A rose by any other name may smell as sweet. But would the Highlands of Olney sell as well if it were peddled as Barry's Neglect? Or Shepherd's Misfortune?
Probably not. And therein lies the reason most builders think naming their subdivisions ranks up there in importance with high-quality construction. They also find the chore to be a traumatic event that one builder once compared to "trying to name your firstborn."
Now there's a bit of science that shows just how much a couple of key words can add to the typical developer's bottom line. Not just any two words like "valley" or "mews," but the old standbys "country" and "country club."
According to a study by two researchers at the University of Georgia, homebuyers pay an average of 4.2 percent more when the development has the word "country" in the name. And if it has the term "country club" as part of its name, buyers will pay 5.2 percent on top of that.
That's a total of almost 10 percent more that people are willing to pay for the prestige associated with the term "country club."
A joke? Hardly. The study, the results of which were published in the Journal of Real Estate Research, is a serious investigation of sales in the Baton Rouge, La., area over 15 years. It carefully controlled for such variables as location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and days on the market, among others.
"This is the first study to find through empirical research that buyers are willing to pay more for certain property names, with all other attributes of a house being equal," the paper said. "In fact, buyers of more expensive houses may be willing to pay more for a name that conveys prestige than they are willing to pay for a good school for their children."
No wonder, then, that the naming process is often a psychodrama, with builders and their marketing teams becoming more hung up over what they will call their communities than they are over the copy for a $10,000, full-page ad in the local newspaper.
But there is no tried-and-true naming method. The Fifield Cos. took an interesting approach in naming K2, its new 34-story apartment tower in downtown Chicago. K2, in Asia, is one of the tallest mountains on Earth. The Chicago building, while certainly not the tallest in the city, will have "the highest level of amenities, architecture and finishes," the developer says.
K2 is also one of the most difficult peaks in the world to climb -- it has the second-highest fatality rate -- and the building was one of the most challenging financing deals the developer had ever put together. It took a consortium of five commercial banks to fund the project.
Less imaginative builders resort to the old standards -- station, park, commons, woods, village, farms, hunt, square and gardens. Some look to history for a name, while others use location or a characteristic of the property. A few pick a name that immortalizes themselves or their loved ones.
Reston, one of the country's original "new towns" in Virginia, takes its name from the initials of its founder, Robert E. Simon, as in "RES-town." The Irene, an apartment building in Chevy Chase, Md., was built by Abe Pollin, who went on to own Washington's professional basketball and hockey teams. Pollin named the building after his bride. The nearby Elizabeth also was named for its builder's wife. Glad he didn't use the more familiar form of her name, though. Somehow, "I live at the Betsy" doesn't sound nearly as chic.
Then there are the guys who -- no kidding -- have named one project after their wives and the next after their girlfriends.
Simplicity often rules the naming process. But sometimes the simplest name doesn't work. For example, a place that was originally called Crimson Oaks had to change its name to Crimson Oak when it was discovered there was only a single oak on the property. Hey, the tract wasn't exactly wild with foliage in the first place. But Orchard Pond never did have a pond.
Speaking of change, one builder changed the name of his northern Virginia project several times while his marketing materials were at the printer. It went from Chip 'N Dale to Valley View Estates to Heritage Valley.
Name changes sometimes do wonders for a project. While named Andrews Manor, a town-house community near Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland was a slow seller. But as Canterbury Court, which it later became, it really took off. The builder's ad agency swore the name was the only change.
Other times, though, nothing works. Levitt and Sons was wildly successful with its Levittowns in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but a project in Maryland had four names in five years. According to the company, each name corresponded with a different section of the project, but truth be told, the company couldn't sell its upscale houses at that location and kept changing the name to boost sales.
Of course, a community's name should meet certain criteria. One is that it should be easy to pronounce, which is where a New England-bred developer who prided himself on building authentic colonial houses went wrong. For one of his projects he picked the name Falmouth, which is pronounced "fall muth" in Massachusetts. But locally, the community became known as "foul mouth."
The name of a community also should be able to stand the test of time by remaining descriptive as the place ages and matures. Thousand Oaks failed that test early on. There may have been 1,000 oaks at the site before the builder broke ground. But after he completed the project, the number of trees left standing -- not just oaks, but trees -- could be counted on one hand.