firm. Telfair, located in Sugar Land, ranked No. 4 in the nation with 450 new home sales last year. In a previous CultureMap column, I wrote that Telfair was modeled after Savannah, Ga., which is known for having homes lining an abundance of small square parks and plazas, and uniform grid street patterns.
The Woodlands was ranked as the second-best home seller in the nation, according to the RCLCO. The Woodlands had 633 home sales in 2009, down 16 percent from 2008. Located 27 miles north of downtown Houston, The Woodlands is now 35 years old and has about 80,000 residents.
George Mitchell developed the project on timberland and had the good sense to realize that maybe homebuyers would appreciate some trees and forests. Clear-cutting the land for maximum short-term profits was the battle cry for many developers of that era. The Woodlands took shape with design principles rooted in the concepts of pioneer landscape architect Ian McHarg, author of the 1969 book, Design With Nature.
Just squeezing into the Top 10 was Sienna Plantation, a 10,000-acre master-planned community in Fort Bend County. Sienna Plantation had 280 new home sales in 2009, a 24 percent decrease from 2008.
Sienna Plantation, developed by Johnson Development, has the golf course, lakes, greenbelts, retail and everything you expect in a master-planned community in Houston. It also has the benefit of the being near the Fort Bend Toll Road, which can zip commuters to Loop 610 near the Astrodome.
To come up with the rankings of the nation’s strongest selling communities, RCLCO surveys 400 leading communities around the nation. The economy remains tarnished and ugly, but having four of the Top 10 master-planned communities in the nation says something must be going right for Houston.
Ralph Bivins, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, is editor-in-chief of RealtyNewsReport.com.
Top 10 – Best Selling New Home Communities in US in 2009
1. Cinco Ranch – Houston - 887 new home sales
2. The Woodlands – Houston - 633 sales
3. Mountain’s Edge – Las Vegas - 596 sales
4. Telfair - Houston - 450 sales
5. Providence – Las Vegas – 388 sales
6. Daybreak – Salt Lake City – 375 sales
7. Rancho Sahuarita – Tucson – 358 sales
8. Anthem at Merrill Ranch – Phoenix – 294 sales
9. Vistancia – Phoenix – 283 sales
10. Sienna Plantation – Houston – 280 sales