Land Park, the Fabulous 40s and Granite Bay may be the Sacramento area’s über-neighborhoods, but they don’t have the market cornered on terrific. Read on to discover 10 of the best-kept secrets in local real estate—and maybe get ready to move in.
New highways have a way of casting old communities out of favor, and the 1949 construction of Highway 160 was no exception. Like a pair of scissors, it isolated the North Sacramento neighborhood of Woodlake. Tucked between Highway 160 and Arden Way, Woodlake became secluded, its charming English cottages basking in a new kind of peace.
None of this was foreseen by North Sacramento Land Co. founder Carl Johnston, who developed Woodlake in the 1920s. Johnston, an unabashed Anglophile, picked the names Oxford, Lochbrae, Canter-bury, Blackwood and Southgate for streets and gave them the curves of a milkmaid.
Today, Woodlake is the kind of neighborhood you grew up in and came back to. One of its best assets is its geographic location. “I’m 15 minutes, max, from the airport, four minutes from Arden Fair mall and five minutes from the Capitol,” says Johnston’s grandson, Bob Slobe, who lives in Woodlake and still runs the family business.
Asking price: Prices have gone through the roof in recent years. Today you can’t touch anything for less than $400,000.
Who lives there: Sacramento City Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy; County Supervisor Roger Dickinson; and former City Councilman Rob Kerth, who lost to Heather Fargo in the 2000 mayoral race.
Brings to mind: Land Park without the really steep prices.
Amenities: The nearby Arden/Del Paso light-rail station makes getting around town sans road rage a breeze. And Woodlake sits in the lap of the Del Paso Boulevard-rimmed Uptown district, which features some of Sacramento’s premier art studios, galleries, restaurants and Limn, a world-class furniture store.
Traditions: Every Halloween, hordes of kids from other neighborhoods disgorge from the train at the Arden/Del Paso light-rail station and descend on Woodlake. Residents get ready by stockpiling bags of candy as if preparing for the second coming of Y2K. Summertime is movie time—on Bill and Kari McCloskey’s lawn. All the neighbors are invited to view family-friendly flicks projected digitally on Bill’s 10-by-20-foot screen, popcorn included. Woodlake also has an annual ice-cream social and a Fourth of July parade.
Plus: Gorgeous mature trees of all kinds make the neighborhood cool (well, relatively) in the summer and spectacular in the fall.
Minus: There are no conveniently located supermarkets.
Taboo: Being a leaf-pile isolationist. “In our neighborhood, three or four houses get together to make one community leaf pile. You never break away from that and make your own leaf pile,” says Bill McCloskey, who, when he’s not dealing with leaves, is a graphic designer.
SHELDON WOODS / VINEYARD ESTATES, ELK GROVE
When you think of posh homes, you think Granite Bay, not Elk Grove. But right here in the middle of cattle country, just east of Grant Line Road in old Sheldon, are two side-by-side subdivisions that make up Elk Grove’s own Rodeo Drive. Not Rodeo as in “get along, little dogies” (although several horses live here) but Ro-DAY-o as in “bling bling.”
Here, sprawling custom ranch homes, brick castles and stately Tudors sit on expertly manicured 5-acre lots with their own ponds, tennis courts, vineyards and horse barns. But residents fear their country Camelot won’t last forever. As the drumbeat of development gets louder, they grow feistier in their effort to preserve their rural lifestyle. The hot-button issue of the moment is the proposed widening of Grant Line Road to six lanes. The 300-household Sheldon Community Association has made itself heard loud and clear, showing up at City Council meetings wearing red T-shirts and waving pennants with the letters S.O.S. (Save Oldtown Sheldon).
Asking price: Recently for-sale homes ranged from $500,000 to $2.5 million.
Who lives there: Entrepreneurs, business owners, anesthesiologists, attorneys, general contractors and retired pro baseball player Greg Vaughn of the Cincinnati Reds.
Brings to mind: Napa Valley without the slopes.
