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What Is a Master-Planned Community?

Last updated 03/19/2024 by

Emily Africa

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Master planned communities balance the residential and commercial. They aim to maximize the value for residents, business owners, and investors. Developers work with teams of real estate agents, contractors, engineers, and city planners to create master-planned communities. Living in an MPC might just be an appealing option for your next home.
What if you never had to drive anywhere ever again? While that’s not realistic, living in a master planned community removes the need for driving far and wide to get what you need and enjoy life. Residents enjoy easy access to many amenities. Keep reading to learn about master planned communities and how you might benefit from one near you.

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What is a master-planned community?

Master planned communities (MPCs) are a specific type of residential development. They resemble self-contained mini-cities. They often include housing, fitness centers, grocery stores, shopping centers, schools, and more. Master planned communities offer a combination of residential, commercial, educational, and recreational elements.

Characteristics of a master-planned community

MPCs vary depending on the location, population, and developer. Sometimes it’s hard to define a master-planned community as there is no single definition everyone accepts. Here are some characteristics that many master-planned communities share.
  • Recreational amenities: Residents of a master-planned community can enjoy hiking trails, swimming pools, water parks, golf courses, tennis courts, and parks.
  • Housing options: Many MPCs contain a variety of homes. This may include single-family homes and multi-family homes. It’s great when developers build a community so that many types of residents can enjoy it.
  • Schools: It’s common for families to occupy master-planned communities. Large-scale MPCs sometimes contain schools. Children living in the community often attend these schools.
  • Businesses: MPC residents can enjoy various businesses within walking distance. You will commonly find grocery stores, retail shops, restaurants, and more in master-planned communities.
  • Public facilities: MPCs will sometimes contain public amenities such as post offices.
  • Cohesive design style: Many master-planned communities follow a single cohesive look with intentional variation and diversity. The coordinated architectural style is a tell-tale sign of a master-planned community.
Some residents in master-planned communities are willing to trade housing features for community amenities such as pools, community centers, parks, walkways, and ‘gatedness;’ and they are willing to pay more, in terms of housing price, for these community amenities.” — Landscape and Urban Planning journal

Master planned communities vs. traditional residential neighborhoods

In many ways, master-planned communities are like traditional neighborhoods. However, some key distinctions define MPCs. A master-planned community requires specific zoning. Most residential neighborhoods are built in residential zones. MPCs require multi-use zoning or special clearances to be allowed.
MPCs contain anywhere from 100 to 50,000 homes built on an average of 2,500 acres. They may be 10,000 acres or more. These planned residential communities are different from regular residential communities because they offer many more amenities.
MPCs are common in suburban areas outside of major cities. Many MPCs are geared toward the 55-and-older demographic. Some are gated communities dedicated to retirement-age people only with extra amenities such as country clubs, golf courses, and walking trails.
It’s also typical for MPCs to target family communities by including family-friendly amenities. Although some MPCs favor population groups like the elderly or families, most are open to any type of resident at a variety of price points.

How do master planned communities work?

They’re called master planned communities because they are often the result of a developer collaborating with builders and engineers to create a new community based on a, well…master plan. The communities characteristically offer a balance of many uses for their residents to enjoy.
Master planned communities start with a developer acquiring thousands of acres of land. The developer builds a team of architects, engineers, and builders to bring the master planned community to life. The team drafts building plans in accord with the master plan and submits those plans for approval by local jurisdictions. Once approved, master planned communities can take months or years to build.
During and after the building process, units open for rent or purchase by tenants. A property manager or homeowners association (HOA) usually manages the residential property. Residents may buy or rent housing within an MPC. This often allows them access to private and public facilities within the community.

