Caution, Homes Crossing

Not so long ago, real estate agent Meghan Shigo had to beg people to “take a chance” on the old homes in the historic heart of Anaheim, the original colony settled by Germans.
Now, home buyers-many of them young professionals-are engaged in bidding wars, snatching up the Craftsman bungalows and Colonial Revivals sometimes before Shigo has had a chance to put up a “For Sale” sign.

Shigo isn’t sure which came first, the demand for homes or the neighborhood’s transformation. One thing is clear: The Anaheim Historic Colony District is being reborn.
Prodded by residents, city officials have embarked on a major preservation campaign that includes property tax breaks for those who restore their homes and moving old houses slated for demolition.

“This was an area where the city bought old homes, knocked them down and built apartments,” said Jim Granger, one such homeowner- renovator. “Now, they buy apartments, knock them down and bring in old homes.”

Most of the change came after 1997, when residents encouraged the city to designate the area the Anaheim Colony Historic District. In 1999, the city published a preservation plan that details homeowner guidelines and several goals and projects-many of which are just now coming to fruition.

Before Granger bought it, a “watered-down Victorian” called the Hatfield House was nearly demolished to make way for an Auto Zone store. But the city stepped in, bought the 96-year-old house for a dollar, moved it to an empty lot and sold it to Granger, who promised to refurbish it.

It sat for three years while paperwork was completed. Granger is now starting to move his family in.

More than 25 transplanted homes are sprinkled throughout the 2- square-mile Colony District, bounded by North, South, East and West streets. All of them probably would have been razed for development were it not for the residents’ and the city’s heightened interest in preservation.
Seven more homes are being moved as part of the city’s most recent project on Lemon Avenue. Three already have been refurbished and converted into low- and medium-income housing; the other four will be moved today. “Everything we do really goes to enhancing the sense that downtown is the heart of Anaheim and, in particular, this colony community,” said Brad Hobson, the city’s deputy executive director for community development.

Last month, the city sponsored a tour of several historic homes. It has erected monuments marking the Colony’s borders, opened a new park complete with mural reproductions of historic packing labels, and installed antique-style light posts.
When it gets the chance, the city’s redevelopment agency is buying and saving old homes and buildings, including the last standing citrus packing plant, which it hopes to convert into a museum with offices or eateries.

Tax Incentive Kicks In

Residents are also beginning to see the results of a Mills Act program launched last year. The act is a state-sponsored economic incentive program offering lowered property taxes for owners of “qualified historical properties” who pledge to preserve, restore and maintain the historical and architectural character of those properties. Owners of such homes, which must be included on the local or national historic registry, can apply for the program.

The owners save up to 55% in property taxes for 10 years. Since the city began the program-now the eighth largest in the state-55 homeowners have applied. Shigo, the real estate agent, can see the difference.

She points out the paint jobs, landscaping and new shingle roofs. Next, the city will help residents buy bronze Mills Act plaques to help identify the designated homes.

Pearl Hill, 83, has lived in her gabled Colonial Revival home for 47 years. The property tax saving means little to her because she has lived in the 1919 home for so long. But she filed a Mills Act application for the prestige of it. Plus, if she ever decides to sell, the tax saving could be transferred to the buyer for the next 10 years.

Hill repainted her home a pale yellow and put on new cedar shingles. The roofing job cost $15,000-$1,000 more than she paid for her home.
“I love it,” Hill said. “We have had more people stop, knock on the door and ask if they can see the house.”
Even though 15 to 20 people call Shigo each week about the homes, she still considers the historic district one of Orange County’s best-kept secrets.

A 1,000-square-foot bungalow in Anaheim costs about $250,000. Larger homes generally go for $350,000 to $400,000.
Comparable old homes in Orange or Fullerton, both known for their historic neighborhoods, cost about $70,000 to $100,000 more, Shigo said.

Lety Rodriguez, 36, bought one of Anaheim’s relocated and renovated homes after looking elsewhere.
“I think Anaheim needs to work on marketing, because I ran into it by accident,” Rodriguez said. “This is a great neighborhood…. Orange has beautiful homes and a lot of old, restored bungalows, but they’re just out of my price range. I also looked in Fullerton. The only difference really is the ZIP Code.”