Those looking for their second (or third or fourth) homes in Santa Barbara County are making a beeline for the beach, but these days, it’s not necessarily for the aesthetic reasons one might assume.
For some, the search for a coastal home is driven by memories of the 2017 and 2018 fires and mudslides that ravaged parts of the county, said Debbie Lee, broker with Coldwell Banker Luxury in Montecito. She said some prospective buyers are still nervous about living in or near the red zones — areas at risk for landslides and fires.
“A lot of people don’t want to be in the hills. They feel safer at the beach,” Lee said. “Everyone wants to be there.”
That need for security is translating into some high-dollar sales. In early June, Lee was the selling agent for a 4,963-square-foot beach home Carpinteria that closed for $24.25 million. The house had been on the market for a year and is the highest price ever paid thus far for a beach home in the county.
“Those homes are not valued per square foot like other homes,” Lee said. “You have to evaluate them differently. They’re like gold. Beach properties don’t come up that often, so we’re always tight on inventory. People want to keep them in the family and to pass them on to the next generation.”
Mark Hunt of Village Properties’ Montecito office, exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, said he’s often asked about beach homes.
“They’re selling like hotcakes,” he said, adding that in June alone, there were three sales of $10 million on the beach. “We usually have that in the whole year.”
It’s been a fairly brisk half year for parts of the county, which is seen as a celebrity haven for A-listers like Ellen DeGeneres, who has bought and sold repeatedly in the area in the past few years. In late June, DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi listed their Carpinteria beach home for $24 million.
The total number of property sales on the south coast of Santa Barbara County was up 11 percent — from 173 in May 2018 to 192 in May 2019 — according to figures from the county recorder’s office by way of Fidelity National Title.
The strongest market was the $700,000 to $2 million range in Santa Barbara, whereas in Montecito most activity was either under $3 million or over $10 million, Hunt said. He said he believes there are good deals to be had in Hope Valley, Santa Barbara and Montecito in the $5 million to $7 million range “for the larger homes that are not full-blown estates.”
Still, natural disasters have caused insurance premiums to spike with some carriers refusing to write policies on homes in the region, said Marsha Kotlyar, estates director of Berkshire Hathaway Luxury Collection in Montecito. She said that having someone in-house at her agency working specifically with insurance companies has yielded results.
“We’ve been getting competitive rates, and haven’t had a ‘no’ yet,” she said. “It’s taking more time, but some insurance companies are seeing this as an opportunity. In the coming year, insurance will be a new contingency in the purchase agreement.”
Any perceived difficulties in getting their new properties insured has not deterred buyers, according to Hunt. He’s seeing “a lot of baby boomer money — people in their 50s and 60s” who are buying now for their eventual retirement and renting the homes out in the meantime.
Despite the brisk market activity, Hunt said that the residential market already has more brokers than it can handle.
“There are a lot of agents here and not as many transactions,” Hunt said. “If you’re looking at the average of 20 sales per month, that cannot sustain a 1,000-agent population…There are maybe five or six agents who do $70 million to $125 million in sales a year and others that do $30 million,” he said. “Everyone else is just trying to get a deal or two. It’s very competitive to make a living here.”
Still, he said that agents working the area for the most part play nice.
“It’s not as cutthroat as Los Angeles,” he said. “There are fewer opportunities for sales, and we accept that. It’s a smaller market, so as an agent it’s difficult to go around stealing clients. We see each other all the time, and in general, we keep it very civilized. That’s what we say about Santa Barbara: ‘Don’t move here with big city expectations and honking horns. This is still the place where someone will let you have their parking spot even if they were there first.’”
Several brokers are representing one of the biggest fish on the local market: A $65 million listing of a sprawling polo and equestrian estate in Montecito, currently owned by Windsor Capital Group founder Patrick Nesbitt. Shawn Elliott, Sabra Gandhi and Ivana Octaviani of Nest Seekers International and Jade Mills and Randy Solakian of Coldwell Banker Previews International hold the listing.
The house had been on the market at the same price a year ago with no takers. This time around, the seller added a helicopter hangar and a hidden wine cellar — the largest in Santa Barbara — that can only be reached by a secret spiral staircase. The estate comprises 43,000 square feet of living space, guest suites, pool house, polo clubhouse and stables for 20 horses. It boasts all the amenities of a billionaire’s home, like a ballroom, movie theater, sports bar, gym, spa, salon and 128-feet swimming pool. The 20-acre estate is somewhat familiar to locals; the owner has allowed it to be used numerous times for nonprofit events.
“The higher end community is used to going to parties there,” Hunt said. He added that even the priciest listings in Santa Barbara’s toniest enclaves are a steal when you look at comparable homes Los Angeles.
“My theory is that [these areas] still offer fantastic opportunities,” he said. “A mansion that is $35 million in Bel Air is $12 million here — and you will get more land. It might be harder get a cappuccino at 10 p.m., but if you don’t mind foregoing certain conveniences, the estates of Hope Ranch and Montecito are gems.”