Top-performing master plans offer both great segmentation and affordability relative to nearby markets, Zonda Advisory principal Mollie Carmichael said on Zonda’s Top Master Plans of 2022 webinar. Through segmentation, communities can focus on providing activities and areas that cater to families in all stages of life.

“The very first thing for success [is] a variety of segmentation,” Carmichael says. “And that variety of segmentation has to happen in village segmentation and neighborhood segmentation.”

The issue of affordability has only grown more important as rising rates have caused monthly payments to increase approximately 60% since the beginning of the year. In particular, markets in Florida—home to six of the top 10 master plans of 2022 based on a combination of sales, starts, and closings—have been hit the hardest, Carmichael says, with the average monthly payment over 80% higher in Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville. The top-performing master plans, though, are offering affordable options for residents, with over 60% of communities in the top 10 featuring homes less than $600,000 in price. Additionally, Zonda’s consumer insights indicate homes between 1,500 and 2,500 square feet are the most desirable; the top master plans are providing segmentation and options in this desirable home size range, with 72% of all plans under 2,600 square feet, according to Carmichael.

The market demographics are pushing most of the growth in master plans to the Sun Belt, with communities in Texas, Florida, Las Vegas, and California performing the strongest. Carmichael says the market is “perfectly aligned,” with young couples and families in the 27-39 age range as the most mobile buyers and individuals or couples moving toward retirement in the 57-65 age range as the most affluent demographic.

During the webinar, Carmichael shared the top-performing master plan communities based on sales, starts, and closings and what can be learned from their success.

1. The Villages
The Villages, Florida
Active Project Count: 5
Community Size: 20,000 acres
Home Sizes: 849 square feet to 5,754 square feet
Price Range: $170,000s to $1.3 million

The active-adult community provides residents with the feel of coastal living in Central Florida. The master plan features a variety of amenities for residents, including 53 golf courses, 202 pickleball courts, three central retail and lifestyle squares, and music and dancing at 3 p.m. every day.

“The majority of the highest-selling [products] are under $400,000. That’s part of their recipe,” Carmichael says. “The other part is when looking at the sales rate [of The Villages], the average for the square footages are mostly under 1,800 square feet. For the active-adult buyers, the fastest-selling plans are between 1,500 and 1,800 [square feet].”

Courtesy John Unrue

2. Lakewood Ranch
Lakewood Ranch, Florida
Active Project Count: 55
Community Size: 33,000 acres
Home Sizes: 1,040 square feet to 5,363 square feet
Price Range: $170,000s to $3.3 million

Lakewood Ranch features 19 different villages and 55 neighborhoods with three product types: townhomes, paired homes, and single-family homes. The communities are highly amenitized, with clubhouses, pools, fitness centers, lifestyle courts, golf, tennis, and pickleball available for residents.

Carmichael says the majority of sales are under $800,000 with the majority of absorptions occurring for homes under 2,500 square feet in size.

3. Summerlin
Las Vegas
Active Project Count: 30
Community Size: 22,500 acres
Home Sizes: 874 square feet to 5,904 square feet
Price Range: $260,000s to $2.8 million

Carmichael says Summerlin feels more like a city, with more than 90,000 homes in the plan. Beyond the variety of segmentation and amenities, Summerlin’s green landscape sets the plan apart from the dry surrounding Las Vegas desert.

“There’s about 230 parts, two dozen public and private schools, workshops, golf courses, and entertainment,” Carmichael says. “The segmentation [in Summerlin] covers a wide gamut. [The plan has] nice landscaping, is extremely well-planned, with strong amenities and entertainment throughout. [It has] a lot of choice for an extremely inexpensive price compared to California. ”

4. Cane Bay Plantation
Summerville, South Carolina
Active Project Count: 11
Community Size: 6,532 acres
Home Sizes: 1,109 square feet to 4,300 square feet
Price Range: $170,000s to $570,000s

Cane Bay is a well-performing community for its strong affordability and waterfront living in almost every home, Carmichael says. Cane Bay also features several large central amenities and strong focus on community wellness and health. The community is built around a YMCA with a large community center offering aquatics, tennis, baseball, and sports fields to residents.

Courtesy Brookfield Residential

5. Ontario Ranch
Ontario, California
Active Project Count: 18
Community Size: 8,069 acres
Home Sizes: 949 square feet to 3,339 square feet
Price Range: $450,000s to $910,000s

A big appeal for Ontario Ranch is its relative affordability compared with surrounding areas. Homes priced from the mid-$400,000s to the low $900,000s may be considered expensive in many parts of the country, but, compared with nearby Orange County and Los Angeles with homes exceeding $2 million, Ontario Ranch offers an affordable option. To target affordability, Ontario Ranch features smaller lot sizes, averaging 3,000 square feet or less.

“There are some active-adult [neighborhoods], but this is very much a choice for families seeking affordability,” Carmichael says. “They want to live in a single-family detached home and may be commuting to Orange County or Los Angeles.”

Silverleaf in St. Augustine, Florida; Babcock Ranch in Punta Gorda, Florida; Folsom Ranch in Folsom, California; Wellen Park in Venice, Florida; and On Top of the World in Ocala, Florida, round out the top 10 performing master plans of 2022.

Abode Stock

Master Plan Trends
Beyond segmentation and affordability, the top-performing master plans provide residents with outdoor spaces that encourage gathering and promote communal activity. Carmichael says the spaces do not need to be spectacular, but “it has to be a place where people want to join together.” The spaces can range from simple—retail experiences and picnic benches—to areas that promote activity, such as pump tracks. In recent years, water has emerged as an essential feature to attract prospective buyers.

“All 10 [of the top-performing master plans] had spectacular water features,” Carmichael says. “Beautiful water features will always pull people in.”

As more employees work either fully remote or a hybrid work schedule, community clubhouses can provide a welcoming place to gather and work.

“The club experience is really changing; it’s not just that desolate club that’s empty, but it is a place where I can do my homework and I can do my work,” Carmichael says. “A neat place to get away if you don’t want to be stuck in a house.”

Areas that promote physical and mental wellness, multimodal transportation, and energy efficiency are also emerging as popular trends that are being incorporated in successful master plans, Carmichael says.