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Wealthy Bargain Hunters Head to Oxnard

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mitchell Egers wanted to wake up and see dolphins.

He wanted to see the far-off forms of the Channel Islands looming from the water. And he wanted to do it in a house made from scratch.

So Egers, a Los Angeles trial lawyer with a home in the hills of Studio City, bought a spot in Oxnard Shores to build his retirement dream house, among what experts say is the only available undeveloped beachfront property between San Diego and Santa Barbara.

“I considered other areas,” he said. “I thought about Orange County or further north, but there was nothing there. This is going to be another Malibu or Santa Barbara.”

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And local developers are counting on finding more Mitchell Egerses out there. Real estate activity is surging on this sliver of beach up the coast from Channel Islands Harbor, buoyed--as in most areas throughout the county--by the area’s economic upturn. The difference? Unlike Hollywood Beach, Silver Strand or Ventura’s Pierpont beachfront, there are a dozen or more open lots--and many more on the perpendicular side streets--on which to build on this mile and a half of sand.

“This is simply the only place in Southern California where there are this many open lots,” said Bodine Elias of Cosby-Tipton Real Estate, which specializes in beach homes. “We probably have a six-year inventory,” including the lots off the beach.

In the 1960s, a beachfront lot on this sandy splinter in Oxnard went for as little as $15,000. But for 20 years--ending in 1988--this beach was banned to new building because of worries about erosion and concerns that heavy tides could wash a home right off its beachfront perch.

During those years, the tides brushed up against the homes--and Sonny and Cher’s home famously met its doom there in 1971 when a rough storm uprooted it.

But now the beach has returned to health and the sand stretches much farther to the waves, residents say.

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Construction was reapproved in the 1980s after litigation by developers, and there was a short-lived frenzy of building and buying, in which lots sold for as much as $800,000. That ended with an almost immediate downturn in the economy, and, as a result, the area never saw the intense buildup that other beaches had experienced.

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Now that the economy’s back to health, that’s slowly changing, real estate agents and developers say, as the comparatively affordable lots are snapped up.

“I’ve seen a surge in oceanfront sales,” said Trigg Schaefer, owner of Channel Islands Realty.

Realtors say the average price of a lot is about $450,000, and the oceanfront homes are running near $1 million, far less than it would cost to buy a beachfront fixer-upper in Santa Barbara or Malibu, destroy it and start over.

Schaefer said he has had five oceanfront homes and lots in escrow since January, usually the slowest time of the year. Harwood Homes in Sherman Oaks just bought 12 lots in the Oxnard Shores area and is building on four of them.

The buyers are typically Los Angeles types, people looking for weekend homes and willing to live in an unglamorous ZIP code.

“The wealthy go to Malibu first, but it’s just so high now that people are taking a second look at Oxnard,” said Jim Sandefer, the contractor building Egers’ house, one other and a home for himself. “It just doesn’t have the name that other places do.”

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Of course, this new construction conjures the specter of the ‘80s, when rampant speculation ruled until the bottom dropped out.

“I think probably half of the building is speculative,” said Pat Patterson of Patterson & Tintorri and the former president of the Ventura County Coastal Realtors Assn. “They get beat up and they come back.”

But developers are counting on buyers for their product in a region rich with stock-market millionaires ready to put some of their money into tangible assets, they say.

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“I think we’re going to have a good market out there,” Sandefer said. “We have a good product and a good location.”

Egers, who will move into his modern, 4,400-square-foot home this month, agrees--in far less businesslike terms.

“There’s nothing like the serenity and calmness of Oxnard Shores,” he said.

“It’s good for one’s soul to wake up there.”

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