NEWLAND COMMUNITIES' ACQUISITION this past May of 3,700 acres—and options on the undeveloped portions of 20,000 more acres—at Estrella Mountain Ranch in Goodyear, Ariz., near Phoenix is big news in the land game builders obsess about day and night. It's also not the last big news you're going to be hearing about Newland in the next six to 12 months.
The Estrella move, which will add 38,000 single-family homes and 9,000 multifamily units to what is already there, can be looked at metaphorically as Newland's full-circle deal. From 1982 to 1996, Newland developed the nearby 4,000-unit Mountain Park Ranch community, and this is the company's first return to the Phoenix area after almost a decade. The move attests to Newland's conviction that master planned communities that succeed in branding themselves in consumers' minds with a “sense of place” will be a bankable business model for two decades more. The operative term there is “succeed.”
“There are lot of people who can say ‘I do master planned communities,'” Doug Neff, co-founder, CEO, and managing partner of San Francisco-based Institutional Housing Partners, was telling me the other day. “Bob McLeod and Newland not only do planned communities,” says Neff, who emerged as a leader in real estate with the Irvine Co. and has teamed with Newland as a financial and joint venture partner since the mid-1990s, “he's started master planned communities and finished them. Bob likes to say he's already seen or done every mistake in the book himself. So while we've always enjoyed working with him, and have always trusted him because he's such a straight shooter, we also feel pretty confident in their future initiatives because of the number of lessons he's learned over time.”
You could say that Newland—through its financial relationships with IHP and CalPERS—is already in the home building business. But just as the nation's biggest builders have forayed aggressively and profitably into business traditionally reserved for residential developers, get ready for the nation's leading residential developer to change its own playing field, getting into home building.
“We're going to start modestly,” says McLeod. “Where we see a boutique product niche opportunity that our builder partners don't offer or compete in, we'll design it and build it.” Newland's mastery of data and intelligence on people patterns and preference reveals insight not simply into where people want to live but into precisely what kinds of houses they'd like and at which price points. How many homes will Newland build? If the company knows home buyers better than builders do, the challenge is clear. Home building is just one of the five or so major new directions McLeod and his strategic team at Newland plan to set out in in the next year or so.
Ryland Atlanta division president Chuck Fuhr, a big partner with Newland, particularly in the 800-acre Sterling on the Lake master planned community northeast of Atlanta, naturally gets a bit “turfy” when he hears of Newland's designs on getting into home construction. “Big developers have already dabbled in home building,” Fuhr says. “They haven't done well at it, and got out. Newland's a great developer, and we're great builders. If they get into home construction here, there are already 2,000 builders we compete with in the area, and they'll be just another of them.”
So stay tuned as Newland turns its intelligence and envisioning process toward new endeavors like home construction, age-restricted communities, urban infill projects, resort and second-home development, new joint-venture developments, and bringing urban touches to suburban village cores.
Their story (see “The New Ruralists” on page 66), as it plays out, is a story of reinvention that, over time, merges with one of the industry's overriding trends: consolidation. Consolidation is a theme in all of our issues, but in this one particularly. Whether it's the Masco bid to leverage its clout as a national cross-platform provider of both products and services (see “One for All” on page 44) or the William Lyon bid to buy back his company's shares (see “The Lyon Share” on page 38), the driving force for these organizations is consolidation.