California Estate Sale
The most expensive real estate in the U.S. is still in Southern California. But a drop in prices also has made it a great place to find value.By Roger Grody
Southern California never goes out of style for luxury buyers. Even during recessions, the market is fueled by a local economy that dwarfs all but a few industrialized nations and consistent global demand. Its most coveted communities vary from legendary enclaves for the rich and famous to idyllic settlements hugging a coastline that inspires comparisons to the Côte d’Azur.
Ninety minutes north of Los Angeles in Santa Barbara County is Montecito, an exclusive town where Tuscan-style villas enjoy spectacular Pacific views. Randy Solakian of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Santa Barbara reports that challenging market conditions provide outstanding opportunities for buyers. “Sellers have become astute and aware, understanding the rules of this new world, and homes are priced accordingly,” he says. But lower prices and expansive inventory—at press time, 171 properties in the area were priced at more than $3 million—have not diminished the coast’s trademark extravagance. About 20 percent of those listings top $10 million, and Solakian currently offers an oceanfront property in neighboring Carpinteria for $29.95 million (pictured above left).
In Ventura County, on the northern edge of metro L.A., oceanfront homes sell at a discount compared to California’s more famous coastal markets. Inland, $10 million estates are not uncommon in suburban Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village, while rustic Ojai is favored by the movie industry. Fred Evans of RE/MAX Gold Coast says that prices have dropped 20 percent from their peak and anticipates further softening of the luxury market. “But you can’t time the market perfectly,” he warns, adding, “Premier properties don’t become available too often…with historically low interest rates, you might as well buy now.”
No coastal community in Southern California has more cachet than Malibu, where A-list movie stars, Fortune 500 CEOs and superstar athletes enjoy dramatic vistas of the Pacific from flashy glass-ensconced homes. But even Malibu is not immune to global economic forces, and at press time there were more than 70 beachfront properties for sale, beginning at less than $2 million. More than half of those exceed $10 million, with the top price hitting $65 million. “There has been an adjustment in the market, but we’ve seen an increase in activity in recent weeks,” reports Ellen Francisco of
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, who suggests the combination of ample inventory and motivated sellers makes this a great time to buy.
Just a few miles from the coast is L.A.’s hillside neighborhood of Bel Air, the epitome of gated opulence that has been home to everybody from Elizabeth Taylor to the Reagans. At press time, there were 26 properties listed in Bel Air and adjoining Holmby Hills at $10 million or more, including the 56,500-square-foot mansion of [late television producer] Aaron Spelling at $150 million, and the Versailles-inspired Fleur de Lys at $125 million. Sally Forster Jones with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage indicates significant interest in all exclusive Bel-Air properties by both local and international prospects.
A sliver of land in San Diego Bay, charming Coronado Island is in great demand by affluent professionals with careers in the city and second-home buyers from Arizona, Nevada and Texas. Scott Aurich of Sun Isle Realty describes a relatively soft market, but prices in the luxury range ($3.5 million-plus) have suffered no more than 10 percent from market heights (more resilient than La Jolla, another prestigious San Diego luxury community). “Although sales are not necessarily accelerating, people are inquiring more and seem increasingly confident that we’re close to the bottom,” says Aurich, whose outlook reflects a quintessentially Californian brand of optimism. (One of Aurich’s listings, a $12.5 million estate on Coronado Island, is shown above right.)