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$2-Million Malibu Real Estate Looks, Well, Just Average

Carol Bird makes up cute little names for all the houses she sells in Malibu. She hands me the brochure for the house we are about to view, and this one’s called Sculpture by the Sea.

I’m not exactly in the market for a house. Especially not a $2,295,000 house. I’m here because of a story I saw in the Malibu Times.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this good of a year,” real estate agent Rick Wallace’s article began.

Wallace figured the fallout from Sept. 11, followed by the economic belly-flop, would have kept high-end prices from taking flight. But when he ran the numbers on single-family home sales in Malibu’s 90265 ZIP Code for the first six months of 2002, he came up with two all-time highs.

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The average sale price was $2 million, and the median price hit $1.375 million, meaning half the 152 houses sold for more and half for less.

So much for troubled times.

Real estate continues to appreciate across the country, and agents who work in Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills and Bel-Air tell me their averages are in the same ballpark as Malibu’s, though probably a little lower. The combination of low interest rates, short supply and prestige is making Malibu one of the hottest markets in the country.

But what exactly does average mean? Does $2 million buy you a mansion or a shack? Does it put you on the beach, or up the hill and behind a rock?

Rick Wallace didn’t have much on the market right now, so he referred me to Bird, a Coldwell Banker colleague. And now I am about to experience Sculpture by the Sea.

The first thing I notice is that there isn’t any visible sculpture and it isn’t by the sea. It’s a modern four-bedroom white structure far enough up Big Rock Road to give you a nosebleed. But when you walk in the front door, the 180-degree ocean view through the back window is stunning.

“There’s the queen’s necklace,” Bird tells me, pointing to the distant Santa Monica shoreline, which apparently looks like a necklace when the lights go on at night.

I’m still a little confused about the name Sculpture by the Sea.

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“The house is like sculpture,” Bird explains. “The interior walls are curved and every room has an ocean view except for the gym. It’s very emotional.”

For some people, maybe. But the main room, with white shag, curved glass barriers and chrome handrails, looks less like a home than a penthouse suite in Vegas.

Frankly, I’d like to have a house on the water, so I can invite riffraff over all the time and let them annoy the moguls who try to block access to the beach. But Bird tells me the beach bungalows tend to go for $6 million and up.

“It’s gone bananas,” says June Scott, a Coldwell agent who works Beverly Hills and Malibu.

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Scott said she recently sold Malibu beach houses for $10 million and $11.75 million to the owner of the Cheesecake Factory (doesn’t this mean we’re paying too much for a slice of cheesecake?) and the CEO of Oracle (which won a controversial state contract and then pushed a $25,000 donation to Gov. Gray Davis in a deal that became a political debacle).

Maybe there’s already enough riffraff on the beach.

“I sold David Geffen the house he’s in for $450,000 in about 1972,” says Scott, who believes that with the upgrades he’s made, he could sell it for $50 million today. “He’s the one who got this whole thing started,” she said of getting the high and mighty to move to Malibu. “This way they can walk down the beach and meet each other and do business right there.”

The second house Carol Bird showed me is called Having It All! Beach not included. This $2,250,000 number is farther up the coast and much larger than Sculpture by the Sea, but it has even less character and overlooks busy Kanan Dume Road.

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“It’s your own little Hawaii,” Bird said out back, where she noted that the fountains draining into the swimming pool have been designed to gurgle at the perfect decibel level to block out street noise.

Well, fine, but what if the fountains are turned off? At $2 million-plus, I don’t want street racket or any other compromise. I want to, well, Have It All!

Imagine the plight of the Malibu ne’er-do-well who can only afford a $1-million house.

“One million dollars buys you a fixer-upper in a fair location, or a fair house in a less desirable location,” says Bird, who is pleasant and direct.

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She then took me even farther up the coast. We passed Point Dume and Zuma Beach, turned up into the hills, and came to a property selling for exactly $2 million.

“This is four acres,” Bird said, parking her Jeep at the perfect angle. “It’s a white-water view, not just open ocean. The white-water view is primo.”

“And it’s $2 million?”

Yes, she said. And the adjacent, 5.3-acre property is also $2 million.

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Just one problem. You’d have to pitch a tent, because there’s no house here. Not even a stick. It’s $2 million for just the dirt.

Bird’s brochure calls it:

“Amazing Views 1 and 2!”

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Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com


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