Land

'The Vision Thing' And Its Role Driving Orders In Dodgy Times

Clayton Garrett and Scott Snodgrass' Indigo business case may be their vision's power, portability, and scale. It could well be a fresh residential real estate business model in the making.

Land

'The Vision Thing' And Its Role Driving Orders In Dodgy Times

Clayton Garrett and Scott Snodgrass' Indigo business case may be their vision's power, portability, and scale. It could well be a fresh residential real estate business model in the making.

June 17th, 2024
'The Vision Thing' And Its Role Driving Orders In Dodgy Times
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We just opened up sales for our cottages and duets,” Tracy Brown, Houston division president for Empire Communities, tells The Builder’s Daily, commenting on out-of-the-gate sales action at Houston-area’s brand new Indigo agrihood in suburban Richmond, TX. “Today’s Friday. We launched sales this past Monday, and we’re at 20 sales on just two of our three products offered so far.”

Pent-up demand gets a nod in Brown’s mind as an assisting role in the burst of mojo from Indigo’s grand opening. It’s another factor, however, that accounts for the more important fuel for demand.

Vision.

The vision of what they're building and how they want this community to live is pretty incredible, and especially for first-time developers,” Brown says. “You don't normally get that vision and do those things right out of the box. They went into it with a mindset of, ‘Hey, this is our vision of how we want a community to live.’”

The “they” Brown refers to are Indigo community pioneers Clayton Garrett and Scott Snodgrass, co-founders of Meristem Communities. Right now, Garrett and Snodgrass' Indigo business case may be their vision's power, portability, and scale. It could well be a fresh residential real estate business model in its infancy.

We’ll explore that, but let’s step back and consider the context.

Vision’s regard as a bulwark of American business dynamism tends to run hot and cold.

One minute, vision gets credit for rocketing an enterprise to unimagined blue-sky expanses — a juggernaut ingesting consumers, business partners, stakeholders, and team members into its thrall as though it were some kind of vast involuntary muscle.

By turns and in less flattering light, vision’s ineffable nature may stick out in people’s minds as an impractical flight of strategic fancy or, worse, get incriminated with woefully costly business folly. Some years, business stakeholders require business management vision. Then, like that, they may dismiss it as a highfalutin impediment to ROI.

In residential real estate development, after all is said and done, vision is not a “soft skill” at all. Rather, it's a core competency and a competitive playmaker.

A well-articulated vision provides a framework within which ROI-focused decisions can be made. On the other hand, consistent positive ROI can help in realizing the long-term vision of the company.” – Understanding and Integrating Vision and ROI in Business Strategy - Shubhrangshu Barman Roy, Ph.D

What’s more, the gradients and nuances of vision’s specific, tangible, inextricable role in a developer’s strategic and operational toolbox add up to clear competitive advantage realities in a market such as the one we encounter in mid-2024, where day-to-day and week-by-week demand trends seem undecided about whether to remain steady, power forward, or duck and cover.

A puts-and-takes, better-than-expected 18-month-plus run of new-order demand recently began showing signs of unsettling pushes and pulls, new reasons to hesitate, new levels of head-wind velocity, and tail-wind iffiness.

So, where exactly does vision fit into this picture? This question rises in importance, particularly as 5,000 or more new communities currently cue up to ignite new-neighborhood offerings for the remaining tens of millions of Millennial, GenZ, and Baby Boom households striving for their next new chapter through the 2020s and beyond.

Vision: A Skill Set

Try telling David Weekley Homes Houston area president Brock Eller or Empire’s Tracy Brown that vision’s not a practical, real-time, and in-real-life operational model for selling new homes in a tricky economic and consumer sentiment backdrop right now. Notwithstanding Houston’s current economic strength and the relative resiliency of its diverse metro area economic underpinnings, both Eller and Brown, point to the vision Garrett and Snodgrass have brought to Indigo as a business bona fide.

Indigo has a distinct land plan designed for people first, not cars. Sidewalks and narrower streets link the homes while prioritizing pedestrian safety and walkability. A philosophy driving Indigo’s development vision is the belief that people will walk more if there are more interesting places to go. Indigo Commons, the mixed-use town center and heart of the neighborhood, is paramount to this philosophy, bringing accessible food and beverage offerings, boutique shops, neighborhood services, and more within walking distance from most homes. A network of car-free mews on alternating streets throughout the community is also central to this vision. These green spaces are fronted by homes and accessible right out the front door or by a short walk. The mews have been designed and activated with their own character and purpose. These vibrant spaces are integral to infusing Indigo with a sense of belonging and community spirit, serving as focal points for social interaction and outdoor recreation to enrich the lives of residents and visitors.

The vision of what Clayton and Scott are doing with Indigo, the walkability, the wide streets, trails throughout, being able to truly be neighbors again and get back to what life used to be like, … it’s all going to going to have a whole different feel than just some random master plan community out there,” Empire Communities’ Tracy Brown tells us.

According to Brown, Empire Communities will construct 17 one-and two-story cottages (smaller than single-family homes with no garages), across four plans ranging from approximately 939 to 1,416 square feet, 2 to 3 bedrooms, 2 to 2.5 bathrooms, and front porches. 38 three-story townhomes with rear alley-load garages will also be offered by Empire Communities. Townhomes have shared walls and individual driveways, with six plans anticipated to range from approximately 1,189 to 1,641 square feet with 2 to 3 bedrooms, 2 to 3 bathrooms, and front porches or stoops, depending on the plan.

