Small Developer Finds a Niche in Housing Market

At a time when the California housing market is increasingly dominated by the largest of home developers, a four-person Calabasas operation is holding strong by building small housing tracts throughout Ventura County.

Instead of developing clusters of several hundred homes as do the larger companies, Colmer Development for the past couple of years has concentrated on smaller subdivisions of no more than 25 residences.

Colmer has developed tracts in Moorpark, Simi Valley and Newbury Park, and has five homes left to sell in a 25-residence subdivision at Telephone Road and Saticoy Avenue in Ventura.

And Wayne Colmer, owner of Colmer Development, said his immediate future in Ventura County looks equally promising.

"We've been able to pre-sell a lot of our homes," Colmer said. "We had a very good year and going into next year we are more than 50% sold out in homes we are just breaking ground on today."

Bob Ravinius, chief executive of the California Building Industry Assn., said Colmer Development is to some extent defying the odds.

"We did a survey of our larger members about two years ago and it appeared the largest 100 builders in the state are building about half the homes. You wouldn't have seen that 10 years ago," Ravinius said. "As far as volume goes, smaller companies have a much smaller market share in California than they used to."

Homes are more expensive to build, insurance costs more and developers are at greater risk by tying up their money in projects waiting to be approved by various government agencies, Ravinius said. This hits the smaller developers harder than the larger ones.

"It is easier for people who have the financial wherewithal," he said. "It all adds up to a lot of caution."

But Colmer Development seems to be bucking the trend, and is doing so by staking out a niche market, Colmer said.

"What I'm doing is building smaller-size subdivisions which the larger developers aren't interested in building," said the owner of the 9-year-old company.

Most Colmer homes in the company's MorningStar developments are priced from $210,000 to $270,000. The higher-end homes in The Trails developments are in the high-$300,000 range.

Colmer builds his homes in what he calls in-fill areas, locations within developed residential areas that for one reason or another have gone undeveloped. He said he likes Ventura County in particular for these projects because there is less competition than in Los Angeles or the San Fernando Valley.

"I'm able to tell exactly who my competition is going to be. I know how much the competition paid for their land so I know what I need to do to get an edge," Colmer said.

"There are limited areas that are developable for residential housing in Ventura County and a limited number of homes can be built each year versus some place like the Antelope Valley," he said. "Where there is an unlimited supply, you don't know where your competition is coming from next."

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