If you're looking to move into a new home in Los Angeles, good luck. Last month, the median sale price for an L.A. home jumped 10 percent to $213,000, setting an all-time record for L.A. County.
But if you're looking to move into a new home in Oak Park, say your prayers. Finding a home in this Conejo Valley suburb will take all the luck and all the money you can get. The median price in September for a Ventura County home, which includes the unincorporated community of Oak Park, was $268,000, but the increase of sales was only 0.8 percent, due to a tight inventory of homes available.
Oak Park, which has just recently received its own postal code, is situated in eastern Ventura County, at the base of Simi Peak. Bordered on the west by the North Ranch neighborhood of Thousand Oaks, on the south by Westlake Village and Agoura Hills, and on the north and east by the Santa Monica Mountains, Oak Park is a compact community of only 2,600 acres.
What makes Oak Park so special is a combination of factors, least of which is the quality of the air and greatest of which is its excellent school district, which has received the reputation of being one of the finest school systems, private or public, anywhere in California. Two of the elementary schools, Brookside and Red Oak, have been designated California distinguished schools; a third, Oak Hills, is a blue-ribbon school. The middle schools, Medea Creek and Oak Park High School have been named blue-ribbon schools as well. The alternative high school, Oak View, is a California model school.
Realtor Bev Ovdat has been working the area of Agoura Hills, Oak Park, Calabasas and Westlake for 20 years. Along with her husband, Saul, the Ovdats are considered one of the strongest real estate teams in the area. If anyone understands the draw of Oak Park, it's Bev Ovdat.
"In 1978, Oak Park broke away from the Simi Valley School District and created its own school district." Ovdat said. "In 1990 [during the height of the recession], Oak Park implemented a parcel tax to improve schools, built two new elementary schools, giving it three elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. With this money, it was able to reduce class size. People had the perception, real or perceived, that because there was a better teacher-to-student ratio, the schools were superior. And what Jewish family doesn't want a good education for their child?
"People began to move from the San Fernando Valley and L.A., where kids were being bused; the impetus was that children could attend local schools and stay close to home. Safetywise, it was a throwback to the '50s and '60s, when children could walk to school and play on the street. That didn't exist anymore in the Valley," Ovdat continued. "In Oak Park, you could find safe, old-fashioned, traditional neighborhoods with lots of stay-at-home moms. There was a wonderful feeling of safety and good values - that's why people fell in love with Oak Park and the area."
That feeling of safety, coupled with excellent local schools, is the reason Oak Park is now one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in Southern California, reports Mark Moskowitz, Realtor for Century 21 in Westlake Village.
"We have a certain client that only wants Oak Park because of the school system," says Moskowitz. "Most good homes on the market are sold within a week to 10 days, if the seller isn't asking too much."The high demand, plus the shortage of homes on the market, makes Oak Park one of the hottest areas around.
"It's all supply and demand," says Moskowitz. "In the last two years, what was the [least] expensive home is now very expensive."
A typical 1,600- to 2,000-square-foot Oak Park home ranges in price from $280,000 to $375,000, while a 2,000- to 2,400-square-foot home ranges from $375,000 to $475,000. Newer homes, such as those in upscale Morrison Ranch and Sutton Valley, range from $475,000 to $800,000 and beyond. Interestingly, there are no gated communities.
But given the lack of available homes and the high interest rates, a lot of people are being pushed out of the market, says Moskowitz.
"Some decide to rent or settle in a different area, like Agoura Hills. But some decide not to move out at all."
Carey and Yehuda Fried, two of Moskowitz's clients, decided to rent. Newlyweds in 1998, they were living in L.A. and hating it. Both Frieds were working in Agoura Hills and spending every available minute commuting.
"The commute was tough and we had no life," says Carey, Director of Education at CalSource in Agoura Hills. "We knew we wanted to be part of a community where we would have an impact and where we could grow and help others grow, too. That wasn't happening in L.A."
Friends encouraged them to "live where they worked, work where they lived."
With that in mind, they visited friends last year during Sukkot and attended the Chabad House in Agoura Hills. They liked the area, and the people were friendly, but they were still unsure of making the move.Then Moskowitz found them a townhouse in Oak Park, which they loved. They moved in March and have never looked back.
"You pay for the quality of life here, for safe neighborhoods, the beauty of nature. On Shabbat, we walk to the Oak Park Chabad on a nature trail right across from our house. About half the people we pass say, 'Shabbat shalom.' Everyone is amazingly friendly."
"We've reduced our whole life to a 10-mile radius," Carey says. "There are kosher shops out here, the Kosher Connection, and the local Albertsons and Ralphs carry kosher foods. And [the Oak Park Chabad] is building a day school, to open in 2001."
Carey has grown to love the open feeling, the quiet and the beauty, the children playing in the streets; so much so, that she and her husband are on a mission to get their friends to move out, too.
"We tell everyone to move out here," Carey laughs. "Every weekend we're home we have quests from L.A. They all love it. We want to put Oak Park on the map."
Their only reservation is that one day they have dreams of moving to Israel. But who knows, maybe the allure of Oak Park is that it's the next best thing.
"We're in a very good place here, and we're part of the growth of the community. I love the people, I love the community. And when we walk through the park, my husband and I say, 'It smells like Israel, it looks like Israel, and it feels like Israel.'"