In 2017, Unique Homes is traveling the U.S. to find the dominant stories in each region of the country — This issue covers the Pacific Northwest, Nevada, California and Hawaii.
By Camilla McLaughlin
Photo courtesy of Matthew Field
A mix of tech, entertainment and financial service industries along with sheer physical beauty and miles of coastline make California, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii unlike any other part of the country. Recognized worldwide as a mecca for technology and innovation, West Coast metros have an urban vibe that reaches across generations. Islands, bucolic country settings and premier enclaves with a worldwide reputation for ultra luxury add to the region’s singular blend of real estate. So, it’s no surprise the West has some of the most dynamic housing markets in the country with demand for upscale properties anchored by lifestyle, jobs, economic performance, gorgeous settings, and often stunning architecture.
Seattle and Las Vegas
Coming out of the recession, Seattle has been one of the strongest markets in the country, charting 32 consecutive months of year-over-year declines in the number of homes on the market. With less than a month of available inventory, homes in April sold within seven days. In Portland, Oregon and Tacoma, Washington, sales took a little longer — 10 days. Compared to a year ago, Seattle’s median price is up by 17.4 percent, and just over 62 percent of those deals exceeded the list price. The median price in Portland is up 9 percent. Even though the city has had a robust market in recent years, luxury here still commands fewer dollars, with classic estates typically priced under $5 million.
Even in Las Vegas, one of the hardest hit by the downturn, the number of homes on the market continues to decrease, and the average list price is now over $600,000. More out-of-state buyers are eyeing this desert oasis, drawn by Nevada’s favorable tax environment and lower cost of living. Equally powerful incentives are innovative new construction, striking views, a more laid-back lifestyle, easy access and new communities. Ascaya, a new development in Henderson that showcases contemporary architecture, brings a new luxury paradigm to the region. To date, 15 lots have sold, and five additional reservations are on the books. This is a big change from last year when only 14 homes over $3 million sold in the entire Las Vegas valley.
Highest Price in Las Vegas: A $30 million estate in a mountainside setting at The Pointe at The Ridges in Summerlin.
Highest Price in Seattle: $26.8 million for a two-acre waterfront estate with views of the Seattle skyline and the Olympic Mountains.
Photo courtesy of Gorbis/Getty Images
Golden State real estate continues to amp up, with too few on-market properties the biggest drag on sales. Statewide, the May median price was $550,200, the highest level since August 2007. San Francisco prices continue to lead the state and the nation with a median of $1.5 million, but Los Angeles, home to some of the highest priced properties in the country, accounted for the second highest price increase in California in May, 6.9 percent year-over-year.
“This year’s market has been unbelievable with the highest volume of estate properties on record. Way ahead of last year, and last year was a record,” says Joyce Rey, executive director of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, of L.A.’s prime West Side markets. In the $30 million bracket, there have been 14 sales in 2017 compared to only three in 2016, an increase of 367 percent. In the $20 million bracket, 2017 transactions increased 182 percent, from 11 to 31, while those in the $10 million range were up by almost 20 percent.
In part, Rey says this is due to the large number of foreign buyers in her market, whose familiarity with California is limited to Beverly Hills. “We just have a huge, strong demand with buyers coming from all around the world,” including China, the Middle East and Europe. “They look for move-in condition, prime locations and have a particular preference for views.” Contemporary architecture with walls of glass and light-infused streamlined interiors is preferred.
“Overseas buyers will still often look for a property that has multiple structures, or at least a guesthouse or caretaker’s quarters, but some of the most affluent buyers are Silicon Valley types or celebrity buyers who are not looking for the major estate with a lot of land but something sexy with all the bells and whistles and a lot of wow factor,” says Bob Hurwitz, founder and CEO of Hurwitz James Company.
Another luxury influx comes from the East Coast. Santiago Arana, a partner at The Agency, attributes this trend to a shift in the culture and tech advancements in the work place. “Executives and entrepreneurs are no longer bound to physically reside near work, which means they can enjoy the California lifestyle while working remotely from their L.A. home.”
Stunning architecture and an integral indoor/outdoor synergy make this home designed by Brian Foster a work of art.
