Newsroom

Walton Industry Leaders Comment on Trending 2021 Residential Development Activity for Leading U.S. Markets

2021/04/20

CORPORATE RELEASE: Walton is pleased to provide commentary on emerging housing trends and land development occurring in its key markets of Atlanta, Denver, Phoenix, Texas, Florida, California and nationwide overall.  

Walton has been buying and selling land in the United States and Canada for over 40 years, and recently adjusted its business strategy to support the growing demand for just-in-time land inventory within the homebuilding industry and to better serve its global investors. With over 7,217 acres under contract across various U.S. regions in 2020 and based on Q1 2021 activity, the outlook for the remainder of the year is positive with a projection of a substantial increase in activity.

National Trends 

“Residential uses across the country have been a bright spot in the economy over the past nine months,” said Ed Fleming of Walton Global Holdings. “Residential -- specifically single-family - has flourished with low mortgage rates, well capitalized builders with manageable debt, and buyers that want to get out of apartments and townhomes,” Fleming said.

·       Working from home and virtual school for children have been both good factors for the homebuying market because they are allowing homebuyers to look to markets farther outside of city centers.

·       There has been significant migration from northern (colder, higher tax) states to southern (warmer, lower tax) states, but residential is a bright spot in the economy and homebuilders are anticipating continued demand throughout the U.S. in 2021.

·       Walton is seeing demand for suburban (and even rural) land on the horizon, with such demand being driven in certain areas by large-scale corporate activity, such as relocation of company headquarters from one state to another. 

Walton is also seeing more interest in single-family homes for-rent communities. More traditional builders are seeking land to develop for-rent single family communities, rather than apartments or other types of multi-family development.  Single-family for-rent developments provides an option for comfortable living in a beautifully-managed community with plenty of outdoor space, without the need to be tied to a mortgage.

Metro Atlanta 

Anthony Sparrow, Walton’s General Manager for Georgia, says that he expects the Atlanta housing market to remain strong throughout 2021. Record-low interest rates are enticing buyers into the market and giving them more buying power. With positive factors such as population growth, employment growth, and lower cost of living, Atlanta has great economic factors to drive home sales. 

“Prices are up, there is still a lack of land inventory from the downturn of 2007-2009 when builders left the market, and as the pandemic provides more time for people to look for housing, you create a very positive environment for a homebuilder in Atlanta and other states as well,” said Sparrow.

·       Builders are paying more attention to homes having office and fitness space to work comfortably from home; lot sizes for single-family homes aren’t necessarily getting bigger, rather these features are designed within existing square foot ranges.

·       People are not only moving away from the city to the nearby suburbs. The lack of land in Atlanta submarkets has resulted in many people moving upwards of 60 miles outside of the city.  Sparrow has seen more interest in these outward properties, with several letters of intent from national builders currently underway.

Walton entered into residential land option agreements with national homebuilders for 1,595 single-family residential lots in the metro Atlanta area in 2020.

Metro Phoenix

“There was just a slight blip in the early days when we saw the real estate market being impacted by the pandemic, as homebuilders shifted to online marketing and successfully began to handle remote closings,” said Jen Ruby, Senior Vice President, Land for Walton, about the impact of the pandemic on Phoenix metro real estate markets.

“In 2020, tight inventories drove up the price of homes and based on the data we are seeing we expect this will continue in these markets in 2021 with inventories continuing to be relatively low,” she said.

·       Phoenix is projected to be among the top 10 housing markets this year, ranking as the sixth-best market with an influx of retirees and millennials flocking to the desert. This is due largely to the state’s cost of living, tech employment opportunities, cultural attractions, and vast selection of golf courses, according to Realtor.com.

·       Home sales in Phoenix increased by 11.4% in 2020 and are expected to increase by 7% in price in 2021.

·       In the Phoenix suburbs, like the West Valley cities of Goodyear and Avondale, plus Pinal County and Casa Grande, buyers are going to those periphery suburbs where they can afford the bigger house with a pool and a yard.

Walton entered into residential land option agreements with national homebuilders for 1,238 acres of single-family residential lots in the metro Phoenix and Tucson areas in 2020.

