Sand Wedges & Tuscan Villas
By Roger Grody
Just outside of L.A., the Palos Verdes Peninsula features a luxury lifestyle framed by fairways and sea.
There may be flashier luxury markets in Southern California, but the Palos Verdes Peninsula offers a quiet, idyllic quality of life uninterrupted by paparazzi. Four small municipalities — Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates — comprise this corner of Greater Los Angeles, where the jagged coast actually makes it possible to see the sun rise and fall over the Pacific Ocean.
Palos Verdes Estates, home to Palos Verdes Golf Club, was masterplanned by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., whose legendary father counted Manhattan’s Central Park and the U.S. Capitol grounds among his achievements. Because of its location, the Peninsula attracts fewer people from the entertainment industry, but it hardly lacks wealth, according to Gerard Bisignano of Sotheby’s International Realty. “There’s a lot of money here, but it’s not flashy money like Malibu, and kids tend to hold onto their innocence longer than in other affluent communities,” he explains. Keller Williams Realty’s Linda D’Ambrosi says the outstanding schools are a major draw for families who appreciate a more conservative, slower-paced environment. “The peninsula is a hidden secret, and buyers here are purchasing a lifestyle, not just a home,” says D’Ambrosi, a longtime resident herself.
Bisignano reports that many families attracted by the schools and lifestyle move from the nearby communities of Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo Beaches, particularly to the Valmonte and Lunada Bay neighborhoods of Palos Verdes Estates, both offering good value. “They tend to raise their kids here, and then some empty nesters return to the beach cities, downsizing after the children are grown,” explains Bisignano, who is active in both markets.
Virtually the entire peninsula, with the exception of a small portion of Rancho Palos Verdes, is a luxury market with single-family home prices beginning at about $1.2 million for older houses requiring some work. For a coveted bluff-side home with spectacular ocean views, an investment of at least $3 million is generally required. Each of the four communities has its share of ultra-luxe properties, but the most exclusive is the city of Rolling Hills, a gated equestrian community with just 650 homes and a 1-acre minimum lot size. The greatest selection of high-end bluff-top properties, however, is found in Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes.
According to Gerard Bisignano’s mid-year market analysis, sales volume in the first half of 2011 was up 4 percent from the same period in 2010, but prices have risen a healthy 8 percent, boosting the average sales price from $1.404 million to $1.513 million. “It’s very encouraging,” he says, adding, “We’ve seen a lot more high-end sales this year.” Already, there has been a $10 million sale on the peninsula, the highest price in five years.
Raju Chhabria of Shorewood Realtors reports that prices for homes in the $5 million-plus range have not suffered, and cites a recent sale price of $7.6 million on the very same property he sold three years ago at $7 million. He also notes there were more sales in that ultra-luxury category in the second quarter of 2011 than during the entire 2010 calendar year. Chhabria currently has the listing for the peninsula’s priciest property, an 11,346-square-foot estate offered at $14.9 million. “The cost of reproducing these homes, which are in limited supply, takes a lot of money and time,” he maintains, adding, “As a result, they’ve held their value and in some cases appreciated.” According to Chhabria, however, homes selling for less than $3 million (a price point that typically yields 4,000 square feet and excellent views) have slipped in value about 25 percent from their heights in 2007.
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Gayle Probst is encouraged by current market conditions, reporting, “I’m seeing many houses, that when priced correctly, are flying out the door with multiple offers,” and agrees with her peers that very high-end properties tend to be outperforming the lower spectrum of the luxury market. Probst believes the peninsula’s appeal is bolstered by a remarkable diversity of living conditions, which accommodates buyers with very specific preferences regarding views, lot sizes or even microclimates. Not only does she believe Palos Verdes sells at a discount to other coastal markets in Southern California, but suggests there are some exceptional values currently available.
Linda D’Ambrosi represents exclusive properties at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, the premier course in the area. Sitting on an ocean-view bluff adjacent to the links are a limited number of lavish estates and D’Ambrosi currently lists a pair of these 6,000-plus-square-foot homes, each priced at $4.4 million. She insists that comparable properties on the Newport Coast or in Malibu would command $8 million. D’Ambrosi is also listing a one-of-a-kind, 11,000-square-foot estate at Trump National, offered at $12 million.
Rancho Palos Verde’s 102-acre Terranea Resort features a 582-room luxury hotel, an acclaimed nine-hole golf course comprised of championship par-3 holes, and custom homes enjoying awesome ocean views. A collection of 82 villas and casitas, ranging in price from $1.295 million to $2.8 million, are integrated into the resort site. Because of California Coastal Commission regulations, however, the owners are limited to 60 to 90 days of occupancy per year. As a result, these properties make ideal vacation homes — which can generate rental income the remainder of the year — and owners are entitled to full resort privileges even when they are not in residence. When these properties initially went on the market in 2008, 47 were reserved in a matter of hours, reports Ted Lennon, director of sales and marketing for Terranea. “Our buyers tend to be very entrepreneurial and are leaders in their respective fields,” he says, noting that privacy and pampering service from the resort staff contribute to the desirability of Terranea. Lily Liang of Sotheby’s International Realty is the Chinese representative for these properties and believes the restrictions on occupancy make them ideal for foreign buyers, particularly businesspeople.
With the exception of Terranea, the Palos Verdes Peninsula is almost exclusively a primary residence market with a strong Southern California base. But diversity among buyers is on the rise says Bisignano, who is observing strong interest from Asia and Russia, as well as an uptick in Canadians. For her Trump estates, D’Ambrosi is fielding inquiries from both Europeans — Palo Verdes reminds them of the Amalfi Coast, she says — and Asians, noting that the Trump brand is much admired in Asia. “They’re investing here instead of Beverly Hills because they get more for their money and perceive the Palos Verdes Peninsula as a safe investment,” she suggests.
Liang sees buyers from China expressing increased interest in the peninsula, as well as Chinese-Americans who originally settled in Pasadena or San Marino where they were comforted by a larger ethnic community. “The qualities that make this area most attractive to them are the educational excellence, public safety [low crime rate], clean air — people from Beijing and Shanghai really appreciate that — and the proximity to Los Angeles International Airport,” she explains. Summing up his own passion for the area, Shorewood’s Chhabria declares, “I’ve traveled all over the world, and in terms of quality of life, there’s no place like Palos Verdes!”
PALOS VERDES LIFESTYLE
Luxury Living: At press time, there were 251 single-family homes listed for $1 million or more and 21 houses priced at $5 million, with the highest priced property on the peninsula offered at $14.9 million.
Manicured Fairways: The premier course on the peninsula is Trump National Golf Club, whose Pete Dye-designed course (7,242 yards from the black tees) features extraordinary ocean views from virtually every hole.
Fine Dining: For special occasions, locals head to mar’sel at the Terranea Resort for memorable views and artfully plated California cuisine, and to La Rive Gauche for French cooking.
Mother Nature: Point Vicente Park in Rancho Palos Verdes is an ideal spot to catch a glimpse of migrating whales on their way to or from Mexico.
Championship Residents: Malibu draws movie stars, but Palos Verdes has a history of attracting world-class athletes, from Olympic skater Michelle Kwan to NFL great Joe Montana to Los Angeles Laker Pau Gasol.