Amenities: Upscale dining right down the road at Silva’s Sheldon Inn. Also, this area has its own little version of Trader Joe’s: Sheldon Farms, where you can buy produce, gourmet spreads and toppings, and take-and-bake homemade fruit pies.
Traditions: Halloween hayrides on a flatbed tractor-trailer.
Plus: Room to run and a sought-after school district make this neighborhood a great place to raise a family.
Minus: Rush-hour traffic along Grant Line Road.
Taboo: Building walls instead of neighbor-friendly fences.
You’ve heard of Granite Bay. Now meet the other Granite Bay: the aptly named Hidden Valley, 370 acres of bucolic paradise just off Auburn-Folsom Road a mile north of Douglas Boulevard. Peppered with lakes and ponds (on a map, the place looks like a piece of Swiss cheese), plus a 180-acre wooded common area, Hidden Valley was developed in 1950 by Joseph Beek, a key player in the development of Southern California’s Balboa Island, as a summer resort for Aerojet workers. An early neighborhood tradition brought by Beek from Balboa Island was the Tournament of Lights, featuring lighted floats on Oak Lake, which the neighborhood re-created in 2000 in honor of its 50th anniversary.
Many people who grew up in Hidden Valley have returned to raise their families here, some even purchasing their parents’ houses. Kids—heck, adults, too—have a ball picking wild blackberries, searching for arrowheads, climbing rocks and trees, and observing the abundant wildlife in the common area.
“It brings out the Tom Sawyer in all of us,” says Hidden Valley resident Rill Wright, who sells real estate in the area.
Asking price: Properties, most on 1-acre lots, range in value from about $500,000 to $1 million. They’re not for sale often.
Who lives there: Retired Aerojet workers, artists, writers, doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, professionals in the high-tech and marketing industries.
Brings to mind: The woods of Wisconsin or Ohio.
Amenities: While it seems remote, Hidden Valley is only a mile or so from stores on busy Douglas Boulevard.
Traditions: Christmas parties, Easter egg hunts, Fourth of July parties, pancake breakfasts and Chuck Wagon, an annual catered barbecue dinner complete with entertainment and country line dancing.
Recreation: Hidden Valley has four lakes and five ponds where you can go canoeing or fishing for bass and bluegill. Oak Lake, the biggest, has a clubhouse and swimming beach with a summertime lifeguard.
Plus: A strong sense of community and tradition.
Minus: “The age of the homes,” says resident Christina Richter. “The construction of the early ’60s was not the best. We like to say in Hidden Valley that you move in for the community, not necessarily for the house.”
In 1997, Clark Nary took one look at the 106-year-old house his wife, Diana Draper Nary, wanted to buy and called it “the Folsom fright.” But Diana saw past the building’s dilapidated state and set about creating a gracious and lavish Victorian home. Today the former “fright” is a genteel lady, with seven chandeliers, opulently dressed windows and rooms the color of cocoa, pink, cranberry and gold.
Such is life in historic Folsom, where residents relish the romance and color of the Gold Rush era and delight in the knowledge that Folsom was the site of the first railroad west of the Rockies. Just a few calf- and lung-challenging steps up from historic Sutter Street is Folsom’s “Nob Hill,” including several mansions built in the 1880s, but in general the homes are smaller, well-kept bungalows and cottages.
Homes are rarely for sale in this district and, when they are, command a hefty price and the blessing of the city planning department for any exterior rehabilitation.
Asking price: One three-bedroom, two-bath home on Figueroa Street built in 1892 recently appraised for $380,000—more than six times what the owner paid for it in 1980.
Who lives there: Those who long for the grace of a bygone era.
Brings to mind: A Norman Rockwell painting.
Amenities: The Sutter Street shops house antiques, crafts, gifts and restaurants in buildings dating from the 1880s. Historic highlights in this district include the Folsom History Museum, the Folsom Railroad Museum & Historic Railroad Turntable, the Folsom History Interpretive Area and the Folsom Power House.
Plus: Historic Folsom has a small-town feel that Sacramento neighborhoods don’t have.
