The Joys of Owning Montecito Real Estate

By James Buckley   |   September 12, 2019

There isn’t or wasn’t enough room in the above sub-title to add Santa Barbara, Summerland, Hope Ranch, the Mesa, or virtually anywhere along this golden little coast of ours. But, all those areas are included in the virtuous and valuable Circle of Friendship known locally as “real estate.”

Sitting around in the living room of my own special piece of Montecito one summer evening in 1991, friends and I spoke of the astounding rise in the value of what we had purchased a mere two or three years before.

After the “crash” that came mere months after that conversation, the slogan among realtors, bankers, escrow agents and the like was “Stay alive ’til ’95.” By 1997, the market stabilized and began moving up again, and prices quickly reached the previous plateau. 

Lucky us.

There were a couple other “blips” in that climb (Y2K, the bubble, 9/11/2001 World Trade Center attack, etc.), all of which are now seen in the rear-view mirror as having been “buying opportunities.” Then, on September 29, 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average took one of its biggest falls ever, losing 777.68 points intra-day and closing near its low. For many, that was The Day The Earth Stood Still. If you were in escrow, it fell out. If you had made an offer on property, you pulled it. If you had been thinking of buying something, you stopped thinking about it. In came Dodd-Frank, tying the hands of banks and brokers and putting a halt on real estate sales of all sorts.

But, funny enough, real estate values came back yet again. Why? Well, were you here during this past glorious summer (that’s still going on, and will until the end of October)? We’ve got weather that would satisfy the gods on Mount Olympus. Flying, biting insects are rare to non-existent. This little sliver of land between the 4,000 ft peaks (sometimes snow-capped for a winter day or two) of the Figueroa Mountains and the deep blue Pacific Ocean has changed little in the past half-century. All around us, growth shakes its often-ugly head, but one can sail offshore from Gaviota to the Rincon and gaze upon the same coastline your father, mother, or distant relative enjoyed fifty or more years ago.

Oh sure, there has been some growth, especially north of Goleta, but even there it has been restrained, and enhanced, for example, by the spectacular Bartron Real Estate Group’s San Marcos Preserve, where 14 ocean-view estate sites ranging from 3 to 27 acres have been sensitively developed. If you haven’t visited at least once during an open house, go. The homes and sites are beautiful.

As a golfer, I can play mid-week walking Sandpiper, Rancho San Marcos, Santa Barbara Municipal, Glen Annie, Twin Lakes nine-holer, all of which are not more than a 15-minute drive. You’ll need friends to play on our private courses – Birnam Wood, Valley Club, and La Cumbre – but hey, what are friends for?

Add Montecito’s world-class Music Academy of the West, a vibrant opera, ballet, and symphonic presence, East Beach, West Beach, the Funk Zone, Coast Village Road’s influx of excellent eateries (the culinary center of the Central Coast), and, well, one question looms: if you can afford to live here, why wouldn’t you?

As for value, don’t forget that inflation has eaten away the worth of a dollar. Not only won’t $1.5 million buy you what you could have gotten for $500,000 20 years ago, but there are many millions more people in California; they’re making more money, and, lucky for you if you are a seller, they want – they need – to buy a home. Throw in 3.5% mortgages, negative interest rates around the world, and fiat currency, and all of a sudden it makes a whole lot of sense to own a home.

I remember writing, back in 1996, a short time after launching Montecito Journal, that though prices in Birnam Wood seemed high (you could still buy something there for under $1 million) that there’d come a day in the not too distant future in which every home in Birnam Wood would fetch at least $3 million-plus. It seemed an audacious prognostication, but here we are 23 years later and if you do happen to find something selling for less than $4 million among the 140-plus homes in Birnam Wood, my advice would be: buy it.

I hope you enjoy this, our annual Real Estate Issue.


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