Photos: Courtesy Newland Communities

Not every developer is suffering. Newland Communities’ sales were up 9% at the end of November compared with 2010.

“It’s not all bad news for the housing industry,” said Bob McLeod, Newland’s chairman and chief executive officer, in announcing that 2011 has been a better year for the company than 2010 was.

And, for Newland at least, there’s reason to think that 2012 will be improved as well. The San Diego, Calif.-based company, which develops mixed-use master-planned communities in 22 markets in 14 states, maintains a considerable data base of its customers. Regularly it taps into that list to survey what its buyers are thinking, planning to do, and what they want from their next homes and communities.

A recent survey of its home buyers shows that 61% of Newland customers say they plan to buy a house in the next 12 months with nearly 17% saying they plan to move in the next three months. Newland, which prides itself on its repeat business, has been working hard to make sure that its former buyers will be able to find what they want within a Newland community the next time they buy.

As a result of some trends it sees in its database of tens of thousands of buyers, Newland has been re-tooling its communities to offer more diversified products and some different amenities.

For instance, in 2010, for the first time in Newland’s history, couples with children were not the predominant buyer group. Couples without children moved into the top spot, a group Newland senior vice president Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, calls "bookends" because they are composed of young couples pre-children and older buyers post-children, not to mention some never-children pairings. These people are looking for smaller, more carefree, and sometimes less expensive products than what the families with children want. Younger buyers may be looking to get into a community on the bottom rung, for example, while the empty-nesters are likely looking to stay in communities where they have lived before but in a different type of home where they can age in place and perhaps stay near children and grandchildren.

Newland has also begun to rethink its amenity centers to lower the company's cost to develop and the buyers' costs to maintain by polling its residents to find out what they really want and need in their homes. As an example, it changed plans for a new amenity center it is building at Tampa’s Fishhawk Ranch to include room where teens can lounge with friends to watch movies and such. Newland was planning half-court basketball courts until the polls indicated a desire for a teen hang-out. The fitness center too was pared down to offer exactly what residents wanted more of – cardio machines, a place to stretch pre- and post-workout, and a room where their kids could play while they exercise, versus weights and weight machines.

Newland has also seen a large shift in how buyers say they spend their time and live their lives. In this year's survey, eleven percent more people said they plan to spend more time visiting with friends and neighbors within their communities, compared to last year's survey results. Another 11% more said they plan to spend less time eating out.

“A shift of more than 5% is considered monumental,” says Slavik-Tsuyuki, who adds that the survey is causing the company to re-envision and redesign many facets of its communities.

Newland plans to bring two new communities online in 2012. Waterset, Apollo Beach, near Tampa, Fla. is expected to open during the September. and already four builders are under contract to purchase lots there. Another 4,200-acre community in Bonney Lake, Wash., near Tacoma, Wash., is scheduled to open next summer. That development was bought in partnership with Sekisui House, Japan’s largest builder/developer. The project recently was named Tehaleh, a Chinook jargon word for “land above” because it sits on a high plateau with views of Mount Rainier. The development, which had its first phase of home sites in place when Newland bought it, was originally named Cascadia.

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Tampa, FL, San Diego, CA, Seattle, WA.