In 2007, as the home building market all but stopped in Birmingham, Ala., Signature Homes was left holding a $4 million piece of commercial property it couldn’t sell and had no idea what to do with.

“We had three times as much [money] in the land as we should have had,” said Dwight Sandlin, president of Signature Homes. “We didn’t know what our intentions were there.”

At wit’s end, he sent the company’s sales agents out to look at the parcel, which is south of Birmingham near a suburban stretch of U.S. 280 with a good deal of desirable restaurants and shopping, hoping for some way to monetize the land.

The team came back with the suggestion that the company should build townhomes there, but not just any townhomes. They had to be “super cool,” the agents specified. They suggested that they have an urban loft feel inside.

“They said, ‘Nobody is doing this here. We know the market out there, and they would eat this up,’” recalled Sandlin.

 He took them at their word and construction on the ELofts at Edenton began in February 2010. By October 2011, Signature had sold all but five of the 100 units, an average pace of five a month.

The units range from a 929-square-foot single-story flat for $144,900 to a 1,400-square-foot two-story unit for $163,900. About 74% of the buyers were young and single; the rest were empty-nester move-down purchasers.

The location in Edenton was great, but the real grabber was the interiors, which simulate the contemporary sensibilities of lofts and old, converted brick warehouse in some urban environments.

There are exposed brick walls, exposed black beam ceilings, dark hardwood floors and straight-lined kitchens with white shaker cabinets, granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances.

The project recouped Signature’s $4 million investment in the land and covered the costs of construction, Sandlin said.

“It’s the coolest thing we have ever done,” said Sandlin. “And the thing I am most proud of is that none of it was our management’s idea."

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder magazine.