Master-planned communities (MPCs) continue their resilience. While year-over-year sales are down, MPC sales numbers have taken less of a hit compared to all new home sales for the same period. Buyers tend to view MPCs as a safer bet in a fluctuating market because they offer unique benefits compared to traditional new home neighborhoods. As a result, MPC developers continue moving forward and planning future phases, albeit at a slower pace, and are cautiously optimistic heading into this year’s spring and summer selling season.
Even so, MPCs aren’t completely immune to market constraints and challenges, like housing unaffordability, natural resource management, and shifting buyer preferences. And one of the ways these developers can further position themselves for success is by appealing to an increasingly diverse group of buyers.
Master-planned communities can cast a wider net for potential buyers through retooling land use and site planning, and by diversifying the housing types available. Here are three master-planned community design trends emerging regionally and nationally that address current market conditions.
Re-Segmented Product Mix
Pivoting and retooling are two terms that should be familiar to those of us who’ve been in the industry longer than we care to admit. For MPC developers in particular, re-segmenting a development’s product mix is essential to staying relevant and desirable to ever-changing buyer priorities, financial situations, and lifestyle preferences.
When housing affordability is the primary obstacle, adjusting the site plan and neighborhood density may help lower the cost of entry and encourage potential buyers to step off the sidelines. This could translate to smaller lot sizes, as recent surveys reveal buyers are willing to forego some yard as long as a community offers ample outdoor amenities. Denver’s Central Park (formerly Stapleton) offers several attached housing options that seamlessly integrate into a larger master-planned community primarily dominated by single-family detached (SFD) homes. Our project for Lennar’s Green Gables featured paired homes designed in contemporary style with thoughtful articulation and four-sided architecture that offers a level of distinction on par with surrounding SFD neighborhoods.
Build to Rent Inclusion
We’re seeing more MPCs including a build to rent (BTR) component to create even more housing diversity and tap into a growing renter profile. A growing number of these households prefer many of the benefits of living in a single-family home with the ability to keep monthly housing costs manageable. These renters can enjoy the MPC lifestyle without the hefty down payment, plant roots in the community, and when the time is right, become homeowners in the community.
Low inventory, rising house prices, and high interest rates have created households with more family members living under the same roof. Millennials and Gen Zs are living at home with their parents longer to save for a down payment. On the other end of the spectrum, older parents seek alternatives to age-restricted or assisted living communities.
Offering house plans with a multi-gen suite option is a growing design trend in master-planned communities. Multigenerational plans can serve a variety of household shapes and sizes, helping families who are feeling the pinch of high housing costs. They also allow aging family members to live relatively independently while being close to their children and grandchildren.
Multi-gen suites may feature separate sitting and sleeping areas and a full private bath. Another option is an accessory dwelling unit, a fully self-contained secondary residence (attached or detached) complete with a private entrance, bed, bath, living room, and kitchen. This option offers the homeowner more long-term flexibility and potential long or short-term rental income.
Master-planned community developers in the Southwest are having to navigate the effects and constraints of climate change in the region. Water scarcity is a central issue for municipalities as they consider new residential development. Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico in particular are working with developers and builders to build water conservation efforts into MPC site plans and home design. Some water-conscious community features and programs include:
Smaller lot sizes: Reduced yard sizes require less water to maintain.
Drought-conscious landscaping: Landscape design is moving away from golf-course style lawned open spaces and toward native plants and grasses and xeriscaping. Large man-made lakes are also being eliminated.
Water wise programs: Cities across the Southwest region have adopted and enforced programs that educate and incentivize households and businesses to conserve consumption.
Building code overlays: Counties include water conservation ordinances that are required for the approval of new development.
Water recycling systems: Developers in Colorado and Arizona are investing in closed-loop system infrastructure that collects, treats, and stores storm or wastewater for community irrigation.
Building Community Connections
One of the many reasons MPCs appeal to buyers is the community-oriented lifestyle they offer. Building community connections is an important trend in master-planned communities that enhances social connections and a sense of belonging through community design and programming.
As lot sizes and yards get smaller, buyers expect more thoughtfully designed outdoor spaces and amenities. And as MPCs evolve to appeal to a diverse range of buyers and renters, these amenities should vary in interest, age, and ability.
Larger master-planned communities often include a community events manager on the payroll to enhance the lifestyle experience, and more medium and smaller MPCs are also jumping on board this trend.
Community events managers are responsible for the various programming in a community. Their outreach encourages homeowners to get outside, meet their neighbors, and take advantage of the amenities the community has to offer. They plan and execute special events like music or movies in the park, farmers markets, holiday or seasonally themed parties. They may also help plan out fitness and educational programs, as well as initiate clubs and kids’ activities.
Community events managers are also another face of the MPC and can even serve as honorary members of the marketing and sales teams. Their visibility and job function add value to community tours and provide opportunities for marketing and social media engagement both within the community and as outreach to targeted buyer groups.
Targeted Community Programming
Master-planned communities are enhancing homeowner engagement through hyper-targeted community programming. Our planning and design of the amenities at Sonders Fort Collins feature a Learning Center made up of small studios that house specialized classes, speakers, and seminars for the community’s education-oriented residents.
This is another area where a community events manager can benefit. Their resident-facing role keeps their finger on the pulse of what people like and dislike about the community programs and events calendar. The events manager can retool the programming to adapt to the community’s changing preferences.
The Desired Third Place
MPCs have a unique opportunity to create social spaces for residents that are convenient and easy to access. Often referred to as the third place, a term created by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to describe a space outside of the home (the first place) and work (second place). The third place can be any place that feels comfortable and where a homeowner can feel a sense of belonging – a place where they can become a regular and “everybody knows their name.”
Coffee shops, cafes, parks, and recreation centers are a few examples of physical locations where people can meet and get away from the social silos of home and work life. For master-planned communities, a centralized community town center with a selection of gathering, dining, and shopping spots is ideal. Large pedestrian pathways, trails, and bike paths can make the center walkable and accessible to all residential neighborhoods.
Master-planned communities continue to draw buyers because they offer a desirable way of life, perceived safety, demonstrated resale value, and a sense of belonging. MPC developers have a particular challenge due to their long build-out timelines: they must create a community with a sense of timelessness and longevity while being nimble enough to respond to changing market conditions and buyer preferences. Developers’ willingness and ability to adapt and update their product mix, amenities, and programming will keep MPCs fresh, relevant, and appealing to buyers.
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