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REAL ESTATE : Buyers Snap Up Countrified Lots at Coto de Caza

Compiled by John O'Dell, Times staff writer

Ever wonder who buys the custom residential lots the folks at Coto de Caza put on the block every so often? And where the money comes from?

Well, it isn’t the county’s doctors and lawyers using up their reserves of cash.

In the past three weeks, 72 single-family lots have been sold in the undeveloped south half of the gated community in the hills behind Mission Viejo.

And most of the acre-plus properties have been acquired by “entrepreneurs and high-level executives,” says Rod Gilliland, vice president of sales and marketing for the California division of Florida’s Arvida Co., owner of Coto de Caza.

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“These are people in their mid-40s who either own their own businesses or are way up in the corporate hierarchy,” he said.

It seems that the corporate types are most interested in the 4,000-acre development’s countrified lifestyle.

And because Arvida’s rules preclude contingency sales--an agreement to buy a home only if your former home is sold by a certain date--most buyers apparently are using equity from the sale of recently sold business or residential properties, savings or investment profits to gain entry.

The portrait of a custom lot buyer at Coto de Caza is rounded out with these observations from Gilliland:

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* 20% pay cash.

* Of those who finance their purchase, few make down payments larger than the 25% minimum required by Arvida.

* Virtually all are from South Orange County, with Mission Viejo providing the bulk of the buyers.

* Almost half are embarking on their first experience with custom home building; the rest have already had at least one previous custom home and a few are on their third or even fourth.

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In coming years, Gilliland said, Coto de Caza plans to sell about 350 more custom lots. He said that nearly 2,000 people have signed up to be notified of lot sales, which are conducted on a first-come, first-served basis.

On April 25, when the first 44 lots went up for sale, about 300 prospective buyers showed up, and all the lots were gone in four hours--at prices ranging from $150,000 to $335,000. An additional 250 buyers turned up May 11, when 32 lots were sold in 2 1/2 hours.

In addition to the price of the lot--which has been averaging about $250,000--buyers also have to build a home.

And while the minimum acceptable size is 3,000 square feet of living space, Gilliland said most exceed that size.

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“The typical home here is not built on a shoestring budget,” is the way he politely put it. Most of the community’s custom-built homes are in the 4,500- to 6,000-square-foot range and cost from $350,000 to $550,000. Add in the lot value and a little bit of appreciation and most of the properties will be worth at least $1 million when the owners move in, Gilliland said.

If all that is too rich for your blood, Coto de Caza’s plans also call for 2,500 to 3,000 “production homes,” a mix of attached and single-family styles. Prices are expected to start in the high $200,000s.

There also is a batch of new production homes for sale in the community, with prices starting in the high $200,000s and going well past $1 million.


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