You Must Be Joking

Today’s featured property shows what happens when you do everything wrong when investing in real estate. The result is the wrong house in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time. Someone is going to lose money on this one; it is only a matter of who and when.

4931 Karen Ann Ln kitchen

Asking Price: $1,399,000

Address: 4931 Karen Ann Ln, Irvine, CA 92604


April Fools — Rufus Wainwright

Castle 1

Oh what a shame that your pockets did bleed on st. valentine’s
And you sat in a chair
Thinking “boy i’m such a prince!”

Irvine is working class, despite its attempts to recreate Versailles and erect homes for the nouveau riche royalty. Does anyone remember the Castle at Kron and Ecclestone Circle? Or perhaps the monstrosity at Angell and Michelson? There are always properties that are out of place in their neighborhoods because eccentric owners over-improve them, but these people do it for themselves, not for profit. The people who build these structures in Irvine are generally trying to flip them for a profit.

2 Angell Front

In recent post I noted “…our economy accumulates unsound business plans, Ponzi Scheme financing
arrangements, idiotic investment strategies, and behavioral moral
hazards.” Building and flipping properties like these are examples of idiotic investment strategies. Let’s look at what they did wrong.

The Wrong Neighborhood

People who want to buy a $1,000,000 home want to be surrounded by $1,000,000 homes. If you over-improve a home to the point that it is worth double the rest of the neighborhood (which all of these homes are), it is very difficult to find a buyer. Values in a neighborhood will tend to cluster within a range. It is far easier to increase resale price by improving the least valuable property in a neighborhood. If you improve a property beyond the surrounding values, diminishing returns set in quickly.

The Wrong Design

Another trait all these properties have in common is ostentation. There is nothing subtle about their designs. They want to stand out as unique and apart from their surroundings. Perhaps this does attract those special buyers who wants to feel superior to their neighbors, but this makes for a very limited buyer pool (thankfully). If you lived in these neighborhoods, would you want to go make friends with the neighbors that moved in to these places? What would you have in common? If they can truly afford the home, they are in a completely different economic bracket. Perhaps these things should not matter, but we all know they do.

The Wrong Time

The property on Angell, and today’s featured property were both improved after the property bust. Creating high-end McMansions for the nouveau riche doesn’t work particularly well during a bust. One common characteristic of financial busts is that that over-leveraged nouveau riche get wiped out. These people fly high during the expansion and flame out when the bills come due. This is the worst possible target market to pursue when the markets turn, just ask the luxury automakers how they are doing right now.

This investment strategy must die, and everyone pursuing it must be wiped out. That is the nature of recessions; they cleanse the system of dumb ideas like this one. I hope it happens before more of these eyesores are built.

4931 Karen Ann Ln kitchen

Asking Price: $1,399,000IrvineRenter

Income Requirement: $349,750

Downpayment Needed: $279,800

Monthly Equity Burn: $11,658

Purchase Price: $$627,500

Purchase Date: 6/28/2007

Address: 4931 Karen Ann Ln, Irvine, CA 92604

Beds: 5
Baths: 6
Sq. Ft.: 5,752
$/Sq. Ft.: $243
Lot Size: 7,920

Sq. Ft.

Property Type: Single Family Residence
Style: Contemporary/Modern
Year Built: 2008
Stories: 2
Area: El Camino Real
County: Orange
MLS#: S567921
Source: SoCalMLS
Status: Active
On Redfin: 8 days

Gourmet Kitchen Award

school! You MUST see this hidden jewel built with so many exquisite
details. Truly a diamond! The first thing you will experience walking
in is the private & peaceful courtyard with bubbling fountain
leading to the grand entry of a 29 foot high foyer with Swarovski
chandeliers and dual circular staircases. Almost 6,000 sqft have been
carefully planned with 5 bedroom suites (each with walk-in closet and
bath), jacuzzi and sauna, 4 fireplaces, home theater room, family room,
casual eating nook, formal dining room and spectacular gourmet kitchen.
Many other features include marble and granite and crown moulding
throughout, built-in sound system and central vacuum, voluminous 10
foot ceilings both upstairs and downstairs, dual heating and cooling
plus dual water heating. Many, MANY other features abound. Imagine the
possibilities of such exquisite luxury without the luxury price!