A record $250 million listing put L.A.’s ultra market in the spotlight this spring. In this rarified niche, list prices are at record peaks and sales have been strong, but the number of properties is on the rise. “There is a plethora of inventory; probably around 40 homes priced at $30 million or more on the Westside of Los Angeles, and this doesn’t include the dozens that are ‘pocket listings’ and not officially on the market or the MLS,” Hurwitz says. “In addition, there are many properties being built in the most desirable luxury home environs that will be hitting the market upon completion in the next year or so. This is thin air and the buyers who can afford and are prepared to pay such numbers are finite, so you are seeing some increasing opportunities to make aggressive offers and good buys.”
Another note of caution concerns foreign buying. Post-election, a few buyers from outside the country tabled purchases. Hurwitz explains: “Since a significant part of my marketing and clientele consists of targeting and representing foreign buyers, I am very attuned to this marketplace. Besides having offices and agents in a number of different countries, our business model is very proactive in terms of reaching out directly to the most affluent individuals and cooperating in a major way with wealth advisors, EB5 and education abroad entities and numerous real estate companies in these areas. I have seen some reluctance in investing in the U.S. recently due to uneasiness of the political climate. On a personal and painful note, I had my buyer, a member of the royal family in a Middle Eastern country, back out of a three-week cash escrow on a $40 million purchase of one of my listings as a direct result of the presidential election results.”
This Los Angeles home reflects a vision for contemporary interiors that is elegant, yet casual and inviting.
Photo courtesy of The Agency
On the Horizon in San Francisco:
Personalized condominiums: La Maison in San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood is a collection of 28 uniquely designed individual residences in a five-story building. Each features high-end appointments. Building amenities include organic gardens and a rooftop deck.
Luxury Adaptive Reuse in Pacific Heights: The Pacific includes 76 boutique residences, 12 townhomes and four rooftop duplex penthouses, each with a private terrace. Interiors were inspired by international hospitality brands including Bulgari and the Satai.
- Rooftop decks are the latest “must-have” outdoor amenities. They have become a staple for condos, but increasingly single-family homes also incorporate a rooftop deck, particularly if there is a view. A luxury bonus is elevator access.
- Bunk rooms in Tahoe are a favorite second-home addition, but this trend is not limited to Tahoe. On many of our “On Location” visits we’ve found that bunk rooms, often with an adjacent playroom, are not a rarity. Even adults find it’s hard to resist the pull of such cozy appointments.
- Basements in both San Francisco and L.A. as residents scramble for more space.
- Hybrid designs with an exterior reflecting one style and the interiors another. Frequently seen are combos with a traditional exterior and a decidedly contemporary interior.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Mayer Photography
What Buyers Want:
When it comes to luxury, few trends can be generalized, even downsizing and simplification. “Preferences are totally mixed, and luxury buyers get what they want. Luxury buyers don’t try to fit into a box. Instead, they make the box,” says Josh Reef, with Hurwitz James Company.
Few upscale consumers are willing to sacrifice to reduce square footage. “Our buyers prefer a high square footage for all the rooms they need and desire in a home, such as personal wine cellars and gym or yoga rooms. While there is still a demand for high square footage, buyers are shifting toward a more-casual home living environment. In exchange for formal living and dining rooms, buyers are requesting rooms that allow them to fully utilize 100 percent of their home on an almost daily basis,” says Arana.
Still, brokers say the one thing almost all buyers want is to have everything done. “Even at the lower end of prices, very few are interested in a renovation,” says Trinkie Watson with Chase International in Lake Tahoe.
Photo courtesy of Martis Camp Sales
Water views or frontage have consistently been desirable real estate attributes for as long as anyone can remember. Whether your home offers breathtaking vistas out upon the open sea or a tranquil setting with frontage to a babbling river, there aren’t too many who would object to owning a luxury, waterfront property. With this desire to be by the water, however, many buyers seeking frontage are finding that waves of change are taking place along the coasts in the form of rejuvenation and reconstruction.
By Kristen Ordonez
Photo courtesy of Soaring Imagery
Soaking in the views of Casco Bay, the greater Portland area offers much to be desired in the line of luxury waterfront properties — ranging from $2 million to $5 million — whether along the rocky coastline, open ocean or somewhere near the bay for easy boat docking. The highest sale in the greater Portland area in the last year was $4.05 million, according to Bob Knecht, Broker for Town and Shore Associates. Though the amount of waterfront space is limited, the possibilities to redesign and rebuild are fervent throughout the area.
