Jergler: Deals to be had in upscale O.C. areas

Is seems there can be a great deal of leeway when one talks about what constitutes a "deal" in today's real estate market, but there are only a few communities in Southern California where it is considered a deal when you are talking about the $700,000 and less range.

In the upscale community in Orange County known as Ladera Ranch, less than $700,000 is a deal — especially when you consider many homes in the area were selling for $1 million and more only a few years ago.

But deal-seekers may be pinpointing Ladera Ranch specifically, as sales in the less than $700,000 category have been on the rise, say real estate agents who specialize in the 12-year-old community bordered by the cities of San Juan Capistrano and Mission Viejo.

"The deals are there, that's for sure," said Brent Frohoff, with Veranda Realty in Ladera Ranch, who's also a resident in the community. "Now prices are where a large number of people in south Orange County, even in this economy, can afford homes."

Frohoff, a former pro volleyball player for nearly 20 years until retiring in 2001 to take up real estate, added, "Before those $700,000 homes were a million to $1.1 million at least."

Looking on the multiple listing service at the $700,000-or-less range for Ladera Ranch, there are 34 active homes in that category, and 57 homes in escrow. In past three months, 37 homes have closed escrow and sold. The cheapest homes for sale start at $375,000, with homes in the community reaching price tags in excess of $4 million.

There are roughly 8,000 units in Ladera Ranch, the large majority of which are single-family homes and condominiums. Community amenities include a plethora of businesses, myriad parks and extensive hiking trails. The community is broken up into "villages" and sub-communities, some of which carry architectural themes.

"It's a beautifully laid out community with a number of amenities for kids and families to enjoy together," Frohoff said. "Of course you are going to pay a little more in property taxes and Mello-Roos."

The Mello-Roos tax, to fund the community's infrastructure and other projects, ranges from $2,000 to $4,000 a year.

It's a strong argument against moving into Ladera Ranch. Frohoff's argument: "For $700,000, you can get a pretty nice-sized home."

In fact, there are several nice-sized four-bedroom homes at between 2,800 to 3,000 square feet for sale in the $700,000 and under range, Frohoff noted.

The entire community is built out except for a few custom home lots in the gated Covenant Hills portion of Ladera Ranch. Even the exclusive Covenant Hills development has lots selling for literally dirt cheap, according to Frohoff.

"You could buy a lot up there for anywhere between $250,000 and $400,000," Frohoff said. "Back in '06 the cheapest lot was a million bucks. Now the cheapest is $250,000. There's really not anything like that around Orange County."

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