MANTECA — When Del Webb launched its "active adult" Woodbridge housing development the summer of 2006, hundreds of couples eagerly lined up to submit their $10,000 deposits.
They couldn't wait to buy a new home in that Manteca community for baby boomers entering their golden years. Sales were brisk during the first 18 months as buyers snatched up more than 310 of the 1,425 houses planned there.
Then the nation's housing market collapsed, and the Northern San Joaquin Valley quickly became a builder's nightmare. Five years of recession decimated the new home construction industry in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.
At the housing boom's 2005 peak, the three counties issued nearly 13,250 new home building permits. That fell to less than 1,000 by 2011 a nearly 93 percent decline.
Many of the region's 245 new home subdivisions which couldn't add homes fast enough during the boom ended up folding during the recession.
But Woodbridge survived. Though sales there slowed significantly and home prices were reduced, the senior-oriented community kept building, selling about 466 homes from 2008 through 2012.
Now, with the project about half complete, Woodbridge is "freshening" its look by introducing seven new models. They will be unveiled Saturday during a celebration from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The timing seems right for new offerings, said Andrew Wong, a marketing director for Pulte Homes, which is developing Woodbridge by Del Webb.
"Our customer traffic has increased by two to three times over what it was last year at this time," Wong explained. He said visits by prospective customers started climbing in late 2012. "Now we're seeing everything pick up, with a lot of people coming to look from the Bay Area."
The tide of new home buyers is rising, said Steve Smiley, a vice president with Meyers Research who has tracked Northern California new home developments for 20 years. "Mountain House (on San Joaquin County's western edge) came into play last summer, and now it's starting in Manteca and Lathrop," said Smiley, noting how new home sales are accelerating.
"It hasn't made it out to Stanislaus County or Modesto so far, but it will," he said.
New home sales have been virtually dead in Modesto since 2008. The city issued only eight single-family home building permits in 2012, according to records. That's the fewest in more than 50 years.
By comparison, Modesto issued 1,787 single-family home permits in 2000; back in 1986, it issued 2,555.
Builders elsewhere in Stanislaus haven't fared much better. Only 147 single-family home permits were issued countywide last year. At the 2005 peak of the building boom, Stanislaus issued 4,085 permits, according to U.S. census statistics.
So few homes were built in California during the recession that Smiley said there's a real shortage.
"Builders all see an advantage to getting to market as soon as they can now because there's a definite lack of supply," he said. "I think you'll see some activity in Modesto this year; at least there will be builders looking to buy lots there."
But a resurgence of Manteca's market is an even better bet, Smiley said. He considers Manteca particularly well-suited for a senior community such as Woodbridge.
"Manteca is a good place for Bay Area retirees," Smiley said, "because they can live there but still see their families in Pleasanton or be close enough to come into San Francisco for the day."
As happened a decade ago, increasing Bay Area home prices are pushing buyers to the Northern San Joaquin Valley. "It's a slow domino effect," Smiley said. New home prices in some Dublin developments are pushing $1 million, he said, and more than $500,000 in parts of Mountain House.
The farther from the Bay Area, the lower the prices.
Woodbridge's new models will have base prices of $257,990 to $395,990, but there are lot premiums on top of that ranging from $7,500 to nearly $60,000. That's for homes with 1,329 to 2,618 square feet.
Larger homes for lower prices can be found in Patterson, such as in Mahogany at Patterson Gardens by Kiper Homes, where prices start in the mid-$200,000.
What makes Woodbridge different, however, is its assorted recreational amenities. Those include a 28,000-square-foot clubhouse, a fitness center, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, an 18-hole putting course for golfers, softball fields, a spa and a stocked lake for catch-and-release fishing. Woodbridge charges $155 per month in homeowner association dues to support those features.
The other major difference at Woodbridge is that children can't live there, and homeowners must be 55 or older.
For more information about Woodbridge, go to www.delwebb.com or call (877) 922-9322.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2196.