Master-Planned Communities: Your Friendly New Neighborhood on Steroids—Like an ‘All-Inclusive Resort’

by Garcia Chris
14 minutes read
Master-Planned Communities: Your Friendly New Neighborhood on Steroids—Like an ‘All-Inclusive Resort’

After marrying in December 2022, Scott and Jordan Harbin began talking about starting a family—and where they wanted to raise their kids. At the time, they were living in a townhouse in Austin, TX, and while they enjoyed the conveniences of an urban setting, “we were hoping for more of a community,” Scott says.

That’s where Wolf Ranch in Georgetown, TX, came into the picture. It wasn’t just any old community. It was a master-planned community, or MPC.

MPCs are a growing trend in new construction where developers aim to offer homebuyers nearly everything they might desire: grocery stores, restaurants, hiking and biking trails, a gym, swimming pool, golf course, and more—within walking distance or a short drive.

The Harbins found this to be true after moving into their Wolf Ranch home in January 2024 with their 2-month-old daughter.

Scott and Jordan Harbin chose to live in Wolf Ranch, a master-planned community in Texas.

(Scott and Jordan Harbin)

“My wife and I joke that everything is 7 minutes away,” Scott says. “Costco is the farthest, and that’s just a 10-minute drive.”

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With a baby, this comes in handy, he says. “My wife can take our daughter shopping, but if she gets fussy, they can be home in a few minutes.”

The Harbins were also drawn to Wolf Ranch because the community’s award-winning “lifestyle director” offered a calendar of family-friendly activities: kids’ storytime, Stroller Strides workouts, sing-a-longs, magic shows, a petting zoo. There were also plenty of social mixers for parents—from “dad dudes” meetups to moms’ night out.

Wolf Ranch also boasted its own Rotary-style networking club, investment club, and holiday parties.

All of this cost a mere $1,256 per year in homeowners association fees.

“That’s cheaper than what I paid at my townhome,” says Scott.

With so much to do nearby and little reason to venture outside their immediate environs, he says, “We have an easily accessible way to meet people. We didn’t have that in our townhouse, where we could walk around and wave at our neighbors.”

Wolf Ranch even has its own elementary, middle, and high schools—all within a 10-minute drive or bus ride.

“It reminds me of when I was a kid, when all my friends lived nearby and we all went to the same school,” Scott says. “We wanted that for our family. This was a big part of our decision to live here. We plan to stay for 15 to 20 years.”

After that, he knows there are plenty more MPCs that might suit their new stage in life—a retirement community with a golf course, perhaps.

“In Texas, MPCs are so common that everyone understands it,” he says. “And Wolf Ranch is only getting bigger, with one more full section that’s being built. People come here for the community. If you’re moving from out of state, or just wanting to be social, this is a great place to start.”

What is a master-planned community?

While some people might confuse an MPC with a traditional new-construction subdivision, they are distinctly different. Both include dividing a larger parcel of land into smaller plots for homebuyers. An MPC usually covers at least 2,500 acres, sometimes spanning as much as 10,000 (over 15 miles).

The defining feature of an MPC is that the entire community is mapped out on a “site master plan,” or blueprint laying out how the land will be used for development, what types of buildings will be constructed and where, the layout of streets and sidewalks, park and public spaces, and all of the other features.

In other words, every facet is meticulously orchestrated.

“Master-planned communities will typically have hundreds of homes, several different options for recreation, and even retail/commercial businesses located within minutes of the residences,” adds Tiffany Sears, a broker and agent with The Sears Group in Charlotte, NC.

“The idea is that the buyer really only needs to leave the community for work or long-distance travel, unless they work in one of the establishments located in the MPC,” says Sears.

Nationwide, Realtor.com® data shows that about 0.4% of listings mention “master-planned” or some variation of this in their description.

Master-planned listings are highly concentrated in the South and West, with the highest among the top 150 metros being Provo, UT (2.9%), Houston (2.3%), and Charleston, SC (2.0%). Interestingly, in all three of these metros, listings that signify they are part of a master-planned community are priced lower per square foot than the typical listing for the area. That might come as a surprise to many given all the amenities they offer.

