Realtors gather to discuss ways to make the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant even better


By Karen Billing

A realtor’s roundtable was held on Tuesday, July 8, with local real estate experts who gathered at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club to pitch suggestions on how to make their “fabulous” community even better and get more buyers to choose to move to the Covenant.

The roundtable featured realtors Catherine, Jason and Laura Barry and Ryan McGovern from Barry Estates, Orva Harwood with Coldwell Banker and K. Ann Brizolis with Pacific Sotheby’s. Bill Gaylord, a local mortgage broker and past chairman of the Rancho Santa Fe Education Foundation moderated the discussion. The roundtable was organized by Alex Kaiser, vice president of Encore Leasing Group.

Gaylord said the group of “elite” realtors are great ambassadors for Rancho Santa Fe and have had their boots on the ground for many years. As much as anyone, he said they could reflect on how the Covenant can attract more buyers.

“It’s such a unique area that’s spectacular,” said Jason Barry. “The Covenant has an opportunity to address these issues and adapt to the future…the rural nature of the community is part of the allure and charm of Rancho Santa Fe, but we need to match the infrastructure with today’s technology.”

A recent independent analysis by First American Title compared home values in the Covenant to home values in The Bridges between 2004 and 2013, revealing a 16.7 percent decrease in home values in the Covenant over the same 10-year period in which The Bridges increased its home values by 12.9 percent.

Gaylord questioned why the realtors think people opt to buy outside the Covenant.

“There’s alternatives to the Covenant, it’s not the only game in town anymore. Thirty years ago it was either the Covenant or Fairbanks Ranch, but the outlying areas have allowed people to have choices,” Brizolis said.

Jason said other communities boast better technology — no slow Internet, no cell phone issues. As McGovern noted, people these days want to have all the conveniences of their office in their home as well.

“Improvements in technology would be a value add, as would a pool and health facility. There’s no question it would benefit the community,” Jason said.

The realtors believe that the pool and fitness center, which is currently being reviewed by an RSF Association committee, could become a “social hub” for the community. McGovern said he often speaks with buyers who feel like it’s intimidating to buy into the Covenant because they feel isolated, having a social hub may build a stronger sense of community — as was experienced at the recent July 4 parade.

Laura said offering a “five star resort” experience at the pool and health club could allow the Ranch to be more competitive.

Catherine said it’s often like there is one foot in the past—she said they need natural gas, cable, wi-fi and sewer systems to come in line. Both Catherine and Brizolis said that the pool is not a “magic bullet,” but it is a step in the right direction.

“It’s not that easy,” Brizolis said about the pool and fitness center. “ It’s the infrastructure (that needs to be improved).”

Another big issue the realtors said may be affecting buyers is the Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC) process, which they said can be “arbitrary.”

“It’s more difficult to get things through,” Catherine said.

“I think buyers are concerned about how restrictive it is,” Laura said.

Laura said they hear claims that a home built 20 years ago couldn’t be built today because it was “A different Art Jury” and that is a problem as the process should be more consistent.

“We’ve lost a lot of very expensive homes that would’ve been built because of the restrictions,” Brizolis said.

“The system is very frustrating,” Jason said, noting it should be more like a concierge experience at the RSF Association office, focused on helping residents to find a way to get what they want.

The Association board took steps earlier this year to make the process more “welcoming” by changing the name from Art Jury to the Covenant Design Review Committee.

In the 2013 Covenant-wide survey conducted by the Association, the Art Jury had a 69 percent satisfaction rating and some residents said it was “impossible” to remodel and that the Art Jury was “capricious” and had personal agendas. At the July 3 Association board meeting, the issue of the CDRC was raised during public comment by resident Terry Peay.

“There’s no clear objectivity,” Peay said. “I think there’s a need to develop clear, objective guidelines.”

When asked for comment, Candace Humber, the president of the CDRC, stated “We appreciate the opportunity to comment but we want to wait and see what is said in the article first so we can prepare a full response.”

RSF Building Commissioner Robert Green said, “We do have booklets, written guidelines and objective standards in a code and we are happy to share those. We are also open to comments from the community that help improve the process for everyone’s benefit.”

One of Brizolis’ suggestions is that the CDRC offer some kind of follow-up after homes have been built. She said in some cases — after 20 to 30 years — homes have fallen into disrepair and can become a bit of an eyesore.

Gaylord asked the realtors why people are selling their homes in the Covenant and for the most part the roundtable said it’s just for transitional reasons; Catherine said often people with large lots are looking to downsize due to water and maintenance costs. Harwood said that many residents who sell are looking to buy again within the Covenant.

“You’re living here, you’re living in paradise,” Harwood said.