Sunday, August 8, 1999

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Section: Real Estate

Page: K-1

Vegas 'Unstripped';

Peel the Strip off this burgeoning metropolis and you'll find spacious homes for $140,000, quiet neighborhoods and former Angelenos enjoying a slower pace of life.;




After spending much of their lives in the glittering world of Hollywood society, director George Sidney and his wife, Corinne, decided the time had come for them to leave it all behind.

"We had done everything we had ever wanted to do and had all of our dreams come true," Corinne said. "I felt like we needed to slow down."

The couple's search for a new home to replace the one they shared in Beverly Hills, however, turned into a five-year journey across the West. They looked in San Diego, Santa

Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Palm Springs and even considered Scottsdale, Ariz.

"We looked everywhere," said George, a three-time Academy Award winner.

So perhaps it was fate that the man who directed Elvis Presley in the movie "Viva Las Vegas" found the home of his dreams in Sin City.

He and his wife are often asked, "Why did you move to Las Vegas?" George said. "The truth is it's much quieter than being in Beverly Hills. . . . At the same time there's an excitement

to living in one of the fastest-growing communities in the world."

For more than a decade now, throngs of Southern Californians have migrated to Las Vegas, fueling an explosion in population that is expected to reach 1,288,800 by the end of the


So strong is the magnetic pull from California to Nevada that the Golden State's residents continue to make up roughly a third of the estimated 7,000 people who move to Vegas each


Among the California transplants are retirees drawn by the warm weather, entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on the growing economy and well-heeled empty nesters in search of second


But plenty of ordinary folks also make the journey, not only to find steady work in the booming region but also for something that has become increasingly difficult for them to find in

Southern California: a home they can afford.

The median price for a previously owned single-family home was $124,000 last year in Clark County, according to Acxiom/DataQuick, a real estate information service. The county's

median price for a new home, meanwhile, was a modest $137,000, compared to $258,000 in Los Angeles County or $333,000 in Orange County.

A Desert Town Transformed

The affordable housing has helped transform the Las Vegas Valley from a desert town that once captivated residents with its rural charm to a growing metropolis covered with tract

homes and master-planned communities. One analyst counted nearly 130,000 new-home sales from 1991 to 1998.

"Las Vegas is far and away the most unique housing market in the country," said Kevin Pfeifer, a marketing consultant based in Yorba Linda.

"Traditionally, it's been the only major market in the country where new homes outsell resale, and the reason is the casino growth."

The chance to put up thousands of inexpensive homes has for years drawn many of the nation's biggest home builders to the Vegas market, including Southern California's heaviest


Signs bearing names such as Lewis Homes, Pardee Homes, Kaufman & Broad and John Laing Homes line Eastern Avenue as it winds south toward the Vegas suburb of Henderson.

There, new subdivisions are rising from the desert floor in mind-boggling numbers.

"In terms of sheer activity and absorption of new homes, Las Vegas is still one of the top five housing markets in the country," said Tim Sullivan of the Meyers Group, consultant to

home builders. "It compares with metropolitan areas three to five times its size."

Residents contend that Vegas has taken on many traits--both good and bad--of a big city.

The Sidneys, for example, can dine at Le Cirque and shop at Armani--luxuries the town lacked when Corinne Sidney lived in Vegas during the 1960s when she was married to Jack

Entratter, then president of the Sands hotel.

Yet, it's just as easy for the couple to grab one of their favorite burgers from In-N-Out or household goods at Costco.

"That's the thing about Vegas," George Sidney said. "It can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be."

The same goes for housing, which ranges from condos priced under $80,000 to multimillion-dollar mansions.

And it's the variety of housing, according to Debra Duke, a broker with Prudential Americana Group Realtors in Las Vegas, that draws such a diverse group of home buyers to the

Vegas market.

"Vegas has matured to the point that there's truly something for everyone here," Duke said.

The Sidneys' search led them to a gated country-club community where they found a modern-style home for which they paid in the $1-million range. At 10,000 square feet under high

ceilings, the house is perfect for displaying George's extensive art collection.

"If I had this house in Beverly Hills, it would cost anywhere from $3 million to $6 million," Corinne Sidney said.

In their post-Beverly Hills life, it's not unusual for the Sidneys to begin their day by taking a dip in their swimming pool, which overlooks a golf course. Once a week they rent a limo to

whisk them away for a night out on the town.

"It's our big date night," said George Sidney with a smile. "Besides all of the wonderful shows at the casinos, we can also go to the theater or any number of fine restaurants."

Added Corinne Sidney: "Vegas is great for us because we're a couple who enjoys each other's company and neither of us gamble. If one of us did, I think it could wreck your life living


Over on the west side of town, meanwhile, Kent Soule and his wife, Kawah, recently paid $152,000 for a home in a new subdivision being built by Kaufman & Broad.

The nearly 2,000-square-foot home has four bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths. The couple is spending $30,000 to add an enclosed patio to house a collection of delicate orchids that now line

their kitchen counters.

"This will be the perfect home for us," said Kawah Soule, a Realtor who works in the local Chinese community, many of whose members have also settled on the west side. "We're

planning to live here for another 20 to 30 years."

The Soules stumbled upon more than the perfect home in Vegas; perhaps just as important, they found Kent's favorite ethnic food: dim sum.

"This is a 24-hour town," said the executive host at Mandalay Bay casino. "You can get anything you want whenever you want. . . . It's a very convenient place to live."

