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Market Watch

From mansions on the beach to stately estates perched high on the hills, Orange County’s luxury home market is a buyer’s dream, with abodes designed to suit any taste imaginable—whether your preference is modern architecture or Mediterranean styling. Here’s a peek at some of the region’s hautest properties (and most admired amenities), with insights from the industry’s experts.

This manse at 1 Harbor Island ( offers sweeping vistas of Newport Harbor and 134 feet of bayfront property.

Easy access to the water is a coveted amenity—many of the area’s top properties focus on bayfront luxuries. But scoring a home with a private dock is like striking gold. Perhaps the biggest perk is in the savings, as slips in Newport Harbor come at a premium. “Currently, there’s a slip in Newport Harbor capable of berthing a 130-foot yacht, and the weekly rate is $6,000,” says American Coastal Properties’ Brian Sperry. “Others are charging more than $1,000 a week for a 50- to 70-foot boat, and I know of one person who pays more than $500 a month for their 20-foot Duffy.” And then there’s the convenience. “Living on the water has its luxuries,” Sperry notes. “And enjoying your sailboat, motor yacht, fishing boat or even entertaining for a sunset cruise on the bay allows owners to take advantage of what the water has to offer.”

Movers and shakers such as real estate moguls Donald Bren and George Argyros have long been attracted to our California Riviera. Of particular allure are Newport’s prestigious private island communities for their unparalleled waterfront vistas, guard-gated entries, prime proximity to John Wayne Airport, fabulous restaurants and shopping destinations like Fashion Island and South Coast Plaza. There’s Harbor Island, a 30-home enclave where you’ll find 1 Harbor Island. Its $14.5 million price tag will get you an elegant CJ Light-designed residence offering spectacular views of Newport Harbor’s main turning basin and 134 feet of bayfront property, with a dock that’ll accommodate a 100-plus-foot yacht. (Only a handful of docks in Newport can do that.) “Harbor Island has always had an exclusive cache,” says listing agent Kathryn White of Cain | White Group at HOM Sotheby’s International Realty. “People could live anywhere, but they choose to live there.” There’s also 748 Harbor Island. A little less pricey at $4.95 million, it touts a waterfront terrace spanning 50 feet overlooking Promontory Bay and a rooftop outdoor room. Then there’s Linda Isle, a horseshoe-shaped community on the lower bay where you’ll find 88 Linda Isle, an $11.9 million beauty built in the 1970s for Robert and Shirlee Guggenheim. It has a private pier suitable for an 85-foot vessel and sits at one end of the horseshoe, offering privacy and breathtaking views of the harbor. Island time, indeed.

Since late 2012, Irvine-based American Coastal Properties has been busily snapping up residences along the coast in O.C. Its plan: Redevelop 40 to 60 homes a year—all on high-value lots in sought-after neighborhoods. “Many of our homes are deep remodels that look like brand-new homes by the time our work is done,” says Brian Sperry, ACP’s managing director and founding partner. “All of our homes couple modern amenities with remarkable design in areas where new homes don’t generally come to market.” The company’s latest find? A $9.5 million charmer at 86 Linda Isle—the team plans to convert it into a custom soft-contemporary-style home and sell it for at least $20 million. And for that, the buyer will get a rare 113 feet of linear frontage on the harbor and a private dock. Get moving!

Realtor Tim Smith of The Smith Group of Coldwell Banker Previews International counts some of the region’s most coveted properties among his listings, so we asked him to give us his take on the state of Orange County’s luxury real estate market.