Truly a diamond! Yes, a diamond in the rough. This property is in an undesirable neighborhood, and the realtor had to stop from herself from saying it.

For those with sophisticated tastes, don’t miss the “Swarovski
chandeliers.” I assume that makes them special. Commoners like me don’t know things like this, so whoever buys here will undoubtedly be superior to me.

What do you think of this front elevation. I wonder if it was inspired by Kilroy.

Think about your sense of arrival. IMO, it has all the warmth of a federal penitentiary.You approach the overpowering front entry over a barren wasteland of concrete; there isn’t a plant within 20 feet of your trek. The square, prison-block appearance and wrought-iron gates add to the jailhouse motif. If you were to buy this place and watch home values plummet, you would be literally trapped in your own gilded cage.

Almost 6,000 sqft… Why would anyone need 6,000 SF? The heating and cooling bill would match your mortgage payment. You better have a full-time maid to keep the place clean. And why would you put a 6,000 SF home on a lot that isn’t even 8,000 SF? Perhaps in Corona Del Mar this might be understandable, but here in Irvine?

The property records do not show the construction loan for the renovation, so I do not know how much debt is on the property. It is possible this owner built everything with cash, but I doubt it. When the property was purchased for $627,500 on 6/28/2007, the owner used a $502,000 first mortgage, a $62,750 second mortgage, and a $62,750 downpayment. It isn’t likely that he only put 10% down but yet had the cash to finance the complete renovation.

If he can manage to sell the place for $1,399,000, he will make money. I am guessing about $400,000. Since the rest of the neighborhood is drifting from the low 600s into the high 500s on its way down to the mid 400s, I believe this property will ultimately bottom in the $750,000 range. In short, all the renovation money was wasted.

BTW, Marilyn Kalfus from the OC Register sent me a link to a story about a $2,000,000 REO that is completely trashed. You have to wonder who trashed the place…


Oh what a shame that your pockets did bleed on st. valentine’s
And you sat in a chair
Thinking “boy i’m such a prince!”
Well, life’s a train that goes from february on
Day by day
But it’s making a stop on april first

And you will believe in love
And all that it’s supposed to be
But just until the fish start to smell
And you’re struck down by a hammer

April Fools — Rufus Wainwright

We are thinking about starting the Irvine Housing Brokerage.

Are we joking?

99 thoughts on “You Must Be Joking

    1. IrvineRenter

      I assume 10% per year decline in property prices (which has proven to be conservative). Take 10% of the asking price and divide it by 12, and the resulting number will the monthly loss of equity on the property. I make this calculation because so many people during the bubble purchased because they believed they could afford the payment. Most believed their “investment” was going to be worth more so they were getting a great return on their money. The equity burn shows the additional cost of ownership in a declining market. At some point, the equity burn will stop and reverse, but this may be a long time off, and the burn may be quite painful.

      1. MalibuRenter

        You could also take the most recent months for which you have numbers and calculate the equity burn. For a 3-6 month time horizon using the CS high tier, it’s 1.7-2.2% decline per month.

        Alternatively, if there are similar rentals nearby, you could show the monthly cash spread between ownership costs and rental. You could call this “Ownership cost premium” or “Money thrown away on ownership”. I’m sure there are more colorful names for it too.

        1. BD

          Great idea! These are spreads like any other on Wallsteet. When spreads are narrow things are stable. When spreads are wide then things are not stable…


      2. MalibuRenter

        You could also total the equity burn + the additional cash cost of ownership.

        You think you get hate mail now from realtors, that would get you even more.

  1. winstongator

    The reno must be recent because google street view shows what the original home looked like. You can be sure which one it is because of the fence to the left in the new picture.

    Most likely some bank loaned the owners the $ for this project, and ‘should’ have a better idea of worthiness of an investment. But then again people were getting millions of VC money in the 90’s to do any project that could generate a .com.

  2. george8

    This 5/6 home for a 3-generation family might be a profitable idea if it were in the hood of the same.

    Or, it might have worked as well if the bubble had continued to inflate.