“The idea is to offer people a place where they can live, work, shop, and relax,” explains Calvin LaMont, an American Standard Homeowning 01 featured instructor and star of the HGTV show “Buy It or Build It.” “It’s similar to an all-inclusive resort or country club.”

A brief history of master-planned communities

Master-planned communities can be traced back to the early 20th century, as a response to rampant urban sprawl.

“The world’s most populated cities were growing so fast that large-scale planning largely went out the window, which left spaces disorganized and communities disconnected,” says Dan Hnatkovskyy, co-founder and CEO of NewHomesMate.

As a result, MPCs were designed to help ease congestion in city centers.

“The goal was to create more uniformity and intentionality so homes were not so haphazardly placed,” explains Sears.

It wasn’t until after World War II that these proposed developments took shape in the U.S. Levittown, NY, is generally considered to be the first MPC, which was built around 1950 for WWII veterans. And the concept has continued to grow from there.

Many popular MPCs focus on creating a community for those seeking a similar demographic or lifestyle.

“Some of the largest and most popular MPCs are over-55 or sports-related communities like tennis and golf,” says Stacy Rummage, builder partner manager at Opendoor. “MPCs tend to make it easier to meet people and build friendships because they bring people together who are like-minded and have common interests.”

Many of the newest MPCs offer a wide range of features:

  • Wolf Ranch in Georgetown, TX, has 3D-printed homes that are modern and energy-efficient with a low environmental impact.
  • Sunterra in Katy, TX, is an MPC built in the style of a high-end coastal resort. It features a human-made, beach-front-style lagoon complete with a “lazy river” ideal for tubing.
  • KB Home has created the first microgrid MPCs near Menifee, CA, at its Durango and Oak Shade developments. Residents there not only share all of the classic amenities, but together, they create their own power thanks to individual solar panels feeding into a shared community battery.
  • The Harvest Green Community in Richmond, TX, launched a new “agri-hood” concept that integrates a local farm and community-led growing projects to provide the community with organic produce.

How master-planned communities get built

MPCs generally require a large chunk of land that can be mapped out and developed.

“Developers need a blank canvas that they can carefully design, integrating various housing types and amenities from the ground up, to ensure space is used efficiently and neighborhoods are easy to navigate,” says Hnatkovskyy.

MPCs are usually developed through a partnership between a builder and the city or county.

“This partnership is crucial,” says Sears. “The city will want a development that adds value to the community, and the developers will want to offer a product that will bring interest and excitement.”

These communities take years to plan. Accordingly, one downside for some new MPC homebuyers is that if they move into the neighborhood early, they might be waiting a long time for all the amenities to be completed. Plus, ongoing construction might be noisy and disruptive for existing residents.

As a result, developers will often offer builder incentives—like better financing or upgrades—to individuals willing to be “initial settlers.” This can be a great way for first-time buyers to get into a new-construction home that they might otherwise think they’re unable to afford.

MPCs also typically include different housing options at varying price ranges. For instance, condos might be built for budget shoppers and larger free-standing houses for buyers desiring more privacy. Some even include properties designated for affordable housing.

“Many local governments now require that builders consider affordable housing in large-scale plans to address the housing needs of a wide variety of prospective buyers,” says Sears.

Here are some homes for sale in master-planned communities to give you a taste of what you can get at what price.

305 Diamondback Dr, Georgetown, TX

Price: $610,000

master planned communitymaster planned community
A new-construction home for sale at Wolf Ranch in Georgetown, TX

(Realtor.com)

27231 Cotton View Ln, Katy, TX

Price: $350,000

A home for sale in the Sunterra community in Katy, TX

(Realtor.com)

2515 Shallot Ln, Richmond, TX

Price: $533,490

Home for sale in Harvest Green in Richmond, TX

(Realtor.com)

959 N Ocotillo Dr, Washington, UT

Price: $519,900

Home for sale in the master-planned community of Sienna Hills in Utah

(Realtor.com)

108 Green Grass Rd, Summerville, SC

Price: $525,000

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Home for sale in The Ponds master-planned community in South Carolina

(Realtor.com)

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