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Seven Oaks getting 125 more high-end homes

Strong demand is fueling high-end home construction in Bakersfield, evident most recently in an Orange County-based developer's plan to build on 125 single-family lots this year in Seven Oaks as part of its larger strategy to serve big-city residents fleeing to less-populated areas.

President Todd Cunningham of Woodbridge Pacific Group said Monday streets have been paved and construction will begin this month on homes south of White Lane and west of Windemere Street on lots measuring 10,000 to 15,000 square feet. He said prices will start in the mid-$600,000s and range as high as $1.2 million.

Besides finishing its work on a residential community it started building in Bakersfield seven years ago, the Mission Viejo-based builder expects this year to develop 500 lots in the Palm Springs-Palm Desert area, plus 400 lots in southwest Idaho, where Cunningham said half the people buying the company's new homes hail from California.

In each case, the idea is to supply strong demand among people who left larger cities "looking for a different lifestyle," he said.

The project's announcement came as the median price of a new home in Bakersfield has regularly set record highs. December's new-construction median of $444,950 was 32 percent higher than the median a year earlier, according to data from appraiser Gary Crabtree, a longtime observer of the local market.

In all of 2020, there wasn't one month in which the total number of new homes sold in Bakersfield eclipsed 100. But in 2021 that happened for five consecutive months starting with March. In April, it peaked at 140. A year earlier, only 64 new homes sold that month.

The data suggest the local home market is "still going crazy," Crabtree said by email. He added that the median price of an existing home in Bakersfield hit $369,000 in June, which was 22 percent more than it was a year prior.

Crabtree told of a home put up for resale in Polo Grounds in northwest Bakersfield that attracted 28 offers and finally sold to a buyer from Yucaipa who put $100,000 down. He said the new owner moved in order to be closer to family, who also moved to Bakersfield from outside the area.

By one measure the numbers are not rising: City records show the number of permits pulled in Bakersfield in 2021, 1,121, was 23 percent below 2020's total, and 20 percent below that of 2019.

President Anna Albiar of the Bakersfield Association of Realtors put new home construction in the context of a market where supply has fallen badly behind demand. She called for removing barriers to new housing by reforming the California Environmental Quality Act and creating incentives for developers.

"We need more housing units, period," Albiar said by email.

She advocated greater transparency and accountability in permitting. To help lower the industry's risks and expenses, she added, policymakers should explore market and government incentives immediately "to help shape future development plans that affect how communities and transportation systems are planned, funded and built."

Cunningham at Woodbridge noted the company built about 125 homes in Bakersfield last year, same as it plans this year.

The first 25 homes for this year have been released for pre-sale, and all but two of them have been spoken for, Cunningham said, adding a similar patter will continue through the year, with batches of homes being listed for pre-sale and purchased before being built.

Since 2014, the company has built about 375 homes at Belcourt; this year will finish its activity in the community, though at least one other builder has lots in the community for planned construction.

Cunningham said people from Los Angeles working remotely have spurred demand in Bakersfield but that so has local job growth. He said at one point during the pandemic half the people coming to look at new models in Belcourt were medical professionals.

That said, demand for the company's new homes in Seven Oaks has been strong since 2014, with the exception the collapse in oil prices prior to 2016.

"Other than that it's been pretty solid," Cunningham said.