Additionally, Empire Communities plans 30 two-story duets with rear garages. These connected paired homes will share one wall and range from approximately 1,446 to 1,815 square feet across three different plans and include 3 bedrooms, 2.5 to 3 bathrooms, and front porches. The homebuilder is also constructing 60 two-story clusters — a quartet of homes grouped together to form a cul-de-sac with a shared drive lane and side garages. Clusters will range from approximately 1,970 to 2,508 square feet across 6 plans with 3 to 4 bedrooms, 3 to 3.5 bathrooms, and front porches.

This also fits right into our wheelhouse right now, with the vision and atmosphere of the elevations,” says Brown. “We look for something down the fairway and then something we want to do specialty products that, number one, can be affordable, and Number 2, that can offer our customer a different way to live.”

Vision Then and Now

How many residential groundbreakers have stood transfixed before countless acres of ranch or farmland stretching out to horizons, thinking, “This can be a place full of rooftops...”?

In the case of Indigo, a 235-acre local farm-powered neighborhood in Fort Bend County, TX, where WeekleyEmpire, and Highland Homes have contracted lots from Meristem Communities and just launched sales initiatives to complete a total of 261 homes planned for phase one, the vision – farmland into rooftops – has a twist. When it’s complete, Indigo will be an interconnected neighborhood with more than 800 homes, a 12-acre thriving town center called Indigo Commons, 42 acres of agriculture, including a human-scale working farm and pasture, and more than 60 percent of the community dedicated to open space.

We wrote earlier about the genesis of this vision here:

One thing for sure is that Clayton Garrett and Scott Snodgrass, the two partners at Meristem Communities who cultivated, seeded, and brought Indigo into being, picked a helluva time to be beginners in a time of heavy-going headwinds and turbulence the likes of which are testing the mettle of even the most wizened and canny of new residential construction and real estate players.
And the thing is – like some of those now-familiar power players who started their firms in the darkest days of the Great Financial Crash and housing depression of 2007-through-2021 – Garrett and Snodgrass believe that there's no better time than now, not only to begin bringing their brainchild to life, but to be a beginner on the learning curve of residential placemaking writ large.
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few." ― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
Garrett and Snodgrass ascribe in full to the "Beginner's Mind" mentality, not out of a sense that others' expertise is not worth building on, but rather from a belief that all of that expertise has – to date – left potential residents' needs unmet. The Meristem founders teamed with an award-winning partner lineup – DAHLIN Architects, CultivateLAND landscape architecture,  John Burns Real Estate Consulting's Ken Perlman, Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki's tst ink, Belinda Sward Strategic Solutions, and KANTAR's Mindbase national marketing knowledge base – to go to school on making an impact among consumer households and prospective buyers and renters in a highly competitive Houston-area marketplace.
‘We started as outsiders in the industry, and – perhaps because we owned the land – we were able to start with a larger project ambition relative to people who are new to the industry," Clayton Garrett tells The Builder's Daily. "It was our desire to push on some of the boundaries in design, in planning, and in connection to the space of what's so predominantly done in this area. The 'beginner's mind' allowed us to level-set what people really preferred from a livability, engagement, and preference standpoint."

The Garrett-Snodgrass vision and specific focus on creating environments where genuine connections and human interactions are not only possible but prioritized not only sets the project apart in its market but secures its own separate ignition of allure among would-be homebuyers who might otherwise remain in stall mode.

To counter that hesitation, David Weekley Homes offers 55 single-family detached homes. The one- and two-story homes are on 35’ and 50’ homesites with 14 plans ranging from approximately 1,500 to 3,000 square feet. Homes will include 2 to 5 bedrooms, 2 to 3.5 bathrooms, rear garages, and front porches, stoops, or wrap-around porches, depending on the plan

We are so excited about indigo,” says Weekley area president Brock Eller.  “We're excited about the fantastic location, a great sub-market of Houston in the Richmond area. Along with several other home builders, we’ve had success nearby at Harvest Green with Johnson Development. But first and foremost, we were excited about the unique product offering opportunity Scott and Clayton are bringing to the market. Anytime a developer asks you to do something that's a little bit different – for example, alley load products and walkability functions and that human scale dimension – it’s an opportunity. What we prize among our developer partners is their passion for their vision, and Clayton and Scott exemplify that with what they were building and what they want to do. For us at David Weekley, it becomes all the more appealing when someone's passionate about their project. We're passionate about home building, making it a good fit.”

Given Indigo's relatively short time horizon in the scheme of master–planned communities, will the model repeat and rinse?

It comes down to the true community feel of a place," Empire Communities' Tracy Brown says. "A parent might say, 'Hey, son, can you ride your bike up and grab some milk from the little store?' Kids playing out front, not having to play in the back, having porches that allow people to meet their neighbors and be friends. The way we used to grow up. That's the vision of what this looks like. And more developers will take hold of this and start doing more of it. Maybe not full developments, but they'll carve off pieces in their development and try to make this vision come alive because people will want this."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John McManus

John McManus

President and Founder

John McManus, founder and president of The Builder’s Daily, is an award-winning editorial, programming, and digital content strategist. TBD's purpose is a community capable of constant improvement.

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We need to underwrite where we would operate today on present conditions, which hopefully is a floor under our speculative ceiling.


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