  3. Texas Triffid Ranch

    I live literally up the street from a cluster of similar monstrosities in Dallas. I agree that some homes are overimproved by their owners (not far from this cluster is a house that was literally built to resemble the castle at Disneyland, complete with little banners on the parapets, and I keep joking about using it to recreate the Battle of Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings), but these were nothing but architect and developer ego projects. My next door neighbor is an architect, and he relates that a lot of these abominations were built with the idea of showing off what the developers could do. Back when the boom was going on, they could always find someone with more money than brains who was willing to buy these abortions, and I’ve seen enough horrible McMansions in the Dallas area to agree. Unfortunately, though, the music stops, everybody else grabs a chair, and the developers either eat the costs of the property taxes and maintenance “until the market gets better” or they bulldoze it and sell the lot.

    Interestingly, I don’t know if you’re seeing this in Irvine, but another phenomenon I’ve been seeing in Dallas is with the phantom property. Shortly after the bust hit, I expected to see a few empty lots in high-end neighborhoods from where someone bought up a good but older house with the intent of demolishing it and replacing it with a zero-lotline yuppie nightmare. I see a lot of those these days, complete with “Coming Soon!” or “Reduced Price!” signs in the middle of the lot. However, I’m now also seeing a lot of houses that are coming down and the lot seeded with grass. I suspect that someone’s decided that they’ll never sell the houses for the price that Some Guy told them they were worth, and figured that paying the property tax on an empty lot until the market clears up would be cheaper than having to haggle about a house that doesn’t have the latest improvements. If this has hit Irvine as well, I’d like to know.

    1. AZDavidPhx

      That’s quite the fort they have going there.

      I am expecting to see a bunch of polygamist women running around in 19th century attire.

      It would also be perfect for a cult – the mothership will have ample room to land on the roof to take everyone away.

    2. tonyE

      As it stands, this home is likely ahead of its time and also a bit bigger than most homes will eventually be.

      Note how the homes in the Broadmoor and Sierra are mostly single story homes. This an anomaly in Irvine. As people move along I’m seeing lots of second story additions.

      It no longer makes sense to have a single story 1600 sq foot home in Irvine.

        1. tonyE

          Nyet Tovarich…

          I’m saying that an 1600/2000 sq foot home on a 5200 sq foot lot no longer makes financial sense.

          It’s very easy to bump such a house to 2500/3000 sq feet and still not end up with a McMansion.

          Example, my chateau and some of my neighbors… our homes are definitely not McMansions but they are 5b/3ba+ homes. A McMansion is something that is simply out of order to the lot and neighbors, our homes are not and they do not overwhelm the neighbors either.

          Oh yeah, there are whole Irvine neighborhoods that are McMansions… Woodbury, Quail Hill, most of Turtle Ridge… in essence anything built in the last ten years… 😛

          1. IrvineRenter

            Yes, I knew where you were going with your argument, but when I first read your statement, it sounded like an endorsement of these big ugly monsters popping up all over town.

        1. AZDavidPhx

          I like this one too. Something about this house just makes you want to smile.

          I cannot help but crack a sh*t-eating grin when I look at it.

    1. tonyE

      Yep. exactly my thoughts.

      This is a “Persian Palace”.

      Typically out of place, with lots of marble and a WTH attitude.

      Actually I like it. I could grew my mustache and wave at the people on the street from the second story front veranda.

      Come on, let’s get serious. Not all of Irvine needs to be so damn serious. HOAs and what not.

      Agree that from a financial standpoint a Persian Palace makes no sense, but dudes… it’s kind of nice in its own way.

      The LA Times carried an article on Persian Palaces last year. It was fun.

      1. Bitter Renter

        Just be sure your wife / girlfriend grows her mustache out too. ;-P

        (No offense to Persian women — I think many of them are strikingly beautiful, but I saw one young woman at the market with her boyfriend a couple of days ago whose mustache was so thick I couldn’t help but stare.)

    2. whatdafuhk

      Apparently, from the open house this past weekend, the current owners are Syrian. Not that it’s here nor there. Heh.

    1. Mitoman

      This ugly house doesn’t look like a palace at all… it looks like a mini version of high rises…

    1. Bitter Renter

      Oh yeah, I’d meant to mention that yesterday’s NIN – “Down In It” video also doesn’t allow embedding.

  4. Chris in Seattle

    Hey IR, MR made mention of the hate mail you must get from RE agents and home owers. Any chance of talking you into publishing some of the choice bits for our amusement and discussion? You must have some favorites.

