Buying Land in Malibu - An Overview

The Malibu Life  |  February 2, 2024

Buying Land in Malibu - An Overview

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Thinking of a Malibu Land Purchase? Let’s Talk…

Malibu has amazing homes but what if you want to custom design your own place? The good news is that Malibu is one of the few coastal areas with a good amount of land parcels that have not been developed yet. There are many lots to choose from at any given time in Malibu - you just need to find the right one to fit your needs.

There are two things you will need in order to build your own home: time and cash. Cash - this is because financing on land is hard to come by and can be pretty expensive.  If you do finance, you will still need approximately 35 to 50% down. Plus, “soft costs” such as architectural drawings, geological or other reports and permit fees need to be paid for. Time - permitting a home in Malibu will take 2 - 5 years or more to complete from start to finish. Yes, we know this is a long time but when done you should have something with a good amount of built-in equity!

Malibu has three permitting jurisdictions: the incorporated area aka the “City of Malibu,” the unincorporated area of Malibu that is part of unincorporated LA county and another unincorporated area that is part of Ventura County. The permitting regulations and procedures are similar in all three areas but not the same. The information here is a rough outline and a bit general so that it applies to all three areas.

Let’s Build a House!  


Step 1: Finding a Lot

Sometimes sellers put their land properties on the market “RTI.” If you see that term online, it means the property is ready to issue permits. The hard work is done - you just need to pull permits and start building. Sellers with RTI lots get a premium. They have done all the hard work and expect to be paid for it. Buyers benefit because it saves them years of permitting with the city or county agencies.

Other lots are sold partially permitted or as “raw land.”  Raw land is basically sold without any investigative studies ever done on it. In this case, a buyer is responsible for doing all the reports and investigations themselves either during escrow or after. There is no way of knowing where (or even if) a structure can be placed on a lot and at what cost without studies. 

A realtor experienced in Malibu land sales can help you avoid properties that may be unbuildable or very costly to build. A good realtor can tell you if an area is known to have geological issues, if something may be prohibitively costly and if there is protected biological habitat on the property. In addition, many of Malibu’s roads are dirt, gated or just plain hard to find. 


One of our current lots for sale in the desirable Malibu Park neighborhood.


Step 2: Buying a Lot

Once you find a lot and have an accepted contract, there are many things to pay attention to. Geology, percolation (this is for the installation of a septic system), the availability of water and electricity, protected plant life, archeological reports, slope ratios, etc. Make sure you investigate anything that may impact the ability to build your dream home.


Step 3: Building a House in Malibu!!!

In Malibu, the first step is planning approval. For this you need the required reports and architectural drawings (these include where the house is to be placed on the land, the floor plans and the elevations). In the Malibu city limits, you can view the process and required documents by clicking HERE.  In the county of Los Angeles, click HERE for more information on planning. And lastly, Ventura County planning can be found by clicking HERE. Going through this process is what takes the majority of the 2 - 5 years we mentioned. 

After planning approval, building and safety is the next step. This is the department that issues permits. To submit for permits, you need “working drawings” or “engineered plans.” These are more specific plans that specify the plumbing, structural (framing and foundation), electrical, HVAC, etc - you get the picture! Once those are submitted, permits are a relatively short process - around 6 months.


Step 4: Inviting Your Realtor Over to See The House

We love to see people realize their dreams! Don’t forget us years later when you move in. We promise to bring a housewarming gift!

Interested in a specific piece of land in Malibu? Give us a call at 310.818.5788 and we’d be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Interested in selling your Malibu land? Call us at 310.818.5788 or email us at [email protected] to get in touch today!

View our current land listings

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