Cecilia Ponce de León: the other side of the (real estate) mountain
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 León 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, Calif. (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 über-low interest rates and in-demand, mountain destinations are creating a trifecta of interest in the $500,000–$3 million-plus 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 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 lakeside 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 León’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. Her depth of knowledge on the second home market can also shed some light on what to look for should you be considering an investment in a second home.
Lucire Rouge: Is there a distinct lifestyle that defines Lake Arrowhead, just as certain building styles define mountain towns in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Northern Arizona?
Cecilia Ponce de Leon: 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 centre, 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.
What are some of the more unusual properties in the area worth a second look, and why?
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[-degree] 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.
When did the area’s new real estate “gold rush” begin to take shape?
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 LA, 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.
What’s your role and your fellow agents’ roles in this transition?
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, 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.
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?
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 place to stay for many who are searching for homes up in the mountains, especially as there are not enough rentals at the moment.
What are the ways you’ve observed local homeowners taking personal responsibility for their communities and the environment?
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.
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?
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.
What other charities do you find time for?
I have served as co-president of VIP Latina Business Council, and have sat on several non-profit organizations’ boards 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, benefiting local businesses and nonprofits.