Amid Housing Downturn, Toll Downsizes Its Homes and Makeover Puts Cosmetics Superstores On Growth Path

Toll’s newer offerings in Las Vegas include some of the company’s smallest and cheapest single-family detached homes. “It’s no secret that Las Vegas leads the nation in foreclosures,” said Nevada division head Gary Mayo. “The dramatic decrease in home prices dictates where we need to go with pricing and product.”

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The impact of a federal homebuyer tax credit and stabilizing unemployment numbers have fueled talk of a housing recovery, but uncertainty lingers. Sales of both new and existing homes fell in February.

In Las Vegas, Toll has responded by including stucco, tile-roof houses measuring 1,673 square feet and costing in the low-$200,000s in a community called Traccia. That is less than half the average size and price of Toll’s single-family homes.

To further cut prices, Toll is downgrading the amenities it offers as standard in these smaller homes. [Read the full article]

Since late last year, Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance (ULTA) has been making its own contribution to the genre. In a series of TV spots, a makeup artist shows how to use Ulta’s cosmetics to create a face for whatever mood you’re in  flirty, sophisticated or punk.

The fact that the TV ads exist at all shows the transformation of Ulta itself. After it went bankrupt in the late ’90s, new Chief Executive Lyn Kirby started turning the discount cosmetics retailer into a chain of beauty superstores, modeled on Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS), Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) and the like. The concept proved so successful that by the end of January the company claimed 346 stores in 38 states. And so Kirby felt emboldened to launch the firm’s first TV campaign.

Ulta sells 21,000 cosmetic products, both prestige and mass-market, in its 311 superstores. [Read the full article]

The new effort, Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives, or HAFA, starts April 5 and directs banks to offer a short sale to borrowers at risk of default. It is the third attempt by the Obama administration to bail out homeowners.

Banking and real estate experts see HAFA as a response to the limited success of prior steps in the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP.

A short-sale banner goes onto a Realtor’s sign in Orlando, Fla. Expect to see more short sales as a federal foreclosure-avoidance plan begins next… View Enlarged Image

“The foreclosure problem has not been solved by the government’s first attempts and the impact of HAFA will be marginal at best,” said Sherry Cooper, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. [Read the full article]

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