While young first-time home buyers constitute the biggest portion of the condo market, there is another, more affluent market out there.
Some people who could afford upscale single-family homes are choosing condos because of the low maintenance and the amenities they provide such as recreational facilities, said real estate agent Douglas Ward, an Irvine area condo specialist.
Others are going condo because the units offer more for the money than a similarly priced single-family home, or because a condo enables them to live in a more desirable area than they could otherwise afford.
Mark L. Frazier, president of Barratt American, the home builder that pioneered 500-square-foot condos in Orange County 5 years ago, said about 30% of the market nowadays is for the so-called upscale condo.
"You have people with two incomes making a lot of money and they still can't begin to come up with the down payment on a nice enough new detached home in Orange County," Frazier said. "So they take the next best thing and buy as big a condo as they can in the best area they can find."
That, said Peter Ochs, president of the Fieldstone Co., is called "the choice market."
And that is why Irvine Co. owner Donald Bren's development company builds $230,000 condos in the Westpark section of that master-planned community and why Lusk Homes is building $500,000 condos in Newport Beach.
And, said Frazier, that is why Barratt no longer builds tiny starter units.
The company has several projects in the $150,000 to $220,000 range in Orange County, he said, and is planning a golf course-oriented condo project in the Tustin Ranch development; a place where base prices will run from $230,000 to $300,000 with an additional premium of $30,000 to $50,000 for units that are right on the fairways.