By Marybeth Bizjak and Jan Ferris Heenan Posted on August 30
Whether you’re looking to snap up a bargain, move into a family-friendly area or live among the city’s hip singles, we explore 10 neighborhoods to see what each has to offer. Plus, an update on the loft market.
YOU WANT TO PUT DOWN ROOTS: East Sacramento
If you’re like most East Sac residents, once you move into the neighborhood, you’ll never want to leave. “Eighty percent of the people who sell houses here stay in the neighborhood,” says real estate agent Tim Collom with Dunnigan Realtors. What makes East Sac inspire such loyalty? Says Collom: “It’s a perfect storm of all the factors that create a good neighborhood: It’s close to downtown, the houses are beautiful, and the people are nice.”
Built in the early decades of the 20th century, this neighborhood just east of midtown has a range of charming architectural styles, from the bungalows of the 1920s to the European revival styles of the 1930s and the ranch-style houses of the late ’40s and early ’50s. There’s nothing cookie cutter about it—“every street is different,” says Collom.
House prices are all over the board, from a low of $300,000 to more than $1 million. Thanks to the economic downturn, it’s now possible to buy a house in the fabled Fabulous Forties for less than $1 million. “That was pretty much unheard of three years ago,” says Collom. Still, he notes: “We haven’t taken that much of a hit. We’re looking at 2003 prices, not the 50 percent price declines in other neighborhoods.” Pro: It’s like a small, friendly village. Con: Some blocks are great, others a little shabby.
YOU'RE LOOKING FOR A BARGAIN: North Natomas
The mortgage meltdown hit North Natomas like a tsunami, swamping overextended homeowners and forcing them into foreclosure. The flip side of that bad news: Those foreclosed houses are now on the market at extremely attractive prices for buyers looking for a screaming deal.
Foreclosures and short sales make up about 75 percent of the houses currently on the market, according to real estate agent Linda K. Bennett. “It’s a buying opportunity,” says Bennett, who works for NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center. Here, she says, you can easily find a “very, very nice” three-bedroom, two-bath house from $150,000 to $230,000. While there are even better deals to be had, they tend to get snapped up quickly. “For houses under $150,000, you have to battle investor buyers,” cautions Bennett. “It’s hard.” Perched in the northwestern part of the city, North Natomas is famously located in a flood basin. When a building moratorium was lifted in the late 1990s, builders had a field day, constructing about 80,000 new housing units in just a few short years. In 2008, spooked by the calamitous flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina, the federal government imposed another building moratorium until the levees are improved.
Close to the airport and Arco Arena, North Natomas is bisected by two interstate highways (I–5 and I–80). If you want to live here, a car is a must. Thanks to a general plan that called for high-density urban development, small lots are the norm. But every home is within walking distance of a park—either a large super-regional park or one of the many small “pocket parks” that dot each development. Pro: Shopping and restaurants (mostly chains) galore. Con: What happens if the Big Flood hits?
YOU'RE A FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYER: Hollywood Park
This quiet little neighborhood, located just east of Land Park, is the perfect place for first-time homebuyers looking for a starter home close to downtown for less than $300,000. Don’t be deceived by the glamorous moniker: Hollywood Park is filled with modest one-story ranch-style houses built in the 1950s. (You almost expect to see Beaver Cleaver rounding the corner on his roller skates.) But what it lacks in glitz, Hollywood Park makes up for in value. Prices range from $200,000 to $275,000—down about 15 percent from their peak a few years ago. “You’ll get more for your dollar here than in Land Park or Curtis Park,” says Kellie Swayne, an agent with Dunnigan Realtors. Translation: a bigger lot and more interior square footage for the money.
If you love new construction, steer clear: Many houses in Hollywood Park still have their original dinky kitchens, outmoded bathrooms (complete with pink and blue tile) and minuscule attached garages. “Unless you have a Mini Cooper, good luck getting your car in there,” warns Swayne. On the bright side, you’ll find gorgeous hardwood floors and good, solid construction.
The neighborhood is populated with a mix of original owners and young buyers who come in and fix up the houses. But with only about 1,100 houses total, there are relatively few for sale at any one time. “Hollywood Park has a small inventory,” Swayne says, noting that at one point during the summer, there were only 14 homes for sale.
Life here revolves around the three elementary schools clustered at the neighborhood’s center: Leonardo da Vinci, Hollywood Park Elementary and St. Robert School. “They’re all solid schools, and they make that neighborhood,” says Swayne. While Hollywood Park has no commercial activity within its borders, it’s bounded by several busy thoroughfares, including Freeport Boulevard. You can walk to Starbucks, Raley’s or Freeport Bakery, and there are tons of shops and restaurants nearby. Pro: It’s a close-in neighborhood at an affordable price. Con: You may have to remodel a kitchen or bathroom—or both.