Who’s buying?
About one in three homebuyers are people coming from other states looking to purchase second homes and international buyers focusing on newer construction in Newport Coast, Crystal Cove and Irvine. And who’s selling? There are roughly 50 estates for sale [priced higher than] $15 million, mostly owned by leaders of financial companies and CEOs who are motivated to sell due to Proposition 30 [an initiative that bumped up sales and income taxes for the wealthy]. We’ve definitely seen an increase in inventory in this sector. Where are they going? They’re looking for smaller homes on or near the water, or in gated communities where they feel safe with lock and leave. One of the newest communities of this kind is Meridian in Newport, which comprises 79 mid-rise units built by the New Home Co. next to the Marriott in Fashion Island. Where do you see the market going? I predict luxury homes priced higher than $15 million will see a huge increase in sales volume in the next five years—up to two or three times what we’re currently seeing. Wealthy people are realizing how valuable the Orange County coastline really is, especially when comparing pricing to other luxury markets in major metro areas like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, the Hamptons and Miami. What’s going to be the next big trend in O.C.? Smaller homes built on large properties, with a greater use of exterior spaces. I think we’ll see indoor-outdoor living spaces become more seamless in design and function. Now, about all those Tuscan-style manses we see here. Will they ever go out of fashion? As they grow older and out of popularity, I think we’ll see interior looks changing in various ways. But because of CC&Rs [a neighborhood’s covenants, conditions and restrictions], they’ll maintain the same Old World Tuscan exteriors.

Real estate watchers and industry pros are eyeing the evolution of The Strand at Headlands in Dana Point. Now, here’s a peek inside one haute property.

This $15 million estate at 31 Beach View Ave. boasts design touches that Ryan Brown of Bravo TV’s Flipping Out helped select. Think custom woodwork; Waterworks hardware; Walker Zanger marble and stone; Ziething cabinets; professional-grade appliances from Wolf, Sub-Zero and Miele; and a state-of-the-art lighting, security and video package by Audio Images. The three-level, five-bedroom, six-bath charmer—constructed by leading O.C.-based custom-homebuilder Robert McCarthy—even has an elevator to help you quickly travel from the bonus room or library to the home theater or wine cellar and on up to the rooftop deck. It’s got a three-car garage with additional space for a golf cart. And then, of course, there are the views—fabulous unobstructed vistas of the sparkling blue Pacific that stretch all the way to Catalina and San Clemente Island. “Views abound—from the iconic rock at Headlands to beyond Catalina Island and down the coastline,” says listing agent Tim Smith, whose market primarily covers the coastal communities from Huntington Harbour to San Clemente. “There’s nothing plain or ordinary about The Strand.”

The Strand at Headlands in Dana Point is the biggest new luxury development to come out of O.C. in some time. (Shaquille O’Neal and former pro golfer Johnny Miller have purchased lots.) It’s exclusive—only 118 homesites. The amenities it offers—a private beach, guard-gated access, an oceanfront clubhouse with a pool and spa, and streets lined with custom manses—have caught the eye of power players. And its ongoing development has elevated the Dana Point community. Long known as a casual beach town, it’s now attracting buyers looking for high-ticket homes. “The Strand has put Dana Point on the map,” says real estate expert Cheryl Marquis.

You get what you pay for—it’s an expression that, for the most part, holds true when it comes to luxury real estate, even in a slow market. Take, for example, the sales figures on properties with listing prices between $2 million and $15 million. They’ve slowed slightly this year over last, but real estate pros say they’re now seeing the start of a pickup. And, if the property is priced at last year’s comps and the house shows well—meaning it’s brand-new or, if older, it’s staged properly or recently remodeled—then it’s likely going to sell very quickly, and often with multiple offers. But, if it’s priced higher than last year’s comps and doesn’t wow prospective buyers, it’ll likely sit for a while and may even require a price adjustment. Homes priced appropriately are still moving, however. And most experts say the market is simply experiencing a normal adjustment period.

Newport Coast might be the image that first comes to mind when envisioning SoCal’s picturesque and posh coastal living, but Laguna Niguel’s exclusive Bear Brand Ranch is actually closer to the water, and it offers some of the most impressive views in the area—not to mention the 20-plus acres of greenbelt and walking trails, 24-hour gated security and proximity to top-notch private schools. The hillside locale also features some of O.C.’s most exclusive large-scale custom estates, like this one at 3 Inspiration Point priced at $8.9 million. What do you get for that? A truly inspiring 11-bedroom, 12-bath Mediterranean-style masterpiece situated on a gated 66,224-square-foot lot with multiple balconies showcasing sweeping ocean, city-light and sunset views, plus a resort-style yard complete with pool and spa, poolside cabana with full bath, outdoor kitchen, putting green and fire pits. Other standout features include an elevator, theater, gourmet kitchen, dual laundry rooms, library, separate third-floor office, and wine and game rooms. “The movie room has a built-in bar, making it the perfect venue for watching sporting events,” says listing agent Tim Smith at The Smith Group of Coldwell Banker Previews International. “Also, the sheer size of the home is impressive, boasting more than 14,500 square feet. Upon entrance, the volume of the ceilings and all of the natural light in the home is captivating, soaring approximately 25 feet high."

