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Finding a starting place

First-time home buyers are searching out areas where they can stretch their dollars.

August 10, 2003|Allison B. Cohen | Special to The Times

With the median price for a single-family home in Southern California at $321,000 and rising, where can buyers find homes for less?

There are 100 ZIP Codes in Los Angeles County -- 37% of the 269 reporting areas -- with homes priced from the mid-$100,000s to $300,000, according to June statistics provided by DataQuick Information Systems. But they may not be areas that initially come to mind.

"If you are looking for a pocket in a beautiful neighborhood, that's already been grabbed," said Christopher Cagan, director of Research and Analytics with Anaheim-based First American Real Estate Solutions. "If you want entry level, you've got to go with a condo or farther out."

The median price for a single-family home in Orange County in June was $450,000. Medians in San Bernardino and Riverside counties were $180,000 and $244,000, respectively. In Los Angeles County, the median price for a single-family home rose to $326,000; for a condo it was $250,000.

Here are some Southland communities for first-time buyers to consider.

Norwalk

Andrew Ramirez and his wife, Viviana, both 26, closed escrow in April on a one-story, three-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot home in Norwalk in the mid-$200,0000s after looking for a year and a half.

The couple was only successful after Andrew Ramirez spent hours sleuthing in the neighborhood. Through his tenacity in talking to residents about housing leads, he learned that an owner had died and her surviving sons were considering selling.

Ramirez, who works as a claims investigator for a trucking company, wrote a letter of interest to the owner's sons and wooed them with cakes during the Christmas holiday. Even though two other buyers were interested in the house, Ramirez won the family over with his efforts.

"I think they enjoyed that I took the time to write the letter," he said, "and they knew I would take care of the house."

Ramirez said he and his wife chose Norwalk for its freeway access, central location and good ethnic restaurants. And homes in the area were within reach of what they could afford.

"Norwalk is phenomenally affordable," said agent Kenny Hawkins of Re/Max College Park Realty.

According to Hawkins, 90% of homes in some areas of Norwalk sell for less than $300,000. For that price, a buyer can get a postwar home built from 1948 to 1955, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage on a 5,000-square-foot lot.

"Homes are $75,000 to $100,000 cheaper here," Hawkins said, compared with surrounding areas. He said he has listings on about two dozen such homes right now priced from $260,000 to $300,000.

"We can't list them fast enough," he said. "If I list a house on Friday and I still have it on Monday, it means I didn't answer the phone. They are selling that fast."

For entry-level buyers, Hawkins recommended the neighborhoods north of Cerritos College in a pretty, tree-lined section of town.

West Adams

Jasper Bear, 36, and his wife, Kim Horstman, 33, beat out 23 other offers this spring on a 1907 Craftsman bungalow after looking for five months in West Adams, west of downtown.

"We were sick of renting," Bear said. "We were looking for something affordable and architecturally interesting."

But finding the house was very frustrating, Bear said. "There are very few houses on the market."

The couple paid $230,000 for their 1,400-square-foot home, rich with original details. They plan to spend about $60,000 in renovations.

"Fixers" are currently selling in the area from the low to mid-$200,000s, and homes ready for occupancy are $300,000 to $350,000, according to Dave Raposa, broker-owner of City Living Realty.

The homes, built from 1905 to 1915 with Arts and Crafts styling, have living rooms with large hearths and original details. Most are two-bedrooms ranging from 1,200 to 1,900 square feet on 5,000- to 7,000-square-foot lots.

Sunland

Located off the 210 Freeway west of Glendale and Tujunga, Sunland has two-bedroom, two-bath homes from 1,100 to 1,200 square feet for about $285,000, but prices are rising rapidly.

Houses are currently staying on the market about a month, compared with just one day two months ago, according to Jan Wantink, owner of Shadow Hills Realty. But inventory, she said, is almost nonexistent.

Leonard Ludovico, 41, has been looking in the area for five months and has seen about 10 homes for sale during that time. Still, he's not willing to give up. "I like animals and wildlife," he said. "That's why I like this area."

According to Wantink, Sunland offers good schools, a community atmosphere, complete with a 10 p.m.-to-2-a.m. Neighborhood Watch and a small Fourth of July parade each year. And there's something new on the way too, she said. "Everyone is thrilled we are getting a Starbucks and a Trader Joe's."

Montebello

The median price for a single-family home in Montebello, between Monterey Park and Commerce near the 60 Freeway, is $300,000 -- up 20% from a few years ago.

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