YOU LIKE THE FINER THINGS IN LIFE: Sierra Oaks Vista
With a median home price of $1.24 million, this is one of the priciest neighborhoods in the Sacramento region—and one of the most desirable.
Built largely in the 1950s in the area bounded by Fair Oaks, Northrop, Munroe and Watt, Sierra Oaks Vista consists of estatelike homes on roomy, well-tended lots. Located just a few miles from downtown, the neighborhood has a sleepy, almost rural character, with lush landscaping, narrow, meandering roads and no sidewalks. In recent years, many of the original ranch-style houses have been torn down and replaced with large homes.
Sierra Oaks Vista is a move-up neighborhood. People tend to buy here for its excellent schools—Sierra Oaks Elementary, and El Camino and Rio Americano high schools—which are known for their high test scores and active parent-teacher organizations.
But buying in this neighborhood can be a challenge. Houses don’t often come on the market, says Erin Attardi, an agent with Lyon Real Estate. “There are not many houses for sale at any given time,” she says. “Maybe four to six.” Buyers who have their hearts set on Sierra Oaks Vista may have to wait—and be ready to jump when the right house comes along. Open houses are few and far between. Seeing a house by appointment is more common. But before you can get in to see a house, you’ll have to prove you’re a qualified buyer. “People here don’t let just anybody into their home,” says Attardi.
Getting a mortgage on a million-dollar property isn’t a piece of cake, either. Nowadays, says Attardi, you need a hefty cash down payment, stellar credit and verifiable income in order to qualify for a jumbo loan. Still, even here, prices are down from a few years ago. “It’s a good time to buy in this neighborhood,” says Attardi. “If you have the money.” Pro: It feels like the country, but you can still get downtown in 15 minutes. Con: You’d better have a hefty net worth.
YOU'RE YOUNG AND SINGLE: Midtown
It’s no wonder this live wire of a neighborhood in the heart of the city is a magnet for young singles: It’s the epicenter of fun. Hip restaurants, bars and shops line the streets, and the monthly Second Saturday Art Walk draws thousands of merrymakers.
Midtown attracts two very different types of homebuyer: the person who loves classic architecture and the one who prefers contemporary urban design. Luckily, there are products for both. You can buy a 1920s Craftsman with oodles of charm for less than $400,000 or a high-style loft for more than $1 million.
“This neighborhood is known for its bungalows and Victorians,” says Allison Couchman, an agent with Dunnigan Realtors. These old houses have hardwood floors, original built-ins and tiny lots. “But you don’t buy here for the land,” Couchman explains. “You buy for the location—and the action.”
Newer homes tend to be high-density infill construction such as lofts, condos and town houses. “There’s no yard and not much maintenance,” Couchman explains. “You have neighbors close by, which is nice, especially if you’re a young single woman.” Town house projects include Washington Park Village, at 17th and D, a new development with prices in the $350,000 to $450,000 range, and Marshall Place, at 25th and I, where a three-bedroom, two-bath town house built in 2003 recently went on the market for $389,000. Unlike town houses, lofts have had a tough time gaining traction in this market. (See related story: “Recession Takes a Bite Out of the Loft Market.”)
Like just about everywhere, house prices in midtown have dropped in recent years—but not a lot. “There’s a finite number of properties in the city core, so it carries a higher premium,” Couchman says. Pro: You can walk or bike to everything. Con: You’ll pay extra to live this close to the action.
YOU'RE INTO THE OUTDOORS: Folsom
Scuba dive at Folsom Lake, raft or kayak the nearby American River or bike the 32-mile Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail from the foothills into Old Sacramento. When it comes to recreation, Folsom—25 miles northeast of the capital—holds bragging rights for the region.
“Whether you’re a land enthusiast, water enthusiast or snow enthusiast, Folsom is smack dab where you want to live,” says Cheri Elliott of ERA Real Estate in nearby El Dorado Hills. “It is definitely the mecca for recreation.”
Elliott should know. A former national and world titleholder in both BMX and mountain biking, she still rides often; the rocky 16-mile Salmon Falls Trail just east of Folsom is one of her favorites.
In the city proper, Folsom boasts an extensive network of bike paths and trails, and constructed a 475-foot-long pedestrian and bike bridge this summer. The city also recently installed a mountain bike skills course, a BMX track and a skateboard park.
