The Del Webb name is already one of the strongest national brands in home building. But in the wake of Pulte's merger with Centex, the company is systematically working through its communities, making the best use of its powerful active-adult brand.
In its Florida market, for instance, changes are being made in three existing communities to punch up the brand's presence.
The biggest change is most likely at Ave Maria, a master-planned community on the edge of the Everglades in Southwest Florida that was founded by a partnership between Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza and devout Catholic philanthropist, and Barron Collier Cos.
Ave Maria was built around Monaghan's Ave Maria University and its 100-foot-tall $24 million gothic-arched oratory that can be seen for miles across the flat, former tomato fields.
Almost three years ago, Pulte opened its first community to include all three of its brands at the time--Pulte, DiVosta, and Del Webb--in Ave Maria. Pulte is now proposing to the developer that the DiVosta section be absorbed into the Del Webb community and that the resultant combination of 4,000 lots officially become an age-restricted community of 55-plus buyers.
The community, which is currently age-targeted, already has a golf course. But it will now get a new model home park and its own amenity center that won't be shared with the other non-age restricted homes in Ave Maria. It will also get a new name--Del Webb Naples at Ave Maria. Formerly called Del Webb Ave Maria, the name change is consistent with Pulte's strategy to brand its 59 Del Webb communities around the nation to the closest large city to help out-of-town buyers place it better. Naples is about 45 miles west of Ave Maria.
Pulte spokeswoman Valerie Dolenga said the community has been attracting more active-adult buyers than family buyers. "It's a Naples address without the high price tag," she said. Still, prospective active-adult buyers noticed that Ave Maria wasn't as highly amenitized as other Del Webb communities.
"What we found is that a lot of folks who recognized the Del Webb brand and who shop around noticed that there was a bit missing in the community," Dolenga said. "So it made really good sense to transition it to a true Del Webb line with the brand and the lifestyle of the community."
At this point, there are only about 100 homes in the Del Webb portion, and those buyers are seasonal occupants. Dolenga said the active-adult market has been picking up in the area this year, with many of the traditional Midwest buyers beginning to return to the market.
"We've seen traffic be pretty good, probably better than we expected it to be," said Dolenga. "We are cautiously optimistic."
Farther north on Florida's West Coast, in Apollo Beach near Tampa, Pulte is renaming Southshore Falls, a former Centex active-adult community, Southshore Falls Del Webb. The community of 850 homes opened in 2004, and Pulte plans to spend more than $1.5 million in design and lifestyle upgrades.
East of Orlando, Pulte is planning to reopen and rename another active-adult community in June. Formerly called La Cresta Del Webb, the 830-home community will be called Del Webb Orlando. Sales stopped at the community last summer while Pulte worked through a legal dispute with the developer. Pulte ended up buying the lots from the developer and is proceeding to develop the community itself, Dolenga said.
Del Webb Orlando is slated to get a $6 million amenity center with indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, new walking trails, and other amenities.
Pulte is expecting the changes to bear fruit quickly. Already Pulte's rebranded communities in the Southwest, Alegria by Del Webb in Albuquerque, N.M., and Rancho Del Lago in Tucson, Ariz., are seeing positive traffic and market share.
"Del Webb has one of the best brand names in the home building industry, and home buyers know what to expect in a Del Webb community with its rich amenities and facilitated lifestyle," Deborah Meyer, Pulte's chief marketing officer, said in a news release announcing some of the changes.