For the Local Real Estate Industry, Some Homes Sell Frequently


For the local real estate industry, Wednesday is the day of caravan. That is the day new listings are revealed as listing agents host special open houses for other agents to see the new inventory. There may be houses (and condos) that have been exposed this way many times, perhaps with different brokers, and been on and off the market for many years. Or, there may be genuinely new homes on the market, unseen for decades by other agents or the public.

Or, they may be homes that have hit the market many times, with a new seller each time. You can hardly blame visiting agents if some say outwardly, or beneath their breath, “Oh, gosh, not this one again. Didn’t this just sell last year?”

Since the 1990s, several houses in Malibu have sold as many as seven times. The list, identified by their street and location, is in the adjacent chart (one of them has sold eight times, only the past seven are noted). These are the houses that go on the market over and over, and then yet again.

It is not that anything is particularly wrong with them. It is just a fluke and a random allocation of the odds. Out of 4,000 homes in Malibu (before the Woolsey Fire), many are bound to have a long list of owners that simply changed their minds for whatever reason.

What might be most interesting from the chart is the progression of prices. See how things change from the 1990s to recent years. For example, the house on Ramirez Mesa, which sold this year for practically $6 million, was worth one-quarter of that amount in 1994. The house in Serra Retreat saw a six-fold increase in value over 15 years ($1.1 million in 1994; $6.5 million in 2009) before it tapered off nine years ago, but would be much higher now than its 2012 price.

For all the great value appreciation Malibu has known through the generations, going back to the 1970s, there was a 10-year period of lost appreciation. Essentially, when the market collapsed in 2008, it took 10 years to get back to prices that had been the new standard. They are way past that point now.

If you track the sales of every home for 30 years (as I have), you see what neighborhoods simply turn over faster than others. But there are two types of Malibu real estate that rarely move: Mountaintop locations and beach homes. Very few homes in either category have traded as many as four times since 1990. It just doesn’t happen, but the focus on beach homes is more telling.

Beach homes rarely sell. At this writing, about 30 beach homes are for sale out of about 1,000 that exist. Yes, three percent. And that’s about normal. Beach homes stay in families for multiple generations in many cases. And even when they have more frequent turnover, it still remains what I have said for years: Beach homes are not homes, they are collectibles. Even those fewer than half that are primary residences used regularly as a day-to-day homes, those owners never want to leave. When they die, they will leave it to the kids. In any case, the dreamy concept of a pleasant home on the beach of Malibu, hearing the waves and looking out to the clear blue sea, being one of the precious few that exists in a region of 15 million people, is just as much a description of rare art as fine construction work. Applied to their most extravagant use, many beach homes are second residences or vacation homes, and only a small percentage are used as long-term rentals. 

State and national real estate statistics reveal that our society has hunkered down at home far more than 30 years ago. It used to be that homes traded every five years. Now it is about every 10 years, and much less frequently in prestigious areas such as Malibu (where the current median price of a home is about $5 million). That has been a significant demographical and real estate industry shift.

Nevertheless, some homes buck the odds and keep turning over, with every neighborhood having its own frequent-seller champion. One owner after another decides to let the same house go. Thereupon applies another thing I have been saying for a long time, not entirely tongue-in-cheek: “Every time somebody sells their house in Malibu, it is at least partly because they are tired of making so much money in appreciation and they want to let somebody else cash in.”

Rick Wallace of Keller Williams Realty has been a Realtor in Malibu for 34 years and a contributor of real estate columns to the community for 28 years.