Recent California rains have been both a blessing and a curse to homeowners living in the hills above Los Angeles. The blessing? Downpours reduce potential wildfire danger as they quench the dry brush.
But they’re a bust for homeowners like 24-year-old pop singer Demi Lovato, whose new $8.3 million home in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood was recently deemed unfit for occupancy before she even moved in, thanks to a mudslide from the neighbor’s home above hers.
The Los Angeles Fire Department estimated 20 tons of earth came cascading down the hill. That kind of landslide piled enough rocks and mud onto the 2017 Grammy nominee’s driveway that, had she been living there, would have blocked her in and buried her cars.
Five neighboring houses were evacuated, power was cut to hundreds of area residents, and some people whose doors and driveways were blocked by rubble had to be assisted out of their homes by rescue workers.
It could have “been much worse,” Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Erik Scott told a reporter from television station KTLA. “We have predominantly backyards that are affected.”
Those words aren’t much consolation to Lovato. A representative of the Department of Building and Safety has “red-tagged” the three-story, four-bedroom home she purchased in September. The tag on the door indicates a dwelling is unsafe to inhabit and allows for no entry to the home. It’s an extreme measure, but there’s imminent danger of the home above hers cascading down the hill.
Lovato isn’t alone
Lovato wasn’t the only celeb in the Laurel Canyon area to suffer the consequences of Southern California’s recent rains. A mid-January mudslide closed off Laurel Canyon Boulevard for several days and blocked an important artery between the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood. It affected hundreds of thousands of local residents, including prominent area homeowners such as George Clooney, Jared Leto, Bruno Mars, Pharrell Williams, and movie producer Megan Ellison.
In an intriguing twist, the property perched above that disaster site is now up for sale. It’s a one-bedroom, one-bath, 320-square-foot home on a 3,692-square-foot lot listed in late January for $250,000. The price was cut to $200,000 10 days later, and the listing description doesn’t mince any words about why. Take a look:
“Calling all developers! Fantastic opportunity to purchase a property for land value in the famous Hollywood Hills. To the seller’s knowledge the home is not damaged but the home cannot be accessed due to the red tag from the city after mudslide. The patio and balcony broke away from the home and slid down the hillside in a mudslide in January 2017. Seller has not lived at the property for several years. Property is being sold 100% as-is. Buyer to assume all responsibility. Seller will not provide or pay for any soil, geology or structural inspections. Drive By Only. Do not attempt to access property, it is red tagged by city. Seller does not have any information on what can or can’t be done with the property.”
Controlling the damage
Despite the risk, hillside properties demand premium prices in Los Angeles. Luxury Realtor® Christophe Choo of Coldwell Banker Previews represents prestigious buyers and sellers in L.A., many of whom want hillside properties. He says there are a few things a buyer can do to ascertain landslide risk on a property before purchase.
First, go beyond the general inspection and hire a geologist who will research the property and provide landslide and earthquake maps of the surrounding area. Earthquakes also put hillsides at risk for landslides in California, so a buyer should know if there’s a fault running near or through the property.
You should also factor in your future plans for your hillside property. Want to add a pool or guesthouse? You’ll want soil tests and core samples to determine how stable the land under your property is, Choo says.
Finally, if you’re buying a hillside home, look into extra insurance to cover potential landslide disasters. Most people don’t realize landslides aren’t covered in the majority of homeowners insurance policies. As with earthquake insurance, it must be purchased separately—and it’s often quite expensive. But you might find it well worth the cost in the event of a disaster.
Here’s hoping Lovato had the foresight to purchase that extra policy.
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