“Maine is a very old state,” Knecht remarks. “It provides an interesting mix of old cottages and old estates with grand cottages, island cottages, new homes and remodeled homes.” People will often take an older waterfront home and renovate it; “you can’t change the location, but you can change the house,” says Knecht, a method that provides a lot of inventory and an overall healthy real estate market.
David Banks of RE/MAX By the Bay focuses on the towns of Harpswell and Brunswick, about 30 minutes north of Portland, which still present opportunities for waterfront properties under $1 million. He also notes that in the rocky coastline of Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland, properties range from $3 million to $6 million, while in other towns north of Portland the waterfront prices range from $2 million to $6 million and include more areas for boating, dockage and privacy. Banks reports that the highest-priced waterfront listing is $11 million.
After “converting from a manufacturing state to an information state,” according to Knecht, Maine is the “number one luxury state in the country,” offering the largest income in tourism, great school systems and a “wonderful quality of life.”
Exquisite Shingle-style home with broad ocean views in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Photo courtesy of Lynne Dube.
Lake Burton, Georgia
Realtor Julie Barnett from Harry Norman, Realtors knows the ins and outs of Lake Burton, and how water frontage plays a major role in the Georgia real estate market. Located only 90 minutes from Atlanta, most buyers come locally from Georgia
or Florida, according to Barnett, to “escape the summer heat.”
“Lake Burton is a boutique situation,” says Barnett. “It is 2,775 acres with 62 miles of shoreline nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.” The location is very tranquil with cool, crystal clear water that lets you see straight to the bottom, as well as a 10-degree temperature difference compared to Atlanta. Apart from the lake are the properties in the vicinity, which according to Barnett vary in price depending on their purpose.
Similar to Portland, Lake Burton affords both tear-down lots and luxury new constructions. “Our properties range from $700,000 to $1 million for tear-down fishing cabins, and up to $6.4 million for a luxury estate,” says Barnett, a sizable difference from last year when the range was between $479,000 and $5.9 million. And with these lots becoming available, $3+ million homes are being built in their place. Because of this consistent remove-and-replace pattern of construction, each year the inventory of homes over $2 million increases.
The highest-priced home on the market in Lake Burton is one of Barnett’s listings, priced at $6.4 million. The 1.2-acre property features mountain, lake, and sunset views and belongs to country music star Alan Jackson.
St. Augustine, Florida
For buyers in St. Augustine, the choice between either water frontage to the ocean or the Intracoastal Waterway is one of the easier decisions to make. This resort town on the northeast coast of Florida has a unique real estate market compared to the markets in the “big cities,” according to Stefanie Bernstein of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty.
Because of the large inventory of second homes that were built in the 1980s and early ’90s, “most buyers do not find what they want with a resale,” and turn to a tear-down and reconstruction deal. These kinds of opportunities provide cheaper options for those looking for new construction possibilities, which is appealing to those who are willing to build or pay higher prices for newer homes. Bernstein notes that because of its “small-town” status, many buyers are from Florida, while others travel down from states like Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and even Vermont.
Generally, the price range for waterfront homes starts at about $800,000 for properties with ocean frontage, and $550,000 for Intracoastal frontage. The average prices for the more expensive homes in the area are within the $3 million range. One of the highest priced homes in St. Augustine is over $4.2 million, according to Bernstein, and is reminiscent of the Taj Mahal.
Lake Arrowhead, California
Nestled in the hills of San Bernadino National Forest, luxury homes scattered along or near the shores of Lake Arrowhead tend to fill the vacation home capacity, according to Vicki Smith, Broker Associate at Coldwell Banker Sky Ridge Realty. “We have such a variety of luxury homes here, the plan is to match the buyers with homes that work for them,” Smith says. According to her, a large percentage of these homes are vacation homes for people who live in other parts of Southern California, especially Los Angeles/Beverly Hills, Orange County, San Diego County and the desert areas of Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.
While there are enough high-end lakefront listings, Smith notes that all the areas around the lake are already built on, so not many new homes can be newly built and not every buyer gets exactly what they are looking for. Instead, most of the older, vintage homes are getting remodeled or refurbished in order to keep up with buyers’ needs. “We could use more lakefront homes on the market between the $2 million to $3 million range,” says Smith.
