Escapes - In Malibu, a Lease on the Mogul Life
February 4, 2005
The first year that Grey Rembert, a development executive at DreamWorks SKG, rented her Malibu apartment, it was her secret guilty pleasure. "I was embarrassed to tell people, because it's an extravagance," she said. "There's an assumption about Malibu and the million-dollar mansions on the beach, but what people don't know is that alongside those million-dollar mansions there are small places that people like me can rent."
Three years later, Ms. Rembert's friends and co-workers know exactly where to find her come Friday evening; in fact, many angle for a weekend invitation. "Malibu is just close enough that you can pop out for a quick visit," she said. "But once you get there you don't want to leave."
Ms. Rembert, 40, is one of a substantial group of young entertainment industry professionals who "pop out" to Malibu each weekend � from as little as 20 minutes away � to have their piece of the beachfront fantasy lifestyle made famous by Gidget, Barbie and the star-spotting pages of Us Weekly. This isn't quite David Geffen territory, though: an up-and-coming Hollywood income of $200,000 to $400,000 a year doesn't buy a place in that Malibu. So, until their Tinseltown ships come in, young film-industry types lease pieds-?-terre for $3,000 to $6,000 a month.
Unlike her house "in town" (Los Angeles proper), a 2,200-square-foot Spanish Colonial-style house with two bedrooms, Turkish rugs and a library of more than 1,500 first editions, Ms. Rembert's beach "clubhouse" is a modest studio apartment with a kitchenette and a dead-end spiral staircase used as a bookshelf for back issues of the British celebrity magazine Hello!, Vanity Fair and People. She spends most of her time on the deck, nearly double the size of the interior, reading on a lounge chair that faces the ocean.
Her neighbors on Las Flores Beach, on the southern end of Malibu's 27 miles of coastline, are a mix of families, older long-time residents and young weekenders like her living in an equally eclectic range of dwellings: a contemporary house of glass and steel sits next to a 1920's traditional cottage, which sits next to a surf shack. More low key than its celebrity-filled Carbon Beach and Malibu Colony neighbors farther north on the Pacific Coast Highway (P.C.H.), where houses rent from $20,000 to $100,000 a month, Las Flores Beach has more houses and apartments for rent for less than $10,000 a month.
Ann Eysenring, a real estate agent with Christies who has lived and worked in Malibu for 15 years, has seen young Hollywood come and go. "People go through this beach house period at a certain time in their lives," she said. "When they come into their own in their career, they decide to try something different and rent out here." Ms. Eysenring said that her younger clients mostly aren't yet interested in the commitment of buying a second home in Malibu, whether they can afford it or not.
Many people start out as summer renters, paying $5,000 to $80,000 a month, then fall in love and take a year-round lease on a beach place. For long-term renters, homeowners sometimes discount their monthly prices as much as 50 percent from the peak summer months.
KIM PEIRCE, the director and co-writer of "Boys Don't Cry," is among the renters. A transplanted New Yorker who became enamored with the neighborhood feel of Las Flores Beach ("People yell up to your window, just like in Manhattan," she said), Ms. Peirce couldn't afford to buy or rent a place on her own, so she shares a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment with her partner and a third roommate, who sleeps on a daybed in the sitting room. "We couldn't bear to leave the beach, so we decided that we could do it like the East Village," she said, referring to the cramped lifestyle.
Ms. Peirce splits her time between her West Hollywood home, about 40 minutes away, and her "little fishing house," where she swims daily and conducts informal business meetings. "These actors come out, and the front of our house on the P.C.H. looks like a warehouse," she said. "And then they walk in, and their jaw drops, and they walk straight to the deck and look at the ocean."
While swimming and other water sports are less popular in the winter, when the climate remains mild but the ocean temperature averages 58 degrees, the contrast between city stress and seaside relaxation is palpable in Malibu all year. Malibu is about rising early, strolling on the sand and wearing comfortable clothes. No surprise that Ugg boots, the Australian footwear phenomenon, had its stateside start in Malibu.
The boots-on-the-beach lifestyle may seem far away from the bustle of Los Angeles, but the price is becoming increasingly similar. This year, the average beachfront property sold for $5.6 million, up from about $3.8 million in 2001. The total volume of Malibu home sales in 2004 will top $800 million; 10 years before, it was just $200 million. Jonah Wilson, a real estate agent with Prudential, said that the cost of beachfront rentals has jumped along with Malibu's rapidly rising sales prices. "Houses that I rented in 1997 for $2,500 per month are now between $10,000 and $12,000," Mr. Wilson said. "A house that I rented to Russell Simmons in '97 was $20,000, and now it's $65,000."
And even at relative bargain prices, young Hollywood does have certain demands. The two most important: only on the beach and only on the right beach. "Below" (or south of) Las Flores Beach is unacceptable because it is a "wet beach," meaning it's only walkable at very low tide and houses are on stilts. "Above" (or north of) Malibu Road, although it has pristine beaches and extravagant houses, is equally undesirable because it is too far from town. Which leaves about five miles of beach up for grabs: Malibu Road, Malibu Colony, Carbon Beach, La Costa Beach and Las Flores Beach � most of which have fewer and fewer inexpensive offerings.
Marty Bowen, 36, a partner in the motion picture department at the United Talent Agency and the owner of a home in the Hollywood Hills, rented a summer house in Malibu in 1999. He loved the temperate weather and beautiful scenery so much that he bought a small condo for $600,000 � and sold it four years later for $1.1 million. "I had prided myself in getting the smallest condo in the ugliest building on Malibu Road," said Mr. Bowen, who currently is without a Malibu place. "I decided that I was past that stage. The next step up is to buy a $4 million place. And someday I will do that."
Back on Las Flores Beach, Shauna Robertson, a producer of "Elf" and "Anchorman," is thrilled to be able to spend weekends at the tiny, one-bedroom apartment she calls her "shoe box." For $2,800 a month, it has a view of the ocean on three sides. "I can't imagine not having it in my life," she said, adding that she wished everyone in her frenzied industry could have one, too. "The world would be a much better place if everyone could have a house in Malibu."