If you ever wondered just how far your housing dollar will go in some of this country's less glamorous areas, listen to former Orange County homeowner Delia Blair.
Blair and her husband left their Tustin home of 20 years last April to return to the more tranquil environs of west Tennessee. A former real estate agent for nine years here, she knew that, dollar for dollar, she would get more house for her money outside the charged Orange County market. But what she ended up with even surprised Blair.
"Well," she said in a telephone interview from Eads, a small community 12 miles east of Memphis, "we can hardly believe it."
The Blairs are building--from scratch--a six-bedroom, three-bath home with 5,800 square feet. That's about three times the square footage of a typical three- or four-bedroom detached house in Orange County.
Moreover, the Blairs are sitting on five wooded acres. And, as if that's not enough, they are building a 2 1/2-acre lake behind the house that will be stocked with fish for those lazy days when there's nothing else to do in west Tennessee but fish in your own personal lake. The cost of the entire project--land, house and lake included: less than $200,000.
The Blairs were able to afford such luxury because they sold their Tustin home for $353,000, enabling them to leave town with a hefty profit in equity.
"It is just amazing what you can get out here for the money," Blair said. "One of the things we always wanted was some land. And in Orange County . . . well, you know how it is. You can't afford to own land like this out there."
The trade-off, of course, is the loss of everything that has lured thousands of people to California for years: the year-round pleasant climate, the variety of outdoor activities available, the access to limitless cultural events.
But for many, the trade-off seems worth the price.
Blair's two Orange County-raised sons, in fact, left simply because they couldn't afford to buy houses.
"One of my boys bought a $55,000 house here that would easily have cost $155,000 in the city of Orange," Blair said. "Owning a home they were comfortable with was very important to them."
Along with a few other markets, such as San Francisco, San Diego, New York and Boston, real estate agents across the United States simply love to deal with people from Los Angeles and Orange counties.
An informal, telephone survey of other U.S. markets revealed this about what $169,000 (the median sale price of a single-family home in Orange County is $168,656) would buy:
ATLANTA: For $169,900, associate broker Robert N. Funk of Buckhead Brokers Inc. has built a custom 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath home on a half-acre in Marietta, a growing and high-priced residential area north of Atlanta.
"That kind of money will almost always get you a lot of extras here, like a basement and two-car garage, double sinks throughout, vaulted ceilings, Jacuzzi, custom wood paneling and fireplace, den, family room, formal dining room," Funk said.
CHICAGO: In a market where the median sale price of a single-family home is almost $80,000 less than Orange County, $169,000 can buy a lot of house.
"You're talking four bedroom with a full basement, maybe three baths with double garage, a study or office downstairs, of course a fireplace, big kitchen and double sinks and walk-in closets in the master bedroom," said David Holm, an agent for Century 21 in Naperville, a suburban community 30 miles due west of Chicago.
"Now if you're talking in the $200,000 or $250,000 range, you're moving into really big houses up here," he added. "I don't know what it buys down there, but it's exclusively upscale up here."
DALLAS: "For that," said June Feltman, vice president and manager of Ebby Halliday Realtors, "we can put you in something very, very nice."
Feltman cited one 2,468-square-foot house in north Dallas near Richardson with four bedrooms, three full baths, brick with wood trim, fully carpeted, dining room, living room, den, separate study, brick fireplace, oak paneling, pitched roof and wood-beamed ceiling, double-car garage with central air and heat. The price: $164,500.
"Of course, this is a custom house," Feltman said. "When you get into tract homes in Dallas, you're going into the $100,000 range."
MIAMI-FORT LAUDERDALE: Barbara Roberts, a broker in Plantation, a community of upper-scale residential homes west of Fort Lauderdale, suppressed a giggle when asked to compare South Florida and Southern California housing prices.
"I love to get buyers from three places," she said. "California, New York and New Jersey. They are the perfect customers because they are never disappointed. They never believe they are getting all the space they are."
Listed in Plantation for $168,000: four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath, split-level house, 2,500 square feet, living and dining room, vaulted ceilings, separate den and study downstairs, two-car garage and pool.