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County Is Still Among State's Most Expensive Housing Marts


COSTA MESA — Despite the real estate downturn, Orange County remains one of the state's most expensive housing markets and its home buyers are generally richer than their counterparts elsewhere in California, according to a newly released survey by Chicago Title & Trust.

The median home price in 1993 for first-time Orange County buyers was $172,200, according to the study, called "Who's Buying Homes in California." The only two markets in the state more expensive than Orange County were San Francisco, where first-time buyers spent $234,300, and Ventura, where the median was $183,500.

Among repeat buyers--those who have previously owned a home--the median price of an Orange County residence in 1993 was the second highest in the state at $252,600. San Francisco had the most expensive homes for repeat buyers, with a reported $267,700.

But Orange County residents are better able than most Californians to afford such pricey homes. The study found that Orange County had the highest reported median household income in the state, $77,500. San Francisco was second with $71,900 median income.

The national study randomly surveyed 1993 home buyers in eight California markets: San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Orange and Los Angeles counties, the San Francisco area and the Central Valley. Conducted every year since 1976 by Chicago Title, the nation's largest title insurer, the study surveys new-home and repeat buyers by telephone and analyzes buying trends.

"Orange County is a diverse suburban community (but it is) still a bedroom community of Los Angeles. You can get houses on a hill, houses in a valley, houses near the ocean--you can get anything you want. But it's geared primarily for families, especially move-up families," said John Pfister, manager of marketing research for Chicago Title. "You've got mostly upscale housing, and as a result it's one of the most expensive markets in the state."

Surprisingly, Orange County had the lowest percentage, 34.3, of first-time buyers in all of California. In Los Angeles, 57.4% of buyers were first-timers, the highest percentage in the state.

But Pfister cautioned that these figures could be misleading, as Los Angeles County could have fewer repeat buyers than Orange County, which would boost the percentage figures for first-time buyers.

"Normally in a recession, the first-time home buyers would be in the market, but Orange (County) had the lowest percentage, which is kind of odd," Pfister said. "But that may not be indicative of anything more than that in Orange County, first-time buyers bought in 1992, and repeat buyers are coming back in the market stronger there than other areas in California."

The 1993 Orange County Home Buyer

Both first-time and repeat buyers preferred resale, single-family homes over new homes or condos. Repeat buyers tended to scout the market longer, shopping an average of five months and viewing an average of 14.6 houses. A statistical comparison of first-time and repeat buyers in the 1993 housing market:

Home Purchased

First-Time Buyer New: 26% Resale: 74.% Single family: 81.9% Condo/other: 18.1%

Repeat Buyer New: 18.6% Resale: 81.4% Single family 81.1% Condo/other: 18.9%

Number of homes looked at before purchase First-Time Buyer: 9.2 Repeat Buyer 14.6

Average length of time spent looking for home (months) First-Time Buyer: 4.1 Repeat Buyer: 5.0

Median purchase price First-Time Buyer: $172,200 Repeat Buyer: $252,600

Down payment

% obtained from: First-Time Buyer Buyer profile Savings 66.2% 51.3% Relatives 22.4% 3.6% Previous home sale n/a 36.5% Lending institutions 2.0% 4.7% Other 9.4% 3.9% % paid down 13.1% 22.9% Time needed to save (years) 5.0 n/a


First-Time Buyer Buyer profile Average payment $1,187 $1,385 Average payment as % of income 36.3% 35.0% Average length of mortgage (years)* 28.8 28.5

Type of financing: First-Time Buyer Buyer profile Conventional 62.3% 52.8% Adjustable rate 32.0% 42.3% Other 5.7% 4.9%

Buyer profile

First-Time Buyer Buyer profile Average age 31.9 39.8 Family size 2.7 3.3 Median annual income $67,000 $82,700 Married 64.5% 81.4% Widowed n/a 1.7% Divorced/separated 12.9% 13.6% Single 22.6% 3.3% Two-income household 85.0% 79.2% Median household income $67,000 $82,700

1993 Home-Buying Comparison by County

The Home

New Resale Orange 21.1% 78.9 Los Angeles 15.8% 84.2 San Diego 20.0% 80.0 Riverside 45.0% 55.0 San Bernardino 30.0% 70.0 Ventura 11.0% 89.0

The Buyer

First-time Repeat Orange 34.3% 65.7 Los Angeles 57.4% 42.6 San Diego 39.2% 60.8 Riverside 40.0 60.0 San Bernardino 49.0 51.0 Ventura 36.0% 64.0

* Based on 7-, 10-, 15- and 30-year mortgage options. n/a: Not applicable

Source: Chicago Title; Researched by JANICE L. JONES/Los Angeles Times

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