Annual report pursuant to Section 13 and 15(d)

Business and Summary of Significant Accounting Policies (Policies)

Business and Summary of Significant Accounting Policies (Policies)
12 Months Ended
Dec. 31, 2013
Organization, Consolidation and Presentation of Financial Statements [Abstract]  
Basis of Presentation
Basis of Presentation. The accompanying consolidated financial statements have been prepared in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States (“GAAP”) and include the accounts of Meritage Homes Corporation and those of our consolidated subsidiaries, partnerships and other entities in which we have a controlling financial interest, and of variable interest entities (see Note 3) in which we are deemed the primary beneficiary (collectively, “us”, “we”, “our” and the “Company”). Intercompany balances and transactions have been eliminated in consolidation. Certain reclassifications have been made to the prior year to conform to the current year presentation, including the dis-aggregation of our financial services segment, which includes both our Carefree Title operations, as well as the net earnings of our mortgage and title joint ventures.
Cash and Cash Equivalents
Cash and Cash Equivalents. Liquid investments with an initial maturity of three months or less are classified as cash equivalents. Amounts in transit from title companies for home closings of approximately $26.4 million and $30.4 million are included in cash and cash equivalents at December 31, 2013 and 2012, respectively. Included in our balance as of December 31, 2013 is $68.3 million of money market funds that are invested in short term (three months or less) government securities.
Restricted Cash
Restricted Cash. Prior to November 2013, restricted cash consisted of amounts held in restricted accounts as collateral for our letter of credit arrangements. Our restricted cash accounts were invested in money market accounts and United States Government securities, and were $38.9 million at December 31, 2012. In connection with the capacity expansion of our revolving credit facility in November 2013, we transferred our secured letters of credit under our credit facility, thereby returning all restricted cash into unrestricted accounts.
Variable Interest Entity
Based on the provisions of the relevant accounting guidance, we have concluded that when we enter into a purchase agreement to acquire land or lots from an entity, a variable interest entity, or “VIE”, may be created. We evaluate all option and purchase agreements for land to determine whether they are a VIE. ASC 810, Consolidation, requires that for each VIE, we assess whether we are the primary beneficiary and, if we are, we consolidate the VIE in our financial statements and reflect such assets and liabilities as “Real estate not owned.” The liabilities related to consolidated VIEs are excluded from our debt covenant calculations.
In order to determine if we are the primary beneficiary, we must first assess whether we have the ability to control the activities of the VIE that most significantly impact its economic performance. Such activities include, but are not limited to, the ability to determine the budget and scope of land development work, if any; the ability to control financing decisions for the VIE; the ability to acquire additional land into the VIE or dispose of land in the VIE not under contract with Meritage; and the ability to change or amend the existing option contract with the VIE. If we are not determined to control such activities, we are not considered the primary beneficiary of the VIE. If we do have the ability to control such activities, we will continue our analysis by determining if we are also expected to absorb a potentially significant amount of the VIE’s losses or, if no party absorbs the majority of such losses, if we will benefit from a potentially significant amount of the VIE’s expected gains.
In substantially all cases, creditors of the entities with which we have option agreements have no recourse against us and the maximum exposure to loss in our option agreements is limited to non-refundable option deposits and any capitalized pre-acquisition costs. Often, we are at risk for items over budget related to land development on property we have under option if we are the land developer. In these cases, we have contracted to complete development at a fixed cost on behalf of the land owner and any budget savings or shortfalls are borne by us. Some of our option deposits may be refundable to us if certain contractual conditions are not performed by the party selling the lots.
Investments and Securities
Investments and Securities. Our investments and securities are comprised of both treasury securities and deposits with money center banks that are FDIC-insured and secured by treasury-backed investments (see additional discussion regarding such deposits in Note 11 to these consolidated financial statements). All of our investments are classified as held-to-maturity and are recorded at amortized cost as we have both the ability and intent to hold them until their respective maturities. The contractual lives of these investments are greater than three months but not exceeding 18 months. Due to their short duration and low contractual interest rates, the amortized cost of the investments approximates fair value with no unrecognized gains and losses or other-than-temporary impairments.
Real Estate
Real Estate. Real estate is stated at cost unless the asset is determined to be impaired, at which point the inventory is written down to fair value as required by Accounting Standards Codification (“ASC”) 360-10, Property, Plant and Equipment (“ASC 360-10”). Inventory includes the costs of land acquisition, land development, home construction, capitalized interest, real estate taxes, capitalized direct overhead costs incurred during development and home construction that benefit the entire community, less impairments, if any. Land and development costs are typically allocated and transferred to homes under construction when construction begins. Home construction costs are accumulated on a per-home basis, while selling costs are expensed as incurred. Cost of home closings includes the specific construction costs of the home and all related allocated land acquisition, land development and other common costs (both incurred and estimated to be incurred) that are allocated based upon the total number of homes expected to be closed in each community or phase. Any changes to the estimated total development costs of a community or phase are allocated to the remaining homes in the community or phase. When a home closes, we may have incurred costs for goods and services that have not yet been paid. Therefore, an accrued liability to capture such obligations is recorded in connection with the home closing and charged directly to cost of sales.

