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Malibu Fire Victims Vow to Rebuild as Real Estate Prices Hold

Malibu’s reputation as paradise took a beating in 2018. More than 450 homes were destroyed in the city limits during November’s Woolsey Fire, as were 750 or so more residences in the surrounding county. Heaviest hit was the region’s western edge.

“Although the fire has shaken the community, people are reenergized and those who lost homes want to come back home,” says Chris Cortazzo, Coldwell Banker Global Luxury, sales associate, Coldwell Banker Malibu. Cortazzo was able to keep his all his pending escrows after the fire.

“Prices haven’t retreated at all,” he says.

He expects a busy spring and leases continue to command a premium.

It seems the showbiz enclave is retaining its per-square-foot values — always dependent on variables such as architectural style, location and proximity to the beach —despite the devastation. Property Shark recently reported that in 2018, Malibu Colony Road was the No. 1 most expensive neighborhood in L.A. area with a median sales price of $10.65 million. And one of L.A.’s top residential listings on the open market is in Malibu: NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer’s bluff-top, 3-acre plus estate (with two guesthouses, professional-grade home theater, tennis court and ocean views above Paradise Cove) designed by star architect Charles Gwathmey, is listed by the Westside Estate Agency for $125 million.

“Prices have maintained,” says Madison Hildebrand, president of the Malibu Life team, Compass, Malibu Cross Creek. The most significant change in inventory has been the availability of homes for lease.

“People want to stay in Malibu but away from construction and clean up,” Hildebrand adds.

Because the fire mostly bypassed the eastern side of Malibu, it’s become even more desirable. There are investors at the ready to buy damaged properties, if someone doesn’t want rebuild, Hildebrand’s found; the challenge is for sellers who are navigating the insurance claims and settlement process.

Before any rebuilding can begin, the city requires that properties are inspected and cleared of hazardous materials by removal experts, a process that is slated to begin this month. Malibu has established a dedicated website to aid homeowners, who, for the most part, must now abide by current building codes when rebuilding, in addition to fire department codes and regulations regarding water pressure, driveway width and improved street turnarounds — a near impossibility on some narrow canyon drives.

“The city is being aggressive to expedite the process,” Cortazzo says. “I’m hopeful they will do the right thing, as they are under pressure and feeling the urgency from so many fire victims.”

Paul Grisanti, assistant manager, Coldwell Banker Global Luxury, Malibu Colony, has seen the burn/rebuild cycle several times during his more than 40 years working in Malibu real estate. The first few months post-disaster are in flux.

“The city has promised to make it easy to get permits,” says Grisanti, as well as bypass planning commission review, provided homeowners rebuild at the same square footage (with an allowable 10% bump in square footage plus the possible addition of a 1,000 square foot basement).

For some, due to tax considerations, it may make more sense to buy a new principal residence instead. As lots are cleared, who will stay and rebuild or sell will crystalize.

“Although the city of Malibu and L.A. County are trying to fast-track permitting so that 1,200 odd homes can be rebuilt, there are complications that have already made it difficult and may slow things down further,”
says Gail Block, a retired PR consultant whose Point Dume residence burned down.

Rebuilding is yet to be as straightforward as residents hoped, says Block, particularly in areas where housing
stock pre-dates Coastal Commission oversight. (Block is a community activist who manages communications among Malibu-ites who lost their homes.)

For those looking to buy, don’t wait, Grisanti says. “People always have to sell for one reason or another. As the hills bloom and people stop getting news stories about flooding and mudslides, the Malibu market will be as robust as ever.”

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