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Originally published Monday, November 21, 2011 at 11:31 AM

Homebuilder Toll Brothers buys CamWest Development

Toll Brothers, which bills itself as the nation's leading luxury homebuilder, bought 15 developments in King and Snohomish counties where houses are under construction and for sale; four more that should come to market in the next month or two; and more than 1,500 undeveloped lots from CamWest.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers has become the latest big national homebuilder to jump into the Seattle market, where local builders long have dominated.

The company, which bills itself as the nation's leading luxury homebuilder, said Monday it has acquired almost all the assets and operations of CamWest Development of Kirkland, one of the area's biggest builders.

The deal gives Toll Brothers:

• Fifteen developments, mostly on the Eastside, where houses are under construction and for sale;

• Four more communities that CamWest founder Eric Campbell said should come to market in the next month or two; and

• About 1,500 undeveloped lots.

The companies did not disclose the sale price, which they said was paid in cash.

But public records in King County, where most of the developments are, show Toll Brothers paid CamWest more than $113 million late last week for 33 properties stretching from Duvall to Auburn.

Five more properties changed hands in Snohomish County, according to records, but the prices were not immediately available.

Toll Brothers was the country's 13th-largest homebuilder in 2010, according to Builder magazine.

Other big national builders have discovered Seattle in recent months. Michigan-based Pulte Homes — ranked No. 2 — bought 900 lots in Snoqualmie, Redmond and Maple Valley in late 2010, followed by property for 70 town houses in Issaquah, for a reported total of $58 million.

And last spring, 11th-ranked MDC Holdings of Denver — which sells homes under the Richmond American label — purchased SDC Homes of Puyallup for an undisclosed price.

"This is too big a market to have been neglected as long as it has by the national builders," said Bill Hurme, president of TeamBuilder JLS of Bellevue, which markets new homes for developers.

In the past, he said, national builders liked to build very large communities to achieve economies of scale.

They shied away from Seattle because developable land here comes in smaller pieces and is more scattered than they ordinarily like.

But the market fundamentals here are strong, Hurme said, and national builders are "more realistic" now.

CamWest's Campbell, who will remain president of Toll Brothers' Seattle operations, suggested another reason Monday for the national builders' interest in Seattle.

Privately held companies like CamWest have had more trouble getting financing in recent years, he said, and publicly traded companies like Toll Brothers have an advantage there.

Toll Brothers has been studying the Seattle market for a decade, CEO Douglas Yearley said.

While the company operates in 19 others states, 60 percent of its business is in the corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston, he said, and Seattle is reminiscent of those markets — relatively affluent with better-than-average job growth and tight constraints on additional single-family development.

"Seattle was an obvious place for us to be," Yearley said.

The CamWest opportunity surfaced about six months ago, he said, and Toll was impressed with the locations of the Kirkland company's properties.

The deal represents Toll Brothers' first expansion into a new state since 2005 — before the housing boom went bust — when it entered Minnesota.

New-home sales in the U.S. have plummeted in recent years. After a lackluster spring-and-summer peak homebuying season, sales this year are on track to be the worst since at least 1963.

Sales of new homes rose in September after four straight monthly declines, but only after builders cut their prices because of depressed demand.

Toll Brothers isn't deterred, Yearley said: "We are using this downturn to figure out ways to regrow the business."

Information from The Associated Press

and Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com

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