The Malibu Real Estate Report: Notes from around town

The cries of Realtors seem to grow louder each summer: “Malibu real estate is dead in July and August.”

Vacations and escapes from the beach crowds and traffic take on greater leverage each year, bringing bustling spring activity to a stall during summer months once thought to be the seasonal best. The feeling has been brewing for years.

March through June, indeed, was pretty inspiring in Malibu this year. At least the drop-off, compared to recent years that transitioned from “quiet” to “dead,” is more like a fade from “busy” to “plodding” in 2012. According to the local Multiple Listing Service, 89 homes closed escrow in Malibu from March through June, about 5.23 per week. Since June, the pace has slowed to 3.42 homes sold per week (which is still better than the 3.22 weekly sales in 2011).

Nevertheless, pockets of activity in various neighborhoods and condominium complexes give hints of general trends in the Malibu marketplace. While space does not allow for a review of every area, these environs in Malibu each tell a little story:

The Malibu Villas - Malibu’s most besieged condo complex is coming to life, albeit at once-unimaginable prices. The Villas, generally three-bedroom condos with about 1300 square feet across from Paradise Cove, had four total sales in all of 2007-2009 as septic and lawsuit matters pushed the monthly HOA dues to the $900 level. The distinction of a high sale in 2006 of about $1.1 million gave way to a low sale in 2010 of $350,000. After 15 sales in a row below $500,000, that barrier was finally topped recently.

Malibu West and Sea View Estates - Malibu’s two “affordable” tract neighborhoods, on modest lots, have both seen sales under $1 million. If the market gained traction, it may be such prices will never be seen again. Malibu West is well up the coast at Trancas Canyon, and Sea View Estates is well up the hills of Las Flores Canyon. Two homes recently closed in Malibu West under $1 million, and four homes over the last year in Sea View Estates have sold, or are in escrow currently, below that threshold. Otherwise, general average price for both neighborhoods is more like about $1.2 million.

Malibu Canyon Village and Malibu Gardens - Malibu’s two most affordable condo complexes, each featuring two-bedroom condos with generally 900 square feet and often used as rentals, represent the bottom line on the Malibu housing scale. That line has been inching upward. Combined, the two complexes saw 12 sales during 2010-2011 at $350,000 or less. Both have been very slow in sales, with only one deal in 2012 at $370,000. Still, all asking prices are more in the $400,000 vicinity.

Rambla Pacifico - For 30 years, the road to lower Rambla Pacifico has been cut off from the world by the land slide that would never get fixed. Well, it finally got fixed and it has been a boon for the lower Rambla area. Two homes have sold for more than $3 million, and surely much credit is due to the easier access to PCH. No longer do many residents drive an extra six-minute, circuitous route via the sister canyon road, Las Flores.

La Costa Beach and Malibu Road - The good news is that sales have picked up on the beach. These two “average” priced beaches had five total sales last year. This year, already, there have been 10. The bad news is that prices have been stagnant. There have been few big sales, as all 10 have been below $8 million. By contrast, there were five sales of $8 million or more (all on Malibu Road), last year. The bigger price tag on the beach has been struggling.

Carbon Beach - Only one sale has taken place so far in 2012 on Malibu’s most expensive stretch of sand, aka “Billionaire’s Beach,” and it went for “only” $10 million. The last time a home there sold for so little was 2008. (Things can change quickly on the sand, however, and if a rumored sale for more than $30 million plays out, there will be a new update.)

Tivoli Cove condos - The beach enclave has had a robust year with six sales so far, but other than a deluxe unit selling for $900,000, all other sales have been for under $600,000.

Point Dume - Excluding the elite properties on the bluffs, Point Dume sales are at a moderate pace and the muscle in the market seems to be there. Whereas nine homes sold on Point Dume during 2010-2011 for under $2 million, that phenomenon may be ending (only two this year). One property sold for over $5 million during 2010-2011, and already two sales this year have eclipsed that mark. The tallies: 2010 - 16 sales averaging $2,664,000. 2011 - 13 sales averaging $2,956,000. 2012 - 9 sales so far averaging $3,296,000.

Generally, throughout Malibu, sales are distinctly better, but prices are unaffected. Both buyers and sellers have their challenges. Buyers face ever-increasing competition and the potential of inflation and interest rate hikes closing their door. Sellers are in a troubled economy still darkened by foreclosure-influenced clouds, and see little apparent reason to wait for much better prices that may not come.