Larry I. Smith, Inland Empire regional president for William Lyon Homes, says the Newport Beach, Calif.–based builder likes the idea of going against the flow. In fact, that's exactly where it wants to be.

“We would prefer, especially in a market that is a little difficult, to do something other people are not doing to avoid being another one of the pack,” Smith says. “We try to be a little contrarian.”

That perspective was central to a decision the builder made in the design of Serafina, a high-density townhome community in Mira Loma, Calif., which turned out to be the builder's best-selling project in the Inland Empire in 2006. The first four phases were immediate sell-outs.

ROOM TO STROLL: A carefully planned site allowed William Lyon Homes to achieve a density of 16 units  per acre at Serafina, yet still provide its buyers with a sense of  openness. Private decks and courtyards overlook pocket parks with benches  and fountains and lush, landscaped paseos.
ROOM TO STROLL: A carefully planned site allowed William Lyon Homes to achieve a density of 16 units per acre at Serafina, yet still provide its buyers with a sense of openness. Private decks and courtyards overlook pocket parks with benches and fountains and lush, landscaped paseos.

When William Lyon first acquired the 20-acre, Riverside County property in 2003, the new homes being built in the area were traditional, single-family houses on 5,000- to 7,000-square-foot lots, Smith says. There was no attached product at all in the area at the time, so a community with 16 units to the acre was definitely risky.

“There were reservations,” Smith says. “We wondered if this was too far ahead of the game.”

But the concerns were outweighed by the opportunity to take advantage of a prime location, close to the freeway for commuters working in nearby Orange and Los Angeles counties and directly across the street from new shopping. Plus, it was a chance to achieve a lower price point and tap the pent-up demand for more affordable housing. The price range at Serafina is $323,000 to $413,000, which is well below the normal price of a new home in the area, Smith says. “It's hard to find much for under $550,000,” he adds.

Kelly Rae, director of sales and marketing for William Lyon Homes' Inland Empire division, says that the affordability factor was a major element of Serafina's appeal—and a central element of the marketing. The community's brochure starts with the message, “Welcome to Serafina, where the joy of homeownership is well within your reach.”

From a marketing standpoint, Rae says, the timing of Serafina's opening and its price point worked together to drive traffic—and sales, Rae says. “It was a price-sensitive project at a time when single-family homes had blown affordability out of the water.” As an added benefit, Serafina's monthly HOA fee—among the lowest in the area—includes water, sewer, and trash pick-up.

Given the entry-level price point, Serafina offered its buyers some unexpected amenities. The community is gated and features a 13,000-square-foot recreation center with a pool, spa, cabana, outdoor fireplace, and barbecues.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA, Riverside, CA.