It Takes a Village, Then Another...

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It's always challenging for a production builder to swap longtime house plans for new, untried ones. In Denver, competing in a market dominated by national, public builders, Village Homes of Colorado was ready to change with the times, and keep on changing.

March 01, 2006

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It's always challenging for a production builder to swap longtime house plans for new, untried ones. In Denver, competing in a market dominated by national, public builders, Village Homes of Colorado was ready to change with the times, and keep on changing.

The new home series, the Haven Collection, was first built in April 2002 at the builder's Village of Five Parks community in the northwest Denver suburb of Arvada. Since then, this line has graced another, then another Village Homes development. Today, the Haven Collection is the builder's top-selling line, and is selling in its fourth metro-Denver community: Idyllwilde, in the town of Parker, Colo.

 

The Tiburon model at Idyllwilde, shown here, is a standout floor plan in this top-selling series. In this fourth community, pricing for this plan starts at $372,000; Tiburons sell for more in some communities, less in others. In the context of the Haven series, it's at the high end of the line in price and size. A key aspect of this plan is its ability to pack 2800 square feet of living space into a 45 × 60-foot exterior envelope. This gives it the versatility to fit the market's small-lot norm of 55 × 100 feet, and yet still provide a higher amenity level than many competing offerings.

Market Conditions

"We had a couple of successful product lines we'd been using for several years, but things were changing," Matt Osborn, senior vice president of home building, says. Municipal growth controls and rising land costs were among the forces leading builders toward smaller lots and higher-density land plans. At the same time, that higher density was clustered to allow for larger tracts of open space. Village Homes was already planning and building communities in this manner, ahead of many others in the market.

The five-plan Haven Collection tapped this opportunity and a desire to "bring suburban land planning and architecture to a new level," Osborne says. He saw it as a kind of hybrid design. It would serve as a perfect transition between a development's conventional neighborhood areas and those areas with Traditional Neighborhood Design-inspired elements, such mixed-use areas and small-lot, alley-loaded homes.

Managing Change

"The new product line presented a leap in terms of taking a chance in the way we handle design," Mike Sutherland, vice president of construction operations, says. "A big piece of having it be successful would lie in the ability to put these smaller-lot homes into a community and [still produce] the right margins."

Additionally, the company would tailor its elevations with more attention to the character of the community. Sutherland, who chairs Village's design team, has instituted a program to evaluate all plans annually and reevaluate them when bringing them into a new community. This may entail a "full re-release of a plan, taking it through the full bid and buy-out process" including new cost estimations, says Sutherland.

This wasn't necessary when bringing the Haven collection to Idyllwilde, but there was a goal at the outset to bring more rustic elements to match the terrain. "The idea was to interpret the parcel as something that might have been a ranch or farmstead," Sutherland says. This theme was implemented in the architecture of Idyllwilde's farmhouse-influenced welcome center and a recreation/exercise facility is designed to look like a barn conversion, silo and all.

Having evolved from three previous communities since 2002, the Tiburon is different, but not all of the changes are easily noticed. When the Town of Parker, home to Idyllwilde, became the first of many jurisdictions to implement more stringent energy codes, Village Homes accommodated. The builder did more than the requisite HVAC duct routing adjustments; it reconsidered window placement and other aspects of comfort. Sutherland says this was a "whole-house engineering" effort that increased production as well as heating and cooling efficiency. The latter, in turn, fuels greater customer satisfaction.

Changes that are more visible in the Idyllwilde rendition of the Tiburon include new colors, masonry and roofline changes. There's also a new level of detail on the exterior elevations, including corbels and exposed rafters. Additionally, an all-new Prairie School exterior treatment debuted here (as shown on these pages).

On the inside, consumer preferences are shifting as flat-panel TVs and other new technologies affect entertainment spaces. So for the first-time, at Idyllwilde, the Tiburon adds a see-through fireplace and a new entertainment/media wall between the family room and den. This was a studied addition of a feature Sutherland says is "in flux."

While the exterior elevation of this Tiburon model is new, it borrows from another elevation the use of a porte cochère. The feature lends a broader, horizontal appearance to a narrow house and helps hide the car for greater curb appeal. Finally, the port cochère creates "an extra, enclosed space for kids to play ... to create a kind of internal courtyard," says Larry Moore, partner in charge for architectural firm Bloodgood Sharp Buster's central division office.

Key elements remain on the interior. The Tiburon keeps its stairway in the middle of the plan. It separates the front from the rear living space, but still provides see-through openness. Halfway up to the second floor, a landing with a window bench provides a memory point in the form of a nook. Other popular holdover amenities include a double-tray ceiling in the dining room, a second-floor loft space with room for an optional fourth bedroom and a curved balcony overlooking the first-floor foyer.

"These features don't add a whole lot more cost and bring a higher level of design that buyers aren't used seeing In this price range," Osborn says, "so they help set us apart in a marketplace that's pretty crowded at the Tiburon's price point."

Continuing Success

The Tiburons' value equation adds up to more amenities per square foot rather than more square feet per dollar. "There are still people out there looking for value in terms of price per square foot, but we got a lot of positive feedback on the design of the Haven Collection as a whole, and the Tiburon specifically," Osborn says. "That's been an important criterion of our decision-making process as we've evolved our designs.

Business results bear him out. For the first half of 2005, the Haven Collection was Village's best-selling series at approximately 22.5 percent of sales across 18 product lines, and the Tiburon comprised 20 percent of Haven sales.

At present there are three primary Tiburon elevations and additional community-specific versions mainly to accommodate site-specific grade issues. At least three more Tiburon elevations, including one with Victorian elements, are in the pipeline for a new community under development.

Osborn says the Haven Collection has exceeded expectations in every community, and characterizes the aesthetics as "icing on the cake."

 

Vital Stats

Location: Parker, Colo.

Builder/developer: Village Homes of Colorado, Englewood, Colo.

Architect: Bloodgood Sharp Buster Architects and Planners, Central Div., Denver

Interior merchandiser: Hillary Reed Interiors, Littleton, Colo.

Home type: single-family

Square footage: 2796

Minimum lot size: 55 × 100 feet

Current model opened: January 2005, Idyllwilde

Price: $372,500 at Idyllwilde; higher and lower at other communities

First model opened: March 2002, City of Five Parks, Arvada, Colo.

Buyer profile: move-up families

Product family: Haven collection

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