Pros and cons of master-planned communities

A master-planned community offers many advantages to those who live there. If you’re considering moving into or investing in one, you should also be aware of the possible disadvantages of MPCs.
MPCs offer many benefits to those who live and invest in them. But MPCs aren’t all perfect. While there are many advantages, there are also possible downsides to MPCs. Here is a list of the pros and cons to consider.
  • Proximity: Residents of an MPC enjoy the ease and convenience of an all-inclusive community. MPCs offer a variety of resources close to where their residents live. MPC residents can walk steps to a restaurant, school, grocery store, or post office.
  • Community: MPCs are often tight-knit communities. In most, those who live there get to participate in fun events and feel supported by their community. Friendships can blossom in MPC neighborhoods.
  • Amenities: As we’ve discussed, a defining feature of a master planned community is a slew of resort-like shared amenities. Minutes from their doorstep, MPC residents may have access to a pool, gym, shopping center, country club, and other community amenities.
  • Safety: Safety is of the utmost importance in these planned communities. It is an inherent part of the design of the community. They are often designed with gates and concentric orientation that protect the residents. The community members also look out for each other, such as by participating in neighborhood watch programs, for their mutual benefit.
  • Zoning and permitting: Getting zoning and building approval for a master-planned community can take months. The process depends on the city where the MPC has been proposed and the current community members who may oppose or support it.
  • Dues: Most master planned communities require their residents to pay HOA fees. In some MPCs with many amenities, these fees can be high, averaging about $330 a month in the U.S. Is there any way to avoid these HOA fees? Learn more about the possibility by reading this article from SuperMoney.
  • Tract-style housing: Many MPCs contain residences that follow a few variations of the same general style. This cookie-cutter architectural style may lack dimension and be a downside for some.

Are master planned communities a good investment?

Master planned communities aren’t for the beginner investor. They can be an excellent long-term investment for those with the experience and resources. Investors create value by pooling together several types of uses for the land. Ultimately, the investors control the supply provided by the self-contained community. This earns them a variety of types of income from buyers and tenants and, assuming sufficient demand, respectable profits.
Commercial renters or owners, developers, residential tenants or owners, and others pay the investors for valuable space on their property. Real estate agents can help investors look for opportunities. It may be difficult to find and execute a good MPC deal without a real estate agent.

Younger, smaller, and partnering investors

Smaller-scale or young real-estate investors can also invest in MPCs with great returns. Property in an MPC is valuable due to all the advantages we’ve discussed and more. Investors can buy commercial property or residential property to rent out to others or to build their businesses. A real estate agent can help evaluate the housing market and find great MPC properties to invest in.
Did you know you can go in on a house with a friend? If you want to buy a house with a friend, check out this article first.
Pro tip —House hacking is a great way to invest in real estate while living in it. If you are thinking of investing in a home in an MPC, review your qualifications for getting a mortgage.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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Examples of master-planned communities

Master planned communities exist worldwide in all sizes, shapes, and types. Here are a few examples.
  • The Woodlands: Located in the Houston area, this MPC is 28,475 acres with a population of 114,500. Since its inception in the 1970s, thousands of businesses have made this vibrant community home.
  • Serenbe: Serenbe is in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia. This community prioritizes wellness with its organic farm, swim club, tennis court, lake for paddle boarding and canoeing, spa, and miles of hiking trails.
  • The Sea Ranch Association: This MPC in California contains 2,200 acres with more than 2,000 homes. It was built in the 1960s and boasts a unique, beachy aesthetic with ranch-style homes and amenities such as hiking trails.


What does “master-planned community” mean?

A master-planned community is a special type of planned residential community that has easy access to businesses, amenities, and recreational activities.

Are master-planned communities good investments?

Master planned communities are good investments for those who have a strong team behind them. Investors in MPCs benefit from the diversity of businesses contained within them.

What is an example of a planned community?

An example of a planned community is in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Cadence MPC has many amenities and resources such as a community pool, fitness court, pickleball courts, schools, and even an animal hospital.

What is the largest master-planned community?

The Woodlands is the largest MPC in the world at 44.5 square miles.

Key takeaways

  • Developers build master-planned communities (MPCs) that include residential properties and commercial properties. They are popular across the United States outside of metropolitan areas.
  • The residents of MPCs benefit from services, resources, events, community, and amenities near where they live.
  • An MPC can be an excellent investment for those looking to purchase existing MPC units or large-scale developers investing in large plots of land.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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