BUILDERS WHO ARE THE FIRST TO OFFER A PRODUCT in a market take a big risk, but with that risk can come big rewards. That was the case for Wathen-Castanos, based in Fresno, Calif. With 172 single-family houses on 20 acres, the builder/developer's European Quarter has nine units to the acre and an average lot about half the traditional size for the market.

“I would think the densest community to that point was about six units to the acre,” says Richard Wathen, vice president of Wathen-Castanos. “It was something that had never been seen before in our town.”

Located in the area's best school district, the sold-out European Quarter offered first-time buyers a rare opportunity to own a detached home in a gated community near much more expensive houses. To boost the “wow” factor, Wathen-Castanos hired nationally recognized architecture firm Bassenian/Lagoni to create distinctive elevations with Tuscan, country French, and Americana styling.

“We touted this community as having ‘affordable pizzazz,'” Wathen says.

The builder also dramatically merchandised the homes' intimate outdoor living spaces with fireplaces, built-in barbecues, and fountains.

Models were hidden behind fencing until opening day to create excitement. Small, black-and-white ads with the headline “Are you on the list?” drove prospects to a Web site to register. The builder kept advance information to a minimum, president Bob Mazmanian says, because people needed to see the concept to understand it.

“If you started quoting statistics, they weren't very exciting—one-car garages, small lots, small houses,” Mazmanian says. “We knew they couldn't imagine it, because there was nothing in the marketplace like it.”

The ad campaign worked, producing an interest list of 1,000 names. A priority sales list also helped drive the success of European Quarter. It worked so well, Wathen-Castanos now uses the technique in all its projects.

Market: Fresno, Calif.

Project: European Quarter, Clovis, Calif.

Date sales started: February 2002

Sales through February 2005: 172

Total units planned: 172

Unit size: 1,271 to 1,971 square feet

Price range: $129,900 to $180,000

Builder/Developer: Wathen-Castanos, Fresno

Architect: Bassenian/Lagoni Architects, Newport Beach, Calif.

FOR PROJECT DETAILS, INCLUDING SALES PRICE, SQUARE FOOTAGE, PRODUCT TYPE, SALES VELOCITY, AND OTHER INFORMATION, VISIT OUR WEB SITE AT WWW.BUILDERONLINE .COM AND CLICK ON “THE MAGAZINES” TAB, AND THEN CLICK ON “BUILDER ARTICLE LINKS.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Fresno, CA.