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High-end housing on the upswing in South County

South County has seen an explosive increase in affordable new homes in recent years, but equally robust is the high-end market in communities from bucolic Bonita to gated neighborhoods in EastLake.

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Homebuilder Bill Davidson, well known for luxury estate homes in upscale North County communities, is impressed with today's soaring South County housing scene.

"This is a bright spot in the county for the move-up and high-end buyer," said Davidson, whose Del Mar-based Davidson Communities currently is building 115 single-family homes at Acqua in EastLake Vistas.

Del Mar-based Davidson Communities currently is building 115 single-family homes at Acqua in EastLake Vistas.

Selling out each phase as it is released, Davidson's Acqua is geared to the move-up market, with prices for the two-story homes starting in the high $500,000s.

The popularity of Acqua, which features the company's trademark architectural styling and interior amenities, clearly indicates a strong demand for well-heeled homes in the county's southern reaches.

According to Alan Nevin, a veteran real estate analyst, the South County has really taken a step up in the housing market with many of the new home communities popping up east of Interstate 805 in Chula Vista now priced at $400,000 and up. This is a dramatic change from just five years ago, when most were in the mid-$200,000 to low-$300,000 range, he noted.

Many of the people buying half-million-dollar homes in South County already live in the area and are tapping into their equity to move into more upscale residences, noted Nevin, director of economic research for San Diego-based MarketPoint Realty Advisors.

"South County is a real value," he said, especially when comparing similar new homes in North County, which now average upwards of $700,000.

Builders at EastLake, one of the first and largest communities in Chula Vista, also are moving into this higher bracket. Once known for its entry-level housing, the 3,200-acre master-planned community is now offering production homes breaking the $600,000 barrier and even some custom estate homes in the multimillion-dollar range.

The Gates at The Woods by EastLake was the site of last summer's Tour d'Elegance, an event organized by the San Diego Building Industry Association to showcase homebuilding at its most opulent. The 56,000-plus visitors that attended the event got a close-up look at five custom homes, including one that was in escrow for $3.5 million even before construction was completed.

"The tour drew attention to the luxury home market that is growing stronger in South County, where multimillion-dollar homes have not been built in as much abundance as in North County," noted builder Davidson.

Davidson's South County development, Acqua at EastLake Vistas, caught the eye of industry leaders, who recently recognized its excellence with a Grand SAM award. Competing against new-home neighborhoods throughout the county -- some priced over $2 million -- Acqua won top honors for architecture, landscaping, interior design and merchandising from the Sales & Marketing Council of the Building Industry Association of San Diego County. It was Davidson's 11th Grand SAM win.

Ranging from about 3,012 square feet to 3,638 square feet, homes at Acqua offer a diverse palette of architecture, including classic Spanish, Craftsman and contemporary Italian styling. There are four different floor plans highlighted by extended courtyards and deep covered porches and featuring four to five bedrooms, 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 baths and two-car, tandem or three-car garages. Pricing starts in the high $500,000s.

Another neighborhood catering to the South County's burgeoning move-up market is Windingwalk. Brookfield Homes San Diego Inc. has recently started building Twilight there, offering 3,390- to 3,817-square-foot homes on larger home sites and priced starting in the high $500,000.

According to Steve Doyle, president of Brookfield Homes San Diego Inc., managing partner of the Brookfield Homes/Shea Homes partnership for the 1,200-acre Windingwalk property in eastern Chula Vista, there is a pent-up demand for high-end and even luxury housing in South County.

"There is much confidence among builders and homebuyers that this area of the county is ready for more housing on the higher end of the spectrum," said Doyle.

With homes ranging from the low $300,000s to the high $500,000s, Windingwalk is reflective of the trend that South County now can meet the demands of new homebuyers looking for higher-end housing, said Doyle.


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