Crews Realty to revive Wolf River Ranch Development

Jan 7, 2011

Premium content from Memphis Business Journal - by Christopher Sheffield

The long-dormant Wolf River Ranch planned development in Collierville may finally get off the ground with a new developer and pricing levels attractive to both builders and homeowners.

Hilliard Crews Partnership, a subsidiary of Germantown-based Crews Realty LLC, invested $4.4 million for 52 acres in the planned development Dec. 30 from ECG Memphis LLC. ECG acquired the property through foreclosure fromSunTrust Banks Inc. just days earlier.

The property was originally developed by Terry & Terry Companies, although Phase 6, with 110 lots, has had infrastructure in place for at least two years with no lots sold.

Developers of the project believe lower pricing for lots should attract builders which, in turn, can afford to price homes in a range more suitable for today’s market. It’s the sort of economic shift developers and builders say is going to be necessary to jump-start a largely stagnant housing market.

Reggie GarnerJr., vice president atMagnolia Homes Inc., says with a price point averaging about $350,000, the development will be ideal for move-up buyers.

“If it’s in the right price range, there are people there to buy the homes,” says Garner, whose company closed on 22 new homes in 2010, up from a historic low of 14 in 2009.

For 2011, Garner says the company is pushing down the average price for its news homes to $430,000 from $563,000 last year based on homebuyers committing less of their income to a mortgage.

“Now people are looking at what they need, not just buying as much house as they can,” Garner says.

That trend, combined with a location in the Collierville market, should make Wolf River Ranch popular with builders and sellers, says Jason Crews, owner of Crews Realty. The market is also popular with homeowners relocating to Memphis, Crews and Garner say.

Crews Realty has developed more than $30 million in residential, commercial and industrial properties and currently has two other residential projects under way in south Shelby County and in Piperton.

Crews anticipates homes in Wolf River Ranch to range from $325,000 to $400,000 in the first phase, which will be about 40 lots. The goal is to have phase one sold by summer 2011, he says.

Terry & Terry had priced homes in earlier phases of Wolf River Ranch in the mid $400,000s, according a dated company website.

The site was largely ready for builders to purchase, although Crews plans to install landscaping and fencing, repair asphalt and add a pool house and entry features. He is in talks with several builders, hoping to limit it to just two or three, but has none committed to the project yet, he says.

Crews financed the purchase through family funds, but says he may finance some portion of the project throughTriumph Bank, where he was recently named to the board of directors, joining his father, Hilliard Crews, a founding Triumph board member and CEO ofShelby Group International.

“There are not many banks loaning money on lots,” Jason Crews says.

Despite the financing hurdles builders are facing in the current climate, Jason Crews remains confident about a successful development.

“There’s not many new houses in that area under $400,000,” he says. “That will put us at a good advantage.”

Getting the land at a significantly reduced price will allow Crews to sell it at about a 65 percent premium to what builders have been paying.

Garner says at the height of the bubble three years ago, paying $125,000 for lots wasn’t uncommon. That resulted in $500,000-plus homes they eventually couldn’t sell.