The Malibu Real Estate Report: More Than 100 Woolsey Fire Burn-Out Lots Have Sold

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Rick Wallace

A recent glance at the City of Malibu website reveals that 29 homes have been completely rebuilt since the Woolsey Fire ravaged all of western Malibu on November 9, 2018. It is now past the 30-month mark, and hardly one home per month has come back. Mind you, about 700 homes burned down altogether, though that includes homes in the Los Angeles County unincorporated areas, outside city limits.

Before I go on, a disclosure: 

I lost my house to the fire in the Malibu Park area. Working daily with an aggressive effort, it still took 16 months to get my permit for a simple replacement home on the “fast track.” Construction took less than a year and my house is finished, but I am currently in a seemingly endless process to get the final sign-off from the city, which requires yet a few months more of heavily bloated bureaucratic hurdles unrelated to safety or public concern. Ten of my months have been for construction; 20 months have been for mindless red tape. And I’ve been one of the lucky ones to get this far.

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There are few testaments to how damaging an oversized city bureaucracy is to its citizens than this one statistic: 29 homes completed. Even two-and-a-half years later, about 300 applications are stuck in the permitting process that features bloated regulations 10 times more stringent than would be necessary to ensure safety and public interest.

It has been said that experiencing the fire and losing everything you own is bad enough, but the uncaring bureaucracy that administers mountains of regulations one faces afterward is even worse—none more so than the tyrannical forces of Malibu city offices. Most people just give up. 

That can be measured by a contrasting statistic—more than 100 property owners have sold their vacant land, where once their home stood.  The sale market for “burn-out lots” has been steady. So steady, in fact, that the sales have occurred by this tally:

2019: 38 sales 

2020: 48 sales 

 

This year is on a pace to hit 36 sales. Note that the burn-out sales include all areas, including outside the city limits where the 29 full rebuilds have occurred.  

About 20 of the burn-out sales have occurred in canyon areas, excluding an ocean view, but the vast majority have been within a mile or two of the beach, in western Malibu clustered near Point Dume or Malibu Park. As such, the minimum sale prices have been about $800,000. But 65 sales have topped $1 million. As I have written before, in the Aug. 9, 2020 edition of The Malibu Times, the value of the land sale is typically about 35-45 percent of what the home was worth before the fire.

A new record for a burn-out lot sale occurred in February in Malibu Park for a four-acre estate site, going for $4 million. The previous home on the site had last sold for $4 million in 2012 (values were less than half then what they are now), and it had seen an asking price close to $13 million not long before the fire.

Five other properties have fetched at least $3 million: Greenwater and Zumirez on Point Dume; one in Ramirez Canyon; and one each on Bonsall and Cuthbert in Malibu Park. All of those future estates will likely land in the $7-10 million value range when completed. 

Fifteen other deals have been at $2 million or more.

Building on the same footprint as before was supposed to be easy. The new property owners of these burn-out lots will be able to take advantage of the “accelerated permitting process,” such as it is, and will ultimately be able to bring shiny new inventory to Malibu that was depleted by 17 percent in the fire, probably mostly for personal use, but perhaps some for speculative sale. (Current listing totals of houses for sale are extremely low, as discussed in my April 2021 column.)  

To date, there has not been a rebuilt home that has come on the market that I am aware of (among the 29 fully completed). There are two burn-out lots have sold twice, one in Malibu Park going from $950,000 to $1.1 million and another in the upper Kanan area that went for $385,000 and then resold for $500,000.

The number of burn-out lots sold just recently topped 100.  According the Malibu city website, about 300 properties have begun the rebuild permitting process. It was estimated that 500 homes within the city limits were lost in the fire, so 40 percent have not even tried to attempt to rebuild. At this writing, 178 homes have started construction or, as highlighted, been completed. Thus, the sad, appalling score for the City of Malibu after 30 months: only one-third of the homes that burned down have even started to rebuild.

 

Rick Wallace of Keller Williams Realty has been a Realtor in Malibu for 33 years and has contributed real estate columns to the community for 27 years.