Dan Green says that finding “best of class” land assets for residential development in growing markets is still a “hit or miss” proposition.
But the variable quality of real estate hasn’t deterred Wheelock Street Capital, the Greenwich, Conn.–based real estate investment firm where Green is a principal, from accumulating nearly 3,800 acres over the past 14 months through four land-purchase deals, culminating in its acquisition in late December of PulteGroup’s Anthem Ranch and Anthem Highlands in Broomfield, Colo. By doing so, Wheelock has made itself a force to be reckoned with as a residential developer of large communities at a time when the housing industry and general economy are slowly showing signs of recovery.
Green concedes that the Anthem property is “pretty special.” Opened in 2005, Anthem Ranch and Anthem Highlands, which encompass 1,700 acres, have consistently been among Metro Denver’s top selling communities, asserts Jeff Handlin of Oread Capital and Development, Wheelock’s “on the ground” partner in Broomfield.
Quoting city and state records, the Boulder County Business Report stated that 1,308 certificates of occupancy had been issued at Anthem through October 2011. Hanley Wood Market Intelligence estimates that Pulte closed 1,285 homes at Anthem from 2006 through nearly all of 2011, with 132 closings last year alone. That means there are still around 1,500 developed and undeveloped home sites available within the two subdivisions. (Anthem Ranch is the active-adult part; Anthem Highlands is open to all buyers.)
Neither Wheelock nor PulteGroup would comment on the selling price. Citing the Broomfield Recorder’s Office as its source, TheBoulder County Business Report states that Wheelock acquired Anthem through two limited liability entities for a total of $27.25 million. In its prepared statement, Pulte said that selling the subdivisions would have no material impact on its balance sheet.
The industry’s second-largest builder explained that the sale reflects its broader “capital allocation strategy” to generate higher returns on invested capital. Jacque Petroulakis, a Pulte spokeswoman, tells Builder that in the case of the Colorado property specifically, “it made more long-term sense for the company not to hold such a large asset on its balance sheet in a market where we are the eighth-largest builder and hold few other land assets.”
Indeed, Green says that Wheelock and Oread Capital would be “starting from ground zero” as far as marketing Anthem Ranch and Anthem Highlands as a master-planned community. Wheelock has a marketing executive on staff who will coordinate with Oread, which is also overseeing development, community outreach, and the sale of finished lots to builders.
Wheelock intends to bring in an as-yet-undetermined number of builders—probably two or three—to complete this community. Neither Green nor Handlin would say which builders might be under consideration. Also to be determined is whether Wheelock will continue to build the same kinds of homes that Pulte was offering. At Anthem Ranch, a Del Webb community, houses range from 1,197 to 2,837 square feet and are priced from the $280s to the $660s. Anthem Highlands’ three neighborhoods—which include 22 parks, 11 ponds, 48 miles of trails, 735 acres of open space, and a 32,000-square-foot recreation center—offer homes from 1,536 to 3,274 square feet with base prices starting in the $270s.
Its deal with PulteGroup caps what has been a very busy year or so for Wheelock Street Capital starting in November 2010, when the investor acquired Sweetwater, a 1,000-acre development in Austin, Texas, which had been in foreclosure. One month later it acquired the 700-acre Randal Park, 20 minutes from downtown Orlando, Fla. Last July, it entered into a $50 million lot-development agreement with Houston-based McGuyer Homebuilders. And in November 2011, it landed the 364-acre Traditions at Heritage, a master-planned community north of Raleigh, N.C., where 700 homes could be built over the next five years.
Green says that Wheelock continues to look for properties to develop in Colorado. Its other targets include the Virginia-District of Columbia area, the Carolinas, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California. “But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t go to Chicago if a good deal arose.”
John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.