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Sold: $1,000,000

From Newport to Ventura, oceanfront mobile homes are fetching breathtaking prices.

February 13, 2005|T.J. Sullivan | Special to The Times

The Malibu beach house that Mike Dituri bought four years ago was a bargain at less than $200,000, a 29-year-old double-wide within walking distance of the beach.

Some might have seen a boxy trailer, but Dituri saw Shangri-La.

A retired contractor, he spent another $200,000 to bring his vision into focus at the Paradise Cove mobile home park. He tore the 1,440-square-foot unit down to the floorboards and built a new home on the original chassis. He installed Saltillo tile floors throughout, vaulted the ceilings and opened them up with skylights. Then he walked to the beach and went surfing.

In September, however, Dituri reluctantly decided to sell his weekend retreat, hoping to recoup a little more than his total investment. To his surprise, he better than doubled his money, selling the place for more than $800,000.

Dituri calls the increase "unbelievable," but real estate agents and mobile-home-park managers say it's a typical tale in the trailer-park transformation that's occurring on beaches in Ventura County, Malibu, Newport Beach and beyond.

The value of mobile homes within walking distance of the surf has shot up tremendously in the last few years, reflecting a dramatic change in status for these dwellings. These trailers aren't the housing-market dregs; they're a sensible solution for some seeking the life of Malibu Barbie.

Mobile homes with breathtaking views of the Pacific hover in the $1-million range in places such as Malibu's Paradise Cove and nearby Point Dume Club, a steal when compared with the $10-million price tag on similarly situated conventional homes.

Kirk Murray, a Realtor with Pritchett-Rapf & Associates who has sold many mobile homes in Malibu, watched last year as one went for $795,000, and then sold again for $995,000 two months later. Another month after that, it was on the market again for $1.25 million.

Those willing to forego an ocean view can find units in some of the choicest parks for less than $500,000.

Owning a mobile home, however, differs from conventional homeownership, particularly when it comes to the dirt underneath the home.

There's the old saying: Buy land because they aren't making any more of it. But mobile-home ownership defies such wisdom because, in more than 90% of the parks in California, the purchase does not include the land. As a result, owners have to pay hundreds -- if not thousands -- in rent each month on top of their mortgage payments.

It's a matter that caused some disappointment for Joanna Goodwin when she paid more than $500,000 for a 1,500-square-foot home at the Point Dume Club in Malibu.

"I feel ... sad that I don't own the land," said Goodwin, who has been investing in real estate since 1997. "But I don't feel threatened that I'm going to lose my investment."

State laws, local rent controls and the difficulty involved in rezoning property all serve to quell fears some mobile-home owners might harbor about losing their prized location.

Certainly, Goodwin is not alarmed, and neither is Clay Dickens, vice president of Community West Bank in Goleta, which lent $25 million to mobile-home buyers in 2004.

"It's a very safe bet," Dickens said of mobile-home ownership in Malibu. "The chance of these ever not being a mobile-home park is nonexistent in my lifetime."

Protection is provided in the law and in the government bodies that oversee land use in the area, such as the Malibu City Council and the California Coastal Commission. On top of that, Malibu is one of many communities with rent controls.

For example, at Point Dume Club, rents can be increased only 15% each time a home is sold. In addition, homeowners such as Goodwin take comfort in knowing that their rent is limited to a 2% increase each year.

Goodwin, 53, closed escrow on her home in December and is planning to move in sometime in the next few months. For her, the purchase means paring down her possessions and simplifying her life. Goodwin, whose children are grown, is looking forward to a more relaxed lifestyle. Her goal, she says, is to infuse her spirit with the serenity of the sea out her window.

"If you're driving through Point Dume, it ... appears to be a conventional trailer park," Goodwin said. "But, if you walk through my front door, you've walked into a Ralph Lauren ad."

Her home has two bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, an office, a great room, a slate foyer, a fireplace with a slate hearth, distressed pine floors throughout, bead-board wainscoting, a wraparound deck, ocean views and an English country garden that was tended by a woman who, Goodwin says, had "10 green thumbs."

Meanwhile, down the coast at the Lido Peninsula Resort in Newport Beach, the structures run the gamut. There are two-story manufactured homes, typical double-wides, as well as 50-year-old trailer cabanas, some of which still have hitches on the front and wheels underneath.

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