Friday, February 29, 2008

Las Vegas is Still the Choice of Second Home Buyers and Investors

WHEN Bob Carson set out last year to find a second home in the Las Vegas area, his list of must-haves was short but sweet. He wanted to be close to golf courses. He wanted a pick of fine restaurants. Perhaps most important, he wanted to be a comfortable distance from the hubbub of Las Vegas, without keeping it too far out of reach.
Mr. Carson found all of these things in and around Summerlin, a booming community about 12 miles northwest of downtown Vegas. Mr. Carson, a retired shopping-center developer, spent nearly $2 million on a 10th-floor condominium at One Queensridge Place, a new two-tower Art Nouveau high-rise on the outskirts of Summerlin with commanding views of the Las Vegas Valley.

“Being here is the best of both worlds,” said Mr. Carson, who expects to visit from his primary home in Del Mar, Calif., roughly once a month.

Despite a sagging real estate market across the country (including in Las Vegas itself), real estate agents say second-home owners are still attracted to this area in the shadow of the fire-red Spring Mountains and the 196,000-acre playground known as Red Rock National Conservation Area.

While nobody keeps specific figures on secondary residences in the Summerlin area, Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst at Applied Analysis, a real estate economics consulting firm in Las Vegas, said that over the last five years Summerlin had become one of southern Nevada’s top destinations for vacation homes.

“Summerlin offers many different things to many different people,” he said, noting that Las Vegas homes prices range start in the high $200,000s and go up to more than $10 million.

Real estate growth in this part of the West certainly is nothing new; according to data from Home Builders Research, a Las Vegas research firm, there have been nearly 257,000 new housing units since 1998 in Clark County, a 55 percent increase overall.

On the Las Vegas Strip, many of these properties have been planned expressly with the second-home buyer in mind — urban retreats for people tired of frittering $300 a night for hotel rooms. In the Summerlin area, some of which is in Clark County and the rest in Las Vegas, the vibe is much more residential, and development is accelerating.

First there’s Summerlin itself, where crews recently broke ground on a 107-acre urban core named Summerlin Centre, which eventually will house department stores, offices and restaurants. Adjacent to One Queensridge Place, construction also is moving forward on the Village at Queensridge, a 700,000-square-foot mixed-use facility with offices, restaurants and more. Both spaces are scheduled to open next year.

Other projects in the Summerlin area are already complete. The Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa, the flagship property of Station Casinos, opened in 2006, and now includes a 16-screen movie theater and 72-lane bowling alley.

Elsewhere, Boca Park Fashion Village, a 97-acre shopping mall, opened a few years ago and now contains such high-end boutiques as Talulah G, Pink and Von Dutch.

Top-notch dining options have sprouted, too, including a number of chic wine bars with tapas-style menus and Marché Bacchus, an upscale Mediterranean bistro with a menu that attracts Damien Dulas (of Guy Savoy) and other top chefs from the Strip on their days off.

Summerlin has endless options for outdoor recreation; the area is home to more than 100 public parks, nearly 150 miles of manicured trails and nine golf courses, including the Tournament Players Club at Summerlin, which was designed by the golf greats Fuzzy Zoeller, Bobby Weed and Raymond Floyd.

Add these to the hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and horseback riding available in Red Rock National Conservation Area, and even the most committed coach potatoes can’t stay slothful for long.

For Howard Cohen, a local second-home owner who spends half of the year in Aspen, Colo., all of this was irresistible. “We bought here because of all the things to do,” said Mr. Cohen, who paid $1.5 million for his 3,400-square-foot, single-story home in Summerlin. “The area is new, exciting, convenient and has all the comforts of home.”

Mr. Cohen added that there are financial benefits to buying a home in southern Nevada: the state has some of the lowest property taxes in the country at less than 1 percent of assessed value, and (for those second-home owners who end up staying for more than six months a year) is one of seven states that do not levy personal income tax.

