FrontDoor Communities has been based in Atlanta for more than two years. But it’s been building homes under its own name for only about a year, in Naples and Orlando, Fla., and in Charleston, S.C. Now FrontDoor is ready to start building in its hometown after closing on the purchase of 158 raw acres in Atlanta’s Forsyth County. FrontDoor claims this is the biggest land acquisition to have been made in Atlanta since 2006.
When it first started out, FrontDoor had a fee-management contract with a couple of private equity funds to manage the build-out of projects. Having completed that work, FrontDoor has concentrated on building and selling homes under its own brand in its four Southeastern markets.
Terry Russell, FrontDoor’s CEO and partner, expects his company to close 70 homes this year and possibly up to 175 in 2014. On the land it bought in Forsyth County, FrontDoor will develop and build a new community, called Traditions, which will have more than 400 homes ranging in size from 2,500 to 3,800 square feet, and priced from the $300s to the $500s.
For years, builders, developers, and real estate agents have been insisting that very few of the Atlanta market’s 15,000 or so available finished lots are in desirable locations. Russell, who has been in Atlanta since 1985, says most of the finished lots are outside of “a well-defined demand corridor” that is framed, like a figure eight, by highways 75, 85, 400, and 285. Buying raw land in a prime location (its parcel is less than 2 miles off Georgia highway 400) just seemed to make more sense, he explains.
FrontDoor put the raw land it acquired under contract a year ago, and purchased the property through options that will extend for five years. Russell wouldn’t reveal the purchase price, except to say that it was a “fraction” of the $35 million the family that owned this land was asking for in 2007.
The permits are in place, and FrontDoor is scheduled to break ground on Traditions in October, and to start the first home next March. FrontDoor is partnering with another local builder, The Providence Group, to build out this community. Russell says Providence and FrontDoor are both “architecture-centric.” In March, FrontDoor hired former Ryland Homes executive Eric White as its Atlanta division vice president.
South Forsyth County is a hot real estate market at the moment. Russell says more homes sold in the county from January to March than were sold there in all of 2012. In addition, FrontDoor got a lot of publicity when it announced its land deal on July 9, with the Wall Street Journal and NPR among the media outlets that picked up the story.
To acquaint Atlantans with the FrontDoor brand, Russell says his company will play up its strategic partnership with Wakefield Beasley & Associates, a well-known local architectural firm. Russell isn’t hesitant, either, about reminding customers about his time with local builder John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods, where he was president for 22 years.
Traditions will be marketed as “walkable,” a claim that should be supported by a 184,000-square-foot shopping center anchored by a grocery store that FrontDoor and a developer partner plan to build on an adjacent parcel that’s part of this land deal. “This will integrate incredibly well with our community,” he says.
John Caulfield is a senior editor for BUILDER.