But life in Las Vegas has in many ways become more complicated than ever.

A Frustration With Growth

Hordes of new students converging on local schools, traffic quagmires and a dearth of public parks have given rise to a slow-growth movement born out of some residents' frustration

with the way Vegas is developing.

"When I moved here 15 years ago, Las Vegas was the perfect little kinky, fun town," said Ken Mahal, president of the Nevada Seniors Assn. "But now I would describe it as a town

with the highest level of greed in the country."

In his book "The Reluctant Metropolis," planning expert William Fulton concluded that by grabbing Los Angeles' factories, home builders, tourists and working class, Vegas is in effect

cloning L.A.

"Las Vegas is Los Angeles 40 years ago; it's that simple," Fulton said in an interview. "It's only a matter of time before Vegas becomes as congested and inequitable as Los Angeles."

Members of a panel that put together a report on Vegas for the Urban Land Institute were struck by how well public and private leaders had guided the incredibly rapid rate of growth

in the Las Vegas Valley. But they concluded that the same growth coupled with shrinking land supplies had strained the valley's infrastructure and public services.

Panel member Douglas R. Porter, president of the Growth Management Institute, said he and his colleagues were also concerned over the rate at which water and land were being


"They kept denying they had a problem when it came to water," Porter said. "And when it came to land, the feeling was they could just go on forever, but clearly there were constraints

on building over the environment and habitat."

Longtime Vegas resident and former City Councilman Steve Miller says that the rapid rate of growth has led to a tremendous disparity between the rich and poor.

Miller lives in a charming 4,000-square-foot home on what he describes as a "Beaver Cleaver" cul-de-sac a few miles from the Strip. Yet once he hops behind the wheel of his minivan,

it doesn't take long before he's gliding through streets lined with shabby homes.

Miller blames developers for leapfrogging past empty lots in older sections of town in favor of building new homes in more desirable suburban neighborhoods.

And there is concern, Mahal added, that the new construction is failing to cover costs for sewer, water, parks and police.

"The taxpayers end up subsidizing the infrastructure," said Mahal, referring to bond measures voters have passed in recent years. "It's kind of like, 'Let's spread the pain over all of you,

then it won't be so bad for the newcomers.' "

Despite the problems, the demand for housing rages on, triggering concerns of overbuilding among the home builders.

"The warning signs have been up in Las Vegas for the last five years," said a builder whose company has operations in California and Nevada. "When builders all get together they

wonder, 'How long is the demand going to last?' Everybody is proceeding ahead cautiously optimistic."

Sullivan of the Meyers Group believes that, after eight consecutive years of expanding new-home sales, the Vegas market is starting to flatten and could tighten in 2001, because a

slowdown in casino construction is expected.

"I think we're going to see this downturn be a little different than the one we saw in the late 1980s," Sullivan said. "There should be a softer landing because interest rates are lower,

buyers' ability to purchase is stronger and lastly we still have job growth."

Not everyone is as quick to bet against Vegas, however.

"During the last 10 years, it has been said over and over that there's going to be a slowdown, but that hasn't occurred," said Irene Porter, executive director of the Southern Nevada

Home Builders Assn.

What has happened, according to Porter, is that the Las Vegas Valley has become a tougher place for builders to do business because of rising land prices, labor shortages and more


Shrinking Profit Margins

Faced with shrinking profit margins, many builders have been forced to streamline operations, Porter said, triggering acquisitions and mergers.

"It's getting harder and harder for smaller builders to compete," she said.

But the Vegas housing market is challenging for big builders too.

Leah Bryant, president of Kaufman & Broad's Las Vegas division, said her company's acquisition of Lewis Homes earlier this year has positioned K&B to better compete in one of its

toughest markets.

"We have almost every national builder in this market," Bryant said. "Pulte, Pardee and Del Webb are our main competitors."

Kaufman & Broad has responded, in part, by exploiting niche markets. The company has found a good source of customers in the rising number of Latinos and Asians moving to Vegas

from Southern California.

Other builders have struck gold by catering to the growing number of affluent buyers, with a new wave of private country club communities, high-rise luxury condominiums and exclusive


Custom home builder Randy Schaefer said that when he started his business 18 years ago, there were at most 20 other custom home builders in Vegas. Today, he said, there are

probably 80 or 90.

"Over the years we've thought, 'How deep can this market be?' " Schaefer said. "Yet I think it continues to fool us all."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC) Top 10 Las Vegas Home Builders

Figures are based on 1999 homes sales through May.




Lewis Homes 619 34 9.62%

Del Webb 378 10 5.88%

Kaufman & Broad 247 20 3.84%

Pardee Construction 235 14 3.65%

Pulte Home Corp. 222 20 3.45%

Coventry Homes 216 10 3.36%

American West Homes 216 8 3.36%

Avante Homes 192 6 2.98%

Astoria Homes 187 5 2.91%

Perennial Homes 160 4 2.49%


Note: Kaufman & Broad acquired Lewis Homes earlier this year. Source: The

Meyers Group





PHOTO: (2 photos) At top, Corinne and George Sidney's

10,000-square-foot home has plenty of space for their art collection.

Steve Miller, above, with wife Lisa and daughter Sarah, notes a growing

gap between rich and poor.


PHOTO: Kent and Kawah Soule bought a home on Las Vegas' west side,

which has a growing Chinese community.


GRAPHIC-CHART: Top 10 Las Vegas Home Builders

Type of Material: One in a Series








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