Metro Denver 

“Overall, the Denver market saw single-family permits slightly down over the previous year, but demand from homebuyers has remained strong and we’re seeing it translate into demand for land,” Ruby said. “We’re now getting traction with potential buyers on projects that weren’t attracting interest in early 2020.”

·       Metro Denver housing market remains consistently strong and skewed to property owners, while housing inventory has hit a record low.

·       Traditional master plans are still a popular segment of the market, and Walton is seeing developers seeking land where they can offer more variety in housing product, especially in smaller homes. But it’s still about affordability; people typically want as much house as they can afford and it’s a tradeoff between location and size/features.

·       The suburbs providing more home for the dollar is even more true in the Denver markets as Walton is seeing a significant increase in demand for land in places like Loveland, Berthoud, and areas of Weld County. The challenge in identifying such land is that periphery markets are not necessarily more affordable, due to the lack of infrastructure.  

Walton entered into residential land option agreements with national homebuilders for 1,593 acres of single-family residential lots in the metro Denver area in 2020.

Metro Orlando

“The global pandemic has taught us a new way to live, work and play and anyone in the homebuilding business from the land up to the roof has to account for that,” said Edward Fleming, Executive Vice President for Walton. “People need space to work from home, teach their kids, and outdoor living areas. With no state income tax and great weather, we see many relocations to Florida and we expect to provide land to satisfy that demand from our current land inventory of 7,000 acres and future acquisitions,” Fleming said.

·       Starts and sales have gone up in every Florida metro area for nearly every type of residential unit.

·       As home prices start to rise, build-for-rent communities are starting to grow as a viable choice to meet the needs of families looking to relocate in Florida that want more space.

Walton entered into residential land option agreements with national homebuilders for 128 acres of single-family residential in the metro Orlando area in 2020.

Metro Dallas Ft-Worth and Austin

“With the relocation of large companies from California to Texas, specifically Austin, the need for new, quality housing is growing quickly,” said Edward Fleming, Executive Vice President for Walton. “All of our Austin assets over 11,000 acres have some kind of interest, activity, or agreement in place. We see the same in Dallas-Ft Worth and our ability to provide ‘just in time’ land is a strategic advantage,” Fleming said.

·       Lot supply is tight in Dallas with less than 20 months of supply available and a surge in new starts.

·       The  annual start rate in Dallas is over 43,000 units and growing.

·       The surge in starts in Austin was 45.2% (4Q 2020 compared to 4Q 2019).

Walton entered into residential land option agreements with national homebuilders for 1,789 acres of single-family residential lots located in the Dallas-Ft Worth and Austin area in 2020.

Inland Empire

“Walton is seeing land inventory running very low, making it tough for builders to maintain high absorptions without significant land development of entitled lots,” said Ed Hadley, Executive Vice President of Walton, speaking about the Inland Empire marketplace. “Large public builders who have the capital to afford higher-priced lots that California inherently offers compared to many other states in the U.S. are gaining in overall market share. We are working strategically with builders to identify land for acquisition and there has been a definite shift in home purchase patterns, ” he said. 

  • Telecommuting is significantly impacting housing choices in the metro Los Angeles area with less traffic and reduced number of days required in the office. We are seeing a spike of interest in suburban markets in the Inland Empire, and the trend is expected to continue throughout 2021 with many industries adapting to new standards of 2-3 in-office work days. What used to be a two-hour, 30-mile commute now may take as little as 45 minutes depending on the day in outlying areas of urban Los Angeles.   
  • Although there have been reports of Californians moving out of the state, that represents a small fraction of the overall population. There are a large percentage of renters in the Los Angeles area who now see a window of opportunity to own a home – something they may not have ever thought possible and existing homes are not available in the resale market, driving demand for newly built homes, and a need for land to satisfy that demand. 

Walton entered into residential land option agreements with national homebuilders for 630 acres of single-family residential lots located in Riverside and San Bernardino counties in the Los Angeles metro area in 2020.

Walton continues to be actively involved in land acquisition, planning and disposition activities in specific markets, and engages with a number of detailed data sources in connection with those activities to make strategic decisions. Walton identifies land in high growth areas, engages with builders interested in acquiring the land for future development, and enters into “exit-focused” agreements with those builders. After acquisition, the land is held by Walton-administered structures until it is ready for development, at which point the land is typically acquired by a builder or developer and developed in phases.