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On a roll: O.C. housing market wraps up a ‘fantastic’ 2015

On a roll: O.C. housing market wraps up a ‘fantastic’ 2015

This has been a stronger year for residential real estate than 2014, according to Orange County analyst Steven Thomas. COMPOSITE BY MARILYN KALFUS; CLOCKWISE, UPPER LEFT: COURTESY OF PHIL IMMEL, REGISTER FILE PHOTOS

A merger that created a homebuilding colossus, the grand opening of an ocean-view community 40 years in the making and high-profile listings topped by Richard Nixon’s Western White House in San Clemente were among the highlights of Orange County’s residential real estate scene in 2015.

As the year draws to a close, the latest median home price hit $ 623,000 – just 3.4 percent below the $ 645,000 record high of June 2007. From January through November, the county’s median averaged about $ 604,000, up 4 percent from last year, according to data from real estate data firm Corelogic.

With the local economy gathering steam and jobs on the rise, home sale volume, building permits and rental prices also have been on the upswing. Bidding wars, traditionally for homes offered at $ 750,000 or less, also have been breaking out over apartments, making affordability not just a challenge for many buyers, but for renters, too.

In the view of John Burns, a real estate consultant based in Irvine, it was for the most part a “fantastic year… Prices, rents and sales volumes rose at a steady, sustainable pace, and construction levels hit their highest levels in at least 12 years.”

Overall, this year was stronger than 2014, said Orange County housing analyst Steven Thomas of Reports on Housing.

“There was real price appreciation as buyers clamored to take advantage of interest rates before the Fed made their move,” he said, referring to the Federal Reserve’s quarter point increase in its benchmark interest rate earlier this month – its first hike in nearly a decade. “Homes were not inflating as fast as 2012 and 2013, but the trend is up and 2016 is looking favorable due to a very anemic inventory,” Thomas said.

Here’s our by-the-numbers look at 2015 as it winds down:*

$ 623,000

The median price of an Orange County home – the price at the midpoint of all transactions closed – was $ 623,000 in November. It was the second-highest post-recession median price, after $ 628,500 in June. Orange County’s median is up $ 223,000 since the recovery began in the winter of 2012. Home prices in the county grew by 6.8 percent in the year through November, the biggest jump in 13 months, according to CoreLogic.


Homebuyers purchased 33,387 Orange County houses, condos and townhomes in the 11 months through November, up 6.9 percent from the same period in 2014, boosted mainly by strong home sales over the summer.

$ 75 million

Former President Richard Nixon’s Western White House, an oceanfront San Clemente estate owned by retired Allergan CEO Gavin S. Herbert, went up for sale this spring at $ 75 million. Herbert decided to sell the 5.45-acre estate after owning the property for 35 years. The estate, set behind private walls and fences, has some 15,000 square feet among all the structures, including a 9,000-square-foot main residence. Among the amenities: A pavilion, two-bedroom guest house, lighted tennis court, expansive lawns, vegetable gardens, greenhouse, catering facility, four staff residences, security annexes and a private well for landscaping water.


Landsea, a subsidiary of a top 100 Chinese homebuilding company, moved its headquarters to Irvine and acquired the bulk of the 95.5-acre Portola Center South project in northeast Lake Forest, with approval to build up to 553 homes. Portola Center South is part of the 930-home Portola Center at Glenn Ranch and Saddleback Ranch roads. The price of the deal wasn’t released.


San Clemente’s Marblehead coastal project, 40 years in the making, finally cleared all hurdles. The project had stalled numerous times, including when financier Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008. In November, the 248-acre Sea Summit at Marblehead held its grand opening, with a dozen new models and plans to build 309 homes ranging from three bedrooms and 2,200 square feet to six bedrooms and 5,500 square feet.

