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Military Keeps Sales Humming : Retired Officers Active in San Diego Real Estate Picture

May 04, 1986|LINDA LIPMAN | Special to The Times and Lipman is a San Diego free-lance writer. and

SAN DIEGO — Semper Fidelis. It is the motto of the U. S. Marine Corps, but the Latin translation for "always faithful" is also the appropriate name of an Oceanside realty office that counts on 75% of its business from the Marines.

In fact, the many naval bases throughout San Diego County have affected the real estate market, and retired officers often choose real estate for their second careers.

Business is good at Semper Fidelis Realty in Oceanside, and Camp Joseph Pendleton, located directly north of town, is why. While the economy, and particularly the real estate market, moves in cycles, Camp Pendleton, with its population of 45,000 and a $205-million annual payroll, provides a reliable and steady stream of home buyers and renters.

A successful real estate office counts on turnover--the same house selling and reselling every few years. Marines and the thousands of other (mostly Navy) military families in San Diego provide just that.

Constant Turnover

Marines move into Oceanside, buy a home, if they can afford one, or rent an apartment (if they don't live on base), stay for a few years and their tour of duty is completed. But before they leave, they stop at Semper Fidelis and other realty offices to list their homes for sale or hire a property manager to oversee their investment property while they're gone.

Claude King, owner of Semper Fidelis and past president of the Oceanside Board of Realtors, says he often sees the same military families again in a few years when they return to Camp Pendleton duty or retire from the service and it's time to buy another Oceanside house.

"I can't think of one negative thing about living near the base (Camp Pendleton)," said King, a retired Marine captain with 26 years in the Corps, originally from Waco, Tex.

"The Marines greatly increase the demand for housing in Oceanside. And these homes turn over a lot. Any time you have homes selling and reselling, you have price appreciation, too. Everyone tries to make at least a little money when they sell their homes."

Camp Pendleton is a training center for new recruits--young men often on their own for the first time in their lives. In the past, Oceanside had a problem with increased crime in its downtown area--not a plus when it comes to promoting the city to potential home buyers.

Scripps Ranch realtor Dick Dellwo, who retired as a Navy commander after 25 years in the service, also says that a military base increases demand for nearby property. Scripps Ranch is an upper-middle-class San Diego community near Miramar Naval Air Station, along the booming Interstate 15 corridor in North County.

Development Curtailed

"People want to live as close as they can to work," he said. "Developers realize this. So when they see a naval base, they start building right near it. They know there will be a demand for those homes." Dellwo adds that 90% of his business comes from Navy families.

The many military bases and installations in San Diego County, such as Pendleton, Miramar, the 32nd Street Naval Station, the naval weapons station in Fallbrook, Marine recruit depot and naval training center downtown, North Island Naval Air Station and the amphibious base on Coronado, often absorb so much prime land that private development near them is curtailed.

Growth Restricted

Camp Pendleton serves as a 17-mile buffer, preventing the Los Angeles-Orange County urban sprawl from reaching Oceanside, the start of San Diego County.

At Coronado, a quaint, older town of about 20,000, the North Island Naval Air Station and the naval amphibious base occupy more than half the peninsula, thus restricting growth of this desirable city and causing heavy traffic along the Coronado bridge and through the city.

Because Coronado is a no-growth community, the demand for land and housing outstrips supply. No major housing developments, other than some high-rise condos can be built.

The average, 1,700-square-foot house under 10 years old on a 25-by-140-foot lot sells for nearly $200,000, about $70,000 more than a comparable house located elsewhere in the county. The lot alone is worth $100,000.

'Can't Afford Homes Here'

"Ten years ago, Navy people bought here. Now they buy in Imperial Beach and Bonita (south of San Diego) because prices are lower," Michael Napolitano, a Coronado real estate broker, said. "The demand from Navy personnel is great, but they just can't afford homes here. About 75% of them rent." Napolitano said Navy personnel account for about one-third of his clients.

"A lot of Navy people who come here are shocked at our prices. This must be one of the most expensive bases (North Island Naval Air Station) to live near in the country," he said.

Napolitano said there is a big demand among investors for apartment buildings. They rarely come on the market and sell quickly.

Aside from recruits, the San Diego real estate market is also fueled by retired military families who remain after their final tour or relocate here from other bases.

Count on Retirees

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