In some ways, Irvine is a perfect example of what “California dreaming” can bring to a community. The city is laced with a network of hiking trails and parks that surround high-quality schools and planned mid-century developments. Located just 7 miles from Pacific Ocean beaches like Newport, Laguna, and Huntington, Irvine has an average of 278 sunny days per year.
It’s also a diverse area and accommodating to many cultures. According to Destination Irvine, the residents of this city speak over 70 languages combined. No matter your cultural background, you’re likely to find community in Irvine!
In 2019, Irvine was voted the best place to live in Orange County, beating out 33 other cities in the desirable ocean-side county. To locals, this comes as no surprise. The city of Irvine is comfortable at the top of lists, constantly ranking No. 1 for its public safety, harmonious park systems, fiscal management, and excellent schools.
But all these benefits are not without some challenges. The housing market in Irvine is highly competitive. Homes come with a hefty price tag, and some districts are subject to a special Mella-Roo tax on top of property taxes, and sometimes steep HOA fees.
To bring you this complete guide to buying a house in Irvine, we interviewed real estate agents Hugo Pompa and Nagla Ameerally, who work with top-performing Irvine agent Edgar Adame. We also scoured local newspapers and scrutinized pages of data from Orange County Realtors. Read on to learn how to set your budget, assess the market, and set your sights on the best Irvine neighborhood for your lifestyle.
Typical housing costs in Irvine
Before you set foot inside your dream home, you’ll need to sit down and crunch some numbers.
Step 1: Consider the average home price in Irvine
According to data released in December 2020 from Orange County Realtors, the median price in Irvine is $550,000 for an attached home, or $955,000 for a detached home.
These numbers are nearly double and triple the national median price for a home, which hit a record high in September 2020 at $311,800. But in spite of the steep prices in housing overall, monthly mortgage payments in Orange County still clock in at $301 less in 2020 than in 2019, thanks to low mortgage rates.
Step 2: Factor in the cost of homeowners insurance and property taxes
Property taxes are a bit higher in Irvine as compared to the national average, says Ameerally. While these taxes result in top-quality school districts and well-maintained infrastructure, it’s important for homeowners to budget properly to account for these fees.
One area where you can expect to save on costs is on homeowners insurance. In the state of California as of October 2020, homeowners insurance costs an average of $1,359 per year, compared to the national average of $1,631. Rates in Irvine are even more affordable, with the average Irvine homeowner paying around $942 per year.
Step 3: Be aware of Mello-Roos Taxes & HOA fees
Irvine is home to some of the best schools, roads, and parks in the nation. But as you can imagine, this comes with a price tag.
Certain homes in California are subject to a Mello-Roos tax, which is a special tax that allows a district to finance a new development or make improvements to existing infrastructure. Mella-Roos taxes might fund a new school, museum, roads, parks, police station, child care center, etc.
Your real estate agent is required to tell you if a home is subject to the Mello-Roos tax. If you purchase a home that is subject to this tax, your tax bill may fluctuate over the years, but it will never exceed a certain amount. Ask your real estate agent to check with the district to find out the maximum amount that the tax could be, so that you avoid any unpleasant surprises down the road.
In general, Mello-Roos taxes are less than 1.5% of the total value of a home. The downside — besides the extra tax bill — is that you usually can’t deduct Mello-Roos taxes from your federal tax return. The benefit, of course, is that the taxes go directly to fund premium schools and community developments in your area.
HOA fees fluctuate depending on where you live, but they are a common cost in Irvine, even for single-family homes. Some homes are subject to two HOA fees: a Master HOA that covers costs of landscaping and parks in the larger community, and a Sub HOA fee that covers the costs of maintenance and building repairs.
For example, homes in the Great Park Neighborhoods Community Association have a Master HOA fee between $183-215 during build-out. Ask your real estate agent to find out the exact amount. Due to all the fees and taxes in the area, Ameerally says she always tries to give her clients a lump sum estimate of their Mello-Roos taxes and HOA fees.
Get the lay of the land in Irvine
For families who enjoy community activities
“Really, all of Irvine is very family-oriented!” laughs Ameerally. But if she had to choose a neighborhood specifically suited toward family life, she would suggest Great Park, where you can find all styles of living from single-family residential, luxury homes, or townhomes depending on your preference.
