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China-Based Builder Gets 96 Acres in Lake Forest

A China-based homebuilder looking to diversify its operations into the U.S. has bought a big development site in Lake Forest.

The U.S. division of Landsea Group, headquartered in Irvine, last week closed on the purchase of Portola Center South, a 96-acre development site that will hold a 626-home community, according to multiple real estate sources.

Terms of the deal weren’t immediately disclosed. Other residential lots in the vicinity have been trading hands in the $300,000 range, depending on product type, according to sources familiar with the deal.

A sale at a similar per-lot price would place the value of the Portola Center South deal at nearly $190 million.

It’s believed to be the largest investment in the region for Landsea, which reports say builds about 12,000 houses a year in mainland China. It also has operations in Hong Kong and Germany.

The sale is the first big residential land deal in Orange County in recent years known to involve a China-backed buyer. Chinese investors have bought offices, hotels and mixed-use development sites in other recent real estate deals in the area.

Last year Landsea announced plans to invest $1 billion in the U.S. housing market starting with projects in California and New York. Deals since announced in California include projects in Simi Valley and the city of Dublin in Northern California.

The land that Landsea bought in Lake Forest is near the intersection of El Toro Road and the Foothill Transportation Corridor (241) toll road.

Grading work began at the site in June. It’s likely at least a year away from home sales.

Landsea will build most of the homes under its own name but could sell some portions of the project to other builders, according to sources.

Portola Center South was sold by SunRanch Capital Partners, a venture between Newport Beach-based Baldwin and Sons and Sunrise Co. in Palm Desert.

The land had been marketed for sale by Mike Hunter and Allison Rawlins Tift, brokers with the Irvine office of brokerage Land Advisors Organization.

The sale doesn’t include The Oaks at Portola Hills, a nearby housing project of Baldwin & Sons that’s further along in its development.

The sale comes nearly two months after SunRanch Capital Partners announced a $100 million financing deal for the Portola Center South property in a deal arranged by Newport Beach-based Landmark Capital Advisors.

SunRanch said at the time that the funding would be used to refinance an existing loan and provide land development funds. The developers also said then that they planned to begin selling lots to home builders at the project by early 2016.

The site holds five planning areas and will consist of 569 for-sale units and 57 affordable units.

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Mark Mueller
Mark Mueller
Mark is the Editor-in-Chief of the Orange County Business Journal, one of the premier regional business newspapers in the country. He’s the fifth person to hold the editor’s position in the paper’s long history. He oversees a staff of about 15 people. The OCBJ is considered a must-read for area business executives. The print edition of the paper is the primary source of local news for most of the Business Journal’s subscribers, which includes most of OC’s major corporate and community players. Mark’s been with the paper since 2005, and long served as the real estate reporter for the paper, breaking hundreds of commercial and residential real estate stories. He took on the editor’s position in 2018.
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