Sienna Plantation in Missouri City is Johnson Development's top-selling MPC.
Courtesy Johnson Development Sienna Plantation in Missouri City is Johnson Development's top-selling MPC.

A Texas firm has the most top-selling master-planned communities in the nation than any other developer, according to a recently released report.

Houston-based Johnson Development Corp. had six communities ranked among the nation’s 50 top-selling in a mid-year tally by housing research firm Robert Charles Lesser & Co. (RCLCO). Most of its communities are also showing year-over-year gains in new home sales.

In its 43rd year of operation, Johnson Development has 17 communities under active development — 14 in the Houston area, two in Dallas-Fort Worth and one in Atlanta. At mid-year 2018, home sales in all Johnson communities totaled 2,171, which is an 18 percent overall increase from 2017. Here, BUILDER talks with Johnson Development co-president and COO Doug Goff about the company's success.

Doug Goff
Doug Goff

What are your best-selling communities and where are they located?
Our six developments in the RCLCO report include communities in both the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth metro areas. At No. 1 in Houston and No. 15 nationally, Sienna Plantation in Missouri City was the highest-ranked Johnson community on the RCLCO report. Sienna reported 292 new-home sales during the first six months of 2018, a 41 percent increase over last year. Cross Creek Ranch in Fulshear placed No. 25, with 246 sales — a 16 percent increase. And Viridian in Arlington ranked No. 26 with 240 sales versus 158 in 2017. Viridian’s 52 percent year-over-year increase was one of the biggest gains listed on the report.

However, Harmony in Spring showed the largest gain of all 50 communities, with a 72 percent increase. Harmony ranked No. 30 and reported 234 sales during the first six months of this year versus 136 in 2017. Woodforest in South Montgomery County saw 200 sales — a 9 percent increase — during the report’s timeframe and placed at No. 38. Riverstone in Fort Bend County ranked No. 41 with 189 sales.

To what to do you attribute this success?
In the end, it comes down to good decisions — choosing the right markets and the right mix of builders. Once we have a coveted location and builders that cater to a range of buyer needs that will allow residents to stay in the same neighborhood as they move up or downsize, we turn our attention to community lifestyle. We work with stellar design teams to create stand-out amenities that are focal points of an overall lifestyle program under the direction of an on-site person whose title is “Director of Fun.”

This program is continually evolving as we bring in more amenities and resident programming — which will continue on in perpetuity even as the community is built out and completed. One of the most recent value-added resident initiatives that we are introducing throughout Johnson communities is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program where residents can have locally sourced, fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers delivered either to their doors or to on-site community centers.

What builders do you work with?
Having the right mix of builders is crucial in creating a community that serves all buyer profiles. Johnson’s strategy is to target start-up buyers with affordable home products, move-up designs and true custom homes for discriminating buyers and specialty products such as patio homes, Craftsman homes, and attached villas for millennials and empty-nesters – all in a wide variety of price points.

We have long-standing programs with a wide variety of builders who offer homes in multiple communities, such as David Weekley Homes, Toll Brothers, Lennar Homes, Trendmaker Homes, Village Builders, Shea Homes, Newmark Homes, Perry Homes, and many local private custom builders. Taylor Morrison and Darling Homes offer unique designs in several neighborhoods, including those targeted to active adults ages 55 and older. In all, more than 40 public, private, national, regional and local builders operate within Johnson Development communities, all of which are leaders in the industry and well-respected for their architectural design, construction quality, and customer service.

What are the most important trends you’re seeing in MPCs these days?
What we are not seeing is the expected flight of baby boomers from suburban master-planned communities and the shunning of these communities by millennials. Rather than stay in urban areas, millennials are heading to the suburbs when they are ready to buy a home and start a family just like their parents did — they just took a little longer to do it. And while baby boomers were expected to move into downtown condos as they became empty nesters, they are instead “aging in place,” and opting to stay in their suburban community either buying a smaller home or renovating their current home.

But both of these influential groups still want urban-like amenities — walkable communities near restaurants, shopping and entertainment. This desire is transforming the traditional suburb from suburban to “surban” — a suburban location with an urban feel. So you’re seeing more mixed-use development with a focus on interesting restaurants and shops.

Going forward, one of the biggest challenges we face as MPC developers is to maintain affordability in our communities. With land and material prices going up dramatically and with a distinct shortage of construction labor, it’s becoming more and more difficult to offer housing that the majority of today’s home buyers can afford. We are meeting this challenge with creative land plans and housing solutions that still provide a sense of community while keeping the entry level price tag at a reasonable cost.