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Hanging around home, sweet home

June 09, 2005

JOSEPH N. BELL

We got three letters last week from local real estate agents, all

saying essentially the same thing.

The area in which we live is hot. They have a waiting list of

people who want to drop untold wealth on us just to live there. Our

house fits their clients' needs admirably, and the agent will

cheerfully make the connection for us.

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We'll be rich, the buyers will be ecstatic, and the agents will

bask in the satisfaction of bringing all these good things to pass.

What followed then, in one of the letters, was a list of recent

sales with the amounts paid, mostly for houses on streets I can see

from my upstairs windows.

The prices were breathtaking -- almost grotesque.

I live in what was called Santa Ana Heights when we moved here 22

years ago. Somewhere along the line, it took up the tonier name of

Bayview Heights. And two years ago, we became part of Newport Beach.

The main reason most of my neighbors wanted to be annexed by Newport

Beach was their conviction it would increase our real estate values.

Man, were they right!

I had reasons to be dubious. Santa Ana Heights is a highly

eclectic neighborhood in a city of establishment wealth. Our homes

are a mix of the remnants of a middle-class housing development a

half-century ago, a sizeable number of creative remodels, and a

growing number of tear-downs that are being replaced by houses best

described as mini-mansions.

We still have horses walking our streets, mobile homes and trucks

parked in our driveways, open garage doors and aircraft from John

Wayne thundering over our patios at what seem 30-second intervals.

But we also have comfortable homes and spacious yards, and we

connect with our neighbors and feel a strong sense of community.

Except for the aircraft , those of us who live here embrace the

eccentricities, but I suspected they might turn away buyers at the

prices I saw listed on that real estate letter.

Man, was I wrong!

Real estate agents seem to be seeking properties to sell in my

neighborhood more aggressively than adding to their waiting list of

buyers.

That raises a critical question for those of us fortunate enough

to own such properties. Do we take the money and create a whole new

lifestyle somewhere else with considerably less financial stress? Or

do we see it as a pleasantly startling increase in our paper wealth

but certainly not a sufficient reason to upend a lifestyle that is

working?

During the same week I got those real estate letters, a number of

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