Nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara and neighboring Montecito, affectionately known as the American Riviera, offer a lifestyle rich in culture, history and exceptional natural beauty. Despite recent events bringing trying times to the region, its cherished community spirit and picturesque beauty have endured. The story told by residents is one of friendship, community and unwavering love for the place they call home. And this story continues to resonate with homebuyers seeking the beloved California coastal lifestyle.
“The communities of Santa Barbara and Montecito came together during the fires and subsequent mudslides with a level of graciousness and compassion that reaffirmed the reasons most residents
choose to live here,” says The Agency’s Jill Nelsen, who has lived and worked in the area for the past 25 years. “It is an exceptionally beautiful, close-knit community. It attracts thoughtful, altruistic people who prefer to live or weekend in a place where they can enjoy nature, the mountains, beaches, and a more refined pace and lifestyle.”
Montecito resident Andrew Anthony, a film and television executive, and his wife evacuated with just overnight bags. The award-winning midcentury home they designed and remodeled in Montecito’s Golden Quadrangle was lost entirely. They plan to rebuild. “We traveled 3,000 miles to find a place as tranquil, creative and flat-out beautiful as Montecito," Andrew says. "Work has taken us to Iceland, Dubai, Australia, Japan, and all the other far-flung reaches of the earth and never have we found a village that felt more like home. We’re never leaving.”
Producer Seth Epstein of creative agency Los York and his family share a similar sentiment. An active family of surfers, photographers and travelers, the Epsteins were drawn to Montecito for its close-knit community, proximity to the ocean and the opportunity to connect with nature. In the aftermath of the Thomas fire, the Epsteins packed up their three teenage boys, two dogs and pet bunny to evacuate. “For us, the events and evacuations deepened our appreciation of how lucky we are to live here,” Seth says. “It’s the idea that if you want to find out who someone really is, put them under pressure. Montecito is a small community in many respects and it attracts good people with big hearts. There are countless stories of generosity and kindness—our community showed up.”
In the aftermath of the events, much speculation has been made about the resilience of Montecito’s real estate market, but numbers indicate the community continues to hold strong. “Property values have not been affected,” Jill asserts. “They have held steady or increased, and the real estate market is very active.”
If it’s any indication of the unwavering appeal of Montecito, the most expensive home in recent history sold in the midst of the slides. In escrow when the debris flow occurred, the 9.4-acre Italianate-style home on East Valley Road, represented by The Agency’s Mauricio Umansky and Santiago Arana, sold for $35 million. It was the largest sale listed on the MLS in ten years.
The fires and mudslides hit close to home for The Agency’s Natasha Barrett, who was born and raised in Santa Barbara, the daughter of a top-producing agent in Montecito’s Upper Village. Natasha represents 2140 Ortega Ranch Lane, a five-acre Mediterranean-style estate in the area, alongside Santiago. “Montecito’s real estate market is alive and well,” she says. “The community has pulled together, focusing on making the city better than ever. After all, it’s not just the sun-drenched beaches, dramatic mountains and breathtaking properties that make this secluded celebrity paradise so desirable, but the incredible camaraderie and community spirit of the people who live there.”
“In the end, there is an unequivocal desire to be here,” Jill adds. “To rebuild and support local businesses, restaurants and shops that are busy and thriving once again. The overall feeling is positive, optimistic, and grateful.”