IN A REAL ESTATE MARKET AS CHALLENGING as the one that exists today, builders would do well to mind the words of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who is credited with the maxim, “God is in the details.” It was a more positive take on an old saying, “The devil is in the details,” which reminded planners that even great projects could fail without attention to the little things. As Mies van der Rohe pointed out, it's equally true that great projects soar when details are remembered and thoughtfully incorporated.

From designing floor plans that match the lifestyles of the target buyers and merchandising the models to training the sales staff and forging relationships with local Realtors, details are at the heart of Serramar at La Mesa. At this Lucas and Mercier Development neighborhood in the San Diego market, nothing has been overlooked.

Built on a hillside that offers sweeping views of the ocean, downtown San Diego, or the county's back country, Serramar was the first new single-family, detached development in La Mesa in years. Located near established neighborhoods, it offers nearby residents an opportunity to move up to a new home rather than fix up their older home. Plus, because Serramar is in a long-established neighborhood with existing services, buyers don't have to pay Mello-Roos taxes. A Mello-Roos tax district is a financing tool used by cities and counties in California to pay for new services such as schools, roads, libraries, and police and fire protection. This tax cut alone saves buyers thousands of dollars a year and makes their homes more attractive at resale.

With nine floor plans available from 2,077 square feet to 4,264 square feet, Serramar offers a very wide range of options for prospective customers, whether they're single professionals, young couples, growing families, or downsizing empty-nesters. Plans 1 through 6 were designed by Newman Garrison Gilmour + Partners; Plans 7, 8, and 9, the largest of the plans offered at Serramar, were designed by Bassenian Lagoni.

The neighborhood has resonated well with local residents, many of whom had lived in their homes for years and were ready to upgrade, says sales manager Marcia Thorne. With elevations ranging from Tuscan to Americana, 27 different exterior paint colors, and a site plan that mixes the smaller and larger plans instead of segregating them, Serramar has the feel of a more established neighborhood that has grown organically over time.

“The builder spent a lot of time making an eclectic family neighborhood,” Thorne says. “In 195 houses, you can barely find a duplicate.”

BIG STYLE IN SMALL PLANS As the market shifted and buyers found it more difficult to obtain financing, Lucas and Mercier focused its efforts on the smaller, lower-priced plans, says Deborah Moyer, vice president of sales and marketing. “Most builders don't like to do that,” Moyer says. “Land is extremely expensive, so they try to put as large a home on a lot as they can. We went the opposite way, plotted away from larger floor plans that were harder for people to qualify for and put in smaller ones.”

Architect Kevin R. Newman, chairman of Newport Beach, Calif.–based Newman Garrison Gilmour + Partners, says he designed the floor plans for Plans 1 through 6 “with more of an affordable mindset.”

“We try to design plans where they're easier to build so we can take the dollars that are saved in construction and apply them to where you get the biggest bang to the buck, which are the exteriors or to put more amenities inside,” he says.

For example, his Serramar plans called for building 100 percent over the first floor whenever possible, which means no two-story family rooms, but lots of extra space on the second floor without increasing the footprint. By stacking the floors, the builder could minimize structural materials costs, such as window ties and roofing elements, he notes.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Diego, CA.