At this time, the highest-priced home in Lake Arrowhead is an $11.8 million listing by Smith, which is “an extraordinary home on its own private peninsula.” For those looking for luxury properties in the area. but not necessarily on the lake, these homes start around $500,000. Prices for lakefront homes are broken up differently depending on the remodeling process.
“For $900,000 to $1.5 million you can purchase a small (1,500 to 2,000-square-foot) vintage home that probably needs some work. For $1.5 million to $2.5 million, you can purchase a larger lakefront home (3,000 to 4,000 square feet) that has had some remodeling done, but today’s buyer will probably want to do additional upgrades. And for over $2.5 million you can get a beautiful home,” says Smith.
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
The tear-down, rebuild construction plan is how most buyers get away with finding or creating their perfect luxury home along the shores of Lake Tahoe. According to Shari Chase of Chase International Real Estate, there are no subdivisions or new developments for the most part in the waterfront area of Lake Tahoe due to the land preservations and protections.
“On the Nevada side of the lake, over 95 percent of the land itself is owned by government agencies,” Chase states, affirming that the land is “very precious.” Due to these protections, the only way to really create new luxury home opportunities is to buy older homes and either refurbish or tear them down to build new.
Chase notes that most of these buyers, like so many others looking for waterfront properties in the U.S., are looking for a secondary home, or a third or fourth in some cases. Based on the location, most buyers of these properties hail from the San Francisco Bay Area and even Los Angeles.
Price points vary depending on home distinction, such as a condominium or townhome compared to a single-family home, according to Chase. On average, in today’s market, the minimum on-the-water price is between $4 million to $10 million. The newest home on the market in the Lake Tahoe region is one of Chase’s, a $75 million residence in Crystal Pointe, Nevada with 525 feet of waterfront and the highest price in the area.
The captivating views from this $75 million listing in Crystal Pointe are what Chase refers to as “epic, energetic and empowering.” Photo courtesy of Jeff Dow.
Pines Lake, Wayne, New Jersey
Northwest New Jersey is a region that provides many popular lakes and private lake communities with memberships to private beaches, tennis courts, sailing and an assortment of other social activities. Two popular communities in particular, Pines Lake and Packanack Lake, are found in Wayne, New Jersey, and have been around as early as the 1930s, according to Carole “Lynn” Brescia, broker/sales associate for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.
Originally starting as summer lake communities in the ’30s through the ’50s, these places have evolved over time into year-round communities, Brescia states. “Older homes are now being renovated and expanded, or torn down and replaced by larger, new homes that focus on the water views and lakefront access,” Brescia says.
Keeping with the trend of buying a vacation home close to home, most buyers are local and move up to a lakefront location for the views, the water access and the lifestyle. Many of them have specifically identified the community, Brescia notes, and “wait for the right location or property.” Some buyers are occasionally from out of state and “fall in love with the beauty of the lakes area and choose the lifestyle of being able to enjoy kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding and swimming.”
On the water in Pines Lake, the starting price for a rebuild or redesign is just under $1 million, depending on the size of a lot. A recent piece of land sold for over $3 million, and according to Brescia there are more opportunities up for grabs. “Currently there are renovated and newer homes between $1.3 million and $2.8 million,” says Brescia.
Crystal Pointe, a magical estate set on the cliffs of Lake Tahoe’s north shore, is on the market for $75 million. This legacy family home is the highest price listing near Lake Tahoe. Crafted for 21st century living, this stunning property offers original and innovative design and amenities.
This luxury home is set on 525 expansive feet of Tahoe’s lakefront and 5.14 acres — made up of two parcels. The main residence, guesthouse, caretaker’s apartment and beach house comprise 16,232 square feet of living space. The house also features 8 bedrooms, 10 full and 1 half bath and 13 fireplaces. The home also includes 2 glass funiculars, 2 elevators, a 10-seat theatre and a 1,687-bottle wine cellar.
The adjacent U.S. Forest Service land provides privacy, and the home’s creative design presents beautiful views of the mountainside. The grounds are simply amazing with level lawns, ponds and waterfalls.
Crystal Pointe is listed by Shari Chase, Susan Lo we, Kerry Donovan and Mike Dunn of Chase International, a powerhouse of luxury associates brought together by Shari Chase to bring success to the next generation of Tahoe properties. This new approach to luxury properties is dynamic, highly energetic, client caring and utilizes collective mind power to capture the latest trends and most effective technology for the greatest results in today’s global world.