Sometimes it takes a lot of vision to see what a community could be. That was definitely the case when Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.–based EH Building Group first looked at the development near West Palm Beach that would become Wyndam Park. The tract of 373 homesites was within Victoria Woods, an existing neighborhood of 500 homes. But, to put it nicely, Victoria Woods wasn't a great place to live.
“It was pretty rough,” says Mike Aranda Jr., EH Building's executive vice president of sales and marketing. “It was just in really bad shape.”
How bad was it? The neighborhood entrance was overrun with weeds, as was a fenced-in boat and camper storage facility, which was supposed to be a community amenity but had fallen into disrepair. Many of the yards were choked with weeds, and some houses hadn't been painted in years. Crime was a problem. Plus, there had been a class action suit over the vinyl siding used on the houses. The homeowners had won, but many of them kept the money they'd received to fix the homes, didn't replace the siding, and rented out the houses.
There were some persuasive marks in the plus column, though. The location was wonderful—convenient to two major highways and just 15 minutes from the downtown job corridor. The schools were excellent, and there was a great public park nearby. Half of the lots had been platted, and half had not been platted but had the correct zoning in place.
The pricing on the land would give EH Building the opportunity to offer affordably priced homes—starting at $129,900 for a 1,250-square-foot, single-family home—when sales began in 2002. That gave EH Building a market opportunity with entry-level buyers in a county known for much more expensive housing. And with the purchase, EH Building gained majority control of the HOA to force the homeowners to clean up their properties.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION The first step toward creating a neighborhood people would want to live in was meeting with the HOA and telling the residents about EH Building's improvement plans, which included dressing up the entrance, the community pool, and the cabana, as well as enforcing the HOA's existing requirements.
“That wasn't really costly to us,” Aranda says. “It was making sure the property manager was held accountable.” The HOA had the ability to assess fines and levy liens against homeowners who didn't clean up their properties, a tool that had to be used very rarely, Aranda says. “The homeowners saw what we were doing, bought into it, and did things on their own,” he says. “The ones who didn't want us there or didn't want to change put their homes on the market and left.”
Association dues were another issue that had to be addressed. When EH Building arrived, only half of the dues were being collected. By the time EH Building left the community, the amount collected was up to 85 percent. “By taking control of the HOA, we could clean up the community, put some money into the entrance and the amenities, and turn it into a nice community,” Aranda says. “Then, we could offer new homes at affordable prices.”
Re-establishing the front entry and cleaning up the community were important steps to winning over the existing residents, and in persuading those who weren't interested in a better community to leave.
“It showed people there were some changes that would take place,” Aranda says. “There had been a number of builders in the past who had said they were coming in, put in a contract, the homeowners got excited, and nothing happened. A lot of folks had been anxiously waiting for this to happen. ... There was some resistance, and not every day was a pleasant one. From time to time, they got their feathers ruffled because of construction. But for the overall good of the community, 75 percent were receptive and positive about what we were doing, and they just overwhelmed the other 25 percent.”
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Orlando, FL.