We rely on certain estimates to determine our construction and land development costs. Construction and land costs are comprised of direct and allocated costs, including estimated future costs. In determining these costs, we compile project budgets that are based on a variety of assumptions, including future construction schedules and costs to be incurred. It is possible that actual results could differ from budgeted amounts for various reasons, including construction delays, labor or material shortages, increases in costs that have not yet been committed, changes in governmental requirements, or other unanticipated issues encountered during construction and development and other factors beyond our control. To address uncertainty in these budgets, we assess, update and revise project budgets on a regular basis, utilizing the most current information available to estimate construction and land costs.

Typically, a community's life cycle ranges from three to five years, commencing with the acquisition of the land, continuing through the land development phase, if applicable, and concluding with the sale, construction and closing of the homes. Actual community lives will vary based on the size of the community, the sales absorption rate and whether the land purchased was raw, partially-developed or in finished status. Master-planned communities encompassing several phases and super-block land parcels may have significantly longer lives and projects involving smaller finished lot purchases may be shorter.

All of our land inventory and related real estate assets are reviewed for recoverability quarterly, as our inventory is considered “long-lived” in accordance with GAAP. Our determination of fair value is based on projections and estimates. Changes in these expectations may lead to a change in the outcome of our impairment analysis, and actual results may also differ from our assumptions. Our analysis is completed on a quarterly basis with each community or land parcel evaluated individually. For those assets deemed to be impaired, the impairment recognized is measured as the amount by which the assets' carrying amount exceeds their fair value. The impairment of a community is allocated to each lot on a straight-line basis and charged to cost of home closings in the period during which it is determined that the fair value is less than the assets' carrying amount.

Existing and continuing communities. When projections for the remaining income expected to be earned from existing communities are no longer positive, the underlying real estate assets are not deemed fully recoverable, and further analysis is performed to determine the required impairment. The fair value of the community's assets is determined using either a discounted cash flow model for projects we intend to build out or a market-based approach for projects to be sold. If a market-based approach is used, we determine fair value based on recent comparable sales activity in the local market, adjusted for variances as determined by our knowledge of the region and general real estate expertise. If a discounted cash flow approach is used, we compute our fair value based on a proprietary model. Our key estimates in deriving fair value under our cash flow model are (i) home selling prices in the community adjusted for current and expected sales discounts and incentives, (ii) costs related to the community - both land development and home construction - including costs spent to date and budgeted remaining costs to spend, (iii) projected sales absorption rates, reflecting any product mix change strategies implemented ,or to be implemented, to stimulate the orders pace and expected cancellation rates, (iv) alternative land uses including disposition of all or a portion of the land owned and (v) our discount rate, which is currently 14-16% and varies based on the perceived risk inherent in the community's other cash flow assumptions. These assumptions vary widely across different communities and geographies and are largely dependent on local market conditions. Community-level factors that may impact our key estimates include:

The presence and significance of local competitors, including their offered product type, comparable lot size, and competitive actions;
Economic and related demographic conditions for the population of the surrounding community;
Desirability of the particular community, including unique amenities or other favorable or unfavorable attributes; and
Existing home inventory supplies, including foreclosures and short sales.

These local circumstances may significantly impact our assumptions and the resulting computation of fair value and are, therefore, closely evaluated by our division personnel in their generation of the discounted cash flow models. The models are also evaluated by regional and corporate personnel for consistency and integration, as decisions that affect pricing or absorption at one community may have resulting consequences for neighboring communities. We typically do not project market improvements in our discounted cash flow models, but may do so in limited circumstances in the latter years of a long-lived community.

Mothball communities. In certain cases, we may elect to stop development (mothball) of an existing community if we believe the economic performance of the community would be maximized by deferring development for a period of time to allow market conditions to improve. When a community is initially placed into mothball status, it is management's belief that the community is affected by local market conditions that are expected to improve within the next 1-5 years. Therefore, a temporary postponement of construction and development work is expected to yield better overall future returns. The decision may be based on financial and/or operational metrics. If we decide to mothball a community, we will impair it to its fair value as discussed above and then cease future development activity until such a time when management believes that market conditions have improved and economic performance will be maximized. No interest or other costs are capitalized to communities that are designated as mothballed.

