Why are some of Southern California’s most expensive properties left completely empty?

Over the last century, Southern California has seen its rich, jagged landscape jam-packed with houses wherever they can fit.

Homes hang from the sides of canyons with cantilevered pools suspended midair. Bungalows squeeze onto beaches within inches of their neighbors. ADUs pop up in front yards and backyards, built on-site or dropped in by cranes.

So why are some of the region’s most prime properties — oceanfront lots on Malibu’s best beaches, mountaintop acres overlooking the city — left completely empty?

Spoiler alert: It’s not because their owners are interested in the sanctity of vacant land and preserving California’s hills and beaches by leaving them untouched.

Per usual with the luxury real estate scene, it’s the vagaries of the rich, where the answer can be both vastly complicated or stunningly simple: a mix of greed, overabundance, desire for privacy and sometimes, simply having better things to do than worry about building a colossal house.

There are still plenty of vacant lots left in Southern California. According to Redfin, there are 3,497 residential pieces of land currently on the market in L.A. County, and their values vary wildly based on location.

For example, a half-acre lot is currently up for grabs for $3,000 in Lancaster. Over in Bel-Air, a 264-acre spread is listed for a cool $60 million. But the price discrepancies aren’t always so spread out geographically; in Malibu, one piece of land is asking at $50,000 while another asks $35 million.

In 2017, Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio left neighbors scratching their heads when he shelled out $6.6 million for one of the last remaining vacant lots on Malibu’s Broad Beach, an ultra-exclusive stretch of sand where Pierce Brosnan, Frank Sinatra and Jack Lemmon have owned homes. But instead of building on it, he left it empty.

That’s because he already owned the house next to it. Instead of dealing with a potentially annoying neighbor and the noise of constructing a new property right next to his, he decided to just buy the lot to preserve some peace and quiet, according to veteran real estate agent Jack Pritchett, who held the listing on the property a year prior.

“In Southern California, wealth can be measured by privacy, not money,” he said. “This proves it.”


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