Inland Empire’s ‘gigabit’ community

Jul.July 26, 2018 08:00 AM
New Haven, developed by Brookfield Residential, features 2,200 high-tech homes on 124 acres in Ontario Ranch.

As young Angelenos and Orange County residents priced out of their respective markets cast their eyes further and further afield in search of affordable homes, a group of developers hopes to capture their gaze with Ontario Ranch, a burgeoning Inland Empire high-tech community — think smart homes — featuring a bevy of lifestyle accouterments.

Development of the area has been a long time coming. In November 1990, the city of Ontario annexed off approximately 8,000 acres of land, most of it dairy farms. Originally named New Model Colony, Ontario Ranch was envisioned as a master-planned community of tens of thousands of homes, plus schools, businesses, shops, restaurants and parks. Close to the 91, 10 and 60 freeways and with quick access to Ontario International Airport — which began offering nonstop flights to China in 2017 — Ontario Ranch was imagined as a place that could ultimately lure buyers priced out of Los Angeles and Orange County, or from other parts of the Inland Empire.

“What we’ve seen materialize is close to what we anticipated,” said Dave Bartlett, vice president of land for Brookfield Residential, one of the developers involved in Ontario Ranch. “So much of [the Inland Empire] — like Chino, Corona, Eastvale and College Park — is close to or at build-out. So when people are looking for affordability options in the western portion of the Inland Empire, Ontario Ranch is the logical place.”

Many of the existing homes in Ontario Ranch are in the $300,000 to $600,000 range, which appears in keeping with the rest of Ontario. In May 2018, the median home price in Ontario was $415,000, up 6 percent from the same period last year, according to figures from the Inland Valleys Association of Realtors.

Interest in both building and buying Ontario Ranch homes was a result of “very strong local job growth and a substantial under-supply of housing in the Inland Empire region as a whole,” according to a January 2018 report from John Burns Real Estate Consulting. The firm also said that Ontario Ranch was the country’s 11th best-selling master plan of 2017, with buyers scooping up some 712 new homes that year.

A major draw is the fact that Ontario Ranch is among the nation’s first “gigabit” communities. All houses will be equipped with fiber-optic cable, allowing for Internet access that’s about three times faster than most high-speed services.

“It’s very technologically advanced,” said Brookfield’s Bartlett. “Every home is a smart home, so people can lock their doors and control their lighting from a smartphone. The point is to try and make life easier for everyone.”

Brookfield Residential was part of an industry group early on to have invested more than $665 million combined in community-wide infrastructure, including water, sewer, roads and a state-of-the-art wetlands treatment drainage system. Other developers in the group are Lewis Community Developers, Lennar and Stratham Communities. Those firms, along with a number of other developers, will build some 47,000 new homes in the community over the next 20 years.

Brookfield is now primarily focused on its latest development in Ontario Ranch: New Haven. When it’s completed in about three years, it will encompass a 124-acre site with some 2,200 homes, a middle school, parks, retail and commercial spaces. According to Bartlett, New Haven is presently about one-third completed, with about 500 families moved in. More than half of them are millennials, he said. Prices go from the $300,000s to the mid-$500,000s, and sales continue to be brisk; New Haven ranked sixth in California in sales of masterplan homes, with 214 closings, in a July 2018 survey by real estate advisory firm RCLCO.

At current prices, Bartlett said, buyers are “not stressing to get in. They are buying comfortably, in some cases buying less house than they can afford but yet meeting their lifestyle considerations.”

By all accounts, there will be plenty of homes to choose from. The city of Ontario began receiving applications from homebuilders shortly after annexation and has since approved a dozen plans covering 3,377 acres, including 11,225 single-family residences and 6,132 multifamily units, said Scott Murphy, executive director of the economic development agency of the city of Ontario. Also approved were 1.5 million square feet of commercial space and 5.15 million square feet of industrial space.

By the time Ontario Ranch is built out, some 165,000 people are expected to be living there, in addition to the 170,000 residents of Ontario overall, according to statistics gathered by data analytics firm Data USA.

Drawing the buyers in

Given how tight inventory is across Southern California, the buyers in Ontario Ranch aren’t coming from very far away.

About 30 percent of buyers at the Seville at Park Place development are from L.A. and Orange counties, said Joan Webb, chief marketing officer for the developer, New Home Company. She is also seeing buyers from neighboring communities such as Chino, Corona and Eastvale. Currently under construction with a projected completion date of late 2019, Seville is the Orange County-based company’s first neighborhood in the Inland Empire.

“The location of Ontario Ranch is one of the best compared to other inland areas in terms of quality access to both Orange and L.A. counties,” she said. “Minimizing one’s commute is central to quality of life.”

Many of the new residents come from such L.A. County areas as Diamond Bar and Walnut. Webb said the buyers may have heard of Ontario Ranch through New Home’s digital media marketing, which includes Facebook and Instagram ads. “In addition, we are launching an outreach program that will be promoting the benefits and attainability of home ownership by comparing costs of monthly rents to average monthly mortgages at Seville,” said Webb.

When Seville at Park Place is complete, there will be some 75 detached single-family homes, some as large as nearly 3,000 square feet in size, priced from the mid-$500,000s. Residents will have access to a 14,000-square-foot clubhouse that will offer a junior Olympic pool, cabanas, a spa and a theater. A six-acre park will have an amphitheater, bandstand and tennis and basketball courts. Some homes will be move-in ready by this summer; Webb said that the company has been seeing “higher than expected sales pace.

“We believe some of our most significant growth opportunities lie in the [Inland Empire] region, which is why we are making major investments there,” Webb said. “The market fundamentals of job growth, good schools, safe neighborhoods … make for a positive real estate environment.”

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