Land Zo: What Does the Sale of Controversial State Trust Land Portend?

Lisa HonebrinkJanuary 15, 2021
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Art compilation by Angelina Aragon
Art compilation by Angelina Aragon

Does a controversial State Trust land sale mean the wounds of the bubble are fully healed?

When the gavel slammed down, the state had auctioned off 2,783 acres of desert scrub south of Apache Junction, known as Superstition Vistas, for $245.5 million. The November 4, 2020, land sale to homebuilder D.R. Horton offered symbolic proof that the Valley housing market was fully rehabilitated from the horrors of 2008.

Still, there was controversy. Some builders cried foul over the restrictive bidding requirements, which greatly narrowed the list of those who could qualify. In response, officials insisted the hefty financial and experience qualifications lessened the chance of a winning bidder defaulting on the buy and, ultimately, the state got its money’s worth. “We were very pleased to have four qualified bidders, and that the result of the auction was not just an auction price of $245.5 million, $177 million above the market appraisal of $68 million,” says Arizona State Land commissioner Lisa Atkins.

This part of Pinal County, north of Florence, represented the deepest watermark of Valley homebuilding before it all sank in 2008. Just south of Superstition Vistas, at Lennar at Magma Ranch, you can see where builders plotted foundations and installed electric bundles before pulling the plug on whole subdivisions. Fourteen years later, coupled with new building at Magma Ranch, the land sale potentially expands the boundaries of what we consider Greater Phoenix.

The land purchase is not risk-free. Though envisioned as an East Valley settlement, Superstition Vistas is at least a 30-minute drive to downtown Mesa and does fit squarely into the New Urbanism ideal of city planning. That said, the builder has 25 years to complete the master-planned homes, and faces a real estate climate wholly different from 2008. Then, there was a glut of homes for sale. “It took almost a decade to get rid of that inventory. Now we are absolutely at the other end of the scale, where the number of lots relative to building is at an all-time low,” says consultant Elliott Pollack. “This is a sign our home market continues to be strong – builders want inventory and can’t get homes built fast enough. It shows quality of life is good in the Valley because people continue to want to move here.”

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