Bel Air After the Skirball Fire: Will Home Values Burn?

Reed Saxon/A.P. Photo
An LAFD helicopter made a water drop on Rupert Murdoch's 16-acre Moraga vineyard Dec. 6.

Rattled by December's blaze — which wiped out 475 acres and destroyed six homes — real estate brokers are deactivating multimillion-dollar listings in the tony enclave: "It is just too much of an uphill battle."

The scene atop Casiano Road in Bel Air is bleak. Two of six houses torched during December's Skirball fire are cordoned off by security tape. On one condemned home, a pink cardboard sign bears the photo of a missing cat. Next door, a man in a hazmat suit clears debris on a recent morning amid husks of charred palm trees.

About $6.3 billion worth of residential real estate (some 1,700 properties) lies in the Skirball burn zone, according to Zillow — all of it in this tony enclave. Until the fire, headlines about Bel Air touted the arrival of new star residents, such as Jay Z and Beyonce, who in August purchased an $88 million spec house, joining Elon Musk and Jennifer Aniston. The median sales price of a home here in the third quarter of 2017 was $2.8 million, according to Douglas Elliman — a 15 percent increase from the same period in 2016. But now, as brokers yank Bel Air listings off the market, some worry that unless the area can get a handle on the cause of this disaster — it was sparked by a cooking fire at a homeless encampment — hillside areas could see a dip in prices.

"It definitely could scare people off from living in the hills," says neighborhood activist Nicki Miner, speaking to THR at the Dec. 20 Bel Air-Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council meeting — the first since the fire. Indeed, Pacific Union International's Samantha Nugent, who has a $3.35 million listing on Moraga Drive, says she and her client deactivated it for at least a few weeks; likewise The Agency's Jon Hamner, who has a $6.75 million listing on Moraga. "We shut it down right when the fire happened," he says. "It is just too much of an uphill battle."

Residents are relieved that the Skirball fire — which burned 475 acres, destroyed six homes and damaged about a dozen others — wasn't worse. "[The L.A. Fire Department] did an astounding job," says Scott Rich, the winemaker at Rupert Murdoch's Moraga Estate vineyard, which lost two storage buildings (a staffer for L.A. council member Paul Koretz said he received a call from Murdoch himself at 3 a.m. the night of the fire). But they also are concerned about further risks from entrenched homeless encampments. "There should be a patrol — a hobo patrol — to find out where they are hiding and register them and follow up to clear them out," says Miner.

Nugent notes the previous major Bel Air fire, in 1961, destroyed 500-plus homes. "Anytime you have a property that is close to nature, it is going to be vulnerable in some way," she says. As for the long-term effect on prices, Zillow economist Aaron Terrazas says that if history is an indicator, any dip will be temporary, adding, "Americans have remarkably short memories when it comes to natural disasters."

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STILL FOR SALE NEAR THE SKIRBALL ZONE
A few doors away from these scorched lots are these luxury listings

850 LINDA FLORA DRIVE Designed by architect Michael Kovac, this five-bedroom, 8,177-square-foot home was first listed in April for $19.5 million by Hilton & Hyland's Jeff Hyland (the price was dropped in October). "Certainly [the fire] has had an emotional impact," he says. "But this is L.A., where people are resilient. We have seen this before."

1100 CASIANO DRIVE Berkshire Hathaway's Larry Young and Ernie Carswell and Douglas Elliman's Christopher Pickett share the listing on this 5,246-square-foot five-bedroom, built in 1941, with saltwater pool and hot tub. "The neighborhood suffered an overwhelming amount of fallen ash and debris, but it has been removed and cleaned," says Carswell.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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