An advertising executive turned real estate developer with a passion for exotic big game hunting, Bill Hinckley does not fit the typical client profile. He admittedly hates hiring consultants. His mantra is: “a surprise around every corner.”
As the developer behind the top-ranked Crystal Falls community in Leander and party to the landmark sale of Crystal Falls West, Bill Hinckley’s methods may not be typical, but they have yielded impressive results. This month, we asked Bill to give us a little insight from his perspective.
What is your background? Have you always wanted to be a real estate developer?
I have been in Real Estate Development and investing full time for 20 years. Prior to that, I owned an Advertising Agency in Houston specializing in Hospitality and Real Estate.
During the advertising years, I played around with rural real estate on the weekends starting on the North Shore of Lake Travis. I fell hard for this area during my college days at UT and knew the day would come when the North Shore area would be “ripe”. I guess I did my initial due diligence with a ski boat and some cold beer in the late 70’s.
I bought my first deal from a grizzled old rancher who agreed to owner finance his waterfront ranch to me so he could retire to West Texas. Fortunately he did not check my credit or income statement. And at the closing, he laughed at me for thinking I could keep the cows in due to the fluctuating lake levels. I immediately sold it to a bona fide developer (funding my initial grubstake) and then witnessed him sell it by the front foot as a lakefront community. It did not seem that hard. I figured I could learn to install a fire hydrant and build a street…but also add value by employing some marketing savvy from my days in advertising. My next project started with me on a horse leading a D-8 through the cedar brake to create the land plan.
What lessons have you learned from the economy in recent years?
Leave a little on the table for everyone. When things are good…do not overcharge your builder partners…even if you could get away with it. Remember and reward those partners and contractors who hung with you. And remember the ones who hit the exits early. And pay your bills on time. Every time.
Coming from the Houston area, how did you end up developing a community in Leander, Texas?
As I said before…I loved the North Side of Lake Travis. And I worked my way to Leander from the western side of Travis County by following the utilities. I could have chosen to work with other entities in some cases, but I have found Leander to be the best, most nimble, most pro-business city in the region. They gave me some rope to deliver something unique and we paid them back with the #1 Master Plan in the region.
What makes a Lookout Development Group community unique?
Our mantra is a “surprise around every corner”. Every community pretty much has a great entry monument and a great swim center…but all the streets are pretty much the same. We feel the street scene is where you should also focus. That is why we do funky things like 2,000 pound limestone street signs and have strict covenants for landscaping and dark skies. Crystal Falls was also home to one of region’s largest stone quarries – Whitestone. Today the wild array of remnant fragments of limestone (in every conceivable shape and size) are employed as traffic signs, tee boxes, address monuments, walls, mail centers and anything else we can dream up. The use of these recycled materials has created a “sense of place” and is a nod to those who toiled there 100 years ago….literally hauling the stones around with mules. The residents have also embraced the concept throughout the community, as did the school district by naming the elementary school for the old quarry. Today much of Crystal Falls looks like a cross between Stonehenge and the Flintstones. It is different by any measure.
How have you worked with local counties and municipalities to make Crystal Falls a reality?
I have a long history with the City of Leander – through 4 City Managers and 4 Mayors. We started together when the city was effectively broke, had a moratorium on sewer taps and only produced starter homes. I was the nut who was going to build executive housing on big lots. We shook hands and got started. And both sides have kept all the handshakes through several booms and busts. They believed in me and I am forever grateful for that. We are now selling million dollar homes on a routine basis. Together we are an overnight sensation 15 years in the making.
Over the past few years, there have been numerous master developers interested in Crystal Falls West. What do you think led to the recent sale to Taylor Morrison / Toll Brothers?
It is literally the best deal out there. It is completely entitled, drop dead pretty and it pencils out. Taylor Morrison and Toll are a proven group that will take a patient money approach with this community. I am glad to have them as our neighbor as they will protect values in my remaining holdings in the areas. I would not have sold to just anyone, regardless of the price. It is all about protecting values for me and my current homeowners. We still have plenty to do in Crystal Falls.
What do you look for in hiring a consultant? How has it been working with RVi – what value did we bring?
I hate hiring consultants. But sometime you have to acknowledge what others can bring to the party. And I would not have made this landmark sale as easily without RVi and Jim Plasek, my Director of Development, both pushing me in the right direction. RVI does it the right way and they listen to stubborn guys like me. When the stakes are high, do not be penny foolish. Right?
What are your future plans? Any new developments on the horizon?
In the Austin SMSA: We are getting ready to break ground on a 600–acre Estate Community in Liberty Hill called Clearwater Ranch. Also three new residential sections of Crystal Falls at various price points, and kicking off The Crystal Falls Town Center anchored by a new Randall’s grocery and some associated retail, multifamily and assisted living. Out of Austin we are developing a mixed use destination center surrounding the Waxahachie Civic Center adjacent to Baylor Hospital. We are also looking for more opportunities in the Leander area.
What do you do in your spare time?
I spend most of my spare time running the exotic hunting operation I have in Lampasas called the Bar H Bar Ranch. This is my working hobby: guiding, breeding African hoofstock and hanging out with the wild array of folks who come hunt and stay with us. I also try to work in one or two personal big game or wingshooting hunts to Africa, Alaska or Argentina every year. I am happiest at a campfire in the middle of nowhere, preferably with a hint of danger associated with the undertaking. When I am not hunting or at Crystal Falls, I am in the stands with my wife Cyndi watching our son Rowdy playing football or baseball. She was with me in the boat on Lake Travis back in the 70’s, so I guess she gets a big assist here.