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Watt Housing Unit Sold to British Firm


Santa Monica-based home-building giant Watt Enterprises said Thursday that it sold nearly all of the assets of Watt Housing Corp., a subsidiary, to British-owned Beazer Homes for $116 million.

Watt Housing said the sale includes about 3,800 lots on 44 tracts, including 19 in Southern California and 17 in Phoenix.

Beazer is the U.S. subsidiary of Hanson, Britain's third-largest home builder. It also owns Jacuzzi Whirlpool Baths and Farberware Cookware.

Ray Watt founded his company in 1948 with a small construction crew and a battered pickup truck. He has since built more than 100,000 homes in Southern California--mostly in the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles' Westside.

Watt has never been a big presence in Orange County, preferring the lower land costs in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. The company has only one ongoing project in Orange County, the 558-unit Rock Creek Ranch on 105 acres in Orange.

One of the largest and most prosperous of Southern California builders until well into the 1980s, Watt Enterprises and some of its affiliated companies fell on hard times when the recession took hold and home sales slumped.

The downturn caused lenders to cut back on loans for new developments and left hundreds of developers scrambling for cash.

Watt, chairman of Watt Enterprises, acknowledged that his firm had "felt the effects of the credit crunch." The $116 million will shore up his balance sheet and make it easier to get new loans for projects, he said.

Watt's various companies built more than 2,000 homes a year and totaled more than $500 million in annual sales through most of the late 1980s.

He was consistently among the 10 largest builders polled for The Times' annual home-building survey.

Although Watt Housing accounted for much of the parent company's home-building activity, Ray Watt said Thursday his other units will remain in the construction business and will build about 800 homes this year.

Thursday's announcement came just three weeks after another big builder--Woodcrest Development in Irvine--asked a bankruptcy court to liquidate four of its development partnerships and reaffirmed an earlier decision to leave the home-building business.

Times staff writer John O'Dell contributed to this report.

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