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Do fence me in

Gated communities are in demand, luring home buyers -- who are willing to pay -- with the appeal of greater privacy, security and peace. Still, some chafe at living behind bars.

February 25, 2007|Gayle Pollard-Terry | Times Staff Writer

IF a man's home is his castle, gates are the modern equivalent of living behind the moat.

Gated communities, in fact, are the fastest-growing form of housing in the U.S., according to census data. Why? Those who opt for gates point to reduced crime and traffic, a safer environment for children and the prestige of living somewhere that's exclusive. But not everyone likes being sealed off from the world. Some people view gates as elitist or don't want the bother of calling the guards each time a visitor is expected.

Whether new or old, suburban or urban, surrounded by affluence or a gritty neighborhood, a secured perimeter with controlled access generally makes a home more expensive.

"Gated communities command a higher price when they enter the market," said Setha Low, an anti-gates anthropologist who wrote "Behind the Gates: Life, Security and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America." "Their advantage diminishes as the development ages and their maintenance costs increase."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 04, 2007 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 3 Features Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Malibu builder: In an article about gated communities in the Feb. 25 Real Estate section, Roger Wolk, an orthodontist who has developed nine beachfront homes in Malibu, was referred to as Richard.

The view on the ground in Southern California comes from John Karevoll, chief analyst for DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla-based real estate research firm. "There is initially a bit more value to those properties. In general, 5% to 7%.

"Say a home in one of those communities costs $500,000 to get into, and a corresponding home costs $475,000" outside the gates, he said. "Five years later, the corresponding appreciation is going to be the same."

In expensive markets such as Malibu, the home-price difference on gated and non-gated streets can be substantial.

"The gates could be worth another million dollars," said Richard Wolk, an orthodontist who has developed nine beachfront properties in Malibu -- none within the gated Malibu Colony, due to a lack of opportunity. That would work out to 5% on a beachfront property priced at $20 million.

For some homeowners, however, the advantages of living behind gates are priceless.

"There are a lot of celebrities and regular people who would not live in Malibu Colony if it was not behind the gates.... These are very wealthy people who want privacy, and price is no object to many of them," said Chad Rogers, an agent with Hilton & Hyland Real Estate Inc. He grew up in the Colony and sells properties along the mile-long stretch of 120 homes, which has been gated since its origins in the late 1920s.

It's one of the factors that attracted Richard and Diane Fisher to their oceanfront home.

"I wanted a gated community because we were not here all the time," she said.

To get inside, everyone -- residents, guests and workers -- must pass the guardhouse and barred entrance that blocks the only route for cars from a road near Pacific Coast Highway.

That 24/7 security isn't free.

At the Colony, property owners share the $300,000 to $400,000 annual cost, according to Jeff Rogers, an officer of the homeowners association and Chad Rogers' father.

Depending on the level of protection in a gated community, the expense can range from several hundred dollars a month per homeowner to less than $50. Guards on duty around the clock who check driver's licenses and record tag numbers cost the most. Less pricey are unmanned, automated barriers -- tall fences or a bar across a driveway -- operated with a remote, by keypad or card swipe.

Even when money is not an issue, many people shun gated communities. Some dislike the idea of someone keeping tabs on their comings and goings.

Agent Rogers recalled staying out past curfew when he was a teenager. "The guard on the gate would tell my dad, and he would ground me."

Even without guards, others still consider gates too restrictive.

"I would never live behind gates again. I truly felt like I was living in a prison -- a high-class prison," said Dawn Sutherland, who spent eight years in Emerald Estates, a gated community of town houses in Culver City. "Everything was walled. It was claustrophobic."

When she forgot the key to the gates on her early-morning walks, she had to ring a neighbor. "That was an irritant."

If she was talking on the phone and friends stopped by, the gate request wouldn't always ring through. "It was a nuisance for my visitors and friends, and it became a nuisance for me."

Sutherland left the gates behind when she moved to a house in Baldwin Hills four years ago after a booming housing market boosted her equity and made trading up possible.

All things considered, how can a prospective buyer determine if the gates are a plus or a minus?

"When you come in, does it do anything for you?" asked Shar Penfold, a Coldwell Banker agent who lives in gate-guarded Fremont Place in the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles. "For some people, it's psychological."

In Malibu Colony, many homeowners buy into the psychology, said resident Wolk.

"There's a certain cachet to living behind the gates," he said. "Some people find that more important than others."

Gates may also improve an address that might otherwise be considered on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks.

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