Minus: Some residents complain when drivers park up the hill to attend events on Sutter Street.
Taboo: Aluminum windows. They’re cheap, but if ol’ Joseph Libby Folsom didn’t have them, modern-day residents shouldn’t either.
WASHINGTON, WEST SACRAMENTO
West Sacramento’s Washington neighborhood is a nascent Polaroid picture, the faintest outlines of its future just now beginning to materialize. Jump-starting revitalization of this tattered area is Metro Place at Washington Square, a brand-new community of 44 tightly packed single-family homes and 10 live/work lofts. With Craftsman-style houses in hues of teal, forest green, mustard and brick red, Metro Place—located at Fourth and C streets—pops from its gray environment surrealistically.
Residents of Metro Place get all the advantages of living downtown without having to own an 80-year-old house, and the price is right. Even better, there’s more to come. The city of West Sacramento is in negotiations with the West Sacramento Historical Society and the River Valley Arts Center to turn the Washington Firehouse at Third and C streets into a historical museum and cultural center. And the city has given developer John Leonard the green light to develop 26 homes, plus a possible upscale restaurant, on an empty city-owned site, also at Third and C. Can a governor’s mansion this side of the river be far behind?
Asking price: Single-family homes at Metro Place sold from the upper $100,000s to the mid-$200,000s.
Who lives there: In Metro Place, mostly singles, childless couples and empty nesters who work in downtown Sacramento.
Brings to mind: Regis’ Metro Square in midtown Sacramento, a shining example of infill development that sold out its 45 homes in one week in 1998 and sparked a flurry of downtown building proposals.
Amenities: The Washington neighborhood is within walking or biking distance to Old Sacramento and Raley Field, home of the Sacramento River Cats baseball team. And the riverfront teems with events including summer concerts and the River Otter Amphibious Race.
Plus: Metro Place is heaven for those who detest yard work. There’s lots of concrete, and not all homes have back yards.
Minus: Redevelopment takes time, so you have to get used to the sight of blight. Some folks may not feel comfortable living near a rundown trailer park or bumping into transients along the levee.
Taboo: Parking on one of the private streets at Metro Place. Your car will be towed.
There are a million reasons to love this enclave bordered on two sides by the American River and a holler across H and J streets from California State University, Sacramento. First of all, it truly is an enclave: Carlson Drive and Camellia Avenue on the south side are the only ways in and out, unless you want to swim the river.
Secondly, the neighborhood’s natural awning beats any tent you can buy at REI. The Sacramento Tree Foundation, which conducts tours in the neighborhood, claims River Park has “some of the finest trees in Sacramento”—especially during the fall. According to the foundation, River Park has better soil and drainage than much of the region, so trees here tend to grow faster and larger.
With flora that needs no coaxing, it hardly seems fair that River Park should be the kind of place where you can forget your keys in the ignition or front door, only to have neighbors tap you on the shoulder to remind you. But that’s just the kind of neighborhood it is.
Asking price: You can pick up a 1,000- to 1,200-square-foot house for $250,000 to $300,000. Some of the larger homes along the levee sell for up to $500,000.
Who lives there: Journalists, retirees, runners, employees of California State University, Sacramento.
Brings to mind: A small town.
Amenities: There’s a shopping center on Carlson Drive with a market, a pet salon, a cleaner, a wholesale bakery (where you can buy whole fruit pies) and a decent Chinese restaurant.
Traditions: A Fourth of July parade.
Plus: Location, location, location. River Park is just minutes from downtown, right next to CSUS, and less than two miles from Fair Oaks Boulevard’s “gourmet gulch.”
Minus: Some residents feel there’s not enough racial diversity.
Elmhurst was once the abode of educator and philanthropist Charles Goethe, who in the early 1920s was known as “Sacramento’s most remarkable citizen.” His home was designed by Julia Morgan, the first woman licensed to practice architecture in the state of California, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Despite all this, Elmhurst, a leafy neighborhood nestled along T, U and V streets between Highway 50 and UC Davis Medical Center, remains one of Sacramento’s hidden gems. A quaint collection of bungalows and larger homes built in the early 1900s (in some driveways you can still see the Model T grooves), Elmhurst is the kind of neighborhood where people still sit on their porches and wave to the neighbors.
