Ontario Ranch, Great Park land in top 20 master-planned communities list

California boasts some of the first, largest and most successful master-planned communities – think Irvine Ranch and Valencia in Southern California – but continues to lose ground and buyers in recent years to Florida and Texas.

The Golden State may be the pioneer of master-planned communities, where homes, parks, schools and shopping centers are meticulously planned, but the Lone Star and Sunshine states are grabbing much of the attention in the past few years.  

California had only four master-planned communities crack John Burns Research and Consulting’s closely watched Top 50 master-planned communities list for 2023. The annual report tracks sales of 500 master-planned communities nationwide.

Master-planned communities in Florida and Texas had seven of the top 10 spots – and 15 of the top 20. 

ONTARIO RANCH TOPS IN THE STATE, AGAIN

The four master-planned communities in California sold a combined 2,820 homes in 2023, just a few homes short of the 2,844 in 2022 – but a dramatic drop from the 5,021 homes in 2019, according to John Burns Research and Consulting.

In comparison, The Villages in Florida was the leading master-planned community with 3,029 homes sold.

Ontario Ranch in Riverside County finished in fifth place on the national list (see table, below), with 1,027 homes sold in 2023 compared to 646 a year earlier. Ontario Ranch has been the best-selling master-planned community in California for three consecutive years.

Great Park in Irvine finished at No. 19 with 628 homes sold last year compared to 326 a year earlier.

Riverstone in Madera and River Islands in Lathrop finished at Nos. 21 and 28, respectively. 

ONE OF THREE HOMES SOLD IS NEW CONSTRUCTION

California’s decline of home sales in master-planned communities comes as new-home sales become a larger percentage of sales overall. Despite the highest mortgage rates in almost a quarter-century, developers and homebuilders have benefited from a critical shortage of existing homes available for sale and more than enough home shoppers, many enjoying big pay gains and surging home equity.

New-home sales accounted for almost one of every three homes (31.8%) sold during the fourth quarter, just a fraction below the record of 31.9% in fourth-quarter 2022, according to Redfin.



More than 34,000 homes sold in the top 50 master-planned communities in 2023, a 34% increase compared to 2022 – and more than the 31,000 homes in pre-pandemic sales in 2019.

Photo of Great Park in Irvine. Courtesy of the City of Irvine

Best-selling master-planned communities in California

Rank CommunityHome sales ’23Home sales ’22
5Ontario Ranch (Ontario)1,027644
19 Great Park (Irvine)628326
21Riverstone (Madera)613254
28River Islands (Lathrop)552NA

Source: Johns Burns Research and Consulting

The rich are buying homes with cash and avoiding higher mortgage rates. SHUTTERSTOCK

Cash, please: Higher mortgage rates and multimillion-dollar homes don’t mix

High-income home shoppers are shrugging off the highest mortgage rates in a quarter-century and doing what everyday folks can only think about – paying cash for multimillion-dollar homes.

Luxury home prices, considered the top 5% of homes on the market, are easily outpacing non-luxury home prices, the latest evidence that deep-pocketed households are enjoying their own kind of housing market. Almost one of every three homebuyers in California paid cash for their homes in 2023, and the figure is much higher for high-income buyers, according to ATTOM Data. Nationwide, almost half (46.5%) of luxury homebuyers paid cash in 2023.

Luxury home sales increased in six of eight cities in California during the third quarter, including double-digit percentage gains in Riverside, Sacramento and San Francisco (see table, below). Only Oakland and Los Angeles’ luxury home sales declined from a year ago, according to Redfin.  

December home sales – regardless of price – were down 7.1% compared to a year ago, and off 25% in 2023 from a year earlier, according to the California Association of Realtors

LUXURY HOME PRICES INCREASE MORE THAN THE OVERALL MARKET

While overall home prices improved 6.4% in December compared to a year ago, luxury home prices increased 6.7% based on an aggregate of eight cities, from San Diego to San Francisco. Four cities had luxury home price gains of 8% or more.

“More luxury listings will temper price growth as the year goes on,” says Redfin senior economist Sheharyar Bokhari. “Overall, that’s a good thing for the high-end market: Sellers will still fetch fair prices, buyers will have more to choose from and sales should tick up.” 



But luxury home listings increased in seven of the eight markets surveyed in California, including double-digit percentage gains in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

And luxury home prices are $3 million-plus in five of the eight markets in California – or more than three times the nationwide average of $1.17 million for luxury home prices, according to Redfin. Only New York City’s luxury home prices topped $3 million.

Q3 luxury home prices and sales vs. a year ago

CityMedian sale price% compared to a year agoSales compared to a year ago
Anaheim$4.05 million+9.1%+16.8%
Los Angeles$3.53 million+3.7%-1.4%
Oakland$2.76 million+7.8%-18.6%
Riverside$1.40 million+5.7%+17.6%
Sacramento$1.48 million+5.5%+14.2%
San Diego$3.24 million10.2%+1.7%
San Francisco$4.85 million+2.1%+15.6%
San Jose$4.56 million+9.5%+3.7%

Source: Redfin

A majority of homeowners have more equity than mortgage debt. Photo of Mission Viejo. ADOBE STOCK

Cha-ching. Many owners are equity-rich

Feeling rich? Well, if you own a home, chances are you are considered equity-rich – you have more equity than debt from the mortgage.

Almost three of every five homeowners (58.2%) with a mortgage were equity-rich during the third quarter, the second-highest percentage in the nation behind the 83% of owners in Vermont, where people buy and stay in their homes a long time. The current figure compares to 58.5% in the third quarter and 61.5% a year ago.

“There are increasing signs suggesting that the extended period of prosperity in the U.S. housing market may be showing signs of easing,” says Rob Barber, CEO for ATTOM. “It’s not as if there are big warning signs flashing. Similar things were happening early last year before the market surged in the spring. But the softening of equity follows a dip in resale profits last year for the first time in more than a decade as prices have stopped soaring through the roof.”

Few, if any, homeowners are crying over a 3% percentage point dip in equity. With the dramatic run-up in home prices since late spring 2020, homeowners are feeling good. 

CALIFORNIA CITIES DOMINATE EQUITY LIST

California had four of the five metro areas with the highest percentage of equity-rich homeowners in the nation, with San Jose leading the way at 69%, followed by San Diego at 64% (see table, below), according to ATTOM Data. Los Angeles and San Francisco also cracked the top five – and topped 60% of equity-rich homeowners.

Only Bakersfield at 43% was less than the national average of 46%, which has dipped the past couple of quarters – and from a year ago.



In California, where home shoppers easily exceed the number of homes for sale, home prices keep increasing – and making more owners equity-rich. However, many homeowners are hesitant to tap those dollars with mortgage rates at the highest level in more than two decades.

Of course, as home equity increases, the number of homeowners underwater in California remains near a historic low at 1.3%, half of the 2.6% nationwide. Underwater mortgages in San Diego and San Jose were at a paltry 0.4% and 0.6% during the third quarter, respectively.

More homeowners are equity-rich in California

City% equity-rich% underwater mortgages
California58.2%1.3%
Bakersfield42.9%1.7%
Fresno48.5%1.8%
Los Angeles63.5%1.1%
Riverside-San Bernardino51.9%1.3%
Sacramento49.6%1.5%
San Diego63.7%0.9%
San Francisco61.8%1.2%
San Jose69.1%0.6%

Source: ATTOM Data