THOUSAND OAKS — In a scene reminiscent of the heady real estate market of the 1980s, about 100 eager home buyers lined up Friday to stake a claim to today's sale of the first 54 homes at the much-anticipated Dos Vientos Ranch community.
And as if to underscore the healthy state of the Ventura County real estate market, figures released Friday showed that home sales increased 11% last month, while prices rose 6%.
"It tells you the market is very hot," said analyst John Karevoll of the enthusiastic response to Dos Vientos Ranch and the statistics released by La Jolla-based market research firm Axciom/DataQuick. "It's the strongest January we've had since January of 1989."
But the market climate is markedly different from that experienced during the boom of the late 1980s, as well as much healthier for both buyers and sellers, Karevoll said.
"We're seeing activity in all home categories and virtually all geographic areas that was not the case in 1989," he said. "The market today is clearly a function of an expanding economy and low interest rates and that's also different from 1989."
Still, even longtime industry observers were surprised that would-be homeowners began lining up as early as Tuesday for a chance to buy the first of more than 2,300 homes at Dos Vientos Ranch in Newbury Park. Each person in line was assigned a number for today's sale.
"This is the first lineup Ventura County has had in nine years," said a surprised Chuck Dragicevich, president of the local office of Greystone Homes, which is selling the houses. "This is the last of the major master planned [Conejo Valley] communities . . . There's not going to be many more new homes built in the Conejo Valley."
Dos Vientos Ranch--the largest residential project ever in Newbury Park and the third-largest in Thousand Oaks' history--has been in the planning stages for more than 20 years.
That long lead time, a lack of comparably priced new homes in the area, the mild climate and the fact that 50% of the project is open space with a view of Boney Mountain all contributed to the interest in the development, those who lined up Friday said.
"This is my dream home and my dream area," said Linda Collet, a Newbury Park resident who had waited eight years to be first in line at 4 a.m. Tuesday to virtually guarantee she would be successful in her quest for one of the homes priced between $230,000 and $365,000.
"It's a great opportunity to buy a house and it's a really beautiful development," said Simi Valley resident Margueritte Kibel, who stood on the lot she had already chosen Friday exulting in the smogless skies and green hillsides. "My husband and I have been looking for a house for eight months and we've literally looked at hundreds and hundreds of houses."
Kibel, a first-time home buyer, is representative of the type of consumer unable to enter the market in 1989, Karevoll said.
"People could just not afford to buy a new home," he said. "It's a much more solid market right now. There's no indication people are stretching."
The average mortgage payment in Ventura County is about $1,100 compared to $1,450 in 1989, Karevoll said.
Home buyers purchased 748 homes in Ventura County last month, compared to 672 in the same month the previous year. The median price was $212,000, up $12,000 from January 1997.
January's figures mirrored those for 1997 as a whole. Home sales rose 11% over the previous year, and prices increased almost 6% to a median price of $204,000.
Price was a factor for savvy Dos Vientos Ranch buyers Friday, who noted that few new homes are available elsewhere in the pricey Conejo Valley for about $100 a square foot.
Most of the potential Dos Vientos home buyers--an estimated 80%--are already residents of the Conejo Valley.
"I think this proves the point that we needed the inventory," said Chris McClintock, past president of the Conejo Valley Assn. of Realtors.
McClintock fielded a call from one worried homeowner Friday who was perturbed that the attention falling on Dos Vientos would make it harder to sell other homes in the region. But she discounts that possibility.
"You're seeing a focus on the Newbury Park area that's probably greater than ever," she said. "It's almost a similar thing . . . the development of Westlake Village in 1967 brought to the greater Conejo Valley--it called attention to the area."
Newbury Park resident Ellen Keyser had a slightly different view of Dos Vientos after claiming her place in line early Tuesday morning.
"Our prayers are answered," she said Friday. "It's been a long week. We couldn't focus on anything else."