GATE MORE THAN THRESHOLD TO LUXURY.
Build an upscale housing tract - the kind where the lucky residents will live behind a $2 million entry gate that cost more than any of the homes - and you don't market it just by putting up a ``For Sale'' sign and waiting for the looky-loos to traipse through the models.
You've got to generate some buzz, which can be accomplished by throwing an invitation-only party, complete with band, fine food and drink and a guest list that includes movers and shakers like the mayor, chief of police, City Council president and Miss Los Angeles County, who it turns out had probably the best reason of all for attending.
And if you happen to be Nathan Shappell, one of California's most powerful behind-the-scenes power brokers, all of the above show up to pay their respects and ooh and aah the tony homes being built on the highest point in Porter Ranch.
That was the scene Thursday night when a nattily attired crowd of more than 600 people turned out for the preview of Porter Ranch Development Co.'s Renaissance at Porter Ranch.
Miss L.A. County, Brandi Odgers, a family support officer in the District Attorney's Office, is familiar with the area.
She was raised in Porter Ranch, lives there today and her mom is one of the agents selling the new homes.
``We made this a family affair,'' she said of Thursday's gig.
Renaissance is a bastion of luxury carved into the slopes of the Santa Susana Mountains with most lots offering sweeping views of the San Fernando Valley. So it's a good vantage point from which to look down on Reseda, Winnetka, Canoga Park, Sherman Oaks and NoHo.
Construction is now under way at the 410-unit tract off Porter Ranch Drive that also includes a 14-acre public park. Today, prospective buyers can pick up a pre-qualification loan packet. If it is approved they will be given a priority number, so that next Saturday they can put down a $25,000 deposit.
Models will be open for viewing Saturday for those who want to buy later. Homes will be built in phases of 10 with prices starting in the mid-$600,000 range to just over $1 million.
The first homes should be completed late this year or early next year but no build-out date has been set. Five different designs are being offered: Spanish Colonial, classic Italianate, Tuscan, coastal and American traditional.
The development, a joint venture between Shapell Industries Inc. and Liberty Building Co., will tap into the growing demand in the Valley for high-end homes.
Cracking open a new housing tract just as interest rates hit a two-year high might not seem like the best of timing. But this end of the housing market is not especially sensitive to high price tags or skittish when interest rates jump a bit.
Shappell, a man of few words, said the Valley's housing market will continue humming right along despite interest rates pushing through the 8 percent barrier.
``It's OK. The worse crisis was in 1981 and '82,'' he said, harking back to the years when interest rates were at double digits. ``So 8 percent is still OK.''
Thursday's guest list was impressive. Los Angeles Police Department Chief Bernard C. Parks was easy to spot; he was the only one wearing four gleaming silver stars on his collar, matching dark blue shirt and slacks and an automatic pistol and handcuffs strapped to his waist.
The chief left before he could be asked whether he is actually considering becoming a Val, was just window-shopping or maybe doing a little politicking. Some in the crowd speculated the chief would like to swap his workday blues for snappy business attire befitting a big city mayor.
The chief certainly was not there looking for any party crashers. Security guards had been hired to make sure no one got past the $2 million gate unless his name was on the guest list.
Irving Finetech, chairman of Liberty Building and a friend of Shappell's for 35 years, said the security offered by the Renaissance gate should be one of the tract's big selling points.
``When you drive up to it, you know you're going into an area that's very exclusive,'' he said of the gate.
Finetech, a soft-spoken man, was bullish on Renaissance.
``It automatically upgrades the image of Porter Ranch,'' he said. ``People know that not only the houses here but others (in the Valley) will increase in value.''
Thirty years ago this area was still pretty wild, the sand-color hills a good spot to watch the sun set behind the Santa Monica Mountains. Home values in the Valley were on the rise then, too. In the subsequent years, Shappell's company built lots of homes on these hills.
He was asked Thursday night whether there were any regrets about houses replacing the wild brush. He just shrugged and said: ``People need homes.''
Yes, they do.
And the lucky folks who live high above the Valley in Shappell's latest development still will get to see the sky change color every evening.
Reflecting a still prosperous economy, commercial property owners in California were on firmer financial footing during the second quarter vs. a year ago. The commercial loan delinquency rate fell to 0.4 percent for the three-month period ended June 30 from 1.3 percent a year ago, said the California Mortgage Bankers Association.
Of the $32 billion commercial portfolio being serviced by mortgage bankers, $139.5 million in loans was delinquent during the three-month period. A loan is considered delinquent if it is two or more payments past due.
Apartments, office buildings, retail centers, warehouses and industrial buildings had the highest delinquency rates. Loans for hotels and motels, research and development properties and mobile home parks were all current, the association said.
The survey covered loans being serviced by 24 mortgage banking firms.
More signs of economic strength: Construction activity across the state jumped 16.5 percent during the first half of the year on an annual basis, said the Burbank-based Construction Industry Research Board. The work was for projects valued at $23.6 billion. Heavy and highway construction work also seems to be picking up steam, up 8.5 percent on an annual basis.
``Now that the state's nonbuilding sector has kicked in there is no reason why construction activity cannot continue its steady growth,'' said Ben Bartolotto, the construction activity board's director.
Ventura-based Kinko's Office Services has opened a new 5,000-square-foot store in Calabasas. It's in the El Camino Shopping Center at the southeast corner of Mulholland Drive and the Ventura Freeway.
The lease is for 10 years and valued at $1.06 million. Michael Schiff of Grubb & Ellis North Los Angeles office represented the landlord, Regency Realty Corp. of Jacksonville, Fla., Chuck Kutschko of Jackson Commercial represented Kinko's.
Calabasas-based Countrywide Credit Industries Inc. the nation's largest independent residential mortgage lender and servicer, funded $6.1 billion of mortgage loans in July and said loans in the pipeline totaled $11.6 billion at month's end. Stanford L. Kurland, the company's chief operating officer, said a transition from a refinance boom to more normal market conditions was evident in the July numbers.
Northeast Valley Industrial Parks LLC and Pacific West Management, a partnership, have paid $5.5 million for a 100,000-square-foot industrial building in North Hollywood. The property, at 7355 Lankershim Blvd., was formerly owned by Papel Property Co. David Hoffberg of Delphi Business Properties represented the buyers and Kent Chamberlain with Prudential California Realty represented the seller. Pacific West has offices in Encino and Los Angeles.