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Fluid Transactions : Through Rain, Sleet, El Nino, Agents Deliver

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This has been the winter of discontent for many real estate agents in Southern California’s storm-tossed beach communities.

Maneuvering around mudslides and escorting clients through cloudbursts have become part of the job for agents selling some of the region’s most picturesque and pricey real estate. Despite the downpours, agents have remained busy selling homes as the region’s real estate market stages a rebound.

Still, this El Nino rainy season has complicated things for a great many brokers and their clients.

Linda Semone was wrapping up the sale of a Malibu home in February when she ran into a roadblock. Actually, it was a mudslide on Pacific Coast Highway.

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The Fred Sands agent was driving to Malibu to pick up the keys to a newly purchased house when the storm-related slide once again forced the closing of the coastal road. Semone headed back to her Santa Monica office and later arranged for someone in Malibu to get the keys and deliver them to her at a roadblock.

“It was ridiculous,” said Semone. “It took me four hours to get the keys because PCH was closed.”

Last week, agent David Garris and his colleagues at the Coldwell Banker office in Laguna Beach were stunned when they heard a pounding sound coming from the roof. “We looked outside and saw hail the size of marbles. It was incredible.”

Still, Garris and other agents said the hail--as well as the waterspouts that were seen the day before and the flooding that struck downtown Laguna last fall--have done little to slow the demand for homes in the posh, seaside enclave. Garris himself canceled a vacation to help handle the strong flow of sales.

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“I’m sure there has been a [weather-related] cancellation of a sale,” Garris said. “But El Nino has not slowed down the real estate market.”

In fact, real estate agents say the impact of this year’s stormy weather on housing transactions pales in comparison to the turbulent winters of the early 1980s. In one year, Pacific Coast Highway was shut down for nearly three weeks, putting many real estate agents and their deals in a state of limbo. This year, major road closures have been limited to one or two days at a time, agents say.

Experienced agents are always prepared to offer clients directions on alternate routes around road closures--a fact of life they will have to grow accustomed to in mudslide-prone Malibu, said Pamella Whitham, assistant manager of the Fred Sands Malibu office. “If they are not willing to go around . . . they may not be meant to live here,” she said.

Wet weather and sliding hillsides have also plagued many inland real estate markets as well. In Laguna Niguel, agent Jean Yeck is well aware of the dramatic television pictures of expensive, red-tile-roofed homes breaking up and sliding down a hillside in the exclusive Niguel Summit neighborhood. Yeck is quick to bring up the subject with new clients, informing them that a geological inspection can help a buyer size up the potential risk.

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“We have had some definite problems due to the weather but . . . I have not seen any negative impact” on sales, Yeck said.

That dramatic TV footage apparently had no impact on the Tennessee couple that Yeck recently escorted on a house-hunting trip during a daylong deluge. The couple purchased a house the very next day.

“They knew we were having these El Nino storms,” Yeck said. “But we had a mission to accomplish and we just had to push on.”


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