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BRIEFCASE

Residential Real Estate

August 04, 1993|John O'Dell / Times staff writer

Tour Reveals Some Bargains: Random thoughts after a two-day whirlwind tour of models at more than 40 new home complexes in Orange County:

(Note: Unless you are a real glutton for punishment, don't try this yourself. They really do all start to look alike after about the 20th tract, and all those stairs can play heck with the knees.)

There are some pretty good bargains (by Orange County standards) out there; several builders, for example, are offering four- and five-bedroom homes at 2,100 to 2,500 square feet for well under $260,000. Three years ago those would have been $325,000-$350,000 homes.

Homes selling fastest seem to be those just now coming onto the market--mostly those designed specifically for the recessionary '90s. They have fewer curves and features than the extravaganzas offered during the latter years of the building boom, but they are refreshingly honest, and a whole lot more affordable, in their leaner form.

Builders should demand that their sales agents walk through the models with a bit more regularity. Spotted during model inspections were things like a dead beetle in a bathtub; large water stains in the wallpaper under an apparently leaky window; a stair rail that wobbled like it was ready to rip loose; blobs of wood putty, applied to cover nail heads, that remained clearly and lumpily visible under glossy enamel paint on the stair rail in another model; lots of soiled paint and dirty wallpaper. If a model that is supposed to represent the developer's best efforts has problems, what's the potential buyer to think about quality control of other homes in the tract?

A trend in the making? One big regional developer has opened three models in Anaheim Hills that are open sans furnishings. The sales agent at the project said the furniture, wall hangings and window coverings are to be installed by the end of the month. But for now, shoppers get a pretty good idea of what the homes really look like--not what they can look like if your decorating budget is slightly larger than the federal deficit.

Finally, they're building some single-story detached homes! Unfortunately, they are either quite small, 1,200 to 1,600 square feet, or are at the high end of the affordability scale at $270,000 or more. But builders who have them say they do well. Those who don't build single-story dwellings should consider that most baby boomers are now in their mid- to late 40s and are getting tired of climbing stairs all the time--or are taking care of elderly parents who can't get around well in a two-story residence.

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