While developers constructed thousands of tract houses in Stanislaus County subdivisions during last decade's real estate boom, high-end builders quietly sprinkled custom-designed luxury homes in exclusive enclaves.
Those gigantic modern mansions some four times the size of a common house are packed with elegant, handcrafted features, top-quality materials and to-die-for decorative touches.
They cost millions to build and years to finish. Shortly after many of them were completed, the housing market collapsed.
Like smaller houses throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley, the resale value of those mansions plummeted. But unlike more regular-size homes, relatively few mansions fell to foreclosure. Most of their well-heeled owners were able to weather the economic storm.
Now that Stanislaus' housing market has begun to recover, there's a flurry of listings for million-dollar-plus mansions for sale. At least 12 giant luxury homes are being marketed for $1.1 million to $4.4 million in the county, and real estate agents insist they're attracting interest from serious buyers.
If true, that would be a pleasant switch from last year, when virtually no mansions sold. A search of property sales records by The Bee turned up fewer than a dozen luxury home sales for $1 million or more the past three years.
"Nobody was buying these homes two years ago," said Ron Dale, a PMZ Real Estate agent who recently listed a $2.5 million home for sale in northwest Modesto's exclusive Fleur De Ville gated community. "All of a sudden, we're showing these homes now. We have some real interest in this house."
That home, built in 2004 on Jacinthe Court, has about 8,000 square feet of living space including two kitchens and an entire ground floor covered in marble.
"A tremendous amount of time and money was spent on this home," Dale said. "You'd have a hard time replacing it for this price."
It's not even the biggest home in the neighborhood for sale. Nearby, a house on Paquerette Circle has nearly 9,000 square feet and a list price of $1,795,000. That seven-bedroom, nine-bathroom, two-story home on a large cul-de-sac lot was built in 2005.
Those are two of the biggest houses on the market, but they are not the grandest. Finding that requires a ride to rural Knights Ferry, where three mansions are for sale on Schell Road.
"These are nice 40-acre parcels with phenomenal views of the foothills," said Tom Van Artsdalen, a PMZ agent who is marketing a $3,477,500 estate on Schell Road. Its nearly 6,000-square-foot main house was built in 2008 next to a smaller two-bedroom guesthouse.
"It's a resortlike property with a beautiful setting to enjoy," said Van Artsdalen, noting how the expansive acreage accommodates a riding arena, barn, a three-acre pond, five-acre cherry orchard and many other fruit trees. "We're selling a lifestyle out here. They're just not making land and views like this anymore."
There are world-class views in that region of northeast Stanislaus, Josh Haston believes. That's why he is internationally marketing the $4.4 million home just down way on Schell Road, which was built in 2006.
Naming that estate Casa Estrella, the "home beneath the stars," Haston hopes to lure a discerning buyer from abroad or perhaps someone from one of America's ritzy communities. Haston, an agent for Sotheby's International Realty, says he is scheduled to show the home soon to interested couples from New York and Malibu.
The 6,200-square-foot, single-story home is atop a bluff and has a 360-degree view, stone floors, hand-hewn ceiling timbers, solid rock fireplace hearth, hand-distressed cabinetry, 4-inch-thick granite slab counters and custom-made light fixtures.
Haston said the landscaping alone cost $1 million, and the estate includes an infinity-edge pool, jogging trail, fitness room, game room, media room and bar. He said the home's artwork was designed specially to compliment the décor.
"Buyers for these type of upper-echelon homes recognize quality," Haston said.
Buyers might recognize it, but home appraisers don't always acknowledge the value of such features when establishing its worth.
"We've really had a tough time in this market with appraisals," said Christine Jansson, an agent for Rand Commercial Properties who is marketing a $1,850,000 home built in 2007 on Corte De Las Palmas near Modesto's Del Rio Country Club.
Jansson said because so few high-end homes have sold in recent years, it has been hard to find comparable sales to justify home prices above $1 million.
That means that even if a buyer agrees that a mansion is worth the asking price, the home may not appraise for that much, so mortgage lenders may nix the deal.
Real estate agents hope some of these big houses sell soon so they can get the "comps" needed to sell more of these luxury estates.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.