Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that Focus Property Group had filed for bankruptcy. Neither Focus nor any of its affiliated entities has filed for bankruptcy. Big Builder Online regrets the error.

RCLCO, the Bethesda, Md.-based real estate consultant, is out with its list of top-selling master-planned communities for 2008, and it provides ample evidence that the housing downturn has been felt disproportionately around Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Mountain's Edge in Las Vegas, with 879 net sales, was 2008's top-selling master-planned community (MPC) for a second year, but sales there fell 49% from 2007. According to RCLCO, MPCs throughout the US experienced significant decline in home sales and, in many cases, home prices in 2008. It also said many of the MPCs surveyed reported record cancellation rates.

The bright spot this year was Houston, which, with 5 of the top-10 performers, saw increased sales from 2007. Still, RCLCO noted that Nevada and Arizona, hit early and hard by the downturn, have experienced a slight bump in sales in the first quarter of 2009.

Among the trends among best-performers spotted by RCLCO in its survey were:

* Value-oriented, primary home communities offering smaller lots and smaller homes.

* Established, well located communities with or near job centers, amenities and lifestyle in place.

* Heavily themed communities that deliver a "way of life" with lifestyle programming to match it.

* Amenities--open space, pedestrian-oriented amenities, town centers, and community gathering and learning places.

* Successfully communicating that the MPC is a good place to buy and a safe investment.

Another trend RCLCO turned up was the apparent success of green building and the marketing thereof. RCLCO said the chairman and CEO of Mountain's Edge and Providence (1 and 4 on the survey), John Ritter, responded that "the environmental nature of both communities--drought tolerant and use 25% less water than similar communities--is a differentiator and the sales offices have provided feedback regarding how the market is responding."

Bob McLeod, CEO of Newland Communities, has three master plans on the top-10 list, all of which are well established communities in Houston. Cinco Ranch has been going since 1990, Tefair since 2004, and Eagle Springs since about 1999.

"Houston is a market where the jobs are still continuing to grow," he said.

He also noted that those three communities had other things in common: they were all located near great school districts, had a beautiful community plan, and had an element of sustainability. "Our people have done a great job doing customer research on what they are going to buy," McLeod said. "And that's helping builders find the right product [to bring to market.]"

He said while he considered Dallas, Houston, and Austin to be good markets for master plans right now, there were others that were much more troubled. He said that in areas that are having significant job losses or significant declines in housing prices, he's having to really get involved with the builders and their lenders to figure out a solution to price and finance the lot. Lenders have so little appetite for construction lending right now that he's basically having to go to the lenders almost on the builders' behalves to convince them to lend to the builders by offering some assurance that Newland is in the projects for the long haul.

"We go in and tell them who we are, how long we've been in business, and where our financing comes from," he said.

He also said that in markets like Raleigh, Charlotte, and Tampa that lenders appear to be a little looser; if there are home buyers, they'll lend to a builder to build the home and possibly another couple of specs. However, he said things were much tighter in places like Atlanta. Because there are so many small, local players in the Atlanta market, banks see more risk in lending to them.

However, McLeod remained bullish about development going forward.

"Once the economy starts to improve...there's going to be a run on housing at the end of 2010 and into 2011," he said.

RCLCO has been doing the survey since 1994. The top-10 for 2008 are:

2008 Rank: 1

2007 Rank: 1

Community: Mountain's Edge

Developer: Focus Property Group

Market: Las Vegas

2008 Net Sales: 879

2007 Net Sales: 1740

Change: -49%


2008 Rank: 2

2007 Rank: 6

Community: Cinco Ranch

Developer: Newland Communities

Market: Houston

2008 Net Sales: 775

2007 Net Sales: 725

Change: 7%


2008 Rank: 3

2007 Rank: 4

Community: The Woodlands

Developer: The Woodlands Development Co.

Market: Houston

2008 Net Sales: 750

2007 Net Sales: 767

Change: -2%


2008 Rank: 4

2007 Rank: 5

Community: Providence

Developer: Focus Property Group

Market: Las Vegas

2008 Net Sales: 514

2007 Net Sales: 726

Change: -29%


2008 Rank: 5

2007 Rank: -

Community: Rancho Sahuarita

Developer: Rancho Sahuarita Company

Market: Tucson

2008 Net Sales: 506

2007 Net Sales: 573

Change: -12%


2008 Rank: 6

2007 Rank: -

Community: Telfair

Developer: Newland Communities

Market: Houston

2008 Net Sales: 412

2007 Net Sales: 366

Change: 13%


2008 Rank: 7

2007 Rank: 3

Community: Vistancia

Developer: Shea Homes/Sunbelt Holdings

Market: Phoenix

2008 Net Sales: 399

2007 Net Sales: 815

Change: -36%


2008 Rank: 8

2007 Rank: 10

Community: Sienna Plantation

Developer: The Johnson Development Corp.

Market: Houston

2008 Net Sales: 369

2007 Net Sales: 575

Change: -36%


2008 Rank: 9

2007 Rank: -

Community: Sun City Festival

Developer: Pulte Homes/Del Webb

Market: Phoenix

2008 Net Sales: 288

2007 Net Sales: -

Change: N/A


2008 Rank: 10

2007 Rank: -

Community: Eagle Springs

Developer: Newland Communities

Market: Houston

2008 Net Sales: 274

2007 Net Sales: 269

Change: 2%

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Phoenix, AZ, Houston, TX, Las Vegas, NV.