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Fast-selling O.C. home project? In Stanton!

Jon Lansner. OC Register.

One of the hottest selling new-home projects in Orange County isn’t by the beach. Nor is it in one of those new, over-configured south county communities. Or even the Irvine Co.’s stronghold of Irvine.
It’s in Stanton. Yes, unappreciated Stanton.

If you want an icon of the current economic storm, ponder Sienna at Renaissance Plaza by Brandywine Homes just off busy Beach Blvd.

This modest project of 39 homes — next to an enclave of 106 freshly built townhomes – has been selling relatively briskly. It’s a simple concept: Low prices that moved 25 homes since May. Two bedrooms and 2.5 baths — and, yes, detached — at Sienna starts at $399,000.

“Perceived value, not just a price point,” says Dave Barisic, one of four family members running the small builder creating Sienna.

Barisic knows that local house shoppers have become extremely finicky, pushing Orange County new-home sales to 70 percent below historical norms. Worse, in a compounding challenge, local real estate’s extreme weakness now floods the remainder of the business climate with trouble. “Almost everything you see is bad; that damages confidence,” Barisic says.

Brandywine’s Sienna homes in Stanton were six years in the making. In fact, it was supposed to be a townhome project before harsh market conditions forced Brandywine to change gears — plus build the homes by themselves.

So it was a pleasant surprise that shoppers liked the Sienna homes in brutal conditions. “I think it’s gone way beyond cyclical,” Brandywine’s Barisic says. “The market has melted down.”

Brandywine bet on a mix of the eye-catching, low price tag and a collection of upgrades from granite counters to fancy baseboards and other trim to two-tone paint to improved electronics. “More than a starter home,” is how Barisic put it.

And, Barisic sees the Stanton location as a selling point. It’s convenient to many jobs, and commuting was certainly an issue until this most recent drop of pump prices. And Sienna’s near Little Saigon, too, drawing many Asian buyers.

Uppel Patel, a Cal State Long Beach student, says her parents, her and brother looked at homes to buy for most of this year before choosing one at Sienna. They’ll move in by year’s end. The family, currently renters, were largely motivated by falling prices and cheaper mortgages.

“The models were amazing, we liked them a lot,” Patel says.

But the Sienna project hasn’t been totally immune from macro-economic malaise. Sales slowed down in recent weeks. Whether that’s just typical year-end lethargy, or a bigger trend, won’t be known until spring. And Barisic is cautious about 2009 — a year that will include Brandywine opening a 38-home project in nearby Westminster.

“I don’t see anything turning around housing or the economy in 2009,” he says. “I don’t think it’ll be a great year.” His hope: “Finding a bottom? Sounds like pretty good news to me.”