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This article first appeared in the PB August 1999 issue of Pro Builder.

Howard Hughes liked to do things in a big way, and the corporation that bears his name is operating under the same rubric. But while the Spruce Goose never flew, sales and accolades are soaring at Summerlin in Las Vegas. The 25,000-acre community, developed by the Howard Hughes Corp., an affiliate of the Rouse Co. of Columbia, Md., was the top selling master-planned community the past two years, and has been number one six of the last seven years. In fact, preliminary 1999 sales figures are about 50% higher than last year’s staggering number of 2881 new home sales.

Affordable apartments, luxury condos and custom homes on top-notch golf courses blend together beautifully, and the developer is very careful to maintain a fairly consistent 35:1 jobs to housing ratio.

The sheer size of the project is enough to draw attention, but throw in those sales numbers and everyone starts to take notice. "Not since the development of Irvine Ranch in California has there been a community of Summerlin’s scale or sales success," says Gadi Kaufman, managing director of Robert Charles Lesser & Co., a Los Angeles-based real estate consulting firm.

Today there are more than 30 home builders developing more than 60 neighborhoods, with more than 230 model homes available to tour. Ten villages are either completed or under active development, with 30 villages planned by projected build-out in 2015. So until another developing company decides to build a city of 160,000 people, Summerlin’s top status seems secure.

Size could have worked against the community, as a development this large could seem too gargantuan and impersonal for many buyers looking for a comfortable neighborhood lifestyle. But Summerlin’s plan of double tree-lined sidewalks, stylish village walls and meticulous product placement give each neighborhood within each village an identity which meshes with the others. To accomplish this, the master developer was and still is very choosy about which builders are allowed to buy parcels.

Nearly one-third of Summerlin’s acreage is devoted to open space, 10% to commercial space, 10% to attached housing and 47% to single-family homes.

"The criteria starts with the builder’s reputation," says Dan Van Epp, president of the Hughes Corp.’s Summerlin division. "Once they are in here we look very closely at their customer service record within Summerlin through an annual builder review."

The builders don’t seem to mind this scrutiny, as it helps them keep both the master developer and home buyers happy. Mary Connelly, president of the largely autonomous Las Vegas division of Presley Homes, based in Newport Beach, Calif., states that the strong sense of partnership between developer, builder and home buyer is a big benefit to building in Summerlin.

"As long as the three sides are meeting each other’s needs, then you have a very successful triangle," says Connelly, who is building around 300 units annually in Summerlin.

Part of the relationship between the Hughes Corp. and Summerlin’s builders is an involved and intensive design review process that ensures each village integrates seamlessly with the entire project. "We have a full design review department that looks very carefully at site planning, engineering and aesthetics of each of our individual products," says Van Epp.

Mark Oiness, owner of Westmark Homes, sees this process as a benefit not only to the entire development, but to each individual builder as well. As the smallest builder in Summerlin (building between 100 and 200 homes per year in Las Vegas only), he finds "it is easier for me to keep pace with the bigger guys here because Summerlin won’t allow direct competition as far as flooding an area with one product type."

The master plan, design reviews and builder reviews are the major ingredients that have combined to give Summerlin a sterling reputation that spills over to benefit all builders in the community.

"Summerlin’s reputation of credibility, quality and reliability have really helped our marketing efforts," says Connelly. "It generates so much traffic in our sales centers." -R.F.

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