Today, the neighborhood is experiencing a sea change as elderly residents, many who lived here all their lives, are replaced with young families nostalgic for yesteryear. Cohabiting with UC Davis Medical Center, though, has its ups and downs. The proximity is great if you’re having a heart attack, not so great when it’s 3 a.m. and the beams of a Medivac helicopter are tanning your eyelids.
Asking price: Fixer-uppers can be snapped up for around $200,000; prices are much higher if the house is in good shape.
Who lives there: UC Davis Medical Center employees, retirees, young families.
Brings to mind: Home in Anytown, U.S.A.
Amenities: The Julia Morgan House & Gardens provides a grand backdrop for weddings, business meetings and receptions. Just down the street is the Coloma Community Center, which was converted from the old Coloma Elementary School into a performing and visual arts center.
Traditions: Fall pancake breakfast, summer picnic, tree planting.
Plus: You can leave your car at home; there’s a light-rail station at 39th and R streets.
Minus: Many trees are falling prey to Dutch elm disease.
Long considered the ugly stepchild of tony Land Park, Hollywood Park, just to the southeast, is suddenly cool again. Retro-minded hipsters are flocking to 1,200-square-foot homes on shady streets lined with petite, quasi-antique street lamps. And if your neighbor’s house is a little too purple or too green, so what? This ain’t El Dorado Hills.
The ’50s look is carried into the business corridor on Freeport Boulevard. Hollywood Hardware (known as “The Big Hammer” because of the hammer-shaped neon sign on the top of the building) has been a familiar Hollywood Park landmark since 1948. Resident Pat Paiva writes in a Hollywood Park Neighborhood Association newsletter, “Going there is like a trip to Disneyland minus the admission charge and long lines.”
Two things you’ll find at Hollywood Hardware that you won’t find in big-box home-improvement stores, Paiva writes, are outstanding customer services and “items that cater to our neighborhood. For instance, hardwood floor paste wax is virtually impossible to find except at Hollywood Hardware because newer areas of town don’t usually have floors made out of real wood.”
Asking price: From the low $200,000s to the low $300,000s. The lower-priced homes need new roofs and may not have central heat and air.
Who lives there: Realtors, restaurateurs, government workers, artists and telecommuters. Many people buy their starter homes in Hollywood Park, then move up to Land Park.
Brings to mind: TV’s “Happy Days.”
Amenities: Hollywood Park is within walking distance of William Land Park, home of the Sacramento Zoo and Fairytale Town and the William Land Park Golf Course.
Traditions: Some 45 households collaborate annually on a gigantic fall garage sale.
Recreation: Curiously, Hollywood Park has no park. (But residents are working on it.)
Plus: Because Hollywood Park is an established neighborhood, life here is not a box of chocolates: You do know what you’re going to get.
Minus: Lack of fine dining in the immediate area.
Taboo: Trying to open a liquor store. “We have more than enough liquor outlets already,” says Hollywood Park resident and real estate agent Wanda Christensen.
For Boulevard Park residents, starting a conversation with neighbors takes no effort at all. “What are you renovating?” should get the ball rolling just fine. It’s all part of living in one of Sacramento’s most carefully preserved historic neighborhoods.
Boulevard Park wasn’t originally a residential neighborhood. In its first life, it was a racetrack. In 1860, civic-minded Sacramentans purchased 12 blocks (E to H streets, 20th to 22nd streets) to build the Union Race Track and grandstand and donated the property to the California State Agricultural Society. Two years later, the society raised money to buy six additional blocks and to construct a brick wall around the property.
In 1904, the organization sold the property to developers who created the Boulevard Park subdivision.
Today, Boulevard Park is one of Sacramento’s most successful urban renewal districts. Residents are rescued from their own bad taste by the strict requirements of the city of Sacramento Planning Department and the Design Review and Preservation Board to maintain the historical integrity of the homes’ exteriors.
