Perhaps no area of the country felt the effects of the housing collapse more than Las Vegas, where the market went from boom to bust practically overnight. Builders struggled to stay afloat as the area turned into the nation's foreclosure hot spot.
One of the country's largest production builders, Woodside Homes, suffered major losses to its operations in Las Vegas and beyond that impacted the future of the entire company. In 2008, the Salt Lake City–based home builder was forced into Chapter 11 by its creditors after defaulting on more than $730 million in debt. The company survived by streamlining its operations, selling off non-core divisions, simplifying its position in the move-up home market, and purchasing lots in less competitive areas located near job centers.
In one of the most impressive comeback stories of the Great Recession, in just 14 months the company emerged from bankruptcy with $315 million in restructured debt and more than $200 million in cash. Today, Woodside builds in California, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and San Antonio. The now-regional builder, which closed 1,402 homes last year, is even contemplating an IPO and has an S-1 registration statement on file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The recession and its aftermath had a profound effect on the design of Woodside's Las Vegas homes, notes Kent Lay, Nevada division president. Working with Irvine, Calif.–based architecture firm KTGY, the company focused on retooling its offerings to appeal to the post-recession buyer in a program called "Better by Design."
"We basically revamped all of our products and are now on the cutting edge in this town in terms of what we're offering," Lay says.
The new floor plans put a renewed emphasis on glamorous but functional kitchens and baths, he adds. "We think that's what people really look at and where the wow factor is." This includes giving buyers a lot of choices in kitchen countertops, cabinets, and islands, and spa-like master baths with oversized showers and 6-foot-long tubs. "We really let the buyer personalize it."
For example, Woodside's Silver Nugget Award-winning Cadence at the Park series puts a modern spin on the traditional look the builder is known for. The contemporary elevations, open floor plans, and flexible spaces appeal to a range of buyers, Lay says, from young professionals to empty nesters.
The rear-loaded homes are built around a 50-acre park that serves as the focal point of the community. Houses range from 2,600 square feet to 3,400 square feet, start in the low $400s, and focus on meeting the changing lifestyles of buyers, says CEO Joel Shine.
"Today's home is much more informal, with multiple rooms having the ability to convert for many uses. For example, a bonus room can be a loft, an extra bedroom, or a kids' playroom," he says.
The builder's Home+ option provides space for an aging parent or post-college-age child with a separate living area, bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette, and laundry room.
The revamped designs have helped Woodside stay on pace with what buyers want, which is important because as Vegas-area consumers return to the new-home market, they are a different breed than before the recession: more savvy, demanding, and cautious.
"We noticed that people don't want as big of homes as they used to want," explains Lay, "but they still want all the bells and whistles and they want it designed right, to fit what they need for their lifestyle."
Prospects require more hand-holding through the purchase process than they did during the boom years, he adds. "They do their research and come back multiple, multiple times before making a decision."
To ease their worries, the company puts buyers in touch with the superintendent overseeing their home's construction, and encourages them to contact him or her anytime they have a question.
A series of check-ins also helps to ease clients' minds, including a preconstruction meeting, frame walk, orientation, and pre-close meeting. After move-in, service staff follow up with clients at various intervals: 30 days, five months, and 11 months.
"We need to reassure them the whole way through that they're making the right decision," Lay says, "so we put a lot of energy into making the buying process enjoyable and taking as much stress out of it as possible."
While Woodside is enjoying its hard-won resurgence, Lay realizes that the Las Vegas market is only beginning to recover, and there may be new challenges ahead. The company is ready for them.
"The housing market here has not come back all the way—we're not even at 10,000 building permits [a year] and the normal is 20,000," he says. "We're in a healthy market now, but it's still very very tough and very competitive."