Post-depression condo values hit new highs

The years 2012 and 2013 will have several distinctions in the annals of Malibu real estate history.

First, they were very similar in their results. In terms of prices and sales units, this year is heading for a very similar tally to last year. Also, they were a breath of fresh air after an unprecedented collapse. The years 2008-2009 brought a veritable depression to real estate, whether across the state, the county or here in Malibu. There had never been anything remotely close to the sudden and steep crash in prices, so these last two years get credit for pulling us out of that.

Lastly, if the market is to be in for a long, positive trend upward, 2012-2013 gets credit for starting it. Prices have inched upward in a slow but steady pace the past 24 months.

The Malibu condominium market provides the cleanest canvas to view the progress. Condos display statistical improvement in the market better than homes do. The reason is that condos are bunched together, price-wise, better than homes, which have many mini micro-markets. Condos generally sell in Malibu for $500,000 to $1 million. Contrast that with homes: This year, homes sale prices will range from about $600,000 to $74.5 million. Many different price tiers have quite varied results in the realm of local single family residences.

As such, the increase in prices in condos is a testament for all Malibu real estate. Specifically, new high prices established since the 2009 collapse offer optimism.

The adjacent chart displays the highest price of a unit sold in almost all of the condo locations in Malibu (though some units qualify as detached single family residences with common areas). For the three periods selected (the boom years of 2004-2008, then the crash of 2009-2011 and the stability of the past two years), the flow of all of Malibu prices in general is clearly evident.

For almost every complex, the highest sale on record occurred during 2004-2008. Few recent sales top that period. Furthermore, the past two years have brought a boost in new highs for most locations, compared to the 2009-2011 period.

Exceptions include the Malibu Gardens and Zuma View Terrace, which are very near each other, as well as the units on Tapia Drive in the mesa of Malibu West. One unit in the Gardens, however, is in escrow at this writing with a list price over $700,000, and a new post-depression record is looming there. Meanwhile, not a single unit at Zumirez View Terrace or Tapia has been listed during 2012-2013.

The Malibu Villas has had the most dramatic market history of late, with not just the high sale, but all units suffering a loss of value of more than 50 percent, strangled by very high homeowners dues. The new high is not yet over $600,000, but two recent listings attempted to lure such a price before pulling off the market.

The pricier (and newest) townhomes of The Pointe, the Lunita Vista Pacifica complex and Toscana have not yet pumped up the volume — an indication the market is still a challenge for higher-priced real estate, in contrast to more reachable price tiers. Tight lending and the demand for more skin in the game is still a tug downward on loftier real estate, whether condos, as demonstrated here, or homes.

An aggregate look at the past three years enhances the perception that things are improving:

During 2011, 60 units sold at a volume of $45,302,000. That was an average price of $755,000. The median sale price (with half the sales being lower and half higher) was $520,000.

Last year, 63 units sold for a similar volume of $45,387,000. The average actually went down to $720,000. The median went up, however, showing more strength in the heart of the market, to a price of $665,000.

This year, all of it has improved. There have been 69 sales to date, at a volume of $57,410,000. The average has jumped to $832,000. And the median is up a good amount also, to $775,000.

These numbers, by the way, include all complexes and units that exist in Malibu/90265 zip code, but exclude townhouse sales in Malibu of over $2.5 million for each of those years, particularly at such places as Carbon Beach and Malibu Road. Such occasional sales of those high-end units are better suited to single family home comparisons and otherwise wreak havoc on condo averages.

Most importantly, prices are going up. While the level of activity is not gangbusters (over 100 units have sold in some past years), it is improving.

That is the condo market in a nutshell, as year 2013 comes to a close.

Rick Wallace has been a realtor in Malibu for 26 years.