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Lewis Homes Purchases Tract in Rancho Santa Margarita

July 02, 1996|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA — Lewis Homes Enterprises has paid $17 million for a tract of land in Rancho Santa Margarita where it will build a 500-home development with a cumulative value of $100 million, the company said Monday.

The project, one of the largest in the Upland-based development company's history, will include homes ranging from $160,000 to $270,000. Model homes are scheduled to open in the fall, Executive Vice President Randall W. Lewis said, and finished units should go on sale early in 1997.

Industry observers described the deal as further proof that Orange County's housing market is on the rebound.

"The demand for new product is very strong, employment numbers are up and Orange County's bankruptcy has taken a back seat," said Jeff Meyers, president of the Meyers Group, an Irvine-based real estate data firm. "This is another testimony to the fact that major builders have confidence in this market."

"Right now, Orange County is one of the strongest markets in the state," Lewis said. "And it's especially hot in southern Orange County. That's why we're willing to make this big commitment."

Lewis Homes closed escrow on the land June 28. Rancho Trabuco Partners I and II, a real estate development partnership, sold the property, Lewis said.

Meyers described the parcel as "land that originally had been purchased in the 1980s, but that has now been re-priced [at $17 million] to reflect current market realities. At this price, the homes should be very attractive when they come on the market."

The project is one of the single largest undertaken by a merchant builder--a company that buys tracts of lands inside a planned development. "I'd say this is one of the three biggest deals for a merchant builder in Orange County in recent years," Lewis said.

Lewis Homes, which has completed residential projects in Tustin, Newport Beach and Mission Viejo, plans to construct homes in the 1,600- to 3,000-square-foot range. All of the homes will be single-family structures, Lewis said.

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