    1. IrvineRenter

      I get surprisingly little hate mail. I think most of them try to ignore me and wish I would go away.

  5. Bling Bling

    If you look up the address with Google Maps you can see what the home looked like prior to the renovations as well as get a feel of the neighborhood. Definitely overimproved compared to the surrounding homes. This neighborhood was going for $250,000 to $300,000 in the late 90s.

    1. AZDavidPhx

      This neighborhood was going for $250,000 to $300,000 in the late 90s.

      Can you imagine what your neighbors would think of you for living in a house like this? You would certainly be thought of as a vain and pretentious little wannabe prick trying to show-up everyone else in the neighborhood.

      I can just picture the looks as you drive by in your Hummer H2 or Escalade. Waving and smiling as you drive by and then saying to themselves “What an a**hole – I hope a meteor lands on that place while he is inside.”

      Whoever moves into this place is going to have to be able to make themselves believe that the neighbors are “just jealous” of their wonderfulness.

      1. tonyE

        You sir are an ethnically challenged fool!

        No Hummers for a Persian Palace… justa couple of S-Class benzes. Perhaps some camels for the domestic help coming up from Woodbury.

        Did you note the front entry courtyard? That’s were you plant the date palms.

      2. Bitter Renter

        BTW, I am so stoked that GM is being forced to try to unload or drop their Hummer brand. (Also ecstatic that the slimeball Hummer-driver that lived at my IAC complex until recently got evicted. :coolgrin:)

    2. former_irvine_resident

      Definitely take a moment and look at the streetview in the Redfin listing to get a sense of the neighboring homes. It reminds me of that bit on Sesame street when I was a kid… “One of this is not like the other….” LOL

      1. former_irvine_resident

        Damn, typing too fast today… “One of these things is not like the other…” You will remember it if you saw it. Classic Sesame Street.

  6. Perspective

    This house’s price is in the same neighborhood as Monday’s post? Wow.

    Hmm, tough decision: gorgeous craftsman in 92603 our square stucco box in 92604?

    The median income in 92603 is nearly 2.3x that in 92604 ($151k vs. $66k in 2004).

  7. h

    I’m somewhat surprised that the description doesn’t include “low maintenance front yard!” or rather “lo maint f yd!!!!” I guess I should say.

    1. SoOCOwner

      Talk about zero curb appeal. The front yard is 100% driveway. It’s shocking that Irvine would allow something like this.

      1. ockurt

        Weak HOA’s in this area so I could see it happening.

        Definitely zero curb appeal. And I bet the lot size quoted was before the renovations were done. I bet the lot size now is barely 5k if that.

        1. MalibuRenter

          While lot size doesn’t change with renovations, it would be interesting if yard size was quoted in listings. With aerial views, you can probably do this for most houses now.

          1. ockurt

            Yes, I should have said usable lot size or yard size as you mentioned.

            I can almost bet that the 8k lot size they’re quoting is not all “usable” anymore as the majority is taken up by the new, expanded structure.

          2. tonyE

            City ordinance mandates that only 50% of the lot can be covered by the house and garage.

            If the house is 5000 sq feet and is partly over the garage then you can guess that the backyard is still on the large side for Irvine.

        2. whatdafuhk

          I live down the street from this house and having renovated/rebuilt my house in ’03, there is no HOA in our neighbourhood and frankly I was shocked at how easy it was to get the plans approved. As a result, you end up with homes like this.

  8. AprilUCI

    I am a renter in Irvine, and have just been watching the housing market in this area. This property was featured on Yahoo Real Estate about 2 months ago, it was listed for $399K (obvious error…but I didn’t realize that since no pictures were provided on the website). So I actually drove around the neighborhood to find the place, the main motivation was that I was surprised an Irvine single family property could be $400K.
    Until I arrived, I was quite sure I was wrong! When compared with the neighboring properties, this place is like a giant in a world of Oompa-Loompas. It’s just so misplaced.

  9. funny

    Did anyone else notice the ugly mural over the fireplace and how the glass slider has the same shity window treatment as the mural? I like the view of a blank wall better that some ugly mural.

  10. ockurt

    Unless they expand the structure then it reduces the existing lot size. I’ve seen this a lot in beach communities where land is at a premium and people need to expand the original beach cottage.

