I know almost every street in the hills surrounding Los Angeles from Coldwater to Runyon Canyon, from Outpost to Beechwood. Each canyon neighborhood is distinct in its own way, with a rich diversity of homes from the hillside “shacks” to the multimillion-dollar palaces.
The news Sunday that a home was sliding down Laurel Canyon surprised no one I know. We all knew which house it was the second they flashed the live image of the crumpled house on TV. A spec home built in the late ’80s or early ’90s, it characterized the downward spiral of the real estate market at that time. The glass block windows could still be seen beneath the smashed structure that used to be a house just minutes before.
I recently commented to my husband that the next downturn in the real estate market must be right around the corner because there was a “For Sale” sign posted in the front lawn of this home. “When someone pays top dollar for this house,” I said, “we know it’s over.”
And now the local news is showing an area at the top of Mulholland at Woodrow Wilson Drive – famous for the spectacular wide-angle vistas of the valley below – where hillside residents have been “red tagged” and told that they can’t return until the city determines that an ominously saturated hillside above their homes might be “safe.”
“When we bought in ’78, we really didn’t give much thought to the idea of a mudslide,” said the unhappy homeowner being interviewed for the story.
“Didn’t give much thought about a mudslide?” I thought. These are the Hollywood Hills – where humans have tried to tame nature for the sake of real estate development and their ability to own a “piece of the rock.” Literally.
The recent storm here in L.A. has damaged the local infrastructure so much that major roads have been closed and frustrated commuters have been complaining that their 20-minute commute from the valley into town is now taking and hour and a half.
“We won’t know how these hillsides are going to hold up for at least another week or two,” said the U.S. Geological Survey guy who was interviewed about the situation as part of the same news story. “But we’re not surprised with all this movement as the ground just can’t hold any more water.”
With that, we were shown a very graphic map of Southern California with lots of red zones, which represented the areas known to be most likely to have a mudslide. Most are in Ventura County but a lot of red appeared on the map of the Hollywood Hills.
So what is the responsibility of a real estate agent at a time like this? Will agents now discourage potential homeowners from seeking out a piece of paradise in the Hollywood Hills? Will there be a flurry of sellers nervous that the hills will be tainted forever by these slides?
“People are going to be asking a lot of questions about drainage,” my husband declared over dinner last night.
As frequent home buyers, he and I have become familiar with the ins and outs of liquification, mold and other assorted potential hazards to be discovered during the diligence of our real estate purchase. Why not drainage?
“Will someone start a company to issue drainage insurance or a report on the seepage like they do when you are digging a well for a septic tank that can now be acquired by a paranoid homeowner and a real estate agent looking to get out of liability on this subject?” I asked. “Will it be issued by a title insurance company? Or will it affect your ability to get homeowners insurance?”
Not one to let grass grow under my feet (literally in this case), I breathed a sigh of relief that we have been snug as a bug in a rug during this last storm. Our 1920s Spanish-style home, looking quite like Old Hollywood now that our renovation is nearing the end, has done quite well and in spite of wondering whether the pool would overflow or the new roof leak, we spent the weekend watching in continual amazement (and contentment) as the rain accelerated hour after hour, dumping inches – almost 20 in all – in our area.
“This mess will certainly change the way people look at these neighborhoods,” a friend of mine said when asked about the recent power failure during the storm.
As for me, I’m buying a generator.
Julie Brosterman is a consultant to the real estate technology, mortgage and servicing industries. She lives in Los Angeles and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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