The Great Park neighborhood contains lots of bike and walking trails, community pools, and plenty of recreational and social events for neighbors to connect. It also contains the Beacon Park and Parasol Park neighborhoods. Send your children to the award-winning Beacon Park Primary School during the day, then enjoy sporting and art events at the 450-acre (and growing!) Orange County Great Park.
For outdoor enthusiasts and fitness lovers
Life in the Westpark neighborhood will keep you active, thanks to multiple fitness centers and an endless number of parks. When you’re done with your workout, refuel with some authentic Korean comfort food or one of the best burgers in the city.
The Lower Peters Canyon neighborhood is another attractive option for anyone who likes to stay in shape. Play a round of golf at the scenic Tustin Ranch Golf Club, or head over to Bella Vista Park for a jog. For more adventurous hiking, biking, or horse-back riding, drive 15 minutes to Peters Canyon Regional Park.
For great schools and extracurricular activities
For families with high-school age kids, Ameerally recommends the Irvine Spectrum neighborhood. The neighborhood is home to top-rated Woodbridge High School, where students enjoy a graduation rate of 97%.
The Northwood neighborhood is another popular choice for families, with a premium selection of both condos and luxury homes. You’ll have your pick of top schools, from Foundations Montessori to St. Michael the Archangel Academy. For after-school activities, take art classes at the Irvine Fine Arts Center or have some fun at the Northwood Community Park.
What to expect from the Irvine housing market
The city of Irvine is famous for its laid-back California Modern homes, breezy Mid-century Modern homes, and a surplus of new construction. Ameerally points out that buyers tend to gravitate toward new construction in the Great Park area. Many of these homes are three levels and come with extensive office space. If you have your heart set on an older home with more character, Ameerally recommends looking in the Woodbury neighborhood.
On the whole, homes in Irvine are very new compared to the national average — the median home in Irvine is a youthful 24 years old, while the median U.S. home is 40. While maintenance costs are low thanks to the newness of the homes, HVAC issues can be prevalent in the area, says David Cusick, CSO of comprehensive home services research company House Method.
Homeowners tend to experience these problems more frequently in the summer when their A/C systems have to work overtime to keep the house at a comfortable temperature. An underperforming HVAC system can lead to mold problems so make sure to invest in a high-quality HVAC system and consider ordering a mold inspection before closing.
Irvine homeowners should also think about purchasing wildfire, flood, and earthquake insurance. “Typical homeowner’s insurance will cover damages to the property from almost all events, including fire damage, internal water damage due to leaking appliances, theft, windstorms, and vandalism,” says Cusick. But most policies won’t cover flooding or earthquake damage, and they often have limits to how much you can claim for a fire. Talk to your insurer about increasing your coverage amounts so you can be covered in case of any of these events.
What’s the best time to buy a house in Irvine?
Home prices in Irvine are fairly fixed, rising or falling only a few percentage points over the course of the year. HomeLight’s data shows that the best month to buy a house in Irvine is in March, when sellers can be pressed to sell their homes for up to 3.29% less than average.
The worst month for buyers comes just two months later in May, when sellers can fetch up to 2.04% more than the yearly average. As you can see, the month that you buy your home will only make a small difference. Plan your decision around what works best for your schedule rather than trying to time the market.
Find a top buyer’s agent in Irvine
Navigating the fast-paced Irvine market can be difficult — that’s why it’s critical to enlist the help of an experienced real estate agent. Top buyer’s agents in Irvine save their buyers an average of $97,346 on their purchases, and they assist in 1.8 times more home buying transactions than average agents in the area.
Ameerally says that out-of-state buyers in Irvine are often surprised to see how quickly homes fly off the market. In an aggressive seller’s market, a well-priced home may only stay on the market for 10-14 days.
To make a competitive offer, she recommends approaching the seller with a shorter contingency period to make the financed offer look like a cash offer.
“We like our clients to not only get a pre-approval but also get an underwriting approval from our lenders,” says Ameerally. It’s important for buyers to have an agent who works closely with a lender and has great rapport with Irvine sellers.
By connecting with a top agent in your area, you can begin your home search today — and get one step closer to buying your dream home in the prized city of Irvine.
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