In addition to our quarterly impairment analysis, which is conducted to determine if any current impairments exist, we also conduct a thorough quarterly review of our mothballed communities to determine if they are at risk of future impairment. The financial and operational status and expectations of these communities are analyzed as well as any unique attributes that could be viewed as indicators for future impairments. Adjustments are made accordingly and incremental impairments, if any, are recorded at each re-evaluation. Based on the facts and circumstances available as of December 31, 2013, we do not believe that any of our underperforming or mothballed communities will incur material impairments in the future. Changes in market and/or economic conditions could materially impact the conclusions of this analysis, and there can be no assurances that future impairments will not occur.

Inventory assessments on inactive assets. For our mothballed communities as well as our land held for future development, our inventory assessments typically include highly subjective estimates for future performance, including the timing of development, the product to be offered, sales rates and selling prices of the product when the community is anticipated to open for sales, and the projected costs to develop and construct the community. We evaluate various factors to develop our forecasts, including the availability of and demand for homes and finished lots within the marketplace, historical, current and future sales trends, and third-party data, if available. Based on these factors, we reach conclusions for future performance based on our judgment.

Option deposits and pre-acquisition costs. We also evaluate assets associated with future communities for impairments on a quarterly basis. Using similar techniques described in the "Existing and continuing communities" section above, we determine if the income to be generated by our future communities is acceptable to us. If the projections indicate that a community is still meeting our internal investment guidelines and is generating a profit, those assets are determined to be fully recoverable and no impairments are required. In cases where we decide to abandon a project, we will fully impair all assets related to such project and will expense and accrue any additional costs that we are contractually obligated to incur. In certain circumstances, we may elect to continue with a project because it is expected to generate positive cash flows, even though it may not be generating an accounting profit. In such cases, we will impair our pre-acquisition costs and deposits, as necessary, and record an impairment to bring the carrying value to fair value. Refer to Note 2 of these consolidated financial
statements for further information regarding our impairments.
Deposits. Deposits paid related to purchase contracts and land options are recorded and classified as Deposits on real estate under contract or option until the related land is purchased. Deposits are reclassified as a component of real estate inventory at the time the deposit is used to offset the acquisition price of the lots based on the terms of the underlying agreements. To the extent they are non-refundable, deposits are charged to expense if the land acquisition is terminated or no longer considered probable. Since the acquisition contracts typically do not require specific performance, we do not consider such contracts to be contractual obligations to purchase the land and our total exposure under such contracts is limited to the loss of the non-refundable deposits and any ancillary capitalized costs. The review of the likelihood of the acquisition of contracted lots is completed quarterly in conjunction with the real estate impairment analysis noted above and therefore, if impaired, the deposits are recorded at the lower of cost or fair value. Our deposits were $51.6 million and $14.4 million as of December 31, 2013 and December 31, 2012, respectively.
Property and Equipment, Net
Property and Equipment, net. Property and equipment, net consists of computer and office equipment and model home furnishings. Depreciation is generally calculated using the straight-line method over the estimated useful lives of the assets, which range from 3 to 7 years. Maintenance and repair costs are expensed as incurred.
Deferred Costs
The costs are primarily amortized to interest expense using the straight line method which approximates the effective interest method.
Investments in Unconsolidated Entities
Investments in Unconsolidated Entities. We use the equity method of accounting for investments in unconsolidated entities over which we exercise significant influence but do not have a controlling interest. Under the equity method, our share of the unconsolidated entities’ earnings or loss is included in Loss from unconsolidated entities, net, or Earnings from financial services, unconsolidated entities and other, net, in our statements of operations. We use the cost method of accounting for investments in unconsolidated entities over which we do not have significant influence. We track cumulative earnings and distributions from each of our ventures. For cash flow classification, to the extent distributions do not exceed earnings, we designate such distributions as return on capital. Distributions in excess of cumulative earnings are treated as return of capital. We evaluate our investments in unconsolidated entities for impairment when events that trigger an evaluation of recoverability present themselves.
Fair Value Measurements
We account for non-recurring fair value measurements of our non-financial assets and liabilities in accordance with ASC 820-10 Fair Value Measurement. This guidance defines fair value, establishes a framework for measuring fair value and addresses required disclosures about fair value measurements. This standard establishes a three-level hierarchy for fair value measurements based upon the significant inputs used to determine fair value. Observable inputs are those which are obtained from market participants external to the company while unobservable inputs are generally developed internally, utilizing management’s estimates, assumptions and specific knowledge of the assets/liabilities and related markets. The three levels are defined as follows:
Level 1 — Valuation is based on quoted prices in active markets for identical assets and liabilities.
