Make Your Move


By Michelle Mowad
Photos by Stacy Keck

(Published in the August 2010 issue)

We all know someone who’s a little on-the-fence when it comes to taking the plunge into home ownership. Can you blame them? After hearing the horror stories of foreclosures and dirty loans, it’s a wonder we’re not all hoarding our money under our mattresses.

Fortunately, the days of inflated values that led to the housing bubble, its subsequent burst and the historic lows of 2008 and 2009 are behind us. Today, pricing has adjusted and finance rates are at record lows.

According to many experts, the time to buy is now.

Despite encouraging market indicators, however, looking for a house in a county as diverse as San Diego is rarely as simple as checking crime rates and school district report cards. It’s about finding a good price as well as a neighborhood that fits your personality. So, what can you expect to find in these burgs now and, more importantly, in the future? We poked around and asked some local experts-here’s how things are looking.


It has been a long time coming. Downtown has finally transformed into a vibrant community to work and live.

“It is probably the best time since the early ‘90s to purchase a home,” says Gary London of The London Group Realty Advisors, a real estate consulting and feasibility firm that focuses on southern California.

Prices dropped in the past few years, as numerous condo projects were completed at the same time, creating a glut of inventory. They fell even further when consumer confidence took a dive after the economy tanked. That’s all about to change.

At current sales rates, inventory of first-time sale condos will be sold out by spring 2010.

The median price downtown is $340,000, with the most expensive neighborhood being the waterfront Columbia District (by the Broadway Pier), with its beautiful bay views and luxury amenities. On the flipside, the least expensive hood is East Village.

Over the past decade, Downtown has grown into a solid dining and nightlife destination. If you relocate there, you can expect to see more boutiques, bars and bistros popping up amongst the statuesque office and condo buildings. Because of this, Downtown is attracting three primary types of buyers: young and socially-engaged professionals, the buy-down buyers that finally sold off their overpriced home in the ‘burbs and out-of-area buyers looking to be at the center of it all.

Hard Rock Hotel concierge Robbie Mandagie recommends downtown’s newest offerings, including Bice Ristorante on Island Avenue, FLUXX nightclub and Noble Experiment, a hidden speakeasy with a secret entrance.

In addition to booze and bites, the area is also seeing a cultural evolution towards the arts with the opening of numerous galleries and collectives such as Alexander Salazar Fine Art and the SDSU Downtown Gallery.

North Park

Once a sketchy part of town, North Park has finally come out from under Hillcrest’s spirited shadows as an up-and-coming community with serious artistic flair. Over the past few years, investors have risked rehabbing apartments into condos in droves, and many Baby Boomers sold their aging homes to eager young buyers who didn’t mind moving into a fixer-upper.

For the median price of $460,000, you can own a single family home in this boutique neighborhood; condos can be found for just $205,000. Listing prices are up from last year, as a myriad of restaurants are opening their doors to welcome 20- and 30-something neighborhood patrons.

North Park is perfect for indie music fans with a hankering for beer bars, wine lounges, boutiques and a motley mix of restaurants including West Coast Tavern and the area’s newest cantina, El Take It Easy, created by the folks behind the neighborhood’s celebrated Linkery. And there’s more on the way: URBN Coal Fired Pizza + Bar is set to be open by the end of the summer, and the owners of True North are currently looking into opening a neighboring brewery.

The neighboring burgs of South Park, Kensington and Talmadge are also attracting younger buyers, according to area real estate agents. Perhaps one of these flourishing communities will become the next North Park.

La Jolla

One of the most prestigious and elite neighborhoods in San Diego County, Southern California and the nation, La Jolla attracts the ultra-wealthy.

Plenty of posh digs are available in The 92037. More than 40 homes are listed for, ahem, $10-plus million. Even the lower end of the price spectrum still fetches seven figures. For $10,000 on a month for 30 years, you can own the median priced home of $1.4 million.

“La Jolla is the Beverly Hills by the sea,” says Gary Kent, a veteran real estate agent who heads his own firm, Gary Kent Team. “It has cache, it has the great Village of La Jolla, its name attracts buyers and it’s a name known around the world.”

The streets of La Jolla’s downtown village are lined with galleries, high-end retailers and sumptuous eateries. There is almost no reason to leave this chic community besides the fact that La Jolla lacks solid nightlife venues that offer more than dinner and drinks. However, that may change when two newcomers open this summer: Barfly, a sports bar by day and nightclub by night, and Hennessey’s on Herschel Avenue, which will have more of a gastro-pub feel. Also, nightlife impresario Mike Viscuso (owner of downtown’s famous On Broadway nightclub) is taking over the old Jack’s location with plans to reestablish La Jolla as a posh nightlife destination. The name? What else? Mike’s.

