renaissance

End of an Era for Laguna Terrace Park

Laguna Terrace Park, the family owned 156-space mobilehome neighborhood with ocean-views in South Laguna, is in escrow, though the buyer was not identified, according to a company involved in the sale.

Vince Reynolds, a broker for CBRE in San Diego, declined to identify the buyer or the terms of the deal, citing a confidentiality agreement. Calls to the attorney handling the sale, Rachelle Menaker of Santa Ana’s Hart, King and Coldren, were not returned.

The selling price was $72 million, according to Gary Skeen, the president for the residents’ association, citing sources he described as “qualified” but declined to name.  He informed residents by email this week about the pending transaction to prepare them for an expected tax hike. “That will jack-up property taxes here,” Skeen said, as leases and rental agreements state that any property tax increase will be divided by the number of spaces in the park and passed on to residents.  The owner will assume the tax on empty lots.

Escrow on the park is expected to close in mid-spring, depending on whether the new buyer assumes its $32.5 million outstanding loan with a $9 million prepayment penalty, Reynolds said.  Such a deal will end an era of family ownership at the park, now owned by Amy Esslinger, the widow of Steve Esslinger, whose grandfather developed the park.

Skeen said Reynolds was at the park last week with what he was told were bankers inspecting the property.  Resident and past association president Daga Krackowizer confirmed the observation.

“The residents are anxious,” said Skeen.  “I basically haven’t heard anything other than rumor to advise the homeowners here. So I’ve been taking a position of not saying anything.”

Skeen sees new ownership as an opportunity to make needed improvements.  “There’s a lot of things that need to be done to provide a better quality of life,” said Skeen, mentioning needed landscaping upkeep and street repairs in the park, which covers 14 acres of a 46-acre plot.  “The only thing I would like to see done is that they get on with it and make the exchange of ownership so, hopefully, they can make some corrections to this park.”

Any deal can fall through escrow but the high bid dampens residents’ hopes of buying the park themselves. A $52.5 million bid by the homeowners’ association, including a $500,000 deposit, a price that would have left property taxes at their current level, was rejected last year. The new prospects “have deeper pockets than we do,” Skeen said.

Terri Flint, a real estate agent who’s lived in the park for 17 years, thinks it’s better not to mention anything about the potential sale of the park until it’s finalized.  “Until it closes escrow, it’s not sold,” she said.  “Fate is going to dictate what happens and there’s nothing anybody can do with it except, if they don’t like it, jump ship, go.”

Esslinger’s death in 2012 heightened uncertainty among park residents about the prospect of new ownership.  “Our rents went up last year again,” said Krackowizer, “so a lot of us are concerned that if someone takes it over and our rents go up again, we may not be able to afford to live here.”  Krackowizer, who’s lived in the park for 10 years and holds a 30-year lease, agrees with keeping the details under wraps.  “If I were Mrs. Esslinger right now, I would not want anything to slip out until escrow closed.  Hopefully, they won’t tell us anything until it’s a done deal.”

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