THE area surrounding Summerlin wasn’t always such a hot spot; as recently as 25 years ago, it was nothing but sand. In the 1950s, Howard Hughes purchased 25,000 acres for 25 cents per acre. He named the parcel after his grandmother, Jean Amelia Summerlin, and sat on it for decades. In the late 1980s, as Vegas established itself as one of the 30 largest cities in the United States and the Howard Hughes Corporation started building, people arrived in droves.

Today, this Las Vegas land comprises a 22,500-acre master-planned community with a combined full- and part-time population of nearly 100,000. Tom Warden, vice president of community and government relations for the Howard Hughes Corporation, said an additional 120,000 residents are expected in the next 10 to 20 years.

Many residents live in tract-house neighborhoods with names like the Mesa, the Willows and the Trails. Most of these neighborhoods have European roundabouts, walking paths and easy access to a new I-215 freeway, dubbed the Bruce Woodbury Beltway after a politician on the Clark County Commission, which governs unincorporated portions of Clark County.

A handful of neighborhoods, including Red Rock Country Club, Eagle Rock, the Ridges and Aventura, are gated — a feature that has appealed to second-home owners concerned about securing their investments between visits.
For these people, knowing that their homes will be safe and looked after if they don’t get back to Summerlin for a month or two offers great peace of mind,” said JoAnne Federico, an agent with Prudential Americana Group in Las Vegas.

One Queensbridge Place, on the outskirts of Summerlin. A 700,000-square-foot development of offices and restaurants will go up nearby. Tricia Reilly Johnson and her husband, Matthew, are leasing a house in Summerlin before they decide what and where to buy.

Still, life in a master-planned community can have its drawbacks. After adding up fees for the community’s master plan fund and the individual neighborhood homeowners’ association, most buyers must shell out about an additional $1,000 a year. What’s more, a number of local homeowners’ associations have adopted strict regulations, such as limitations on when cars can park on certain streets, requirements that homeowners put portable basketball hoops away at night and restrictions on the colors that homes can be painted.

Michael Chorna, who has owned a home in the Sun City neighborhood since 1998, said the codes present challenges for those who frequently come and go.

“It’s not like you can just buy a second home in Summerlin and do whatever you want,” said Mr. Chorna, who also owns homes in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., and Century City, Calif. “For someone who is new to the rules and regulations of a master-planned community homeowners’ association, it can be tough to keep up.”

Perhaps the biggest concern for all homeowners in the high desert is water. Lake Mead, the area’s main water source, has dropped to 48 percent of capacity, and drought conditions have forced the Las Vegas Valley Water District to prohibit use of sprinklers between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. from May through September. Violations during drought alerts result in water-waste fees starting at $40 a pop, but the water district also doles out credits to homeowners who rip out grass and plant desert landscaping.

“Dealing with the ongoing water shortage is just part of life here,” said Jason Ekus, an agent with ReMax Central in Summerlin and president of the homeowners’ association for the Casa Rosa neighborhood.

With so many housing options, perhaps the biggest challenge for prospective second-home buyers in the Summerlin area is figuring out where to buy. Mr. Warden, the vice president of community and government relations for the Howard Hughes Corporation, said new homes in the master-planned community are still sprouting almost daily.

On the outskirts, with projects like One Queensridge Place and the brand-new C2 Lofts, alternative living options are adding up as well. For all of these reasons, Tricia Reilly Johnson and her husband, Matthew, are getting acquainted with the Summerlin second-home market slowly. Mr. Johnson is the owner of the Sushi Samba restaurant chain, and the couple came to the Vegas area from New York City in late January to open one of his restaurants at the Palazzo, a new hotel on the Strip. Knowing they’ll spend the better part of the next two years here, the Johnsons opted to lease a second house, instead of buying one, until they find the perfect spot.
“We’ve identified certain neighborhoods as ones we like, but at this point, we’re just waiting to see what’s available and what’s coming onto the market next,” said Ms. Johnson. “Things are growing so quickly here that it’s possible the home we want hasn’t even been built yet.”
By MATT VILLANO
Published: February 29, 2008



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