$ 18.8 million

A Newport Coast house once owned by “Real Housewife of Orange County” Heather Dubrow and her husband, Dr. Terry Dubrow, was the priciest publicly listed house sale. The ocean-view Pelican Crest house sold for $ 18.8 million on Dec. 18. The asking price was $ 22 million, down from $ 26 million when it hit the market in August. The Dubrows had sold the 14,372-square-foot house in December 2012 for $ 16.45 million. Set on three-quarters of an acre, the house has seven bedrooms and 11 bathrooms. (We’ll be on the lookout to see if another local sale tops it on the Multiple Listing Service before Jan. 1.)


Orange County building permits for single and multifamily homes hit the highest level in 15 years, with permits pulled for 10,664 housing units during the first eight months of the year, according to the Construction Industry Research Board, or CIRB. Additional figures from Utah-based Construction Monitor show that at least 46 percent of all units were apartments.

$ 1,867

The average apartment rent hit an all-time high of $ 1,867 a month in the third quarter, according to Real Answers (formerly RealFacts). That was the average for all apartment types and sizes in Orange County complexes surveyed with 90 or more units. In addition, Reis Inc. reported an all-time high average apartment rent of $ 1,724; its survey includes complexes of at least 20 units.

$ 100,000

Two estates – one on the harbor in Newport Beach and the other overlooking the ocean in Dana Point – topped a list of Orange County homes for rent in December. Each residence is offered at $ 100,000 a month. On the Balboa Peninsula, a waterfront, Italianate-style house built in 2006 has a large lawn and swimming pool, as well a big private boat dock. The main house and guest house have nearly 10,000 square feet of living space combined. A home theater, rooms for entertaining and a subterranean wine cellar with a dining area are among the highlights. In Monarch Beach, a 9,100-square-foot Provencal-style house includes a round, built-in dining room table with a firepit in the center, near disappearing pocket doors that open to the sprawling coastline. The home boasts a subterranean indoor court for basketball, racquetball or squash that also can be set up for volleyball or badminton, and at night, transformed into a disco. The property includes two “endless” pools with currents to swim against, indoors and out.


Many homesellers hit the pause button in the winter, but last year at this time there were 5,589 homes on the market, 617 more than today’s 4,972. At the rate the housing supply has been dropping, Thomas said, inventory should start the new year at the 4,700-home level of January 2014 – much lower than the long-term average of 8,500 homes, and fewer than the 5,000 homes that were on the market at the start of this year.

$ 750,000

A headline-grabbing sale connected to, though not located in, Orange County: Chapman University sold its “Volcano House,” a flying-saucer shaped home atop a 150-foot cinder cone in the Mojave Desert, for $ 750,000 – $ 100,000 above the asking price. Huell Howser, the producer and host of the TV show “California’s Gold,” gave the iconic house, which sits on 60 acres, to Chapman University in 2012. He died a year later. The university planned to use the house for desert studies, astronomy and geology pursuits. But the home’s remote location in Newberry Springs, east of Bartstow, proved impractical. Proceeds from the sale were to go to the California’s Gold Scholarship fund set up by Howser at Chapman.

No. 4

Orange County’s Standard Pacific Homes merged with rival Ryland Group to form a new homebuilding giant, creating CalAtlantic Group, the nation’s fourth biggest homebuilder, behind DR Horton, Lennar and Pulte Group. Plans call for the merged company to operate in 17 states, including 20 of the nation’s top 25 cities, and control 74,000 home sites in 538 developments. Combined revenue, based on the past year’s performance, would total almost $ 5.1 billion.

8-year low

Orange County home affordability fell to an eight-year low, according to an index by the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo Bank. The index shows 16.2 percent of Orange County homes sold in the third quarter were “affordable” to households making the local family median income of $ 85,928. The family median figure is tabulated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This summer’s affordability reading was down from 18.5 percent in the second quarter and 17.4 percent a year ago.

Said Burns: “Prices and rents are now at levels that will make it very difficult for aspiring homeowners to stay in Orange County, creating a challenge for employers seeking to recruit and retain talented people.”

*From data available as of mid-December

Contact the writer: mkalfus@ocregister.com on Twitter: @mkalfus

The Orange County Register – News Headlines : Real Estate News