When TV Meets A Real Place, Prices Can Soar

<p>The primetime Fox television show "The OC" and MTV's "Laguna Beach" may have helped increased real estate prices in Orange County, California.</p>
June 6, 2007, 7am PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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Never has the relationship between prime real estate and prime-time television been as electrically fused as in the case of Orange County, the southern California setting for hit soaps and reality shows such as The OC and Laguna Beach.

In real estate, as in show business, image is everything. And in 2003 along came The OC, a series that offered a look inside this flashy but flawed suburban California world through the eyes of a beautiful, predominantly teenage cast. It struck a cultural nerve, not just in the US but also around the world. Out went Orange County's dowdy image; in came a new, more glamorous, reputation that has since developed into a fully fledged brand.

According to Remax, one of the biggest local real estate agencies, property values in the area rose by an average of 18.9 per cent per year between 2000 and 2005 and more in key neighborhoods, pushing the median house price to $710,000 in 2006. This can't be solely pegged to the influence of television; after all, there's the California sunshine and a booming local economy led by computer, broadband, biotechnology and design companies in the Greater Irvine Spectrum Area. But The OC and ensuing shows managed to play up the area's status as a place both to live and work just as effectively as they spotlighted its wealthy residents and high-end houses.

Developers have done their best to respond to increasing demand but the county's rolling hills – once strewn with sage-brush and orange groves – are now close to built out. The Irvine Company, the largest master-planner in the region, has room for only 4,000 more homes on its sprawling Irvine Ranch in East Orange. Its main competition, Rancho Mission Viejo, will build a further 14,000 homes east of the city of San Juan Capistrano.

"From now on it's a case of needing to build upward," says Phyllis Hart of the Urban Land Institute, Orange County. "For example, in the city of Anahiem the trend is for high-rises."

Others, such as Jack Eidt, director of planning for the environmental group Wild Heritage Planners, are worried about the effects of a rising population and increased development. Orange County currently has 39,000 acres of protected wilderness and boasts the largest inter-connected metropolitan open space reserve in the US, allowing visitors to hike from Laguna Beach, through Laguna Canyon into the Cleveland National Forest.

"Orange County is all about real estate," Eidt laments. "The whole economy is based on that, which means the interests of developers threaten what remains of [the area's] great parks and eco-system. With urbanisation and population densification ongoing, the pressure to convert the rolling coastal sage- scrub-covered foothills and oak woodlands into houses, mini-malls and toll roads continues to undermine our internationally coveted quality of life."

He pauses. "Not that they'd ever make a TV show about that."

Thanks to Jack Eidt

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Published on Monday, June 4, 2007 in The Financial Times
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