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Deciding Whether to Cross the Line

November 11, 2001|Susan Carrier and \f7

The real home-buying opportunities are on "the wrong side of the tracks," according to realty experts.

"The values tend to be lower," said real estate author Robert Irwin. "[But] if you can work actively to change factors, you can change the wrong side to the right side."

Sandra Siraganian, a broker with DBL Realtors, added, "In today's housing shortage, more people are crossing the lines into areas that used to be considered the 'wrong side."'

Consider these questions if you're thinking about crossing the line:

* Are you status-conscious?

If you trade in your luxury car every three years and carry a designer purse or wallet, chances are you may not be comfortable living in an area that lacks prestige. Stephen Roulac, a location strategy and economics consultant, said place is one of the "most powerful identifiers in our society." For many, a high-status neighborhood speaks louder than the latest-model BMW.

* What is the history of home values in the neighborhood?

Investigate home value histories for the last year and, if possible, over the last decade. For example, according to La Jolla-based DataQuick Information Services, the median sales price of homes in San Gabriel's sought-after 91775 ZIP Code (north of Las Tunas Drive) rose 23.6% in the last year, compared to 13.3% in the 91776 area (south of Las Tunas). When comparing current levels to the pre-recession high of the 1980s, however, the median sales price in the 91775 ZIP Code has appreciated only 1.8%, while the median price in the 91776 ZIP Code has risen 11.1%.

* How do crime statistics compare?

Check with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department or your local police station for crime statistics for the neighborhood you are considering and for surrounding neighborhoods.

* How do location desirability elements (education, anchor and access) compare to neighborhoods that are considered more desirable?

When Margaret and Steve Finnegan were house-hunting in South Pasadena five years ago, they set their sights on a "north of Huntington Drive" address, which they perceived as desirable, but ended up buying a less expensive home south of the drive.

"In the end, it made no difference because our daughter goes to the same school as children north of Huntington," Finnegan said.

* How green is the neighborhood?

Lack of mature trees can make a neighborhood look like a wasteland, but greenery is a correctable fault. Contact city hall to find out if sidewalk trees can be planted.

* Are there signs of life?

"When you're driving through a neighborhood, look for parents walking their babies, neighbors sitting on porches talking to one another," said Aprile Boettcher, a community activist in the Garfield Heights neighborhood of Pasadena.

"Look for freshly planted flowers. These are all positive signs, even in the most blighted-looking neighborhoods."

* Are homeowners fixing up their properties?

"It just takes one neighbor to paint a house to start a chain reaction," Boettcher said.

* Has the neighborhood applied for status as a landmark designation?

"That's a great indicator that you're moving into a neighborhood that will protect the quality of life and quality of architecture," Boettcher said of historic status.

* How important are nearby amenities, such as sports clubs and coffee shops?

Tamsin Bayless, who once lived in a Spanish-style house in an L.A. neighborhood south of Pico Boulevard, discovered she wasn't "within walking distance of the Starbucks and the gym," but found the trade-off in rental savings of almost $1,000 a month.

* Do you want to fulfill all the items on your dream homes wish list?

Looking for a 3,500-square-foot home on a half-acre lot? Cross the line and you just might find you can afford your dream house.

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