I get anywhere from 5 to 10 inquiries a week about buying land in Malibu. Almost all the calls are from people who see inexpensive Malibu land for sale listing on Zillow and Trulia and think that with just a little effort and a small budget a home can be built. I get calls from dreamers who think that they can come live in a yurt, put up a mobile home, live in an RV, or build some sort of mud hut with solar. Unfortunately this is not the case.

If you are considering buying land in Malibu, here are a few things you need to know.

I consider anything under $500,000 inexpensive Malibu land. It is likely cheap because it is either hard to build or really expensive to develop……often times both.

Parcels of Malibu land under $500k are likely located on steep lots which will require caissons instead of grade beams. Caissons are far more expensive to install than a traditional foundation. You need to bring in drilling rigs, engineer the rebar, and fill the hole with a ton of cement. A graded flat pad would lend itself to a regular foundation but a hill or slope will need the caissons. When looking online you will see a large price difference between the flat pads and sloped lots.

Road access gets expensive too. The Malibu fire dept. will want a 20 foot wide paved road with a hammerhead turn around at the house. So think about this when you a parcel that says it’s “close” to the road. Even if there is a dirt road to the site, you will need to engineer a road and this can run in to the hundreds of thousands. If the road is on a slope it will need to be engineered with caisson to support it. Long roads can run a million or more.

This is after getting feasibility studies, EIR reports, geology, and archeology reports. On top of this you have to install a septic system for about $80k since we don’t have sewers. Don’t forget architect fees and engineers fees. Pulling water or utilities from a distance get really expensive too!

You can quickly spend a ton of money before even pouring concrete or framing. And in case you are wondering about living in a yurt or trailers…the answer is that you can only live in temporary structures if you have an active building permit. To obtain a permit for raw Malibu land takes about 18-24 months and can cost $100k to $200k for plans and research.

I know this is discouraging but it’s just the reality of building out here. If you are an experienced builder then some of the costs of building on Malibu land can be cut down. Even if you find a good piece of land for sale it will likely be way up in the hills away from PCH.

One last thing…almost all the ocean view pictures I see online of Malibu land for sale are a but misleading. The slope may not look too bad, but trust me, our hills are steep and that’s where the cost go up dramatically for development.

One last option is to buy are parcel that already has a building permit. These generally start at about $750k but the costs can still be high with grading and roads.