Families are choosing the celebrity enclave of Montecito, California, just east of Santa Barbara, as real estate prices reach historic highs. Since the pandemic began, young families from Seattle to Los Angeles have decided to call this seaside community of about 10,000 residents—and one of the nation’s wealthiest—home.
Riskin Partners Estate Group with Village Properties knows Montecito well after 17 years of racking up sales there. As Montecito’s top-selling luxury real estate team, they’ve seen the market evolve to where it is today.
Partner Robert Riskin drills down the demographics. “We have seen a significant demographic shift since the pandemic. The biggest change has been the increase in young families making Montecito their primary residence. Between January and July of 2020 versus the same time this year, Riskin Partners saw a 160% increase in the number of young families buying homes in Montecito.” These days many Montecito listings mention the coveted Montecito Union School District.
In 2020, Riskin Partners had a hand in 51 transactions, of which 22 included young families purchasing a property. So far in 2021, Riskin Partners has been involved in 32 transactions, of which 21 were young families buying a Montecito property. Comparing the number of young families buying in Montecito from Jan 1-July 1 of 2020 vs. 2021, Riskin Partners saw a 162.5% increase.
As the demographic has trended younger, prices continue to steadily rise. According to Village Property’s June Santa Barbara Market Report, the average year-to-date sales price for single-family residences was $6,271,353. The latest numbers show 93% more properties have sold in Montecito this year than in 2020. Montecito properties range from around $4 million for a “needs updating” home to $72.5 million for a 28-acre compound.
“The Montecito market remains incredibly robust. Demand has not waned since early on in the pandemic, and yet we are at all-time lows for inventory,” observes Riskin Partner Jasmine Tennis. “This has resulted in a significant increase in pricing. In some cases, we have seen, an increase in 30 plus % over pre-pandemic pricing,” Tennis adds.
Oprah, Rob Lowe and Ellen De Generes (the latter being a noted Los Angeles and Montecito renovator) are among celebrities who enjoy life in Montecito. While the A-listers live in gated estates with eight-figure price tags, young families often gravitate towards “affordable” properties that offer a similarly laid-back yet sophisticated lifestyle.
Data from two Montecito schools, specifically a spike in 2021 enrollments, speak to the shift in demographics. Cold Spring’s current enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year is 191, and that number may change over the summer. In past years, the school’s enrollment was around 170 students. Montecito Union School began the 2020-2021 school year with 377 students and ended with 390.
“Overall, it’s just a really exciting time in the community. Having grown up here myself, it is fun to see the new and amazing energy coming into our small town. We are so lucky to have incredible outdoor activities between the beaches and mountains, our two Montecito Villages with great shops and restaurants. It’s a wonderful small town that has all of the amenities of a larger city,” Riskin explains.
Here’s what attracts these young families to Montecito, according to Riskin. “The consistent themes we hear are that people are prioritizing quality of life in the forms of being in nature, personal outdoor spaces, beautiful weather, lack of traffic, good schools, and distancing themselves from the hustle and stresses of larger city life. Couple this with so many companies allowing people to work remotely, Montecito is an incredibly attractive choice.”
One question for Montecito and similar luxury markets is what happens when pandemic restrictions ease and young parents must head back to the office? Riskin managing partner Dina Landi lends her thoughts. “People have now experienced what it’s like to live here, and it will be hard to give up. The beauty of Montecito is that it’s close enough to Los Angeles that you can commute there in 1.5 hours or grab a flight out of the charming Santa Barbara Airport, which is only 15 minutes away.”
There are daily flights to and from Santa Barbara originating out of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, Denver, and Las Vegas. If you fly private, take note of the two FBOs (private jet terminals) at the Santa Barbara Airport. Not surprising with all the celebrities that call Montecito home.