Ten years ago, the picture of a typical Huntington Beach resident might have been a shaggy-haired surfer in board shorts. Nowadays, the surfing capital of the world — dubbed “Surf City USA” — is attracting a different kind of resident: the undercover millionaire.
“Huntington Beach is attracting a lot of new people to our area because of the new services, amenities and recreational opportunities here,” says Scot Campbell, a designated Coldwell Banker Global Luxury® Property Specialist and a top award-winning realtor for the Coldwell Banker® brand in Huntington Beach for the last 12 years. “It’s becoming a destination.”
Campbell points to the city’s new 191,000 square-foot oceanfront Pacific City shopping and dining complex — anchored by a luxury concierge-style apartment building, new hotel, swanky Equinox and beachy-chic restaurants like The Bungalow — as one such draw. Annual events like the Vans U.S. Surfing Open in late July, the Great Pacific Air Show in October and the Fourth of July celebration bring hundreds of thousands to the city each year. “Downtown Huntington Beach is the place to see and be seen now,” notes Campbell. Besides offering 10 miles of sandy beach and some of SoCal’s most surfable waves, what’s another possible attraction for the undercover millionaire? Housing prices. Homes in Huntington Beach are about 35% cheaper on average than homes in Newport Beach, its closest coastal neighbor.
“A brand new construction modern farmhouse with 4,000 square feet and five bedrooms may sell for $3.9 million in the Newport Beach Port Streets,” Campbell speculates. “Head six miles down Pacific Coast Highway to the Park Area of Huntington Beach, and the same quality and size house costs about $800,000 less.”
He should know. Campbell works closely with several local custom home developers who build regularly in both beachside communities. As a Society of Excellence winner for Coldwell Banker, he continues to set records for homes in the $1 million+ category, including a $5.45 million beachfront contemporary that sold in 2018. Campbell’s office — fronting the ocean on Pacific Coast Highway right in the heart of downtown — also sees a lot of foot traffic from house hunters who are comparing properties along the coast.
“Often, prospective buyers new to the area will come back to us after touring properties in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, and they’ll tell us that they don’t understand why it’s so much more expensive there,” reveals Campbell, who has lived in Huntington Beach since 1973. “We tell them it’s because Huntington Beach was once an oil town and didn’t have all of the amenities that we have now. Buyers view Huntington Beach as a great value, and it’s closing the price gap.”
According to data prepared by the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing for the just-released “The Report: State of Luxury 2019,” Huntington Beach ended 2018 on a strong note. The median list price for $1 million+ homes remained stable and the median sales price increased by 14% from 2017. Days on market also decreased slightly in 2018 from 2017. These year-to-year market fundamentals combined to create seller’s market conditions — but Campbell cautions that the 2019 market has already downshifted into more balanced conditions.
“Average days on market for the entire year is the lowest I have seen in 30 years in the business, but it has recently increased,” he notes. He says the market’s current sweet spot is between $1 million and $1.5 million; once prices go north of $1.5 million, the absorption rate slows. “The higher the price tag, the longer time on the market, and the fewer homes are selling relative to what’s listed — then you’re edging closer to buyer’s market conditions.”
This is mirroring what’s happening in other Orange County coastal neighborhoods as well, although cost-friendly Huntington Beach appears to be weathering the transition a little better. For example, Newport Beach saw a decrease of 7.73% in sales of $1 million+ homes in 2018, while Huntington Beach saw an increase of 3.1% in sales of $1 million+ homes in 2018. Campbell remains optimistic about the long-term prospects of Huntington Beach as a growing luxury coastal community. “Although the market has moved from a hot seller’s market to a balanced market, Huntington Beach is still winning the zero-sum game as compared to adjacent beach communities,” he says.
One thing that the city has in its corner is the lifestyle. Despite its maturity as a luxury haven in the last few years, Huntington Beach still tends to be more laidback compared to other Orange County luxury coastal strongholds — and many homebuyers view that as a plus.
“A lot of young, upwardly mobile homebuyers today are turned off by conspicuous consumption, and prefer the casual beach culture of Huntington Beach to more status-focused coastal communities like Newport Beach,” says Campbell. “The typical Huntington Beach buyer wants to live the California dream. They want to live in a community where they can see the surf driving down the highway or perhaps watch the sun set over the ocean while driving to a nice restaurant… And they know what a dollar is worth.”