When families relocating to the Triangle make a short-list of the developments they want to visit, chances are Heritage is on it.
For the past 15 years, the sprawling residential development in Wake Forest and Rolesville has been among the top selling new home communities in the Triangle, averaging 165 sales per year since it opened in 2001.
But with only 52 lots remaining out of 2,530, the residential build out of Heritage is almost complete. By the middle of next year, the half-dozen custom builders that control those lots expect to have sold their remaining inventory.
Those sales will conclude one of the most successful residential developments in Triangle history, a project that has drawn national attention for its ability to maintain its home values and pace of sales through a period that included one of the worst housing crashes on record.
“We’ve always been a leader in the Triangle,” said Clark Alcock, Heritage’s director of residential operations for more than 10 years. “But when we were able to maintain that through the downturn all of a sudden we were appearing on top 20 lists of nationwide developments because things were just dropping out of the bottom and we were still maintaining our pace.”
Annual new home sales peaked at 270 in Heritage in 2006, but rebounded quickly after the downturn and totaled 252 in 2012. In recent years, the sales price of new home sales in Heritage has matched the list price, a sign of the development’s desirability among buyers.
Alcock and Heritage’s developer, Andy Ammons, point to a number of factors that help explain the development’s sustained success.
Ammons decision to build Heritage’s amenities – its swim centers, greenways, playgrounds and golf course – in the early stages gave potential buyers confidence that he would deliver on his promises. The wisdom of this approach became particularly evident when the housing market crashed and many Triangle homeowners found themselves in new developments with no idea if, or when, their promised amenities would get built.
The development’s decision to have a central Heritage sales office, and to remain involved in the homeowners association for a decade, also helped it ensure that the original vision of Heritage was carried out.
Initial plans for Heritage called for about 900 homes on roughly 1,008 acres, but Ammons continued to add parcels throughout the years.
For a development that now covers roughly 1,600 acres, Heritage has largely avoided the cookie-cutter look of other large developments where a single regional or national homebuilder is responsible for entire subdivisions.
Outside of a handful of homes that were built by national builders, Heritage has almost exclusively used custom builders, with a team of anywhere from 12 to 22 companies active at any one time.
This approach has helped ensure a diversity of architecture and price points within the development, although the sweet spot for Heritage sales has been four-bedroom homes priced between $375,000 and $450,000.
It also meant that few builders were caught holding a large number of lots when the market turned. While some builders active in Heritage did run into trouble, for the most part the development provided a lifeline.
“That’s what kept us afloat,” said Barney Baxter, president of Medallion Construction, which has sold about 125 homes in Heritage over the past seven years.
The long view
Heritage moved quickly to adjust lot prices when the market turned in 2009, allowing its builders to construct houses at prices that were more likely to sell. One novel strategy employed by Ammons and Alcock was to give builders the flexibility to recalculate the price of their lots based on market conditions while ensuring that Heritage would earn a fixed percentage of any sale.
This allowed builders to build smaller, more affordable homes during the downturn while also allowing for lot prices to rise once the market began to improve.
“So our builders could still build the prices that people wanted in the market, but when prices went back up we could get lot prices back where they needed to be,” Alcock said.
It also helped ensure that Heritage didn’t experience the severe drop in prices, on a price per square foot basis, that some other communities did. It kept new homes competitive with resales in Heritage, which represent the biggest competition for builders.
“We never tried to make the most money at any one time, we always kind of had a long-term outlook on things,” Ammons said. “Some people were not able to be that long-term. ... They had to be more short-sighted in returning money to their investors or stock holders.”
The final section now being built in Heritage is in the community’s eastern section in Rolesville. Given that Heritage aimed to always have an inventory of 100 new homes available, the community’s completion is likely to give a boost to nearby projects with inventory.
Ammons, 55, still owns more than 1,000 acres of land in the area, and he said in recent months he’s been approached by landowners adjacent to Heritage who are interested in selling. But Ammons is content for this to be the final section.
While he’s still involved in permitting and other approvals for projects in the Wake Forest area, he’s not interested in being the hands-on developer for another Heritage.
“Honestly, I’m just tired of doing it,” Ammons said. “... Thirty years is a long time to do anything.”