Although the South Coast largely has escaped the foreclosure bloodbath that continues to plague North Santa Barbara County, the housing market has slowed to a crawl.
Noozhawk took a look at three new condo and townhouse developments to see how they are selling.
Lavender Court — Carpinteria
In October 2007, a 40-unit development in Carpinteria called Lavender Court opened along the freeway on Carpinteria Avenue. It was the largest residential development the city had seen in several decades.
Designed as an answer to the fenced-in lifestyle of the suburbs, the project featured a 10,000-square-foot courtyard for neighbors to congregate. The prices were set near $675,000 for two-bedroom units and $775,000 for three-bedroom units.
To date, not a single unit has been sold, but developer Nick Narang is trying to adapt.
This spring, he responded by putting the units on the rental market. Now, nearly all the units are occupied, and the average price Narang gets from his tenants is an impressive $3,000 per month, he said.
“We have all high-end people over there,” he said, adding that anyone interested in purchasing a unit now would have to wait. “We only have one or two more units available.”
Tenants of the units on the 4600 block of Carpinteria Avenue include doctors, engineers, a graphic artist for Pixar and even marginally famous people, he said. Among them are Emmy-winning journalist Peter Lance and actor William “Billy” Baldwin, known for his starring roles in Backdraft and Flatliners, and the brother of the better-known Alec Baldwin.
Also, the Biltmore Hotel rents eight units for some of its employees.
Narang said the market for high-end buyers in getting better in Carpinteria. “Carpinteria is the next Montecito, according to the Wall Street Journal,” he said.
The project proved controversial in Carpinteria. On the one hand, it was hailed in the Coastal View News for its craftsman-style buildings and environmentally friendly design as a project “the town can be proud of.” On the other, Lavender Court was criticized by some for blocking mountain views with its 30-foot-tall buildings.
Former Carpinteria Valley Association member John Callender viewed it as a cautionary tale. Callender wrote an essay on behalf of the organization expressing the group’s disappointment over the project’s size, as well as his personal disappointment over his failure to become involved in the three-year planning process.
“I think there was a sense that this one kind of got in under our radar,” he told Noozhawk. “You get the sense you’re going down a canyon there on Carpinteria Avenue, with those big tall buildings.”
As a result of his essay, Callender was later appointed to the Carpinteria Planning Commission, on which he still sits.
Willow Creek — Goleta
Located in an industrial section of Old Town Goleta, the 37-unit Willow Creek development prides itself on its affordability, which, on the South Coast, is a relative term.
“We’re kind of the cheapest game in town,” broker Matt Benwitt said.
The three-bedroom units are selling for $639,000 to $725,000, he said. The last remaining two-bedroom unit is on the market for $565,000.
Thus far, after being on the market for a little more than a year, the development has sold about half of its units.
Willow Creek, at 345 Kellogg Way on a spot that was once a trailer park, opened in early September 2007, and, like so many other new developments, had trouble attracting buyers. As a result, its prices dropped by up to 10 percent, Benwitt said.
Sales picked up for a few months starting in February, but slowed again during the summer, he said.
The development, which is directly behind the new Hampton Inn on the 5600 block of Hollister Avenue, also included a pair of one-bedroom affordable units. Those condos were priced at $193,000, and were sold to the two winners of an eight-way lottery, one to a doctor’s office receptionist and the other to an air-traffic controller.
The conditions for inhabiting the affordable homes prohibit the owners from renting them out or selling them at market rate for 60 years.
Yanonali Court — Santa Barbara
If the timing of the Lavender Court opening seems inauspicious, consider this: In Santa Barbara, the five-unit Yanonali Court at West Beach opened three weeks ago, coinciding with the news that the federal government bailed out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Yet, the development on the 200 block of West Yanonali Street seems to be doing pretty well. Two of the five units are already sold, and about 600 people have toured the properties.
This is largely because of its credentials on green development.
Yanonali Court is the only housing development on the South Coast to receive the top designation — platinum — by the U.S. Green Building Council for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” known as LEED.
The two- and three-bedroom units, which sell for $1.2 million to $2.6 million, boast such features as “rain water harvesting,” in which copper gutters funnel rain water through a filter and into a sealed underground storage tank. The H20 is then available for watering the development’s drought-tolerant landscaping, Realtor Elizabeth Wagner said.
Wagner acknowledged that many people looking at the buildings are primarily interested in learning how to improve their carbon footprint at home, but she said that the public response has been encouraging, especially in light of the nationwide housing crisis.
“This green movement is ahead of its time still,” she said. “This really allows us to stand out.”
Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.