Orange County Real Estate Blog

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Mortgage Interest rates near historic lows, according to Zillow

June 15th, 2016 by Joe Van Fossen

We are in an era of low mortgage rates heading into the summer of 2016 and, with home prices back to their pre-recession peak, every basis point lower helps. According to Zillow Mortgages, the 30-year fixed rate in California is currently at 3.39%, down 4 basis points from last week’s average and approaching the record low rates we saw just a few years ago. This is welcome news as we head into another summer of low housing inventory and rising prices in OC and Greater Los Angeles.


This time last year mortgage rates were hovering at just over 4% and the median home price was $629,500. While those rates were still relatively low, today’s lower rates could mean you’re actually paying less for a median priced home today. For those curious about how that would work, I’ll break this down below:

  1. June 2015 median home price purchase in Orange County. Based on a median home price of $629,500 and interest rates at 4%, with 20% down and 1.1% property tax comes to a total monthly payment of approximately $2981.31
  2. June 2016 median home price purchase in OC. Based on a median home price of $645,000 and interest rates at 3.39%, with 20% down at 1.1% property tax comes to a total monthly payment of approximately $2876.75 (or $2890.48 if you decided to stick with the same down payment amount from example 1)

While higher home prices may be discouraging, lower interest rates may have actually raised affordability for many buyers in the Orange County real estate market. Whether you’re thinking of buying or refinancing, it’s a good idea to speak to a mortgage professional if you believe you can benefit from today’s low rates.

New homes in Brea: Castile and Alterra at La Floresta

March 20th, 2016 by Joe Van Fossen

Earlier today I stopped by a couple of the newer developments in Brea’s masterplanned La Floresta community, Castile and Alterra by Van Daele Homes. Castile offers 3 distinct plans of bungalows and “carriage flats”, while Alterra offers 4 unique plans of attached “stacked flats” or condos. Both Castile and Alterra are currently selling with several units already sold out — new phases will follow shortly (waiting list may apply). I found that both developments have really functional and flexible floor plans with a lot of great features.


Alterra at La Floresta

Alterra at La Floresta

Alterra offers homes with up to 3 bedrooms and 2173 square feet, featuring 4 open floor plans with great rooms, outdoor decks, 2-car garages, and optional live/work spaces. If you’re not familiar with the term “stacked flats”, basically it is a multi-unit building with three stories of mostly single level homes. The garages are on the ground floor and there’s a central courtyard with an elevator or stairs to take you to your unit. While most of the plans are single level, plan 4 is a unique two story design with an optional live/work space or additional suite (depending on which option you choose) on the ground floor. This could be a great floor plan for someone who runs a home based business or ideal for a multi-generational family. All of the models looked fantastic, but plan 4 stood out to me the most. However, all of the floor plans have great features, including spacious kitchens with ample islands and walk-in closets in the master suites. Prices range from the high $400s to the low $600s.


Castile at La Floresta

Castile at La Floresta

Castile offers homes with up to 4 bedrooms and 1782 square feet, featuring open floor plans with great rooms, outdoor patios or decks, 2-car garages, and dual master suites. “Carriage flat” was a new one for me, and what it describes is how plans 2 and 3 have garages that are attached to plan 1. However, plans 2 and 3 have no attached walls and their garages are accessed through the outdoor courtyard space. Plan 1, on the other hand, sits above all three garages and has direct access to its own garage. It is considered a bungalow since all of the living space is upstairs. Plans 2 and 3 are two story homes with outdoor patio and courtyard spaces, while plan 1 has an entry porch and outdoor deck. Both plans 2 and 3 feature downstairs bedrooms and full baths, kitchens, dining and great rooms. They both also have upstairs laundry. Plan 1 is a very flexible floor plan that comes standard with 2 master suites, but can be converted to a 3 bedroom home (losing a dining room in the process). Additionally, plan 1 offers an optional elevator — which is another first for me outside of the multi-million dollar range homes. Speaking of which, Castile ranges from the low to high $600s.

The best part about all of this… all of these homes are walking distance to the Village at La Floresta. That means Whole Foods, Urban Plates, Slapfish, and more are just a few steps away — I’m a bit food obsessed.

If you’re interested in looking at new homes in Brea, La Floresta or anywhere in Orange County, feel free to get in touch. I’d be happy to show you around (714) 584-7154,

Drought Relief: Water and Money Saving Tips

September 24th, 2015 by Joe Van Fossen

California is now in its 4th year of one of the worst droughts in the state’s history. While we may be getting some short-term relief with the impending El Niño, it’s a good idea to consider investing (time and/or money) in some more long term conservation solutions. While it may sound daunting to change your habits and possibly your plumbing fixtures or appliances, there are a number of relatively painless options out there.

Water saving tips

Let’s start with the free options. There are plenty of things we could all be doing around the house to help conserve our water usage. Most of us already know of the easy stuff, like not constantly running the sink while brushing our teeth, shaving, washing your face, or washing the dishes. There’s also the good ol’ party standby, “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.” If your family is anything like mine and you cook rice several times a week, the residual starch/waste water can be used to water plants around the house and yard — some people suggest the nutrients and minerals in the water are also beneficial to the plants, but I don’t know of any evidence to back this up.

There are also some lower cost options for reducing your water usage around the house. A big one is making sure to fix any plumbing leaks you might have. Installing water saving fixtures like low flow shower heads and sink aerators can have a great impact as  well. Installing an instant, on demand water heaters in the kitchen and bathroom or installing a water recirculating pump on your existing tank-style water heater, can save gallons upon gallons of waste by providing instant hot water.

