Consistent with recent years, water remains the top trend among the nation's top-performing master plans.

Among the top 10 master-planned communities for the first quarter, Zonda Advisory principal Mollie Carmichael shared they all have a water feature. Water features continue to add value and provide a coastal feel for plans located in land-locked areas.

“[Water] is changing the value of some of these more inland distant locations and giving people a reason to move,” Carmichael noted during Zonda’s most recent master plan webinar. “But most importantly, with [water features], it allows you to push your density. When you bring these kinds of features in, you are changing the kind of density and profitability you can get around these massive bodies of water.”

Carmichael highlighted that water features can be a value-add for master plans not only in warmer climate areas, such as Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas, but also in Midwestern and colder Western climates as well. While reiterating the message that water has become the new golf for master plans, Carmichael added that the sport is beginning to trend back, benefiting from a popularity boost during COVID-19 among Gen Y and Gen Z individuals.

Among the top-performing master plans, product segmentation, scale, entertainment, and affordability remain top trends.

“Affordability really is a key to moving large volumes like some of these top master plans,” Carmichael said.

She also highlighted several emerging master plan trends, including energy-conserving features, multimodal transportation, multigenerational living, and features that provide hybrid working environments.

“We have so many people actually working out of their home, but not necessarily wanting to stay inside their home. [They want] to walk out the front door, grab a cup of coffee, go to the community center, and have some interaction with other people,” Carmichael said. “[They] still get work done in a fresh environment without being on the road for 45 minutes, because many of these master plans aren’t 10 minutes away from the employment centers.”

Top-Performing Master Plans in Q1
During the webinar, Carmichael shared the top-performing master plans in the country based on sales, starts, and closings for the first quarter. While the top two master plans remained the same as 2022—with Florida's The Villages as No. 1 and Lakewood Ranch as No. 2—there was movement in performance across the remainder of the top 10 in the first quarter.

Sunterra in Katy, Texas—a master plan that ranked outside the top 10 for 2022—was the third best-performing master plan in the first quarter, ranking third for sales and starts and sixth for closings during the quarter. Summerlin in Las Vegas moved down a spot from 2022 to fourth in the first quarter, ranking 10th in sales, ninth in starts, and third for closings. Bridgeland in Cyprus, Texas—the 18th-ranked master plan for 2022—broke into the top five in the first quarter, ranking fifth among the top master plans in sales and fourth in starts. Among the top five master plans for the quarter, Carmichael noted pricing and size were consistent.

“I think one of the things I want to look at for all of the top five, most of their homes are priced under $350,000, and most of their homes are sized under 2,500 [square feet],” Carmichael said.

In addition, the first quarter marked a reversal in the starts-to-sales relationship for the top master plans. While 20 of the top 25 master plans had higher starts than sales for the full year of 2022, 80% of the top master plans had more sales than starts during the first quarter. Four master plans—Epperson in Wesley Chapel, Florida; Folsom Ranch in Folsom, California; Ontario Ranch in Ontario, California; and Santa Rita Ranch in Liberty Hill, Texas—had 100% more sales than starts in the first quarter.

“Everybody expected the first quarter to be so much worse than it was. We’ve had a heck of a quarter, and I can’t tell you how many builders and developers I’m talking to that are now trying to catch up because they thought it would be a softer start to 2023 than it’s actually been,” she said.

Looking ahead, Carmichael said upcoming master plans are “overwhelmingly” in Arizona, Texas, California, and Colorado.