During the last century, Southern California has seen its wealthy, jagged panorama jam-packed with homes wherever they will match.
Properties hold from the edges of canyons with cantilevered swimming pools suspended midair. Bungalows squeeze onto seashores inside inches of their neighbors. ADUs pop up in entrance yards and backyards, constructed on-site or dropped in by cranes.
So why are among the area’s most prime properties — oceanfront heaps on Malibu’s greatest seashores, mountaintop acres overlooking the town — left utterly empty?
Spoiler alert: It’s not as a result of their homeowners have an interest within the sanctity of vacant land and preserving California’s hills and seashores by leaving them untouched.
Per ordinary with the posh actual property scene, it’s the vagaries of the wealthy, the place the reply might be each vastly sophisticated or stunningly easy: a mixture of greed, overabundance, want for privateness and typically, merely having higher issues to do than fear about constructing a colossal home.
There are nonetheless loads of vacant heaps left in Southern California. In line with Redfin, there are 3,497 residential items of land at the moment available on the market in L.A. County, and their values differ wildly based mostly on location.
For instance, a half-acre lot is at the moment up for grabs for $3,000 in Lancaster. Over in Bel-Air, a 264-acre unfold is listed for a cool $60 million. However the worth discrepancies aren’t all the time so unfold out geographically; in Malibu, one piece of land is asking at $50,000 whereas one other asks $35 million.
In 2017, Milwaukee Brewers proprietor Mark Attanasio left neighbors scratching their heads when he shelled out $6.6 million for one of many final remaining vacant heaps on Malibu’s Broad Seaside, an ultra-exclusive stretch of sand the place Pierce Brosnan, Frank Sinatra and Jack Lemmon have owned houses. However as a substitute of constructing on it, he left it empty.
That’s as a result of he already owned the home subsequent to it. As a substitute of coping with a doubtlessly annoying neighbor and the noise of setting up a brand new property proper subsequent to his, he determined to simply purchase the lot to protect some peace and quiet, in keeping with veteran actual property agent Jack Pritchett, who held the itemizing on the property a 12 months prior.
“In Southern California, wealth might be measured by privateness, not cash,” he mentioned. “This proves it.”
Within the Nineteen Sixties, Pritchett offered a Malibu seashore home to actor Steve McQueen, who valued privateness a lot that he purchased the heaps on all sides of the property to make sure that nobody would construct wherever near him.
Since Broad Seaside is such a coveted enclave, a lot of its shoreline is crowded with homes. Attanasio is leaving his land empty to purchase some respiratory room, however the property’s earlier proprietor had a special motive: He simply didn’t fairly get round to it.
It was owned for many years by a physician who deliberate to construct a home on the property, however the longer he waited, the extra constructing and basis necessities there have been from the California Coastal Fee, in keeping with Pritchett. In the end, it simply appeared simpler to cross the headache onto another person.
Pritchett laid out just a few different examples for why Malibu landowners have saved their prized plots empty.
He knew one household who owned a plot in a gated group within the bluffs above the seashore. The husband needed to construct a house there, however the spouse didn’t, and they also saved it empty for many years — as a substitute utilizing it as a spot to park once they’d go to the ocean.
Pritchett not too long ago offered the empty property on behalf of the household for a little bit over $1 million. Not unhealthy for a parking spot.
Within the Eighties, Pritchett’s father put collectively a improvement group that attempted constructing a rental complicated close to Matador Seaside. Provided that Malibu lacks a sewer system, neighbors protested, not wanting a condo-sized septic tank stinking up the realm, and the group finally gave up. The land stays empty as we speak.
On the opposite aspect of Broad Seaside, a one-acre lot traded palms for $11 million in 2020, making it one in every of Malibu’s priciest land transactions within the final decade. Compass agent Chris Cortazzo mentioned the vendor had an unlimited assortment of vacant land; the prized waterfront plot was only one piece of a a lot bigger assortment, and the proprietor merely by no means felt the necessity to construct there.
It probably gained’t keep empty for lengthy; it offered with plans and permits to construct two homes on the double-lot parcel.
“Land is king. They’re not constructing any extra of it,” mentioned Scott Tamkin, who at the moment holds the itemizing on a staggering 264-acre parcel in Bel-Air that makes up 6% of the neighborhood’s whole land space. It’s up for grabs at $60 million.
“There are a selection of high-net-worth people who like to amass land and sit on it till they resolve to do one thing with it or resell,” he mentioned.
On this case, the proprietor by no means selected something, however potential consumers have loads of concepts starting from a goat farm, retirement group or outside campus for a personal faculty. The canyon-spanning property consists of 15-20 acres of flat land on the high, and Tamkin mentioned as much as 17 houses might be constructed there.
“I get calls about it each week. Everybody has their very own grand concept,” he mentioned.
Each few years, a parcel comes onto the market so massive that it’s a shock it’s nonetheless empty, particularly in an space as populous as L.A. County, which holds roughly 9.8 million residents — roughly 3% of the overall U.S. inhabitants.
Essentially the most excessive instance surfaced in 2018, when a 157-acre unfold perched on the highest level of Beverly Crest got here to marketplace for $1 billion, by far the largest asking value within the historical past of California’s residential market.
Many tried, and failed, to construct one thing on the property, which was touted because the best piece of undeveloped land left in Southern California.
An Iranian princess needed to construct a palace there. Didn’t occur. A chat present host envisioned a marble mega-mansion. By no means constructed. After a troubled saga noticed the land auctioned off behind a Pomona courthouse in 2019 to the property of the late Herbalife founder Mark Hughes, the land stays empty.
Another excuse why land is vacant: Who has the time?
“The actual prime land tends to be bought by high-net-worth consumers,” mentioned Hilton & Hyland agent Barry Watts, pointing to tech moguls similar to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen or former Google CEO Eric Schmidt as current examples.
Allen owned a 120-acre plot on a ridge above Beverly Crest that he by no means received round to growing, and it not too long ago offered to Schmidt for $65 million.
“They produce other issues happening of their life,” Watts mentioned.
He added that money-rich individuals are typically time-poor, in order that they don’t have the hours and power required to work with architects, consultants, contractors and metropolis officers to develop the property of their desires. A lot of these consumers can afford to gather land as an funding, however in addition they have houses scattered throughout the nation that serve them simply high quality within the meantime.
Constructing a world-class property on world-class land requires important time — typically many years. Watts and fellow agent David Kramer are at the moment co-listing a set of land in Bel-Air that has been 20 years within the making.
It was owned for years by Steve Bing, the movie producer and philanthropist who dedicated suicide in 2020. Bing spent 9 years residing within the Lodge Bel-Air, falling in love with the realm sufficient that he began shopping for up all of the land throughout the road over the course of a decade.
Bing finally misplaced management of the land, and it was slowly subdivided into three elements and dropped at market. The largest is listed for $47 million, the center is listed for $33 million, and the smallest offered for $25 million earlier this 12 months.
“The customer is planning to construct a 25,000-square-foot mansion on the land,” Watts mentioned. “When it’s completed, it’ll be a $100-million property — which it must be when you spend that a lot cash on the land.”