    Notice there are no pics of the backyard…

    1. IrvineRenter

      Someone else emailed me about that one this morning. I just had time to correct it now. I should stay with English…

  11. MalibuRenter

    Can we send the Grasspave representative over to this house? You can have a driveway which contains lawn.

    1. Mikee

      And its better fro run-off and the environment.

      Over in Europe they are giving tax credits if you install the grasspave driveway instead of concrete/brick pavers.

  12. brea

    The picture of the front does not show how ridiculously over sized this house is compared to the neighborhood. It is a pie shaped lot with a pie shaped house on it. It gets wider and wider as it go back.

    Nice of them to cement over the front yard for parking since there is no curb parking left in front of the house. I bet its occupants will be using up all the parking in front of all their neighbors houses. That will be why no one will like them or talk to them.

    My favorite Kron’s castle story is from the 80’s. The city was going to take the property due to safety issues. Hearing the owners story, a bunch of strippers and their bar customers volunteered to make the repairs. I am sure there was some quality work done that day.

        1. MalibuRenter

          Also includes another gratuitous sign of taste: meaninglessly complex walls and roofline. Nothing like fragmenting the space to make it difficult to reconfigure, or actually use.

          1. Bitter Renter

            At least that courtyard in the middle allows for some private sunning in this land of no backyard privacy.

          2. Priced_Out_IT_Guy

            Yeah right, for about 20 minutes each day in the summer when the sun is at a perfect perpendicular angle to the ground.

          3. Bitter Renter

            Heh. Yeah, I almost mentioned the angle issue since I thought someone might say that. You will notice I said “*some* private sunning”. 😉

            Still, better than no private yard at all.

        2. ockurt

          Thanks AZ.

          Confirms my belief that most of the yard has been swallowed up by this thing.

          No wonder there’s no pics of the backyard.

      1. Bitter Renter

        Thanks for the link — that had been brought up in the comments here before and I didn’t know what people were talking about (I thought people were talking about Beth Krom’s house, mistaking Kron for Krom).

        1. Bitter Renter

          Wow, almost an identical arrangement as today’s property. Thanks, DrakoneSmith and AZDave for digging up those aerial views.

    1. tonyE

      I got to admit there was little taste on this one.

      I wonder how it got past the HOA? It looks like they didn’t use an architect and went directly for the space. They have the original galley styled kichen… which makes little sense for a home this large.

      Check out the ovens in the kitchen… but it does have the prerequisite granite counters.

  13. Axiom

    “Imagine the possibilities of such exquisite luxury without the luxury price!”

    Am I the only one who still considers $1,399,000 a luxury price?

    1. tlc8386

      No view, no pool—it’s another WTF price–These people are insane. They are hoping for someone else to not only pay for all the improvements that they like but to over pay. And Irvinemom that home in TR is even more insane–it’s a old house fixed up–and that is what it is.

      1. irvinemommy

        My husband walked through it and said it felt like it was renovated for several generations of a family to live together.

        1. ockurt

          Doesn’t surprise me…lots of multi-generational homes in Irvine. This one is definitely large enough.

  14. Blueberry Pie

    Somewhere I heard some advice I am going to try and heed when/if I ever buy a house.

    It’s better to have the crappiest house in a nice neighborhood than the nicest house in a crappy neighborhood.

    Currently I rent in an average-to-crappy neighborhood. I think a fair price for most of the houses in my neighborhood would be under $300k. Some fools built about 8 brand new houses at the end of my street a few years ago. They just finished building the last one within the past few months. We walked through during the open house. It was nice enough inside, but they are asking $560k. I don’t care how nice the house is, you still have to drive down our street with all the crappy old cars. You still have the above-ground utility lines. You still have the scummy neighbors. I am very curious to see what this house finally sells for.

    1. Priced_Out_IT_Guy

      That may sound like good advice, but consider this: If you buy the crappiest house in the best neighborhood, you could be overpaying for a crappy house. You are after all paying a premium for the best neighborhood.

      1. Priced_Out_IT_Guy

        Following that train of thought, if you buy the best house in a crappy neighborhood, you’re underpaying for the neighborhood and getting a nice house for cheaper.

        The question is, whats more important…a nice house, or a nice neighborhood?