Homeowners say they feel less like owners than stewards, doing their part to keep history alive for the next generation.
Asking price: $300,000 and up.
Who lives there: Lovers of old architecture and haters of commuting.
Brings to mind: San Francisco.
Amenities: You name it, Boulevard Park is within walking distance of it: mod shops, art galleries, thrift stores, restaurants, the B Street Theatre, Music Circus and Sacramento Memorial Auditorium.
Traditions: Residents try to plan a neighborhood activity every month. They have Fourth of July parties, spaghetti dinners and masquerade balls, and get together to decorate the neighborhood for the holidays.
Plus: Traffic-calming measures have made E, F, G and H streets much saner.
Minus: Some residents have had problems with theft.
VALLEY VIEW ACRES
You’ve got to admire the residents of Valley View Acres—the only community within the city of Sacramento where horses and other farm animals are permitted—for their pluck.
Valley View Acres, an unpretentious North Natomas neighborhood consisting of 1- to 4-acre properties, is bracing for sweeping changes that are coming with the implementation of the North Natomas Community Plan. A vacant land buffer directly to the west is the only thing separating this quirky but endearing rural bastion from the sea of red tile roofs that is fast taking over North Natomas. That strip of open space could one day be the site of 3,300 homes if it is annexed by the city.
Rather than simply complain about the disappearance of the open space, Valley View Acres residents designed their own community plan to provide for more open space and for the preservation of a historic family ranch.
But don’t let it be said that Valley View Acres residents don’t have a sense of humor. Spotted on the front of a house just before Christmas: an upside-down shirt and pair of pants descending from a string of lights along a rooftop to make it look as though the person hanging the lights had met with an unfortunate end.
Asking price: “Home prices have gone berserk,” says Barbara Graichen, head of the Valley View Acres Community Association. A three-bedroom home on 1 acre recently sold for $368,000. But there really is no one-size-fits-all price because mansions and cracker boxes sit side by side.
Who lives there: The neighborhood is home to a land-use planning and government consultant/activist, a horse whisperer, a children’s theater costume designer, artists, a llama sitter with a champion miniature horse, a veterinarian, a master gardener, a mounted (horse) patrol officer, some Russian families and a community of Sikhs.
Brings to mind: Toy Story’s anachronistic Woody, feeling threatened by the arrival of Buzz Lightyear.
Amenities: Natomas Marketplace, Arco Arena and Sacramento International Airport are a short drive away.
The neighborhood itself has a Russian church.
Traditions: Annual creek cleanups, Easter egg hunts, Fourth of July parades (with kids on tractors instead of bikes).
Plus: The atmosphere is relaxed; no one feels like they have to keep up with the Joneses.
Minus: Some properties are junky.
Up, Up and Away
By Marybeth Bizjak
Sky-high price tags are now the norm in Sacramento’s most exclusive neighborhoods.
Behold the newest symbol of the red-hot, out-of-control, who-are-they-kidding-with-those-prices Sacramento area real estate market: the $5.7 million fixer-upper.
First, its bona fides: The three-house, 2 1/2-acre property (with the grand moniker “Villa Flore”) is situated in Granite Bay in the hyper-exclusive gated community of Los Lagos, home to movie stars, basketball kings and business titans. The main house alone is more than 8,000 square feet, while the 3,100-square-foot guesthouse is bigger than the average American home. (There’s also a roomy pool house complete with gym.) Perched at the top of a hill, Villa Flore features jaw-dropping views of Folsom Lake and, on a clear day, the Sierra Nevada. It has amenities you probably never even dreamed you needed, including a helipad, a panic room and a $1 million Lucite staircase from France. And the neighbors ain’t bad: Run out of sugar and you can just pop next door to borrow a cup from Eddie Murphy.