Retrofitting your home to be more water efficient can get costly, but there are a lot of rebate programs designed to help with some of the more expensive upgrades. One of the smartest moves you can make is upgrading an old toilet to a new WaterSense design. Along with having a shiny new toilet, you can get up to $250 (possibly more). So Cal WaterSmart offers a $150 rebate per toilet in Chino Hills (for example), on up to 9 toilets. You can combine that with the California department of water resources rebate for up to $100 per household. Additionally, there are rebates available for high efficiency clothes washers, weather-based irrigation controllers, high efficiency sprinkler nozzles, rain barrels, and soil sensor moisture systems. Rebates are available until funding runs out. Check and for more information on qualifying purchases and rebate availability. Unfortunately, the much discussed turf removal rebates have run out. However, there may be more funds dedicated to that program in the future.

Not everyone is going to be able to retrofit their homes, but there are plenty of options that just require changing a few bad habits. In the long run, we’ll be saving money in addition to helping our state. If we all do our part, however big or small, we can keep California an amazing and beautiful place to live.


Is it a good time to buy in Southern California?

September 23rd, 2015 by Joe Van Fossen

“Is it a good time to buy?” is one of the most often asked questions we get as a real estate professionals.  Many cynics would assume the answer is always “yes” where real estate agents are concerned. However, I see this as a more personal question than a general one.

If your goal is to time the market, good luck with that. There are plenty of people who have predicted upturns and downswings, but the reality is nobody can honestly or accurately predict where we are at in any given real estate cycle. What we can do, as professionals in the field, is provide our clients with accurate housing market data and discuss current trends.

Now getting back to the “personal” part of that question. What I mean by that is, whether or not it’s a good time to buy is largely up to the individual(s) asking. The best way for me to answer this question is to pose the following questions to the inquirer:

  1. Can you comfortably afford to buy?
  2. Do you have money saved for a down payment and closing costs?
  3. Do you plan on living in the home for many years (7-10+)?
  4. Does the idea of owning rather than renting appeal to you?
  5. Are you comfortable taking on the responsibilities of being a homeowner? (taxes, maintenance, etc)

Those are among the most important questions, but there are plenty of other considerations too, including creditworthiness. A great way to figure out how much you can afford is to get in touch with a lender. If you’re not ready for that kind of commitment there are plenty of great online resources like my affordability calculator.

If your answers to all of the previous questions were “yes”, then I would say it’s probably a great time to buy in Southern California.

The real reason you’re probably reading this article in the first place, though, is for the general answer. Not wanting to disappoint the cynics, I have to say the answer is probably yes again. Let me back this up with some data:

  1. As of this writing, 30-year fixed rate mortgages are back below 4%
  2. The local rental market is ridiculously competitive and rates are rising

Now for the negatives:

  1. Home prices are up and affordability is down across much of Southern California
  2. Inventory is tight

Back in 2012 our local real estate market hit rock bottom. Then later that year, the low prices coupled with record low interest rates helped usher in a new real estate boom. The competition was rough and buyers were having to write up several offers before they could even secure a property. Prices went up so fast that we’ve had armchair economists shouting “bubble!” since 2013. While the momentum has waned, prices continue to rise across the Southland.

A common refrain is “prices have risen well above 2006 levels”, referencing the previous housing market peak. While that is true in many areas of So Cal, one should keep in mind that $500,000 in 2006 is $591,062 in 2015 when adjusted for inflation. While the recent uptrend in home prices seemed much faster than we are accustomed to, the reality is that it’s not unusual for home prices to rise significantly over time.

To make a long story short (TLNR), yes I believe it is a good time to buy real estate in Southern California.

Luxury Living in Irvine – La Vita at Orchard Hills

September 18th, 2015 by Joe Van Fossen

As a real estate agent working in Irvine, the San Gabriel Valley, and throughout Orange County and surrounding areas, I often have the pleasure of working with out of state and international buyers. Southern California has always been a popular destination for its diverse climate and numerous attractions. We also have a great diversity of residential property, whether you’re looking for a Victorian home in Santa Ana, 20th century Spanish revival in Fullerton, mid-century modern in Orange, or master planned luxury in Irvine; OC has it all and more.


la vita irvine

La Vita – Photo by Brookfield Homes

There’s a misconception that Realtors only work with resale properties or “used homes,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. New construction can be highly desirable to certain buyers and I’m always keeping an eye on what developers are doing across Southern California. Today I’m focusing on one of my favorite newer luxury developments in Irvine, La Vita at The Groves in Orchard Hills.

Orchard Hills is located just north of Northwood Point and is home to working avocado groves, the Orchard Hills Village Center, and nationally recognized Northwood High School. The Groves is a new luxury gated community featuring resort-like amenities, lush parks, and homes from premiere builders starting from the mid $1,000,000s. La Vita is a development by Brookfield homes with a focus on blending indoor and outdoor living with exquisite luxury.

Homes at La Vita will be ready for move-in by the year’s end. They feature floor plans ranging from 3400-4000 square feet, 4-5 bedrooms, and 5-6 bathrooms. They all feature 2-car garages with extra storage space and private 2-4 car driveways.

If you’re interested in La Vita, The Groves, or any new construction home in Orange County, I’d be happy to give you some more information or set up some viewings. Call (714) 584-7154 or email me at