Housing in Folsom, which has grown by one-third the past decade to nearly 70,000 residents, is similarly diverse. With short sales and bank foreclosures, prices have dropped significantly, even less than $200,000 for some condos and fixer-uppers.
“We have beautiful homes in the $300,000 range that used to be up in the $600,000 range, in keeping with state trends,” Elliott says. Not to mention a handful of million-dollar mansions with fairly enviable views, and a healthy mix of historic and recently minted homes. Pro: It’s a prime location for cyclists, runners and water lovers. Con: The population of this once-bedroom town is growing—quickly.
YOU'RE A STATE WORKER: West Sacramento
West Sac’s affordable home prices and proximity to downtown make it a logical destination for state workers. “For people who want to be close to the city but can’t afford midtown, this is the place,” says Dunnigan Realtors agent Allison Couchman.
While this port city has a gritty, industrial reputation, it offers a mix of older residential neighborhoods and new-home developments that attract both young professionals and families. How affordable is West Sac? At the low end, you can pick up an older home on one of the “state streets” (Alabama, Pennsylvania, etc.) for as little as $150,000. In newer, upscale developments, houses that were selling for as much as $700,000 just a few years ago are now priced in the $300,000 range.
The most affordable houses are clustered in the northern section of town, separated from downtown by the I Street Bridge. “It’s great if you want to bike to work,” Couchman notes. “You can be at work in 15 minutes.” On the south side of town, the houses tend to be bigger and the neighborhoods quieter. At the Bridgeway Lakes development, there’s a water park, a manmade lake with paddleboats and lots of lush greenery. “This is a great area for someone who works downtown but wants to come home at the end of the day to a little retreat,” says Couchman. One downside: To get to your state job downtown, you have to drive through the industrial district via Jefferson Boulevard, which gets congested during peak hours.
West Sac offers plenty of suburban-style shopping (Target, Lowe’s and the like) but not a lot in the way of restaurants or entertainment. Says Couchman, “You have to drive into town for dinner.” Pro: Urban or suburban? It’s your choice. Con: West Sac still has a way to go before it’s as hip as midtown.
YOU'RE LOOKING TO RAISE A FAMILY: Rocklin
Most of real estate agent John Hughes’ clients come to Rocklin for the schools, but the family-friendly ethos and price tag of this Placer County suburb 23 miles north of downtown Sacramento run close seconds. The median home price is $270,000. “And for that,” says Hughes, a Rocklin resident and owner of Guidant Realty, “you can get about an 1,800-square-foot home, and something built in the last decade.”
Rocklin Unified School District is a top-rated system, keeping pace in test scores with neighboring and more affluent Granite Bay, Hughes notes. The newest campus, Sunset Ranch Elementary School, opened its doors in the Whitney Ranch neighborhood last month, with “smart technology” in every classroom, three playgrounds and an outdoor amphitheater.
The town has grown significantly since 1980, when the population was less than 10,000, but has strived to retain its rural character. Rocklin maintains 30 city parks for its 55,000 residents (one of the highest per capita in the area) and 200 acres of open space.
“You’re not looking at wall-to-wall houses; you’re looking at creeks and wetlands,” says Hughes. “You don’t have any major bump-ups against industrial areas. And you don’t have traffic issues getting around town.” Outsiders apparently agree. Money magazine listed Rocklin in its 2010 listing of “top 100” American small towns, one of only four in California to make the cut. With a decidedly conservative bent—and home to William Jessup University, a four-year Christian college—Rocklin also is a robust town for matrimony: The 2000 U.S. Census counted married couples in two out of every three homes, 20 percent higher than the national average. Pro: The homes are relatively new, roomy and affordable. Con: If you’re single and searching, your pool of potential mates here is very small.
YOU'RE LOOKING FOR COMFORT: Carmichael
Scenic beauty and seclusion nestle side by side in Carmichael, and the real estate market stays fairly static because the locals just plain don’t leave. Take Russ Deterding, whose grandparents came to the north bank of the American River from Rancho Cordova in 1907 and built a 475-acre ranch that is now the community’s crown public jewel: Ancil Hoffman Park.
Deterding and his late wife of 57 years had seven children; five of them still live in Carmichael, as do most of his 28 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “Would I ever leave Carmichael? Never, except to be with (wife) Lou Ann,” says Deterding, a retired real estate agent. “I just love everything about it.”
Local resident and Lyon agent Kim Pacini-Hauch calls Carmichael “country living in the city.” Twelve miles from downtown Sacramento, the unincorporated suburb of 58,000 is home to river-bluff estates and horse properties, as well as more modest homes, allowing for a democratic mix of price points and families.
