For decades, the lure of year-round sunshine, the posh Beverly Hills lifestyle and the siren call of the Pacific Coast’s scenery has drawn second home buyers and property investors from across the country as well as California’s own urban dwellers. However, real estate power player Cecilia Ponce de Leon thrives on a change of seasons when it comes to a sanctuary away from the sprawl and the stress owners can call their own–or rent out as a premium AirBnB.
As co-owner of CAPRE Realty, Ponce de Leon has also observed a shift in buyers’ tastes, leaning toward the kind of four-seasons variety that is more likely to be found in the real estate market of Southern California’s Mountain Communities, stretching from Crestline to Big Bear, CA (including Lake Arrowhead). She’ll even go out on a limb (figuratively speaking) to call the mountain real estate gold rush a “phenomenon akin to Orange County and Beverly Hills.”
“Low inventory combined with uber-low interest rates and in-demand, mountain destinations are creating a trifecta of interest in the $500K – $3M+ range,” she affirms, before diving into a few fun facts about the area’s swelling popularity.
“Many professionals from the entertainment and creative industries, in music, acting and production, are full or part-time residents. There’s a rich history of Arrowhead’s being the escape for many celebrities to come and stay or play. These include, but not limited to daytime star and singer Gloria Loring, who with her ex-husband Alan Thicke composed the theme songs to Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. Others that have lake side homes here or have lived in the mountain communities, then and now, include Barry Manilow, David Arquette, and Brian Wilson. You might even bump into Tony Bennett at a local coffee shop!”
Stargazing notwithstanding (and you can actually do the real thing out here, thanks to its wide open skies and lower light and air pollution levels), Ponce de Leone’s clients are keeping their eyes on what will make the perfect investment, be it for AirBnB rental income, a regular place to bring the family, or even a permanent dwelling where they can work from home in peace and with peace of mind.
“Another key to the Lake Arrowhead mountain towns is that it is a region with four distinct seasons. During the winter you can enjoy the snow and all the winter activities it entails. You have the spring with beautiful colored blooms and in the summer you have the lake where you can go for a swim, or go fishing, hiking, sailing, water skiing or camping. Beach cities can get very crowded at certain times of the year while Palm Springs can get too hot for some they may need to get away from heat.”
Also, Ponce De Leon is seeing a diverse demographic mix while she, herself a Hispanic, is championing the growth of the Latin, Asian, and LGBTQ communities. She’s excited to extol the benefits of the mountain lifestyle and is uniquely positioned to welcome more diverse clients to share in the joy of owning a home in this paradise.
With so much at stake for the buyers as the national housing market became infinitely more competitive during the pandemic and post-pandemic months, real estate buyers can confidently invest with an assist from Ponce de Leone as she herself is and has been invested in the mountain communities’ growth for years both under her CAPRE umbrella, as a local homeowner, and her own insights from a long and storied career.
Q: Give us an overview of what makes this specific grouping of mountain towns advantageous for buyers at this point in time, not only when compared to beachfront areas but also mountain communities in other states?
Cecilia Ponce De Leon: The Lake Arrowhead area consists of six communities, including Lake Arrowhead, Twin Peaks, Blue Jay, Cedar Glen, Skyforest, and Rimforest. The population of the city of Lake Arrowhead alone is estimated at approximately 13,000 and during the summer population jumps to approximately 30,000. Since COVID, real estate sales have increased which in turn has fueled a sense of optimism prompting people to build businesses here. This also increases student enrollment which is needed for the local schools.
Q: Why do you think Lake Gregory will become a new focal point for serious second home buyers?
CPL: When I first came up here (Lake Gregory), it took me about two months to understand the possibilities that were available to prospective buyers. We (determined that) to draw buyers (wanting a less developed alternative to Lake Arrowhead) we need to introduce the beauty of the outskirts area and help improve small sections such as adding a farmers market, new shops and local events. I truly believe that with all the new homeowners we will see new businesses in all areas of Lake Arrowhead.
It’s beautiful to see the evolution of Lake Gregory and Lake Arrowhead taking place in a positive way. Lake Arrowhead and its nearby communities make up an amazing paradise only an hour from L.A. And even for those who are not big on Winter sports, there is this great opportunity to embrace nature, through hiking, walking, fishing, outdoor yoga and more. Beyond Lake Arrowhead, you have smaller towns on the outskirts like Cedar Glen and Lake Gregory, 15 minutes down the hill and closer to LA for people coming up.
Q: Is there a distinct lifestyle that defines the area, just as certain building styles define mountain towns in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Northern Arizona?
