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$1-Million Tract Home Arrives in Southland

May 07, 1989|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

The $1-million tract home is here.

Throughout the Southland, from the desert to the sea, from Tarzana to San Diego, home builders are producing houses in subdivisions or tracts-- a term developers hate--for buyers willing to spend nearly $1 million or more.

At least a dozen builders are developing megabuck houses in nearly as many Southern California locations, an informal survey shows. They range from golf course homes in Rancho Mirage to mini-mansions overlooking a horse ranch in north San Diego County.

The houses aren't enormous (the biggest is about 5,000 square feet), but most have spectacular views and such features as steam showers, spas, catering kitchens with two dishwashers and double ovens, central vacuum systems, security systems with TV monitors and options such as marble instead of tile or carpet on the floors.

As Orange County developer Garth Chambers put it: "Floor plans in the $1-million range are offered with enough options so customers feel there is customizing and they are getting their money's worth."

But the homes also have this in common: They are what the building industry calls "production houses," what most people think of as "tract homes."

Production housing is defined as having several models and option packages but no buyer at the time of ground breaking, according to Ann Guss of the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California.

The dictionary defines tract as "a housing development," but developers equate tract housing with Levittown, a cheaply constructed Long Island community built shortly after World War II.

Said Jerry Sellers, vice president of marketing for S&S Construction: "Tract homes mean little cookie-cutter boxes in a row. We don't build those."

"Most $1-million homes are built as custom homes without any risk to the builders," said Guss of the BIA. "Most production builders are building houses for under $300,000."

But "the $1-million production houses are becoming more and more common," said Ben Bartolotto, director of the Construction Industry Research Board.

S&S Construction is developing 86 of them on a hilltop in Rancho Palos Verdes, using six floor plans--up to 5,000 square feet in size--and 24 elevations. Opening prices were $795,000 to $1.3 million.

Chambers, developer of a new 874-acre golf course community known as Dove Canyon in Orange County, is selling 26 lots to a group of builders planning houses that will sell at $800,000 and up, with 10 of those homes to close escrow by Jan. 1.

"I've produced an environment suitable for the $1-million range," Chambers said. "It has fairway frontage, because to get the $1-million range in prices, a development must either have fairway frontage or an ocean view."

Or a country-club atmosphere, said Ken Wilson, whose Haseko-Wilson partnership is developing 40 $1.5-million houses and 11 $1-million townhouses in Brentwood at the master-planned MountainGate, where there are 14 tennis courts and 27 holes of golf.

Two other developers, Jama Enterprises and Mountain View Homes, are also producing $1-million-plus housing at MountainGate.

Thirty detached homes are being built by Mountain View, with 12 in the first phase being completed at prices from $1,475,000 to $1.6 million. And 17 houses will be built by Jama on a site where grading is just being finished. Prices of those homes haven't been set yet, but they are expected to be from $1.5 million up.

Life Style Purchased

A fourth builder at MountainGate, Jay Steinbeck, was unavailable for comment, and it could not be learned if his homes are production or custom, but Wilson said Steinbeck just completed 15 houses priced from $1.2 million to $1.5 million, with 11 sold.

Another country-club environment where $1-million production homes are being built is Morningside in Rancho Mirage. Developed by Ed Johnsen's Trojan Properties and The Equitable, the project's final 42 houses--out of 410--are expected to be priced from slightly above $1 million to $1.9 million.

Wilson says it is a life style that is being purchased with a $1-million home in these communities, but he doesn't underestimate the importance of a good site:

"Location is everything. If I were building these in Pacoima, I'd be worried. If I were building these in the flats of Beverly Hills, I wouldn't even come to work."

The $1-million production house would be a sure winner there, he explained, "because the real estate values are so high, but the flats have been built out for decades."

There are some possible sites for such housing in what is known as the Beverly Hills Post Office area, he added.

Another prime location is Bel-Air, and there is a development of 135 production homes planned there, on a site across Sepulveda Boulevard from MountainGate. Prices for the 38 units in the first phase are $700,000 to $1.4 million. The project is being developed by Prestige Homes, a subsidiary of Goldrich & Kest.

Project in Tarzana

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