California Courtyard Home Brings Buyers Back Into Market

An innovative Southern California courtyard model with enough pizzazz to help Toll Brothers sell 21 homes in less than eight months.
By Bill Lurz, Senior Editor | July 31, 2008

The front elevation of Toll Brothers' new Ironwood model at The Legends at Vista del Verde in Yorba Linda, Calif., gives no hint that the front foor opens into an exterior courtyard.
Photos: Eric Lucero

Sales backlogs are a rare commodity in many markets these days, especially in moribund Southern California. But Toll Brothers is building through 50 sales in two sister neighborhoods that opened models last fall at its master-planned community of Vista del Verde in Orange County. And at least part of the credit has to go to a new house plan the public giant debuted there: the 5,257 square-foot Ironwood, a two-story courtyard model that's spurring traffic to The Legends, a neighborhood of 79 luxury homes on lots 65 feet wide by as much as 120 feet deep.

Toll senior project manager Seth Ring worked with architects Jim Langston and Chuck Steichen, principals of Orange, Calif.-based LSA Architecture, to develop the new plan, which caters to Californians' love of indoor/outdoor entertaining. "As I was setting up the project, it was something I thought would be fun to go through," Ring says, "to create a new plan and see what that's like within Toll Brothers."

Langston believes it's something builders will have to do more of these days to coax buyers back into the market. "Builders need to offer something exciting, something buyers can't find in an existing home," he says. "The Ironwood is like that. Courtyard homes are not completely new, but in California today, you see them mostly in beach communities, and generally they are single-story plans. This is a two-story courtyard home, and it's more formal and elegant than any courtyard plan in this market. It's been a big winner for Toll."

Toll offers four floor plans in The Legends and another four in its sister neighborhood of slightly smaller homes, The Masters, where lots are 55 feet wide. All are base-priced at more than $1 million. Yet Toll has already sold 50 homes between the two neighborhoods, including six Ironwoods. The other model home at The Legends, the Trabuco, is neck and neck with the

The actual interior entry of the 5,257 square-foot home is at the foyer (top), where a circular staircase provides a stunning focal point. The courtyard (middle) has a design similar to what you'd find in a home's interior. The bathroom (bottom) features Tuscan styling.
Ironwood for sales leadership. What makes it work

Peruse the Ironwood floor plan and photography and you should be able to get a sense of how it works. But the real strength of this house is the way it compares to others of a similar size. "Houses of 5,000 square feet tend to be dark inside," Langston says. "The center courtyard of this home brings light into all the spaces, and we have generous windows on the exterior walls as well."

The two-story courtyard doesn't get a lot of direct sunlight, but it spreads diffuse natural light throughout the home. "That natural light is so much more attractive than any kind of artificial light," Langston says. "It's a fun place to be."

And fun is the other attraction; this is a party house. It still has a view plane to the rear, and the pool and deck at the back are accessible to party guests through sliding doors off the family room. But the courtyard and its massive (optional) stone fireplace will pull guests in another direction, through the court foyer and a wide open wall created by an optional telescoping glass. A big flat-screen TV in the loggia — tucked behind the two-way fireplace — adds another attraction. A party at this house will probably flow into every downstairs space except the guest casita. Because the courtyard and loggia seem like indoor rooms, this house lives much bigger than its air-conditioned square footage.

The location factor

Toll's regional president for California, Jim Boyd, admits there are more factors at work in the success of The Legends than just design. Vista del Verde is a hugely successful master-planned community of 879 acres, where Toll began selling houses in 2000 and has already sold more than 1,000 homes. "It was a great land buy," he says. "Our partner in the development is Aera Energy, a consortium of oil companies that joined all their California land holdings into a separate entity. This property in Yorba Linda was an operating oil field. We donated 200 acres to the city for a municipal golf course. That helped spur approval, and it also enhanced the value of many lots.

Vista del Verde also benefits from being in the highly regarded Yorba Linda School District, and The Legends site is at the highest elevation in Vista del Verde, adjacent to Cleveland National Forest and the golf course. "A lot of people had been waiting for these lots to become available when we opened sales," Boyd says.

The largest segment of buyers come for this project have been Asian and Middle Eastern families, many who are small business owners from towns in the San Gabriel Valley, which has a large concentration of Asian population.

Interior merchandiser Doris Pearlman of Denver-based Possibilities For Design says Ironwood's interior has an old-world feel to match its Tuscan stone and stucco exterior styling. A massive, two-tired island (above) separates the kitchen from the breakfast nook and family room beyond.

The bottom line

Toll has already sold 21 houses at The Legends, at base prices starting at more than $1.42 million. The Ironwood starts at $1.48 million. Toll doesn't build spec homes in the community and charges premiums for view lots. The average finished home price is $1.55 million. "We've been able to hold our prices without incentives, which is a major accomplishment in this market," Boyd says

The success of this new Toll model points to product innovation as a key component of recovery. When you're out looking for bargain land, plan to hit that ground with housing product that's new, different and exciting.

Project Profile

Community: The Legends at Vista del Verde
Location: Yorba Linda, Calif.
Model: Ironwood
Size: 5,257 square feet
Builder: Toll Brothers, Orange, Calif.
Architect: LSA Architecture, Orange, Calif.
Interior Designer: Possibilities For Design, Denver

Products Used

Appliances: KitchenAid
Carpet: Shaw
Entry door hardware: Baldwin
HVAC equipment: Carrier
Lighting: Progress
Paint: Frazee
Plumbing fixtures: Kohler
Roof tile: Eagle
Stone: El Dorado
Windows: Linford