Level 2 —Valuation is determined from quoted prices for similar assets or liabilities in active markets, quoted prices for identical or similar instruments in markets that are not active, or by model-based techniques in which all significant inputs are observable in the market.
Level 3 — Valuation is derived from model-based techniques in which at least one significant input is unobservable and based on the company’s own estimates about the assumptions that market participants would use to value the asset or liability.
If the only observable inputs are from inactive markets or for transactions which the company evaluates as “distressed”, the use of Level 1 inputs should be modified by the company to properly address these factors, or the reliance of such inputs may be limited, with a greater weight attributed to Level 3 inputs. Refer to Notes 1 and 2 for additional information regarding the valuation of our non-financial assets.
Revenue Recognition
Revenue Recognition. Revenue from closings of residential real estate is recognized when closings have occurred, the buyer has made the required minimum down payment, obtained necessary financing, the risks and rewards of ownership are transferred to the buyer, and we have no continuing involvement with the property, which is generally the close of escrow. Revenue is reported net of any discounts and incentives.
Cost of Home Closings
Cost of Home Closings. Cost of home closings includes direct home construction costs, closing costs, land acquisition and development costs, development period interest and common costs. Direct construction costs are accumulated during the period of construction and charged to cost of closings under specific identification methods, as are closing costs. Estimates of costs incurred or to be incurred but not paid are accrued and expensed at the time of closing. Land development, acquisition and common costs are allocated to each lot based on the number of lots remaining to close.
Income Taxes
Income Taxes. We account for income taxes using the asset and liability method, which requires that deferred tax assets and liabilities be recognized based on future tax consequences of both temporary differences between the financial statement carrying amounts of existing assets and liabilities and their respective tax bases. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using enacted tax rates expected to apply in the years in which the temporary differences are expected to be recovered or settled. The effect on deferred tax assets and liabilities of a change in tax rates is recognized in earnings in the period when the changes are enacted.
We record deferred tax assets to the extent we believe these assets will more likely than not be realized. In making such determination, we consider all available objectively verifiable positive and negative evidence, including scheduled reversals of deferred tax liabilities, whether we are in a cumulative loss position, projected future taxable income, tax planning strategies and recent financial operations. If we determine that we will not be able to realize our deferred tax assets in the future, we will record a valuation allowance, which increases the provision for income taxes.
We recognize interest and penalties related to unrecognized tax benefits within the income tax expense line in the accompanying consolidated statement of operations. Accrued interest and penalties are included within the related tax liability line in the consolidated balance sheets.
In accordance with ASC 740-10, Income Taxes ("ASC 740"), we determine our deferred tax assets and liabilities by taxing jurisdiction. We evaluate our deferred tax assets, including the benefit from NOLs, by jurisdiction to determine if a valuation allowance is required. Companies must assess whether a valuation allowance should be established based on the consideration of all available evidence using a “more likely than not” standard with significant weight being given to evidence that can be objectively verified. This assessment considers, among other matters, the nature, frequency and severity of cumulative losses, forecasts of future profitability, the length of statutory carryforward periods, experiences with operating losses and experiences of utilizing tax credit carryforwards and tax planning alternatives.
Deferred tax assets and liabilities are netted on our balance sheet by tax jurisdiction. Net overall tax assets for all jurisdictions are grouped and included as a separate asset. Net overall deferred tax liabilities for all jurisdictions are grouped and included in other liabilities.
Advertising Costs
Advertising Costs. We expense advertising costs as they are incurred.
Earnings/(Loss) Per Share
Earnings/(Loss) Per Share. We compute basic earnings/(loss) per share by dividing net earnings/(loss) by the weighted average number of common shares outstanding during the period. Diluted earnings per share gives effect to the potential dilution that could occur if securities or contracts to issue common stock that are dilutive were exercised or converted into common stock or resulted in the issuance of common stock that then shared in our earnings. In periods of net losses, no dilution is computed.
Stock-Based Compensation
Stock-Based Compensation. We account for stock-based compensation in accordance with ASC 718-10, Compensation—Stock Compensation. We use the Black-Scholes model to value stock options granted or modified after January 1, 2006, under this guidance. This guidance also requires us to estimate forfeitures in calculating the expense related to stock-based compensation and to reflect the benefits of tax deductions in excess of recognized compensation expense as both a financing inflow and an operating cash outflow. Awards with either a graded or cliff vesting are expensed on a straight-line basis over the life of the award. See Note 8 for additional discussion.
Segment Reporting
As defined in ASC 280-10, Segment Reporting, we have seven homebuilding operating segments. These segments are engaged in the business of acquiring and developing land, constructing homes, marketing and selling those homes and providing warranty and customer services. We aggregate our homebuilding operating segments into a reporting segment based on similar long-term economic characteristics and geographical proximity. Our current reportable homebuilding segments are as follows:
West:       Arizona, California and Colorado (1)
Central:  Texas
East:       Florida, the Carolinas and Tennessee

