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How Malibu’s real estate market has changed after last year’s wildfires

Even though many lost their homes last fall, people are still flocking to the beach town

Things are returning to normal for the California housing market after wildfires ripped through Malibu and Topanga last November. 

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, a total of 96,949 acres were burned down over the span of almost two weeks. In that time, three died and over 1,500 structures were burned to the ground. 

Now, on empty lots where mansions, businesses and homes used to stand, sit “for sale” signs. 

According to a Realtor.com report, listings in Butte County spiked 86% compared with a week before the Camp Fire, and views per property nearly doubled compared with 2017. 

After the Woolsey Fire, the number of homes on the market is 23% lower than pre-fire inventory projections, and views per property in Ventura County have spiked since 2017. 

Redfin agent Alec Traub said that last year was rougher for Los Angeles real estate, although the market didn’t necessarily plummet. 

“Over the years, I’ve helped a number of clients buy and sell homes in the affected areas. Many families were evacuated with nowhere to go. It was scary, and watching felt helpless. As an agent who helped people buy homes there, you feel responsible to a certain extent. It connects you,” Traub said. 

Traub said that since the fires, more lots are being sold as is.

Of the 384 homes listed in the city of Malibu on Redfin during the first week of July, 125 were land plots. In Topanga, 72 out of 143 were lots. 

Where the market has taken a hit has been in rental properties. 

“Many homes in Malibu are vacation or investment properties that are rented, especially in the summer, when homes rent for a high premium. This year, the demand has decreased,” Traub said. “I know an owner of multiple high-end properties, one of which is booked every summer. It’s still not booked, which is indicative of where the rental market is. People who rent for the summer are typically from out of the state or country, and are scared to pay $100,000 a month after seeing what happened last year. Locals on the other hand, have an understanding of the frequency and reality of wildfire season, and are less intimidated, but also less likely to want to rent in Malibu as it’s too remote.”

Another reason people are choosing not to rebuild is because of the fear of losing again, and the memories made in the now burned down homes. 

Understanding the risks for wildfires is another thing homebuyers and renters need to consider. 

“Understand the risks and elevated costs related to not only owning, but maintaining a property in a fire zone. That includes strict rules around yearly brush clearance and the rising costs of services and insurances,” Traub said. “My Topanga buyers were ultimately okay with these challenges, but it’s not for everyone. It’s important to have honest conversations about these topics between agent and client.”

3d rendering of a row of luxury townhouses along a street

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