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The Real Estate Ride: Still Looking for a Bargain


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A CABIN ON MOUNT LAGUNA. Search for the cheapest detached home for sale in San Diego County, and of the more than 26,000 properties now up for grabs, that’s what pops up: a cabin on Sunrise Highway, selling price $89,000, with 700 square feet of living space sitting on leased National Forest land. But don’t even think about a 30-year mortgage; the land lease, which costs an additional $1,500 annually, is good for only 20 years.

Narrow your search to a home within San Diego city limits, on land you can actually own, and you can forget about anything less than $100,000—or $200,000, for that matter.

Of the 2,462 single-family homes for sale through San Diego’s Multiple Listing Service one recent morning, a grand total of 12 were priced below $300,000. At the bottom end: a two-bedroom, 980-square-foot house on Imperial Avenue in Southeastern San Diego. The house, on a 2,500-squarefoot lot, lists for $230,000.

These examples demonstrate the sticker shock facing house-hunting transplants from anywhere else in the country. Forget Fortune magazine, which in May branded San Diego one of seven real estate “dead zones” in the United States, where “contracts are being canceled, deals are drying up, and prices are starting to drop.” Home sales may be slowing, but prices for singlefamily detached homes have dipped only slightly from their high of around $560,000. At the current cost, says veteran local Realtor Mark Oatman, only 11 percent of San Diegans can afford to buy.

And yet, potential buyers who don’t want to live in a cabin or shack in the mountains, or in a re-emerging inner-city neighborhood, still can find relative bargains. If they look hard enough, and in the right places.

“If I wanted to buy a house for myself in the lower price range, I’d look in East County, somewhere farther from the ocean,” says independent Realtor/broker Charles Jolly, who has been selling homes in the San Diego area for 33 years and is this year’s president of the San Diego Association of Realtors. “Everyone wants to live near the water,” he says, “and that runs up the price.”

Oatman agrees. “The least-expensive homes are going to be in the southeast portion of the county—Campo, Borrego Springs,” he says. “Anywhere else, you’re looking at a purchase price much closer to the median.”

Indeed, according to the latest Data- Quick statistics, as of midsummer, some of the lowest median prices for detached housing could be found in East County, bottoming out in Boulevard, at $210,000. In Campo, the median was $430,000; in Lemon Grove, $455,000.

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