Reset for Thousand Oaks

Beset with recent tragedies, the Ventura County enclave’s residential market has more than its share of obstacles, but some see reasons for optimism in the pipeline

Jan.January 17, 2019 10:00 AM
The blackened hills between Malibu and Thousand Oaks after the Woolsey Fire in November

In March 2018, Niche, a company that compiles reviews of U.S. cities, released its report of the safest areas to live.

Thousand Oaks, the second largest city in Ventura County, was third on the list. According to the report, there were 123 violent crimes and 1,298 property crimes per 100,000 people for the preceding year. That, combined with the 15,000 acres of publicly owned open space, acclaimed school systems and affordable housing — at least compared with homes in Los Angeles and Orange counties — made Thousand Oaks one of the most attractive places in the country to live, according to the ranking.

Then, in early November, 12 people were killed in a shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in the city. A few days later, Thousand Oaks was one of the cities forced to evacuate its residents due to wildfires. Some three-quarters of the city’s population was forced to flee, according to Haider Alawami, economic development manager of Thousand Oaks.

The fire burned through 97,000 acres, including Thousand Oaks and surrounding areas. More than 1,600 structures were destroyed.

Local home sales haven’t been directly impacted by the fires yet, brokers say. However, potential homebuyers are grappling with the possibility of higher insurance premiums — assuming that insurance companies are even willing to issue plans in the first place.

“I haven’t seen the market take a hit,” said Jason Improta of Keller Williams in Calabasas. “People aren’t being fearful or shying away, but there are some snags, with escrows being extended while fire insurance policies are locked in.”

Improta said the delays in writing up insurance policies depend on where the homes were. “If houses are within 500 feet of open space, that’s definitely a concern,” he said. “Our buyers are telling us that if they’re right on the edge of open land, insurance becomes pricier, although sometimes they may not know for sure until after they’re in escrow just how much more they have to pay.”

Still, while the recent fires might not scare buyers off, Tim Freund, estates director and associate broker at Dilbeck Estates/Christie’s International Real Estate in Westlake Village, said that the cost of living in the city could be affected. For example, there could be greater utility costs as energy companies pass on their losses, although the local water department has offered to consider rebates for homeowners whose water bills went up drastically. “That will manifest in pressure on buyers to make their budgets work,” he said.

Even before the recent fires were a factor, an already low housing inventory led to a slowdown in the local residential market, Freund said. The median house price — $832,500 in the first week of January 2019, according to the MLS — is somewhat on par with where it was at the same time last year, but Freund said that potential buyers aren’t getting as much for their money as they might have a year ago. He expects that pressure on inventory will worsen that situation.

“Buyers are having a continued challenge in affording property,” said Freund. “Today, their dollars are buying them an inferior property compared to a year ago, so they’re not writing offers, period. And the rise in interest rates has caused a huge disruption in borrowing.”

On the other hand, Freund said the rental market is “pretty vibrant right now” for unfortunate reasons, given the numbers of families displaced as a result of the November 2018 fires.

“There are people still working on insurance claims who haven’t secured housing yet and are looking for a temporary situation,” he said, adding that local rentals tend to be at the high end, going for as much as $9,200 a month for a 4,200-square-foot fully furnished house.

Commercial development 

Despite some stress in the resi market, there are bright spots on the horizon. Local mixed-use spaces in the development pipeline can help to inject new life into the Thousand Oaks residential scene, Freund said.

“Up until now, young people haven’t been able to afford to buy in this community, and businesses can’t be successful recruiting incoming employees,” Freund said. “The mixed-use condos will be great for young professionals … who are in engineering, medicine and technology and currently living on the west side of Los Angeles and showing signs of migrating to the
Conejo Valley.”

According to the Southern California Association of Governments, Thousand Oaks has a population of
132,000 people, about half of whom are college graduates, with a median household income of $108,000. Pharmaceutical giant Amgen is the city’s largest employer, with some 5,000 full-time staffers and another
2,000 independent contractors. 

Projects in the works include a proposed development by Los Angeles-based The Latigo Group at 299 East Thousand Oaks Boulevard, which will feature 152,000 square feet of residential space situated on 3.2 acres. Slated for completion in 2020, the mixed-use development will have 142 luxury apartments together with 11,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, plus such amenities as a pool and fitness center.

And an upcoming project from Thousand Oaks-based DalyGroup Inc. will include 5,000 square feet of retail space,  which will sit alongside 36 apartments, five of which will be specifically designated as live-work units.

“We are hoping to create a pedestrian-friendly downtown area,” said Alawami. “This will be appealing to our demographic.”

The city could also do with a couple of additional high-end hotels to cater to the regular business travelers journeying to Thousand Oaks — who currently stay at the Hyatt or Four Seasons in Westlake Village — Alawami said. City officials have met with a potential developer to consider ideas for a site close to the Amgen headquarters, he added.

“A lot of corporations in this area have been asking for a hotel close to their offices for executives who visit, something that contains a nice high-end restaurant and conference room space,” Alawami said. In addition, tourism officials in the city are targeting wedding planners, thanks to the number of outdoor spaces available to hold weddings and other events.

The recent unfortunate events in the city won’t dull any of its luster, Freund said.

“Before the shooting and the fires, there were a lot of people who had never heard of Thousand Oaks. But I think everyone recognizes that these were unusual phenomenons, and that these things can happen anywhere,” he said. “I don’t think people would be discouraged [about] living here because of that.”

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