Whether a house faces the ocean, mountains, cityscape or golf course, in Southern California, buyers are willing to pay extra for a view.
In fact, views add anywhere from $10,000 to several million dollars to a property's value, depending on the view and the home's location, size and amenities.
Real estate agents say there are two types of views that can bump a home's price up by six or seven figures. The first is an unobstructed ocean view from a the large house in an exclusive, gated community. The second is an "airplane view" that stretch from downtown Los Angeles to the ocean and Santa Catalina Island.
There is even a name for the panoramic view of the Santa Monica Bay from homes in Pacific Palisades and the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It's called "The Queen's Necklace," so named because at night, the lights along the bay sparkle like a string of royal diamonds. Realtors say demand for these houses far exceeds supply.
"Today every buyer in the city is looking for a house with a view," says Cecelia Waeschle, a broker with Coldwell Banker Previews in Beverly Hills. "The high-profile buyers like actors, movie stars or those with a lot of money to spend, that's their first requirement."
"The more high-end the real estate, the more specific the buyers' requests are likely to be," adds Danny Bibb, president of Coast Newport/Coldwell Banker in Newport Beach, whose 125 agents specialize in coastal Orange County.
Not only do they want grand vistas, but wealthy buyers also want privacy. Some buyers request an exposure to catch the early morning sun while others insist upon afternoon rays. Some want ocean views but not a home atop a steep cliff. Conversely, others prefer the bluffs to beachfront.
Picky gazillionaires aside, what about views for the rest of us working stiffs?
Realtors say that many homes with views don't cost millions of dollars. They include mountain views, canyon views, golf course views, lakeside views and partial ocean and city views.
"You could have a house in the Echo Park area where you might get $20,000 extra for the city view or a Hollywood Hills home where you'd get $100,000," points out Steve Rosselli of S.B. Rosselli Appraisal in Northridge.
It's impossible to put a price on views because there are too many variables. For instance, you might have a house with a wonderful ocean view on MacArthur Boulevard in Newport Beach, but the noise factor from the big, busy thoroughfare would just about cancel out any price hike from the view.
"I've had a lot of people ask me what the value of a view is, but there isn't any kind of standard; it definitely isn't a science," Rosselli says. "You can't say a mountain view is worth $20,000 or an ocean view is worth $50,000."
Appraisers instead collect what is called a paired sales analysis, he says. If he's appraising a home that sits on Lake Sherwood in Thousand Oaks, for example, he finds two homes in the same area of roughly the same size and amenities that have recently sold. One of those houses will have a view. The other won't. He then compares sales prices for the two homes and the value of the view will be the difference between them, all other things being equal.
For instance, Rosselli has appraised condominiums on the 18th floor of a Beverly Hills building and says that a $200,000 condominium that faces north toward the mountains might sell for 5% less than a condo with more desirable city views that faces south.
Bibb of Coast Newport uses a similar method. He says a home on a 15,000-square-foot lot in the gated community of Big Canyon in Newport Beach with a view of the Big Canyon Country Club golf course would probably sell for $1.75 million while a house on the same size lot with no view would fetch $1.25 million.
But the more expensive the property, the pricier the view. In the gated Laguna Beach communities of Emerald Bay and Irvine Cove, Bibb says, a lot without a view might sell for $2 million while the same lot with a front-row ocean view would sell for $6 million, which means the privilege of watching the breakers roll in all day long will set you back $4 million.
When it comes to Hollywood Hills homes, those that overlook the San Fernando Valley are generally cheaper than those overlooking the L.A. basin. But Waeschle says that's in part because homes in Bel-Air and Beverly Hills tend to be more expensive to begin with, say $6.5 million for Bel-Air compared to maybe $3.5 million for a Valley-facing home in Encino.
But good luck finding it.
"The properties available with views are very few and far between," Waeschle notes. "They've gone the way of the dinosaur. Most people seem to not want to sell. I know clients right now who have a lot of money to spend, but nothing is happening."
And views aren't guaranteed into perpetuity. Just because you buy a million-dollar home with a stunning view of the Pacific, for instance, does not prohibit your neighbor from planting a row of poplar trees at his property line to block your precious view and protect his vaunted privacy.
In most cities, "you don't have a legal right to your view," Rosselli says. "A neighbor can plant a tree on his property, and if it grows up and obscures your view, you can ask him to cut it down or trim it, but there's no law against infringement upon your view."
Ditto for neighbors who add on to their homes legally and block your killer view.
Then there are people who bought their houses for a specific view and found that omnipresent smog-or new commercial construction-suddenly blocked it. For those for whom money is no object, realtors recommend buying the lots in front of them to guarantee their view.
But that's not always possible.
"It just gets emotional when there's a view involved," Waeschle says. "I have a client on Tower Grove in Beverly Hills who has beautiful views, but he has a constant battle with his neighbor in terms of the neighbor not being considerate with building and planting. That's why if you have a bluff property, you're much better off."
In general, when Realtors talk about "view" homes, they mean homes with enhanced appeal. But all views aren't equal and some can actually lower the value of a home.
A railroad track view-if it's close-will detract from your property value, Rosselli says. So can views of industrial buildings, alleys, walls and electrical towers.
Rosselli recalls appraising a Burbank property with a large, leafy backyard that backed out onto high voltage towers. After doing his comparative analysis, he subtracted $5,000 from the worth of the house because of the unsightly towers.
But the value of a view may also lie in the eye of the beholder. For instance, some folks might enjoy the privacy, quiet and greenery of overlooking a cemetery, while others-especially from certain cultural backgrounds--might not.
Angi Ma Wong, a best-selling author and feng shui consultant based in Palos Verdes, says cemeteries are thought to bring bad luck among those who follow the ancient Chinese philosophy in which auspicious placement of homes and objects are thought to bring luck and prosperity.
Likewise, feng shui adherents don't want to sit atop a hill because the cosmic energy, or chi , will dissipate. Halfway up is best.
In general, overlooking water is a good thing in feng shui , whether it's a river, a lake or the Pacific Ocean-so long as the water is moving.
"Every major city in the world is located on water, whether it's a river or lake or the ocean," Wong says. "That's because water represents trade and commerce, which brings prosperity. That's why there's always a fish tank in front of Chinese restaurants. It symbolizes water pumping, moving, bringing in new business."
But the water should be in front of the house for good feng shui, not behind it, because that would symbolize the water, or money, running away, Wong says.
If you think this is fringe, esoteric stuff with little bearing on Southern California real estate, you're wrong. Wong regularly consults with half a dozen big American developers who have her examine blueprints and walk through their properties before they are built to ensure the best feng shui .
"With one of my builders, I went up to a hilly development in the Covina Hills and went lot by lot, deciding which model home would go on which lot," Wong recalls. "We wanted the views to be from the front door, because that's the owner's view of the world."
But sometimes a view is just a view. Rosselli, who lives in the Porter Ranch section of Northridge, can see the mountains from his bedroom. He considers it an aesthetic pleasure and nothing more.
"When I go to sell it, I might have the Realtor add that it has a mountain view from the bedroom," Rosselli muses. "It might not add value, but it might make it more appealing."
Denise Hamilton is a Glendale-based freelance writer. Her first novel, "The Jasmine Trade," was published this month by Scribner and features a Los Angeles Times reporter who solves mysteries.