Pacific/Mission Beaches

While waves of college students and recent graduates roll in and out of Pacific Beach ‘s and Mission Beach ‘s rental properties, the inventory of homes and condos for sale is tight. In addition to the limited listings, the median-priced home here is nearly twice the county median, making Pacific Beach a stretch for the first-time home-buyer. Last month, the median home price for a condo was $425,000, and $680,000 for a single family home.

Despite the home prices, these beach communities remain a 20-something’s wet dream of inexpensive beer, hairless buff bodies and tonsof places for take-out. The further from Garnet Avenue, the party epicenter at the beach, the more relaxed the neighborhoods feel. Crown Point, North Pacific Beach and South Mission Beach have the same beach community vibe, but lack the hoopla associated with the main drag of bars and clubs.

Jamie Lynn Sigler, founding partner of lifestyle and hospitality PR firm J Public Relations, works downtown but loves calling Pacific Beach home because it’s relaxed and still close to her office and clients.

“I feel PB offers the best of both worlds,” Sigler says. “I can get to wherever I need to be in 20 minutes, and I am still at the beach.”

So, it looks like Pacific and Mission Beach will keep catering to renters; and potential homebuyers should expect continued sand, surf and SDSU students in the future.

North County

The North County coastal market has not traditionally been affordable for first-time homebuyers. Home prices, from tony Del Mar to the ritzy areas of Carlsbad, well exceed the county’s entry-level price range. This region is more apt to draw move-up buyers looking to sink $550,000 or more.

According to real estate agent Roberta Murphy, the appeal of North County lies in the schools and shopping. Browsing the high-end lifestyle shopping centers and the Cedros Design District in Solana Beach, and playing the ponies in Del Mar are easy ways to drop some dough. First-time buyers wanting to live in North County should consider Oceanside or the inland cities of Vista, San Marcos, Escondido and Poway.

If you have a bit more cash, consider looking to buy in Encinitas. The city is seeing a resurgence in energy that started with the opening of Lux Art Institute in late 2007, and additional investors are reportedly eyeing the area. Business partners Scott Watkins and Chef Matt Gordon took note-the fellas behind North Park’s Urban Solace restaurant will open its sister restaurant, Solace and the Moonlight Lounge, later this year.

South County

The South Bay comprises an eclectic mix of neighborhoods with varied housing choices. Coronado , for example, offers a mellow mix of military, tourism and high-end living. Residents can walk for a snack at Burger Lounge on Orange Avenue or sample one of nearly 500 wines at Hotel Del Coronado’s wine bar, Eno. The area’s beaches and near-zero crime-rate make it a very pricey option for first-time home-buyers.

On the other end of home-price spectrum, the least expensive city in South County is National City , where you can buy a three-bedroom house for $207,000, or a two-bedroom condo for $108,000.

Somewhere between the million-dollar mansions on Coronado and the ultra-affordable homes in National City lie the homes in Chula Vista , Bonita and the border beach city of Imperial Beach. A few years ago, Chula Vista was known nationally for its high number of foreclosures; today new homeowners are taking advantage of previous owners’ bad luck, picking up homes at discounted rates via short sales (transactions in which proceeds fall short of the balance owed on the property’s loan).

Mexican culture is woven into nearly all parts of South Bay’s communities, which have stayed true to their roots and ties to family and friends south of the border. Old taco shops and bodegas line one end of the region, while new eateries, such as Miguel’s Cocina (by The Brigantine restaurant group) in Coronado, are emerging on the other.

Cindy Gomppers-Graves, CEO of the South County Economic Development Council, says some of the South County’s best features are its entertainment driven assets, including the Silver Strand bikeway, the Olympic Training Center in East Lake and Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre.

East County

Life is a little slower and a bit cheaper in the East, and residents like it that way.

San Diego Association of Realtors President Mark Marquez says East County has some of the best deals for home-buyers, pointing out that some prices have dropped nearly 50 percent in some neighborhoods.

“The most bang for your buck is East County,” says Marquez. “Some 3,000 to 4,000-square-foot updated, remodeled, newer homes on larger lots that were going for over $1 million a few years ago are now $500,000 to $600,000 in neighborhoods like Rancho San Diego.”

Prices across East County are the lowest in the county and provide many options for first time home-buyers. Median home prices in El Cajon, La Mesa , and Lemon Grove range from $265,000 to the high $300,000s.

However, culinary and cultural development is slow there. With the exception of the opening of La Mesa’s Riviera Room and Supper Club restaurant a few years ago, the biggest deal in the past year has been the opening of a Sonic burger joint in Santee (first one in San Diego). So, if you loathe change, East County is the way to go.