    2. Mikee

      I bought the nicest house in my neighborhood about 5 years ago. This was right at the beginning of the ‘gentrification’ of the neighborhood, so I took a bit of a gamble on a spec house in a neighborhhod I knew I wanted to live in. Also, the house and the rate fit our needs perfectly.
      My gamble worked, the neighborhood has transformed around us, and I still see listings for almost double what I paid, for not that much more house. Of course, these days the listings are sitting a lot longer than they used to.

  15. TurtleRidgeRenter

    My mom lives in the crappiest house in an upscale suburban Chicago neighborhood. It’s actually a wonderful mid-century house, top-of-the-line back in the day, with 3 acres of yard. Hers is the only original 1960s ranch left on a street of 2000s MacMansions. This is great for when you go to sell, not so great for the taxes you pay every year.

    1. Bitter Renter

      Why is that? I thought property taxes were only based on the value of your own property, not surrounding ones.

      1. IrvineRenter

        They will appraise you house based on the value of houses in the surrounding neighborhood. Ask yourself what a small, two-bedroom cottage is worth in Laguna Beach, and you will see what I mean.

  16. Major Schadenfreude

    I would like to offer full asking price for this house.


    (Hat tip to Trooper).

  17. Bitter Renter

    IR, “neuvo” -> “nouveau”.

    Nice Kilroy reference — haven’t seen one in a few years. 🙂

    From the trashed-out $2M REO story:

    “Some previous occupants deposited feces on counter tops or in the middle of the living room floor … Sometimes home owners turn on all the water faucets and plug up the drains before departing.”

    Ugh. That’s why I would never be completely comfortable buying a foreclosed property. If the owners were irresponsible enough to take on a massive debt they couldn’t afford, what other effects did their irresponsibility have on the property? Of course a house inspector can turn up obvious issues, but I’d always be afraid to have a room that (once the realtor-supplied air fresheners wore off) had a mysterious stench you could never quite get rid of…

    1. Bitter Renter

      Interesting. I guess (AKA, who has lots of billboards around here suggesting you donate your unused boat, doesn’t operate in those states.

  18. LakeForestRenter

    ugly, ugly house. As to the small yard – in a few years (think 6 or 7) Southern Californians will not be allowed to have private lawns on their properties. So maybe this guy is just forward thinking?

    1. IrvineRenter

      That is an interesting idea. This property would probably get Leeds Certification and awards for xeriscaping.

      1. LakeForestRenter

        nah all that concrete would provide too much run off unless he has rain cisterns or porous pavement. But maybe i just worry about my kids being able to drink water to much, at least they’ll always have Gatorade (<- brilliant movie)

  19. newbie2008

    The 2 million dollar REO look like it was in the middle of a remodeling job. No floor was under the tub. You can see the downstairs from the top floor — does look up to code to me. Mold on the wall is an indication of a water leak.

    I like McManisons. They are very comfortable — usually better insulation and HVAC than old houses. Lots of storage space too. I rented one for less than what I’m now paying for a small box in Irvine.

  20. tlc8386

    I would love to know how this got through the planning stages and zoning boards? Does perfect Irvine have such laws? We do in Florida. This ugly house makes the entire neighborhood look bad. WTF were these people thinking?

  21. Rafa

    “Undesirable neighborhood”. Really? I know this is an older part of Irvine, with clear working class roots, but what makes the neighborhood undesirable? This house is an abomination, but I don’t think the neighborhood is undesirable at all.

    No, I do not live in this neighborhood, but I am familiar with it. It also had (closed or closing) a very desirable year-round elementary school in the same neighborhood and is walking distance to a desirable high school (not the best in Irvine, but great overall).

    I love the blog, but that seemed extremely snobbish.

  22. ozymandias

    i don’t care much for the subject house but i love the look of that block looking house you call a monstrosity. to each his own.

  23. phantom600rr

    I don’t understand why most bloggers are knocking this house. Yes, it is oversized for the neighborhood. Yes, it is very ugly. But aren’t 80% or more of Irvine properties just as ugly? Most are simply too big for their lots. Others look like a public storage facilities. And still others look more like simple garages which happen to have a kitchen and a couple bathrooms. My wife and I tried really hard to find a home in Irvine, but have yet to find one we both like. We will be leaving Irvine after our lease ends. Just my 2 cents.

Comments are closed.