Now for the drawbacks: It’s a little, shall we say, dated. As the real estate ads delicately put it in situations such as these, bring your decorator. There are miles of plush turquoise carpet fresh from the pages of House Beautiful circa 1980 and thousands of square feet of glitzy gold-flecked black granite floors that would look perfectly at home in Tony Soprano’s New Jersey mob palace. The baths are small and the kitchen not exactly top-of-the-line. If you want to buy this estate, be prepared to drop some serious dough to bring it into the 21st century.
Villa Flore may be the most extreme example of the runaway prices that have affected the Sacramento area real estate market in the past three years. The region’s real estate boom—fueled by low mortgage rates and relatively strong consumer confidence—has boosted prices at all levels, from tract houses to multimillion-dollar estates. Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a rising real estate market lifts all house prices.
Sacramentans used to look on in wonderment at the sky-high price tags in the Bay Area. Now, stratospheric prices are the norm, rather than the exception, in local “prestige communities” such as Los Lagos and Wexford and in exclusive established neighborhoods such as the Fabulous 40s and along Crocker Road.
But the prices don’t seem to faze today’s upper-end buyer. “People aren’t stretching to buy,” says one local agent. “They have deep pockets, and these prices don’t seem too difficult to swallow.”
Competition for these buyers is fierce. Only a handful of real estate agents specialize in this small but lucrative slice of the market, and they work hard to keep their clients happy. “Service is the name of the game,” says Sherry Billingsley, a real estate agent for Re/Max Gold in Serrano El Dorado Hills.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was right: The rich are different from you and me. Unlike entry-level buyers, who generally need help with things like finding a mortgage broker, Billingsley explains, “my clients are desperate for a good housekeeper.”
Ron Rose and Barbara Tonso know all about the care and feeding of high-end buyers and sellers. The pair, who work as a team for Coldwell Banker, sell pricey houses in Granite Bay, including the gated communities of Los Lagos and Wexford. Last year alone, they listed more than $50 million and sold about $30 million in residential real estate.
“You really have to take good care of your clients,” says Rose. He’s on call virtually 24/7, answering the phone at the crack of dawn to soothe a panicked seller and socializing ’til the wee hours with well-heeled clients.
Rose is the consummate rich person’s real estate agent. Dressed in an impeccably tailored businessman’s suit and driving a Mercedes-Benz S500, he looks like he could be one of his own millionaire clients. In fact, he’s a latecomer to the business of selling homes. Rose worked as a trial attorney in Silicon Valley before retiring to Los Lagos five years ago to play golf and live the good life. But he found himself bored once he left the links at 11 a.m. and, to channel his Type A energy into something productive, decided to go into real estate.
Selling pricey homes isn’t as easy as it looks. “You can’t sell a lot of these houses,” says Rose. In a typical month, only one or two buyers come along who are capable of plunking down $2 million or more for a house. There are lots of hands to hold and big egos to massage.
“We have to get buyers and sellers to keep their eyes on the prize,” says Rose. He recalls a $2 million sale that was almost scuttled when the seller balked at paying for a $700 repair. (Rose reached into his own pocket and ponied up the cash.) Another time, his clients—married attorneys who were selling their home—scared away not one but two buyers when they insisted on negotiating the terms of the contracts themselves. “Finally,” says Rose, “I asked them to allow me to do my job.” With Rose in charge, the third time was a charm: The house finally sold.
Still, it typically takes six months to a year to sell a high-priced property. “If you sell a $2 million house in the first six months,” says Tonso, “it’s really a coup.”
For Sacramento’s fraternity of upper-end real estate agents, there is one would-be client they would all love to land: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Helping the muscular movie star with the bulging bank account buy a house would be a PR coup as well as a nice addition to the bottom line. Last November, Lyon Real Estate agent Hilary Devine appeared to have the inside track when she showed Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver, through one of her listings: Ross Relles’ $3 million Fab 40s mansion. Alas, no sale.
Arnold or no Arnold, these agents know there will always be another person willing to shell out big bucks to live in Sacramento’s choicest communities.
“I would love to have Arnold as a client,” says Rose. “But the guy who just sold a $10 million house in Los
Gatos—he’s a good client, too.”