Horse ranches, expansive estates, premier vineyards, and boutique wineries define California’s Santa Ynez Valley. Located over the San Marcos Pass about 26 miles from downtown Santa Barbara, the rolling hillside landscapes of the region are dotted with vineyards, olive trees, Scrub oak, and early California-style architecture under impossibly blue skies. A population of around 23,000 are scattered throughout the area’s small village-like communities, including Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Buellton, and Ballard.
Carey Kendall, an associate broker with Village Properties, has four decades of success selling distinctive properties in the Santa Barbara area, including Santa Ynez, Montecito and Hope Ranch. Kendall’s total career sales volume is close to $1 billion. He has been Santa Ynez Valley’s No.1 broker for 7 of the last 8 years.
Kendall knows first-hand why the low-key Santa Ynez Valley is now in demand. He and his wife, Alix, moved to the Santa Ynez Valley in 1995 and built their 10-acre horse ranch, Angels Landing Farm, in Los Olivos. “My niche is boutique properties of all kinds, from vineyards to estates to 100-acre ranches,” Kendall said.
Just prior and early on during the pandemic, in 2019 and 2020, Santa Ynez Valley’s market was moving slowly, Kendall recalls. “Then, the pandemic happened, and it’s like somebody turned on all the light switches and the phone just kept ringing. I would say about 90% of the calls were from Southern California.”
Families leaving pricey Los Angeles real estate behind find their money goes far in the Santa Ynez Valley. Rancho Sereno, with an asking price of $2,950,000, is a 5.6-acre, southwest-style estate in Santa Ynez. Try buying a tear-down in Beverly Hills for that price.
For those with deeper pockets, there is Seven Oaks Ranch with an asking price of $11,900,000. Located on 100-plus acres in the Happy Canyon area of Santa Ynez, this estate property has an imposing English country manor house. Its architecture was inspired by Sir Edwin Lutyens, considered the early 20th-century architect of architects for English country houses.
Doing business for 25 years in the Santa Ynez Valley, Kendall “kept wondering what was going to wake up this Valley and why properties were undervalued and didn’t sell quickly. I think it was off the radar for many people.” Clearly, the secret is out.
In 2021, year-to-date sales in South Santa Barbara County hit 960 in May, according to a recent Market Report from Village Properties. That was up 70% for the same period last year. The average single-family home price for the area is a little over $3.2 million, a 51% increase from a year ago.
In the Santa Ynez Valley, 122 single-family residences sold up 54% from that time in 2020. Average single-family home prices there rang in at $1,592.57, up 31% from the prior year. Since it’s challenging to build new thanks to strict zoning in the Santa Ynez Valley, buyers are redoing properties built in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
“Over the last few years, and increasingly this past year, we are seeing families moving here for the slower pace and high quality of life the Santa Ynez Valley offers,” observes Kendall, whose passions include vintage cars. Kendall has attended the internationally noted Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance every year for the past 40 years. When Kendall has a free moment (which he will tell you is not often), he has driven on various vintage car rallies and tours.
The Santa Ynez Valley is now on the map for wine tasting and touring in California as it has become known for wines rivaling those found in Napa and Sonoma. There are 13 area wineries producing dozens of varietals, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, just to name a few. The Santa Ynez Valley is a designated AVA (American Viticultural Area). The dry Mediterranean climate, “similar to Provence and Tuscany” with cool evening coastal breezes,” as Kendall explains, is perfect for growing grapes.
Kendall describes the Valley as “having a strong sense of community while offering wide-open spaces. “There are good schools, and we have sophisticated restaurants because there is a good deal of wealth here.” He points to only a few traffic lights and stop signs throughout the Valley. Sounds like a nice place to call home as more families from Southern California are discovering.