To Build Or Not To Build

To Build Or Not To Build?

Building your dream home in Malibu sounds romantic and fun but what does it really entail? There is a considerable amount of land for sale in Malibu compared to other markets. Why aren’t people buying dirt and building the house they’ve been dreaming of?


The answer to that is complex but if you are thinking of building in Malibu or it’s surroundings, what you read below should help.


There are some very positive aspects to designing and building your own home:

  • You get to design the house that works for you – not someone else’s vision
  • You get the finishes and style you want
  • You can make lots of money

But like most things in life, there are some other things that need to be considered too:

  • You need cash (no loans on land!)
  • You need time
  • You need patience

While almost all of the buyers I’ve worked with would find all of the items in the first list attractive, not everyone has everything I’ve mentioned in the second list.

First of all, let’s start with the “you need cash” aspect. Land financing disappeared with the mortgage meltdown. You either pay cash for the property, negotiate the owner carrying back paper (basically being the lender) or you find a property with plans and permits and obtain a construction loan. Cash is the most common transaction. The second is having the seller act as the lender. This option usually means a sizable down payment to make the owner comfortable. A property that is ready for construction financing is rare.

Moving on to “time.” Raw land (this is land no one has tested or permitted) takes 18 months or more to get permits to build a house on. Malibu has three permitting jurisdictions: City of Malibu, unincorporated area of Malibu in LA County and unincorporated area of Malibu in Ventura County. All three have slightly different procedures and development guidelines. Depending on how ambitious your development is, permitting times vary.

Building a home in bureaucratic. There are various permitting agencies, specialists and sub-contractors. There are many decisions and changes you may want to make. Views, trees, neighbors, sunsets may all have an impact on your final product. Pick the best consultants for your style and get people that understand you and can channel your vision into a home.


Purchasing land in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains is daunting but exciting too. You need an experienced agent in land to help you with the journey. Someone who knows the pitfalls and can guide you. Share with that agent what you want to build and why – it can guide them to showing you the right properties. And remember – building can be inspiring and rewarding!

The Malibu Life Team has a land specialist, Jennifer Chrisman! Contact for more information.