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The mid-1980s were not banner years for residential real estate development in the Salt Lake Valley. Relatively high interest rates and a flat local economy meant lukewarm home sales. Mortgage lenders reflected longingly on the good old days of the razzle-dazzle '70s while contractors looked for other ways to make a living.

But Todd and Sylvia Eagar, owner/brokers of real estate agency Eagar & Co., had for years specialized in "high end" housing and they knew that small but lucrative segment had been little affected by the sluggish overall market.Thus when 15 acres of tree-covered land at 1850 E. 6250 South, part of Bill Neff's Mount Olympus Nursery, became available, they didn't hesitate.

The result was Tall Oaks, a planned unit development (PUD) of very upscale homes - prices begin at $244,500 but some are valued in seven-figure range - in a setting that has few rivals this side of Beverly Hills: a man-made system of creeks and ponds, an "island" swimming pool and spa, a putting green, security gates, tennis courts and a lavish landscaping scheme.

Now, Tall Oaks is entering its fourth and final phase of development, said Mrs. Eagar, president of Tall Oaks. When completed, there will be a total of 30 homes on the 15 acres, a rarely seen density of only two residences per acre. Only six of the home sites are still available to buyers.

Tall Oaks residences run from 2,000 square feet upto 6,700 square feet and can include a wide variety of custom amenities. Within reason, whatever buyers want, they get.

"That's what makes Tall Oaks unique," said Mrs. Eagar. "There's no other project like this in Utah. You see this kind of development in California and Arizona, but it just hasn't been done here. Out-of-state buyers know what this is and are amazed they can find it here at these prices."

Despite the appeal to out-of-state buyers, she said, about half of Tall Oaks residents have local roots, including the Eagars themselves who completed their own Tall Oaks residence four years ago.

One of the main appeals of Tall Oaks, she said, is that the residences all look pretty much the same from the outside while imaginations are allowed to soar on the interiors. Mrs. Eagar puts it this way: "You can't say this one or that one has a million-dollar look from the outside, but on the inside . . ."

Typical Tall Oaks buyers, she said, have come from large and expensive homes. Their children are raised, they no longer need five bedrooms and they don't want to climb stairs, but they still want the luxuries they had before - and maybe a few more. For these people, the complex is ideal, said Mrs. Eagar.

Her plan for Tall Oaks, she said, has been to combine the best attributes of condominium living - security, low maintenance, on-site manager - with those of single-family homes - privacy, space, individuality, custom construction.

"These are individual homes, not connected in any way," she said. "And we don't build them unless they have been purchased, so we have a great deal of input from the owners before and during construction."

Buyers work closely with Tall Oaks architect Kevin Watts, she said, to create remarkable individuality within the basic exterior design. Specialty items requested by owners include indoor lap pools, private outdoor pools, separate guest quarters, dormitories for grandchildren, exercise rooms, greenhouses, private gardens, basements and wine cellars.