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NEIGHBORLY ADVICE

Newport Beach, afloat in scenery and wealth

March 23, 2003|June Casagrande | Special to The Times

Suntanned skippers pilot yachts through a serene harbor. Children frolic on the beach. In the afternoons, there's golf at the country club or shopping at chi-chi Fashion Island. Evenings fade to night over cocktails at the yacht club.

Sound like your idea of paradise? Then prepare to pony up. Newport Beach offers quality living at a price.

Drawing card

"Quality of life" is the mantra chanted by residents and local leaders in this city of about 77,000 on Orange County's pristine Pacific Coast between Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach. The natural beauty of this seaside community, ever-climbing property values and highly ranked schools make Newport Beach a high-demand city.

The wow factor

The city sits on about six miles of Pacific coastline and encompasses all of Newport Bay. The southern end of the bay, called Newport Harbor, is a large private pleasure harbor. The northern end, called Upper Newport Bay, is an ecological wetland reserve that serves as a peaceful retreat for residents and as a raison d'etre for the city's corps of volunteer environmentalists.

From these water bodies, Newport life springs eternal. Many residents own boats. Much of the real estate is near the water.

A laid-back, maritime mood keeps the potential for pretentiousness at bay.

Hot spots

With a 2003 median home price of $950,000 year-to-date, almost all Newport Beach real estate is prime.

Some of the less expensive neighborhoods are in the area known as West Newport, where Pacific Coast Highway meets Balboa Boulevard. More surfer than sailor in character, the neighborhood occasionally has 500-square-foot condominiums starting at about $200,000. More typical are two-bedroom homes for about $650,000.

The Balboa Peninsula, which leads south into the ocean, has a casual beach-town feel while offering both low-key and opulent styles of living.

Homes start at about $650,000 for a three-bedroom and range up to $11.4 million for an eight-bedroom, 9 1/2-bath recently listed for sale.

Newport's mainland, which stretches inland toward the 73 tollway to touch Irvine and Costa Mesa, is marked by planned communities with neighborhoods that are posh yet family oriented. In these northern parts of the city surrounding Upper Newport Bay, three-bedroom, two-bath homes typically start just under $700,000.

Got moola?

Then Linda Isle and Harbor Island are the places to buy. These two tiny islands put the "exclude" in "exclusive," with homes like a stunning five-bedroom, seven-bath listed this month for $9 million on Linda Isle and a five-bedroom, 6 1/2-bath on Harbor Island for $9.4 million.

Insider information

West Newport is home to many vacation rentals, which can create headaches for the year-round residents during prime party times such as the Fourth of July. Local bad boy Dennis Rodman's presence has helped perpetuate the area's image as "party central." But officials are working to change this neighborhood's character. The City Council is considering measures to change the area to one of primarily owner-occupied units.

Report card

Newport Beach is part of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. The 2002 Academic Performance Index scores for elementary schools, on a scale up to 1,000, ranged from 836 at Newport Elementary to 908 at Andersen Elementary. Ensign Intermediate School scored 735. Corona del Mar High School ranked fifth in the county with a score of 823, while Newport Harbor High had 724.

Stock report

There's a lot to choose from in Newport Beach. The first week in March, 289 single-family homes and 157 condominiums were on the market.

Historical values

Single-family detached resales:

Year...Median Price

1990...$522,500

1995...$463,500

2000...$649,000

2001...$729,000

2002...$830,000

Sources: DataQuick Information Services, Realtor.com, School Wise Press, Public Policy Institute of California.

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