The communitywide Fourth of July parade and fireworks show is a seasonal high point. Ancil Hoffman—with its 18-hole public golf course, Effie Yeaw Nature Center and American River access—delivers year-round. Deer, turkey and the occasional peacock roam freely, and geese fly overhead.
Pacini-Hauch’s home overlooks Ancil Hoffman Park, which, like much of the area’s natural beauty, capitalizes on its off-the-beaten-path location. “You’re not living here to impress anybody,” she says. “If I had to sum up Carmichael in one word, I would say Carmichael is comfortable. It’s like your most favorite blanket.” Pro: It has a comfortable “country living in the city” feel. Con: It’s not fancy.
YOU'RE LOOKING FOR A COLLEGE TOWN: Davis
Davis is a tough real estate market to crack, with its idyllic mix of town-and-gown and not enough affordable housing to go around. Leave it to the economy to contort things. Where more stable times meant 100 to 125 homes on the market at once, mid-summer listings hovered at 200 properties—the highest inventory local agents have seen in years.
The rub? Prices are still high, averaging $535,000, with a dozen or more homes optimistically listed at $1 million and more. “You’re not just buying a house; you’re buying a lifestyle,” says Mary Vaughn, a fourth-generation Yolo County resident and broker with Coldwell Banker Doug Arnold Real Estate.
Davis sits 15 miles west of the state Capitol off Interstate 80. A century ago, it had no college of its own but plenty of fertile ground when University of California officials picked the area to build a student farm. The teaching facility eventually became a full-fledged university in Davis, now enrolling some 32,000 students a year and routinely landing toward the top of national and global “best of” college rankings.
The cultural spillover for the town is sizable (think the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts). Davis’ bike-friendliness is the stuff of legend; the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame even relocated here this year. And while the university’s annual Picnic Day got a little rowdy this spring, public safety officials were quick to respond. “Davis is not perceived as a party town because the police and the citizens really won’t accept that,” Vaughn says. Pro: Unlike other areas, overall, home prices haven’t dropped in value. Con: Unlike other areas, overall, home prices haven’t dropped in value.
RECESSION TAKES A BITE OUT OF THE LOFT MARKET
In October 2008, Sacramento magazine looked at the city’s nascent loft, town house and condo developments. We discovered that, just as a number of much-heralded projects were hitting the market, the credit crisis was causing buyers to pull back. We recently caught up with Rob McQuade, a real estate agent who specializes in downtown and midtown, to see what changes the past two years have wrought. “The traditional loft properties have floundered,” reports McQuade. More successful: “soft lofts” that combine urban design with traditional floor plans. “People love the loft look,” he says. “But at the end of the day, they still want bedrooms.” Here, we revisit four projects from our original story.
* 1600 H Lofts (1600 H St.) THEN: Construction workers were scurrying around the unfinished four-story, 44-unit building. A few buyers had already plunked down deposits on loftlike condos with prices ranging from $179,000 to $600,000. Ground-floor storefronts stood ready, waiting for retail and restaurant tenants. NOW: The building was converted to rental apartments after cost overruns and construction delays stymied sales efforts. On the ground floor, a hair salon occupies a corner spot; other commercial spaces remain empty.
* L Street Lofts (1818 L St.) THEN: This was the jewel in midtown’s crown, attracting well-heeled urbanites and local celebs Mayor Kevin Johnson and Kings guard Kevin Martin. But a dispute between the developer and the lender closed the sales office for more than a year, leaving the project in limbo with fewer than one-third of its 92 units sold. NOW: The dispute now settled, the unsold lofts are back on the market. “They’ve gotten a little more aggressive in pricing,” says McQuade, who occasionally sees a loft pop up for rent on Craigs-list. “It’s still a distinctive address and a beautiful building.”
* SoCap Lofts (Sixth and R streets) THEN: Rolled out in phases by developer Regis Homes, this 36-unit project already had a few buyers living in one- and two-bedroom loft-style detached town houses. Prices ranged from $375,000 to $425,000, and homeowners dues were a reasonable $96 a month. NOW: The last unit sold in January. “I’m surprised at how well this project did, given the location,” says McQuade. “The design just appealed to people.”
* Sutter Brownstones (26th and N streets) THEN: These three-story brick-faced town houses were selling briskly at prices ranging from $385,000 to $625,000. Target market: empty nesters and suburban refugees looking for the convenience of urban living. NOW: Even though sales slowed a bit during the recession, the development completely sold out in 2009. “It’s still one of my very favorite projects,” says McQuade, citing its hip Brooklyn vibe.