Monday, December 29, 2008

Today's Real Estate Question

So, in the Taschen Icons book on photographer Edward Weston, the text tells us, on page 14:
In 1929 Weston rented a cottage in Carmel, an isolated seaside village in northern California with a history of being an artists' colony. There he lived simply and inexpensively, close to some of the most spectacular landscapes in the American West...
That's all well and good, but if an up-and-coming photographer today wanted to do the same, he'd probably have to spend something in the neighborhood of $2 million to buy a house there. Carmel is only really open to artists these days if they're superstars.

And it's not just Carmel. Those of you who saw Dogtown and Z-Boys know that Venice in the 60s and 70s was a rough, downscale neighborhood (it's still kind of skeevy, just full of million-dollar homes). Even a place like Manhattan Beach was full of layabout surfers a few decades ago; when I was a toddler my family actually lived in a small rented house there when my dad got his first job out of grad school. I once visited an open house for a large yet much-in-need-of-renovation house on the beach in Seal Beach that was listed for $4,995,000.

So, my question is not "Why is real estate so expensive along the coast," because that's obvious---the weather's great, recreational opportunities abound, the culture is relaxed, and there is, of course, "some of the most spectacular landscapes in the American West." My question, rather, is how was this land ever cheap? Why was Carmel affordable for simple-living artists in 1929 instead of only for captains of industry? Why did wealthy people in Southern California not drive up the price of coastal property beyond the reach of surfers and recent grad students until recent decades?

And are there any affordable places to live on the coast in California now? Ventura? Somewhere farther up the coast? A lot of beach cities used to be working-class towns. Are there any working-class beach towns remaining?


At Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 8:08:00 AM PST, Blogger erich said...

I think a big driver in the big price increases of houses in tourist destination-type places is second-home buyers (and retiree home buyers). At least I know this is true in the towns near ski resorts (Mammoth Lakes being the one I'm personally familiar with). The towns near ski resorts used to have reasonably-priced homes owned or rented by descendants of people living there before the ski area came, people who worked in the resort or the town, and ski bums. But then the resorts got popular and wealthy people started buying up the cheap homes to live in during the ski season, and later to retire to.

I am sure this is a driver of home prices near the ocean. Driving that is probably the mass adoption of the auto after WW2 that allowed a large tourist industry to form, aided by the disappearance of certain industries that used to support those places and thus made tourism their main means of support (e.g. localized commercial fishing along the California coast).

At Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 5:36:00 PM PST, Blogger Ted said...

Also, prior to WWII and the expansion of passenger air service and the automobile, California was "way the hell over there" to most people. I'm guessing it'd be about a two-day train ride from LA to St. Louis or Chicago, which would be the beginning of "civilization" from the perspective of more well-to-do people. (If that; a good number of well-to-do people would have thought civilization ended at the Appalachians. Some still do.) Even flying from LA to NYC would have taken, what, a whole day at the time? Driving would have taken about 7 days. Very few people would have gone, and fewer still would have been interested in owning land there.

Even as late as 1958, it was viewed as essential that both the Giants and Dodgers moved West together, because travel would have been prohibitively complicated and expensive if teams had to go out there for just a 3-game series.

I've seen it written that WWII was the key turning point for California, as almost everyone who went to the Pacific shipped out or came back through Long Beach. That was the first mass exposure of the area to the general American public. A lot of them liked what they saw, and moved out when the war was over.

At Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 2:57:00 AM PST, Anonymous Jarrett said...

Pismo Beach in SLO County comes to mind, though its seediness may just be a carefully maintained veneer by fantastically wealthy owners.

(Found you via our comment on Yglesias, saying exactly what I would have said re Metro Rapid.)

Cheers, Jarrett

At Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 6:42:00 AM PST, Blogger Ted said...

I also suspect that 72% of Americans believe Pismo Beach only exists in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

At Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 6:54:00 AM PST, Blogger Adam Villani said...

Hey, thanks for commenting, Jarrett. I always wonder if anybody bothers to come read my blog from the other places where I post.

At Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 1:49:00 PM PST, Blogger Richard Mason said...

Craiglist right now shows several cottages in Carmel, allegedly near the beach, for around $1000/month (and a lot more, presumably larger or nicer ones for around $2000/month).

We rent an apartment in Santa Monica. We are walking distance to the beach, and on the boundary of one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the U.S. But I happen to know that (a) my secretary and (b) our regular waitress at the pub also live within a block or so of here.

So, *renting* near the coast, as Weston and your dad did, is still not particularly out of reach. Only *owning* near the coast has become expensive--largely because of a giant speculative bubble.

With its high taxes and high cost of living, California is a very dubious choice for retirement unless you already have strong ties there. I expect we will see a net outflux of population from California as the baby boomers retire.


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