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Arizona town buzzing over Palin's purchase

Bristol Palin buys a five-bedroom house on the edge of Maricopa, Ariz. Locals wonder whether it's a sign of a housing market rebound in the sleepy Phoenix suburb.

January 02, 2011|By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times

No one here really knows why she bought a five-bedroom house in a sprawling subdivision, or if she even intends to live in it. But, already, Bristol Palin's real estate acquisition has residents in one hard-hit desert neighborhood chatting about their hopes for a housing market rebound.

To the surprise of many in this sleepy Phoenix suburb, the 20-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin who recently created her own celebrity as a "Dancing with the Stars" finalist purchased a two-story home in a development of earth-toned houses on the edge of town.

And she got a good deal too.

The 3,900-square-foot home in Maricopa's Cobblestone Farms neighborhood was priced well over $300,000 when it was built in 2005. Bristol Palin paid $172,000 cash for the house last week, according to Pinal County property records and information published on the region's multiple listing service.

Palin's new home "overlooks beautiful landscaped backyard with brick border and covered patio for year round entertaining.... Your friends & family will enjoy the lg backyard, perfect for volleyball, BBQs and more!" the listing service report boasted. The kitchen features "gorgeous tile backsplash," and the refrigerator is included.

Palin appears to be part of a trend that local real estate agents say is helping to prop up the Maricopa housing market: A snowbird flocking from the cold north (in her case, Wasilla, Alaska) to snap up newer, well-appointed houses that had been foreclosed or short-sold, often paying less than half of what they were worth a few years ago.

"Bristol saw the value," said Jay Shaver, a Maricopa real estate broker familiar with the deal.

"It has been the talk of the town lately," Heather Lumley, a waitress at the Sunrise Cafe, said as she wrapped up silverware for the lunch crowd. "They wonder if the housing market will go up with her buying here. Maybe we could see more celebrities come here."

A spokesperson for the Palin family could not be reached for comment.

The city of Maricopa blossomed from the desert sand about 10 years ago. Although it's considered a suburb of Phoenix, 35 miles south of downtown, driving there requires passing through an Indian reservation on a small highway where buzzards peck at roadkill and tumbleweeds drift between cars. The smell of livestock wafts through town.

In 2002, the developers moved in. Houses sprouted up around the highway. In 2005, nearly 800 permits for new homes were filed in one month alone. Buyers were attracted to the reasonable prices — a house in Maricopa could often be bought for $100,000 less than a similar offering closer to Phoenix. Within a few years, the population had exploded to almost 40,000.

These days, more than three-quarters of home sales in Maricopa are of distressed properties, real estate agents said. For-sale and foreclosure signs litter the well-manicured lawns throughout the half-dozen subdivisions that make up the city; some of the houses were never finished.

But the Palin purchase has stirred conversation among her potential new neighbors about why, of all places, she picked Maricopa.

"There's not a lot of news going on around here, so it doesn't take much to get us talking," said Bill Wasowicz, a real estate agent. "Who's to say? It's a great spot. She'd be a little bit away from the media attention. Maybe she wants that small-town feel. The way she bought it, I don't think she'd use it as only an investment."

Wasowicz, a survivor of 13 Alaskan winters himself, said Palin could probably use an escape from the cold and darkness of her Alaska hometown. (Even amid rain on a dreary afternoon last week, Wasowicz was thankful for his environs. "Are you kidding?" he said. "This is beautiful!")

Whatever her reason for coming, locals said, Palin and her 2-year-old son, Tripp, will fit in. They promise not to gawk too much, and she could lead a comfortable life.

Cindy Dunn, a flower shop owner whose family has farmed in Maricopa since the 1950s, drove by with her children to see the house. It may have struck other residents as an odd choice, but she said Maricopa is a conservative and inclusive place where people tend to avoid meddling in their neighbors' affairs.

"It seems to me like they did their homework," Dunn said. "It doesn't seem to be a random selection to me."

Bristol Palin's parents, former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, visited the city earlier in the year. Mayor Anthony Smith said he hoped it was the start of a migration from Wasilla. "Maybe we'll see more of the Palins move to Maricopa."

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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