(1)    Activity for our wind-down Nevada operations is reflected in the West Region's results.
Management’s evaluation of segment performance is based on segment operating income, which we define as homebuilding and land revenues less cost of home construction, commissions and other sales costs, land development and other land sales costs and other costs incurred by or allocated to each segment, including impairments. Each reportable segment follows the same accounting policies described in Note 1, “Business and Summary of Significant Accounting Policies.” Operating results for each segment may not be indicative of the results for such segment had it been an independent, stand-alone entity for the periods presented.
401(k) Retirement Plan
401(k) Retirement Plan. We have a 401(k) plan for all full-time Meritage employees (the “Plan”). We match portions of employees’ voluntary contributions, and contributed to the Plan approximately $1.3 million, $1.0 million and $0.7 million for the years ended 2013, 2012 and 2011, respectively.
Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements
Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements - Joint Ventures. In the past, we have participated in land development joint ventures as a means of accessing larger parcels of land and lot positions, expanding our market opportunities, managing our risk profile and leveraging our capital base; however, in recent years, such ventures have not been a significant avenue for us to access lots. See Note 4 for additional discussion of our investments in unconsolidated entities.
Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements - Other. In the normal course of business, we may acquire lots from various development entities pursuant to option and purchase agreements. The purchase price generally approximates the market price at the date the contract is executed (with possible future escalators). See Note 3 for further discussion.
We provide letters of credit in support of our obligations relating to the development of our projects and other corporate purposes. Surety bonds to guarantee our performance of certain development and construction activities are generally posted in lieu of letters of credit or cash deposits. The amount of these obligations outstanding at any time varies depending on the stage and level of our development activities, as bonds are generally not released until all development activities under the bond are complete. In the event a bond or letter of credit is drawn upon, we would be obligated to reimburse the issuer. We believe it is unlikely that any significant amounts of these bonds or letters of credit will be drawn upon. The table below outlines our surety bond and letter of credit obligations (in thousands):
Warranty Reserves
Warranty Reserves. We provide home purchasers with limited warranties against certain building defects and have certain obligations related to those post-construction warranties for closed homes. The specific terms and conditions of these limited warranties vary by state, but overall the nature of the warranties include a complete workmanship and materials warranty typically during the first year after the close of the home and a structural warranty that typically extends up to 10 years subsequent to the close of the home. With the assistance of an actuary, we have estimated these reserves for the structural warranty based on the number of homes still under warranty and historical data and trends for our communities. We also use industry data with respect to similar product types and geographic areas in markets where our experience is incomplete to draw a meaningful conclusion. We regularly review our warranty reserves and adjust them, as necessary, to reflect changes in trends as information becomes available. Based on our most recent reviews of warranty costs incurred and increased spending in certain of our markets, we recorded an unfavorable $1.3 million adjustment to our warranty reserve balance in 2013, which increased our cost of sales. No such adjustments were recorded in 2012. A summary of changes in our warranty reserves follows (in thousands):
Warranty reserves are included in Accrued liabilities on the accompanying consolidated balance sheets, and additions and adjustments to the reserves are included in Cost of home closings within the accompanying consolidated statements of operations. These reserves are intended to cover costs associated with our contractual and statutory warranty obligations, which include, among other items, claims involving defective workmanship and materials. We believe that our total reserves, coupled with our contractual relationships and rights with our trades and the general liability insurance we maintain, are sufficient to cover our general warranty obligations. However, as unanticipated changes in legal, weather, environmental or other conditions could have an impact on our actual warranty costs, future costs could differ significantly from our estimates.
Recently Issued Accounting Pronouncements
Recently Issued Accounting Pronouncements. In April 2013, the Financial Accounting Standards Board ("FASB") issued ASU 2013-04, Liabilities ("ASU 2013-04"), which provides guidance for the recognition, measurement, and disclosure of obligations resulting from joint and several liability arrangements for which the total amount of the obligation is fixed at the reporting date. ASU 2013-04 is effective for us beginning January 1, 2014. We do not anticipate the adoption of ASU 2013-04 to have an effect on our consolidated financial statements or disclosures.