Million-dollar mobile homes
Want to rub elbows with stars and the superrich — for millions less than many of your neighbors? Have a look at life in a luxe mobile-home park.
In the high-priced mecca of Malibu, Calif., you can buy limitless ocean views and unbeatable private beach access from an estate perched on the bluff, for $14.5 million.
Or you can buy those same amazing views and that same private beach access for $1 million, just a few hundred yards away.
The difference? That second home is in the Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park.
Location, location — plus luxe amenities
The words "mobile home" may evoke images of trailer parks with rusted-out houses on blocks and gravel driveways, but the mobile homes in this community are about as far as you can get from that.
The homes here, as well as those in Point Dume Club, a mobile-home community just down the road, have all the luxuries you'd expect in a million-dollar home: high-end appliances, granite countertops and hardwood floors.
But the biggest thing they have going for them is location.
David Carter, a real-estate agent who has lived in Paradise Cove for 30 years, calls it "one of the still-unspoiled areas of Southern California."
"I wouldn't trade it for anything," he says. "It's private; it's got a great sense of community."
It also has direct access to private beaches, which means kayaking, snorkeling, surfing and fishing. Carter's three children grew up there, and his son now owns his own place in Paradise Cove.
"The school system is fantastic, and it's way cheaper than buying anything else in Malibu," Carter says.
You can get one of these mobile homes for anywhere from $250,000 to $2.5 million, which is cheap by Malibu standards.
"They are in the same general vicinity as the estates, which range from $25 (million) to $35 million, with the likes of Barbra Streisand," Carter says.
Mobile-home stigma loses its sting
So who buys these million-dollar mobile homes?
Some, like Jane Mandy, were there before the prices went crazy. She moved to Paradise Cove in 1996. It was supposed to be a temporary move while her family got ready to move back to New York. But plans changed, and "the Cove" was a comfortable place to be.
Still, it took time to adjust to the idea of living in a mobile-home park.
"The thought of living in a trailer was horrific, the stigma of it," Mandy says. "But it became something that is so very different than what people think.
"People living in Malibu usually have an immense amount of money, enough that they don't need to prove anything to anybody," she says. "We're not looked down upon. There are movie stars living here, people who really could choose to live wherever they wanted to live."
Many of them live in Paradise Cove because of its access to that private beach, one of the most pristine in all of Southern California. Surfing is a pretty big theme. Mandy's grandson surfs. He's 2.
Residents also have access to a clubhouse, tennis court, basketball court and lush grounds that they don't have to maintain themselves.
Lily Harfouche, a Malibu real-estate agent, says many families live in the two parks. Buyers are a mix of Malibu locals, such as Mandy, who live there full-time and those who buy at Paradise Cove and Point Dume as a second, third or even fourth home.
Buyers who already have a primary residence elsewhere may want a home on the beach, but they don't want a grand estate.
"In a time of real downsizing, it's about not cutting off more than you can chew," Harfouche says.
Many of these buyers are paying cash.
Harfouche says the typical loan a bank will give for a manufactured home in the Malibu market is about $500,000. The biggest loan she has seen was $900,000.
"If the home costs $2.5 million and you're financing $900,000, there's quite a lot left that needs to be paid for in cash," Harfouche says.
There's also the matter of your monthly space rent. That's right, rent. Residents may own their homes, but, just as in most mobile-home parks in California, they don't own the land. Of course, not owning the land means no property taxes. And a Malibu rent-control ordinance provides some protection from steep rent increases. Two of the million-dollar-plus homes recently on the market had monthly space rents of $1,650 and $1,850.
An Aspen hideaway
So you can buy a home for a million bucks (or two), but you'll still have to pay rent each month. Only in Malibu?
"I'd be very surprised if anything else in the world sells for over $2 million as a mobile home where you don't own the land," Carter says.
He's right about that, but there are other mobile homes selling for more than $1 million. Take the homes in Smuggler Park, for instance, in the resort town of Aspen, Colo.
Smuggler is different from the parks in Malibu because owners there do own their land, after a 1987 deal in which the owner at the time sold the lots to current residents. The park has a mix of mobile homes and stick-built homes, and owners have to live there full-time.
Scott Lindenau, an architect in Aspen, bought a mobile home in the park for $57,000 about 15 years ago. He built a new home in its place for about $300,000. That inventive home, which has won awards and has been featured on HGTV, is now appraised at $1.2 million, and it got Lindenau a lot of business for his firm, Studio B Architects.
Real-estate agent Patty Simpson says a 3,000-square-foot lot in Smuggler with an old tear-down trailer on it would sell for $500,000 and up. Only about 15% of the lots left at Smuggler still have mobile homes.
"Every year something gets sold and somebody else goes in," she says. "They either totally fix up the older structure or pull it off and build a house, usually with a full basement."
Smuggler residents can build a decently sized home in a prime location inside city limits, at what is still considered an affordable price.
For Lindenau, Smuggler was the only affordable solution for buying a home in Aspen that wasn't a condominium. He says he loves living there.
"It's almost always sunny (in Aspen); there are lots of great restaurants," he says. "Most of the residents are college-educated. There's no crime. There are so many good reasons why people live here."