Henry Boot has wanted to sell its homes division for three months, and is several firms are known to have considered making a bid.
One City source said: "All the big boys looked at it, including Persimmon."
Wilson Bowden bought the firm by paying £29.1m in cash and clearing its £18.7m debt.
Henry Boot Homes has a turnover of £88.7m and last year made an operating profit of £9.5m.
The main attraction of the deal was Henry Boot's landbank: it has 1792 plots, most with planning permission. The purchase will help Wilson Bowden to meet its targets for the year. Henry Boot has also agreed terms for 15 more sites, although contracts for them have not been finalised.
Wilson Bowden chief executive Ian Robertson said the company intended to spend £400m on new land this year. He said this deal meant in effect that it had spent 12.5% of that outlay.
Robertson denied that a "large number" of Henry Boot Homes 200 staff would lose their jobs.
He said: "We will spend the next two weeks talking to the staff. Some of the people are in areas that we would love to take on. Good surveyors are like gold dust."
Robertson added that the Wilson Bowden business would require additional site agents – 120 are employed by Henry Boot Homes.
The acquisition will be integrated into the group over the next two years. Henry Boot Homes will then be required to change its name in order to distinguish itself from its former owner.
The City welcomed the deal. Stephen Rawlinson, an analyst with financial services firm Old Mutual, said: "It is a very good move for Wilson Bowden.
"It enables it to buy lots of good land. It is also buying scarce resources such as surveyors and trade workers."
Wilson Bowden chairman David Wilson said that the acquisition would boost the company's presence in its core regions of the Midlands, the South-west and north England.