CPL: The home buyer will find everything architecture-wise from English Manor to Modern architecture, and from ski- and camping-lodge luxe to A-Frames and more. And many of these homes either have everything or can have anything the owner wants installed: Heated driveways, mountain view laundry rooms, outdoor living areas with fire/water installations, expansive picture windows with panoramic lake and mountain forest views, elaborate tri-level decks, gourmet kitchens, and dramatic fireplaces just for starters. They can opt for homes with use-of-lake rights or a place in a private, gated community. The retail and service businesses nearby are tailored for the local homeowners, and include family-run gourmet grocery stores, a sprinkling of higher end retail chain stores, antique shops, boutiques stocking things made by local artisans and both ethnic and gourmet restaurants. There is also a quaint Alpine Village shopping center, as well as an excellent school district that makes the Lake Arrowhead area a hidden gem for those considering a more permanent or long-term move out of the big city.
Q: What are some of the more unusual properties worth a second look, and why?
CPL: In addition to innovative Mid-Century inspired structures and lodge-influenced homes, there is a magnificent home called “Candyland” that was featured in the Lake Arrowhead home tour for 2019 that got all kinds of press and accolades. Overall, what makes this area so interesting is that there are so many different architectural home styles, from cottages to Tudor style homes, to mid-century Modern, 70s style homes and even old fashioned European castles! We have one that looks like a castle from the outside where it has a bridge to go into the home, and a gorgeous European-style cottage with a 180 view of the lake. You walk down the steps to the dock and they have their own little island because they’re located in the peninsula of a place called “Palisades.”
Q. When did the area’s new real estate “gold rush” begin to take shape?
CPL: Beginning July 2020, it suddenly became busier (in Lake Arrowhead). I had a premonition that it was going to be a busy season even with COVID. Performing a little research and interviewing clients, it appears they needed to get away from a crowded city and escape the ambulance noise, police noise and possibility of crime. However, now that many of my clients have become used to working from home–and some prefer it–they are demanding and making more space and bigger investments in their home offices.
(The buyers told me that) when they came up here, only about an hour away from L.A., they found they had peace, serenity and nature. While they could enjoy hikes and other outdoor activities, they also found that working “at home,” helped their productivity because now they were not distracted with all of the city noise.
Q: What’s your role and your fellow agents’ roles in this transition?
CPL: In terms of building our businesses and making this a full-blown community, we are currently hiring more real estate agents and encouraging them to get involved in the Chamber of Commerce, local foundations and organizations. My firm, CAPRE, has built a reputation for community service and doing activities beyond the business of selling property to make the communities we deal with a better place to live. When you do good for a community, it will welcome you back every time.
Q: How important is social responsibility in how you work as an agent and run your business? How do you relay those ideas and values to colleagues and those you mentor?
CPL: It’s important to me to make sure that my community stays safe. And the only way you as a homeowner can make a community safe is by providing help for those who need help with housing, because if you don’t, you neglect them, they become violent and envious, and it doesn’t help anybody. But when you help others, help your community with homelessness that is here, which is not much, it’s important that you control that. And you can do that with fundraising and volunteering. This mindset helped me and those working for my firm. I teach my agents to give back, and by doing this, it is going to help our community thrive in the long run.
Beyond that, we cannot lose sight of the fact that there’s a home shortage. We have renters looking to rent, so I buy duplexes with units that are earmarked as rentals. While it is a great investment, it is also nice to know that through our efforts, we are providing a home for many who need one up in the mountains. However, there are not enough homes for the people who need to rent right now.
Q: What are the ways you’ve observed local homeowners taking personal responsibility for their communities and the environment?
CPL: Local residents seem conscientious, and being involved in their Lake associations ensure certain things remain clean and well-protected. It’s nice to see that local residents care not just for themselves and their families, but also the local plants and wildlife. Everyone is working together to keep this place gorgeous.
Q: Even with the increasingly demanding schedule, you made time for organizations like the Association of Latino Business Women in Orange County and Los Angeles. What have you done recently with business networking to squire the next generation of agents and professionals?
CPL: I had an opportunity to work in the Inland Empire, and realized it would be a great idea to open a chapter here in the IE. I mentioned this to the board of directors in Los Angeles and they decided to run with the idea. I ran for the position and became founder and President for the Inland Empire Chapter. In 2016 we began with our Board of Directors and initiated a non-profit which grew from 10 to 250 volunteers in two years. It is rewarding to witness women business owners succeed when we work and support each other.
Q: What other charities do you find time for?
CPL: I have served as co-president of VIP Latina Business Council, and have sat on several non-profit organization’s Board of Directors. I have chaired fundraising for the Mountains Community Hospital, Rim of the World School District’s Educational Foundation and more. As an event producer, I helped create the area’s top events like this summer’s upcoming “Staying Alive Disco Ball,” benefitting local businesses and nonprofits.