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RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE : Home Builders See No Post-Riot Exodus From L.A. County

BRIEFCASE

May 22, 1992|John O'Dell, Times staff writer

The early word after the rioting in Los Angeles last month was that the unrest would set off a wave of so-called white flight from Los Angeles County to the quieter environs of Orange, Ventura, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

But it seems that the anticipated outpouring of emigrants from the Los Angeles area is more of a trickle than a flood.

Housing industry insiders attending the annual Pacific Coast Builders Conference in San Francisco this week said they have seen few riot refugees in the sales offices of new-home developments outside Los Angeles County.

One builder who has two such developments in riot-affected areas said sales have bounced back after a few cancellations in the days immediately after the rioting.

Randall Lewis, vice president of Lewis Homes, a major Upland-based builder of entry-level housing, said salespeople at his company's projects in Ladera Heights and Carson had braced for a maelstrom of phone calls from frantic buyers seeking to back out of their deals.

"But in the past two weeks, we haven't had a single cancellation," he said, adding that foot traffic at the models in the two projects appears to have returned to normal.

James Murar, chairman of RecreAction Group of Companies, a Newport Beach builder of entry-level attached homes in Orange and San Diego counties, said his sales department has recorded only one transaction in the past month in which the buyer moved out of Los Angeles because of the riots.

"That was someone who had been planning to move anyway," he said. "The people had been in our sales office several months ago" and were considering RecreAction's Tustin condominiums as well as several other projects. "The riots just provided the final push," Murar said.

Lewis, Murar and other builders also said they have not heard of any developers canceling plans for housing projects in Los Angeles County because of the riots.

That doesn't mean, however, that there won't be long-range repercussions.

Tim Hamilton, a new-home marketing consultant in Newport Beach, said he has been asked by several builders with projects in and around the Riverside County community of Perris to prepare advertising campaigns specifically to recruit buyers from Central Los Angeles.

And a just-completed survey for a major Southland home builder found that the Los Angeles rioting will be a factor in the buying decisions of at least 10% of the home shoppers in today's market.

It is difficult to get an accurate picture of just how badly the residential development industry has been hurt by the ongoing recession. That's because many of the businesses are small and privately owned, and can drop out of sight with little notice.

But one indicator is attendance at major events such as this week's builders conference.

This year, organizers expect 7,000 to 8,000 people at the four-day conference by the time the doors close at 4 p.m. today. That would be an attendance decline of 20% to 30% from the high of 10,000 in 1990--the industry's latest good year.

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