By BUILDER Magazine Staff. Sometimes it pays to take risks. Just ask Chris Chambers, president of Western Pacific's Orange County/Inland Empire division. Chambers decided to gamble on a 115-acre tract that had been passed over by builders for more than a decade.
The site had some things going for it, namely location. Situated in California's Moreno Valley, it lay just across Freeway 215 from Riverside County and Orange Crest, an over-built master plan with ever-increasing prices. Plus, it had been entitled for 557 homes and was adjacent to an existing park, a planned elementary school, and another park site that would include a large recreation center.
The downside was its close proximity to a big-box retail store and some older houses and apartments. And its school district suffered from a 10-year economic decline. "But I knew it had potential because of the great location," Chambers says.
The greatest challenge was convincing bankers without the benefit of comps. "You know there is pent-up demand but can't demonstrate it," says Chambers, adding that the situation makes it difficult to pre-sell without a model complex. So the builder built a super model complex the likes of which the market had never seen. All 10 completely decorated plans surround a long cul-de-sac. "You've got to present something really strong that gets home buyers excited," notes Chambers.
The Woodley Architectural Group added elements to the homes' façades that aren't usually associated with affordable housing. Some plans have turrets or a chateau look with a higher roofline. "These types of details don't really affect the stick-and-brick costs," says Chambers. "They're only on the exterior, and inside it's a regular stacked house."
When word about Renaissance Park spread, 300 to 400 people turned out weekly and as many as 700 at new phase releases. Chambers anticipated the throngs and prepared by building an entire 2,100-square-foot, single-story home as a sales pavilion.
There are three neighborhoods at Renaissance Park. The 500 lots are 50 feet wide with varied depths. "This design enabled us to come up with three different products and pricing niches," Chambers explains. The buyers are first-time and first-time move-ups who have been priced out of Orange Crest. Homes at Renaissance Park start well under $200,000, which makes them accessible to the local workforce, many of whom are in construction.
As a result of a well-planned and executed program, each of the 10 plans has sold equally. Virtually all releases have sold out on release day. The community has achieved 373 sales since April 2002. Chambers attributes this success to his division's ability to deliver new and out-of-the-box products to a market that had considerable pent-up demand.
Program: Marketing campaign; Project: Renaissance Park, Moreno Valley, Calif.; Builder/Developer: Western Pacific Housing, a D.R. Horton Co., Irvine, Calif.; Price: $167,990 to $228,990; Size: 1,435 to 2,824 square feet; Ad agency: The Roxburgh Agency, Costa Mesa, Calif.; Media budget: $117,000
* Western Pacific built both single- and two-story models with plans that emphasize family space and bedroom counts to address a broad market of first-time and move-up buyers.
* Regularly scheduled sales releases with small but consistent price increases have been used to maintain strong momentum and to reinforce buyers in escrow.
* A consistent media schedule was maintained through the grand opening.
* Direct mail was sent to both the interest list and targeted area neighborhoods where residents had been living in their homes for five-plus years and had sufficient income and/or some home equity appreciation.
* A one-time radio buy and remote broadcast added excitement to the grand opening, which netted some 2,000 visitors.
* Minimal advertising was necessary since the opening, and traffic has stabilized at an average of 405 visitors each week, peaking at 1,000 when new phases are released.
* A freeway billboard was added in October 2002 for outreach, and regularly published newsletters and homeowner events have contributed to strong buyer referrals.