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Affordable homes, desirable locations remain in North County

There are some San Diegans who remember a time when Scripps Ranch was actually a "ranch" and when Oceanside was strictly a "military town." The booming economy of the 1990s brought many new companies and employees, with their families in tow, to San Diego's North County. No longer a secret among San Diegans, this area hosts a thriving economy and a strong housing market. Far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, this area retains its valuable natural resources and charm, while offering the everyday conveniences modern families require.

The availability of high quality homes in neighborhoods people want, at prices they can afford, is shrinking. The National Association of Home Builders ranked San Diego as the country's ninth most expensive housing market in the third quarter of 2001. At that time, only 22.3 percent of households, earning a median income of $56,900, could afford the median-priced home. Unfortunately, residential builders have not been able to keep up with the growing population of San Diego County. According to Patricia Neal, California deputy secretary of the Transportation and Housing Agency, we are currently behind in construction by about 800,000 new home units and will require an additional 250,000 new homes built per year just to keep up with the demand.

North County, offering country living not far from the city, has become a sought-after address for new homebuyers. While many neighborhoods come with a hefty price tag, there are still some great bargains remaining in desirable locations, such as Oceanside.

The median home price in Oceanside is about half that of Encinitas or Carlsbad. Unlike areas of central San Diego where prices can start in the mid-$500,000s, there are attractive areas of North County that are very affordable for first-time homebuyers with prices starting in the low-$300,000s. Homebuyers looking for their second or third home or those searching for a larger home, find this area and price range very appealing, as well.

The housing market in this area is strong and competition among homebuyers is tight due to the high demand for affordable, quality homes. Recent camp-outs at several new home communities show that people are willing to do whatever it takes to get into a home -- even if it means camping out on a Wednesday for a new phase of homes that opens on the weekend. It's a sign of the times in the steadily growing communities here.

The city of Oceanside has a distinct advantage over others cities in North County. The close proximity of Oceanside to both San Diego (35 miles) and Orange County (16 miles) make this city a natural transportation hub for many busy commuters who take daily trips between counties. Oceanside serves as the link between the San Diego Coaster and the Los Angeles Metrolink and is the third busiest Amtrak station. Oceanside is also connected to California's main travel artery, Interstate 5, as well as Highway 76, which runs inland to Interstate 15 and Highway 78. This "connectivity" has made living in Oceanside a desirable alternative to the traffic jams and commotion of Orange County for the busy commuter or mobile professional.

While the communities of North County have experienced exponential growth over the past 10 years, both builders and land developers have remained sensitive to the area's natural resources and recreational parks. The coastal areas of North County feature miles of sandy beaches, the 1,900-foot Oceanside Pier and Oceanside Harbor, which hosts several weekend events during the spring and summer. Inland North County offers several recreational parks, including Guajome County Park. This 557-acre park offers camping, hiking, fishing, picnicking and horseback riding.

The housing market in North County remains strong, even while the national economy is only beginning to recover after the tragic events of Sept. 11 and a recession. North County offers all of the conveniences of a modern city without the disadvantages. Affordable quality homes, accessible transportation systems, recreational parks and year-round activities make this area the perfect mixture of work and play for the modern family.

Lighterink is president of KB Home's San Diego division.

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