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Developing a new-home community

by Debra Gelbart on Jun 5, 2017

Editor's note: This is the first installment of a multi-part story about the development of new-home communities as well as the myriad steps involved in building a new home. Today: a broad overview of land choice, consumer research, home design and more. 

Plenty of planning and research goes into choosing the location for the community that could become the site of your brand-new home. The first step in developing a new- home community is being on the lookout for large parcels of land that may be for sale by the state of Arizona or family farmers or ranchers, said Trevor Barger, an urban planner who founded a development assistance firm called Espiritu Loci translated, “the spirit of the place”) in Scottsdale.

Once a developer finds a suitable large tract of land for sale, the investigation begins into the available infrastructure on the land,  Barger said. For example, the developer must determine how far away the nearest fire station is and whether the municipality in which the land is situated has any restrictions for water and sewer services among numerous other considerations.

Research, visioning and planning
"We begin with a visioning process,” said Dea McDonald, senior vice president at community developer DMB and the general manager of Eastmark, a 3,200- acre master-planned community in East Mesa, “where we ask ourselves what we want to accomplish that’s different from anything else we’ve ever done before.” Creation of a master-plan follows the visioning process, he said, which is then followed by developing the strategic framework for how the land will interconnect the various uses within the community. Then the developer will decide on the thematic character and architectural style of the community.

 “The first thing we look at is the reputation of the municipality (where the plot of land is 
located),” said Norm Nicholls, president of Fulton Homes. The  builder  wants  to  know  whether the municipality has strict home-design requirements and whether “we will be allowed to personalize our homes to meet our buyers’ desires.”

Access to areas of employment, shopping, dining, medical services and transportation corridors is also considered, Nicholls said, in addition to access to quality education and recreation. 

The most important steps in launching a new community start with consumer research, according to Hal Looney, Arizona president of Shea Homes’ Active Lifestyle Communities. “This consumer input largely influences how we plan, shape and build our community.” 

The development team deliberates about the aesthetics, ambiance and natural surroundings of the community, Looney added. With land-planners, architects and engineers, “our team blueprints how the home-sites, amenities and streets are planned. Each facet of the community, from positioning amenities to where hiking and walking trails intersect between the golf course and desert surroundings, is crafted to enhance and complement the overall design," he said. The drawings really become a piece of art."

Homebuilders typically don’t want to commit to building more than about 120 homes in a single phase of a master- planned community with multiple builders, Barger said. But in a standalone subdivision offered by a single builder there can be far more homes.

Builders might opt to focus on starter homes, move-up homes or luxury homes, depending on whether buyers are likely to be mainly empty-nesters, single adults or  multi-person families.

Architects, engineers & designers 
“We ideally start the design process about one year ahead of when we want to have new models open,” said Steve Berry, senior vice president of architecture and design for Robson Communities. Berry leads the design process with the Robson executive team and when he completes the concept plan and exterior elevation designs, he then works with the architects who prepare  the  construction documents.

“The plats (maps showing how the land is divided into lots) of our neighborhoods are created by our civil engineer who works closely with the executive design team,” Berry explained. Robson works to create neighborhood character with attention to relationships of home-sites to open space and views, he said.

Attention to detail is critical

“Any complex project such as [building] a home requires attention to detail, but when you introduce new technologies, products or processes that vary from normal construction sites, the attention to detail has to be turned up a notch,” said Geoff Ferrell, chief technology officer for Mandalay Homes. “The construction of a home is truly a team effort." 

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