‘Hood Highlights
Point of View Some of the homes in Bear Brand Ranch offer views of Dana Point Harbor and the ocean beyond, stretching all the way to Catalina. Other homes offer mountain vistas.

Differentials You won’t find any cookie-cutter tract homes here. The community prides itself on its reputation for diversity in style and architecture. Here, different is better.

Logistics This upscale enclave in Laguna Niguel is a community of 127 homes that are protected by security teams standing watch at its two gates (one at Golden Lantern and the other at Camino del Avion) 24 hours a day. Now that’s safe and sound.

While neighboring lots at the oceanfront beach community of The Strand at Headlands sell for $8 million to $15 million, a large half-acre piece of land just a short drive from the coast—but still with breathtaking ocean views—in the gated Bear Brand Custom Estates community goes for anywhere from $3 million to $18 million. Empty lots, however, are hard to come by—that’s because the gated community is already developed. “Buyers in Bear Brand are purchasing lots with homes as-is or are willing to put additional resources into customizing the home to their specifications,” says Orange County real estate expert Cheryl Marquis. Luxury living in the larger Laguna Niguel community, which also includes the gated South Peak neighborhood off Camino del Avion and Crown Valley, comes with the ability to own some of South County’s most expensive estates, which sit high atop the foothills and offer stunning views that stretch all the way to Catalina. The Nellie Gail Ranch community in adjacent Laguna Hills also offers the opportunity for high-end homes. And, because this area is situated more inland, you can buy a manse with more square footage and less money down than one you’d get in Laguna Beach or Newport. And they won’t disappoint when it comes to prestige and custom details. “Many of the homes have balconies to take advantage of the endless views, large circular driveways, game rooms, movie-screening rooms, unattached casitas in the backyard for guests, six- and seven-car garages, and gated properties [apart from the guard gate for the community],” Marquis says. Access to The St. Regis Monarch Beach, Blue Ribbon public schools, the 73 Freeway and Mission Hospital (the only trauma center in all of Orange County) add to Laguna Niguel’s appeal. And, to top it all off, residents don’t have to deal with as much marine layer as those whose homes are situated directly on the beach. It’s all clear to us now.

We unearthed some of SoCal’s most lustworthy home amenities. Here, our four faves.

| 1 | Car Collector’s Dream
Realtor Kathryn White loves the garage at 19 Shell Beach in Crystal Cove, where an authentic Philadelphia cobblestone driveway leads to a nine-car clear-span subterranean garage with a workshop, air-compressor outlets, mechanical rooms and tons of storage.

| 2 | Over the Top
Engel & Volkers’ Mark Adams ran across a SoCal home whose owner spent more than $1 million just on the pool. “It has flames shooting out of the water.” And a window allows you to watch the swimmers as if you were peering into an aquarium.

| 3 | Pacific Pool
One of the most visually impressive elements L.A.-based architect Richard Landry has designed for an O.C. residence is a dramatic bluff-top, infinity-edge saltwater pool that seems to blend into the Pacific. “This feature is enjoyed from the garden and also the basement recreation room. There, three large glass openings provide an underwater view directly into the deep end of the pool.”

| 4 | The Portabello Estate
This Cameo Shores home is one of the most elaborate Realtor Chris Brigandi has ever seen. “It sits on three oceanfront lots and has a basement with a bowling alley, movie theater, jewelry store and 30-car garage. When you drive into the garage on the street level, a hydraulic lift transfers your car to the basement.”

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