21 Months of Burned-out Lot Sales

Rick Wallace

The marketplace of illustrious Malibu homes and estates sales lives on. The Woolsey Fire of November 2018 slowed but did not stop that. The COVID-19 shutdown has further slowed, but not halted, local home sales.

Behind the scenes, however, a busier marketplace has been playing out: the burned-out vacant lots from the fire. Every month since Woolsey, burned-out vacant lots—lots that once had homes upon them—have been selling, many on the open market and some privately. By my count, as we hit the 21-month mark since the fire, at least 60 properties will not see their previous owner rebuild and stay in Malibu. They have sold!

The list of burned-out lot sales mostly features the Point Dume and Malibu Park areas that were primarily affected by the fire, but includes every area where the fire spread, including the canyons.

With a large sample of sales, some conclusions can be made. For example, and perhaps most importantly, vacant burn out lots have been selling in the 35-50 percent range of what the house was worth when it burned. Here are several examples:

An earlier sale of a one-half acre lot in Malibu Park (May 2019) went for about $1 million. The home had sold in 2018 for $2.45 million. A similar size lot in the same area went for $965,000 in an October 2019 sale, after selling for about $2.7 million in 2017. The values from 2017 to current times are in the same relative ballpark. The first deal was 40 percent of the home value; the second was 35 percent.

At a different tier, a one-acre Point Dume property sold for $1.8 million (in November 2019), after the home had sold for $3.45 million in 2017.

Two properties have sold for $3 million—those are the highest known transactions. One was a seven-acre property off Bonsall that has a distant ocean view, but mostly all usable land. It is a sensational property. The $3 million transferred in May 2019, six months after the fire. The house had sold in 1996 for just over $1.4 million and then in 2014 for about $3.6 million. With prices last May at about 35 percent higher than in 2014, one might say it had achieved a value of about $5 million. Thus, the property sold for 60 percent of its value with house. Note, however, that the very large acreage was a significant part of the overall property value to begin with.

At latest count, nine burned-out lots on Point Dume have sold and 21 have sold in the Malibu Park area. One lot in the latter sold for $950,000 and then $1.1 million just two months later.

June saw four transactions close escrow throughout Malibu. The disruptions of the past four months have hardly affected this particularly segment of the market. All showings take place in the outside air; a lot of information is known about the property (and rebuild prospects) in advance. And, as noted, some idea of the value of the previous home is known before the next one will inevitably rise.

Approaching the 21-month mark following the fire, 120 rebuild permits had been granted, at least within city boundaries. So the pace is about 2-to-1, permits versus people who have evidently given up on returning to Malibu.

The city is granting fee waivers and special consideration for completed planning department applications through the end of the year. After that, burned-out lots may have no benefit from the city in the permitting process. Expect heavy activity in the marketplace during the final five months of the year. 

Five burned-out sales have involved properties where the house sold in 2018—right before burning down. The fun did not last long. One large estate property in Corral Canyon had just sold for $3.4 million. That lot sold earlier this year for $1.5 million. 

Eleven sales have occurred in the canyons, including a property of nearly nine acres with an ocean view up Yerba Buena that went for $500,000.

Properties along Mulholland and in Ramirez Canyon, along with La Chusa Highlands and areas up Trancas, have also seen sales.

The statistics herein have been culled not only from MLS information, but also from public records that usually tend to reference home sales with bedroom counts, but when cross-referenced with other data reveal the house is no longer there.

Every single property that has fetched at least $1.6 million had at least .9 acres and most had an ocean view. These are the multi-million-dollar homes of the future. So far, no home that was rebuilt has come on the market for sale (at this writing, only six have been completed).


Rick Wallace has been a Realtor in Malibu for 32 years and a contributor of real estate columns to the community for 26 years.