Malibu condo market hardly budges during 2012

Statistically speaking, the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 were virtual triplets in the Malibu condo sales marketplace.

The sales and price results were almost the same each year, a curious run of stability and consistency.

More immediately, it means the year just passed was neither much better nor worse than the year before. While the single family home market in Malibu showed unambiguous improvement, the condo market hardly budged.

For all three years, the number of sales was in the 60 to 66 unit range. For each year, the average sale price was between $715,000-$790,000.

It appears the underlying economy and financial challenges within the populace are affecting the two Malibu markets of condos and homes differently. Condos are not seen as a worthwhile investment, though they are much more affordable. And for users, those that want to live in their Malibu condo rather than rent it, lending hurdles still make condos difficult to buy. The under-million-dollar Malibu buyer more likely needs to borrow money than the wealthier buyer, and strict lending obstacles are a factor. 

Meanwhile, the over-million-dollar buyer seems to be sitting on more cash and an otherwise stronger buying capacity. Only four homes for sale in the 90265 ZIP code remain available for less than $1 million at this writing, compared with eight in escrow. The market for homes, which is almost entirely more than $1 million now, has a more qualified buying force. Investing in a single family home in Malibu, particularly for personal use, has apparently been a more appealing endeavor than investing in condos.

That may change and the condo market may catch up. However, 2012 was not the year for such developments. The number of units sold, 61, was just one better than in 2011 throughout Malibu in the 90265 ZIP code. In 2010, there were 65 sales.

The median average of a sale last year was up to $665,000 from a meek $518,000 the year before. But the average sale price in 2012 was down to $715,000, whereas it had been $790,000 in 2011. It is unusual for the median price to go up so much while the average sale price was dropping, but there may be a positive explanation for why that happened in 2012: The heart of the market was getting healthier. 2011 was characterized by ever-falling prices within most Malibu complexes. Twenty-eight closed escrows were less than $500,000. But while more sales weighted to the lower end, there were also 16 sales of more than $1 million that year, including four that surpassed $2 million. Those larger sales made for a higher overall average. For 2012, meanwhile, with $1 million sales at only eight, the median was boosted by far more robust sales in the more typical $600,000- $900,000 range where most condos are valued, locally.

(2010 was a blend of future 2011 and 2012 results. There had been 12 sales of condos over $1 million that year. With 65 sales during 2010, the median value was $570,000 and the average sale price was $788,000.) 

Thus, in 2012, the median was the best of the past three years, while the average sale price was the lowest, a statistical incongruity that represents contrary forces within the marketplace.

Individual complexes around town reveal the disparate trends.

The Malibu Villas, in the heart of Malibu geographically and a large complex of more than 100 units that is often a bell weather for the rest of Malibu, has had a revival of sales. In 2006, the average sale price in the Villas was $850,000, based on 11 sales. By 2008, not a single unit in the complex sold. During 2011, things picked up and eight deals produced a $382,000 average sale price. In 2012: 10 sales, averaging $448,000.

Then again, the two lowest-priced complexes, the Malibu Canyon Village and the Malibu Gardens, accounted for only six transactions among their combined 160 units in existence.

The middle market of Malibu condos, however, had more robust results. Two deals in Vista Pacifica, adjacent to Webster Elementary School, had two sales, the most since 2006. Tivoli Cove had seven sales compared to four in 2011. Three sales along Heathercliff compared to none the year before. There were four deals in Zuma Bay Villas, but only one in 2011. Two transactions in the newer Lunita townhouses beat out zero from the year before. Thus, a modest pick up in activity among the larger, pricier condos off the beach was encouraging.