Amidst the buzz of an active residential market in Houston, Rise Communities is standing out from the crowd with their two new master planned communities, Cane Island and Meridiana. Winner of the 2016 GHBA Community of the Year, Cane Island has set a new standard for forward-thinking planning, inspired architectural design, and creative amenities. And after opening its first model homes in 2016, Meridiana is poised to chart its own path to success with an emphasis on learning and exploration via learning labs, a conservatory, and amenities that connect residents with nature. This month, we sat down with Dan Naef, President of Rise Communities to talk about his approach to the market, his differentiation strategy, and why he enjoys working with RVi.
1. Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get your start in real estate development?
I got started in this industry by accident. I graduated with an accounting degree from California State University – Chico. Although I had good grades, Chico was the number-one party school in the country that year. After graduation, I landed in Las Vegas as a CPA for a national accounting firm and worked with all gaming and banking clients.
The Managing Partner of the firm called me in his office for the first time in my second year with the firm. He told me about an opportunity to leave public accounting and work in a new position as a “Financial Analyst” for one of the firm’s clients – American Nevada Company. They were in the process of developing an 8,000 acre-community known as Green Valley. I loved the job and eventually became the Financial Director, Vice President, and ultimately led the Division. While with American Nevada Company, we also developed three other communities – Green Valley Ranch, Seven Hills and Aliante.
2. Where do you think the Houston market is headed in terms of residential real estate?
UP! Even with the recent severe downturn in oil, Houston remains one of the top residential real estate markets in the country. Now, with oil stabilizing at about $53 a barrel, we believe that 2017 will be about 20% stronger than 2016, and 2018 will see strong oil and gas job growth resulting in better sales than 2017.
3. At Cane Island and Meridiana, the amenities are clearly part of your differentiation strategy. What is your thinking behind this strategy?
It’s simple…develop something unique. Something that is conversation-worthy even for people who are not looking for a new home. Mark Cuban recently said he believes computers and automation will make several jobs and skill sets obsolete over the next 5 to 10 years. He goes on to say that it will be the creative thinkers, the liberal arts majors, who will be in the highest demand. I don’t know if history will prove Mr. Cuban correct, but I do agree that creativity is the key to differentiation.
We took home the award for Community of the Year in 2016. It wasn’t because we built lakes and trails and a fitness center. We did those things, but so did everyone else. I think we won for the things that no one else is doing. A conservatory with over 5,000 flowering plants, a treehouse suite where the residents can spend a special night, a yoga studio that features over 200, 24/7 on-demand fitness classes, and a golden retriever community ambassador.
4. Cane Island and Meridiana are really setting a new standard for master planned communities in Houston. Has this had any effect on how you market these communities?
Yes. Marketing has proven to be a challenge. When you are developing something unique, it is a double-edged sword. The good news is that people generally appreciate what you have created, and the challenge is to get that message out to the general public in an efficient way. It’s not like you can list everything you’re doing on a billboard. So, we market in the traditional sense but we also rely heavily on creating reasons for people to come out and visit the community in person. Our research shows that a prospective homebuyer is four times more likely to choose one of our communities if they take the time to tour our unique amenities. It’s all about the community lifestyle first, and then choosing the home that fits your needs and budget.
5. Why did you choose to work with RVi on these projects?
RVi is creative and passionate about their profession. They help us to take our initial thoughts on unique concepts and expand and enhance them to something often better than what we originally conceived. I trust them to do a great job every time and be on time. They have never let us down.
6. What makes a RISE Community unique?
It’s primarily the unique amenities, but it is also the architectural style that is likely to be a little different than what you typically find. Also, it’s the fact that we invest in our major amenities upfront such that they are available the day the model homes open.
7. What has been the builder response to your Houston communities?
Fortunately, it has been very positive. We have some of the best builders in Houston. A mix of both private and public companies spanning the price point range of the mid $200’s to the millions.
8. What value has RVi brought to your projects?
Creativity, consistent quality of the highest industry standard, and delivering their product on time. RVi is a natural partner that works extremely well as a team with the other critical disciplines, such as our engineers and architects, to synergistically create something better than what we as individuals might have originally conceived.
9. Where are you looking for new opportunities?
Nowhere in particular, but at the age of 56, I do like the idea of not needing to be on a plane longer than a couple of hours to visit our other communities.
10. We know you are somewhat of a wine connoisseur. What are you drinking these days? Do you have a wine recommendation for us?
I do, but it’s likely not what you’re expecting. I made the mistake of complaining to my wife that we are spending too much on expensive daily drinking Napa cabernet wines. I said we need to go on a “wine diet.” She agreed, but her idea of the diet was to find me a good box wine so she could continue to drink the “good stuff.” So maybe she would be the better person to ask about fine wines. For me, I would highly recommend the Merlot from Black Box Wines.