Thursday, June 20, 2013

What's it worth?

Excerpt from chapter 5 of "Sideways in Neverland" by William Etling (2006)

"I am a real estate broker close to Mr. Jackson, in the sense that I'm in Los Olivos, and he's five miles up the road. He walked past my office once.
Neverland ranch is certainly not in our multiple listing service, and I doubt it ever will be. Properties like that don't need the mass market. There won't be any Sunday open houses.
So what's it worth? That's going to depend on who you talk to.
Take this into account: the broker who snags the listing will instantly become the highest profile Realtor in the world. You can imagine what that opportunity will do to the hyper-optimistic heart that beats in the average chest. The realistic value will double, triple, quadruple, as brokers compete for instant celebrity.
If you want to be a real estate star, the advertising budget won't break the bank. The word is out. The problem will be screening the hordes of people without a dime who want to tour the Lost Boy's lair. Expensive estates can attract sick people.

An appraiser determines value by comparing and analyzing sales on the open market. Realtors do the same, but because we are not licensed appraisers, we don't call our study an appraisal. We call it a 'comparative market analysis.'
Few homes are directly comparable. We don't just add up the sales and divide to get and average price. Square footage, quality of construction, land area, views, neighbors, neighborhood, landscaping, amenities such as pools, tennis courts, barns, outbuildings, and guest houses, easements, access, and age are just a few of the considerations that must be weighed. Road noise, terrain, driveways, soils, water quality and quantity, environmental hazards, homeowner's association issues, zoning, market trends and a host of other issues come into play.

Clearly, any opinion of value is highly subjective, easily argued up or down. Until the surprise, 'last hurrah' open house, I hadn't been on the property since I hauled hay there 30 years ago. It's changed a bit. But just for fun, let's run the numbers.

Eight thousand acres bordering Jackson's ranch sold in May of 2003 for a reported $8 million, or $1,000 per acre. It was not the caliber of Neverland. It was more remote, more rugged, with less oak forests, more steep, sage-covered hillsides. Access was from Foxen Canyon Road, not far from Fess Parker and Zaca Mesa wineries, along the gorgeous wine trail that meanders towards tiny Sisquoc and the court house in Santa Maria.

Let's be generous. If we suppose Jackson's land is worth more than what his neighbor got, say $10,000 an acre, his land alone is in the $27 million dollar range. Now we add what's built there, the buildings, roads, Ferris wheels and so on that make up the improvements. When Jackson bought in May of 1988 from Palm Springs - now Las Vegas - golf and mega-resort developer William Bone, he is said to have paid $14,6 million from the land and the improvements.

Those of you who had trouble getting that patio cover approved will be amused to hear there was a 12,522 square foot home, 2,195 square foot guest house, 2,084 square foot 'garage-office', 2,271 square foot 'recreation building' and a pool on the property, plus several older homes and barns from its days as a working cattle ranch.

Jackson put in the 165 square foot guard house, barns, animals, pens, 80 seat theatre, music stage, two trains, a train station, and numerous rides.
No buyer, not the fussiest, has ever asked me for a giraffe pen, snake barn, railway or amusement park. Appraisers call that kind of thing 'misplaced improvements'. Let's just add what the county assessor does, around $10 million. That brings our total for land and improvements to $37 million.

In addition, Jackson reportedly bought $12 million worth of personal property, such as custom furniture and African wall hangings. The fully stocked 640 square foot wine cellar held bottles valued at thousands of dollars each. Throw that into the pot, and the total is up to $49 million.

Now double, triple or quadruple that, as you strive to be the most optimistic - and most famous - listing broker in the world. Forbes magazine's 2004 list of the ten most expensive homes publicly for sale in America ranged from $38 to $75 million.
When it hits the market, Neverland will be among them. Call it a hunch."

Monday, June 3, 2013

A close call for Neverland - the Zaca Fire



Fire breaks out near amusement park at Michael Jackson's ranch
Black smoke billowed from Michael Jackson's Neverland Valley Ranch on Friday afternoon as a blaze charred more than 40 acres of the sprawling Los Olivos estate. The fire, which was fueled by light brush and grass, came within 200 yards of buildings, but more than 100 firefighters from Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Vandenberg Air Force Base and the U.S. Forest Service managed to keep it at bay.

It's not known how many animals were in the ranch zoo, which in the past has been home to a menagerie including elephants, giraffes, llamas and a camel, but authorities confirmed that none was evacuated. "The animals are being taken care of and there are no problems with them," said county Fire Department Capt. Keith Cullom.
By 7:30 p.m., the fire was fully contained. Investigators remained on scene until nightfall, attempting to determine what sparked the blaze that had firefighters hiking in over steep hills to stop it from spreading farther across the 2,600-acre ranch.

Mr. Jackson has not lived at Neverland since shortly after his acquittal on child molestation charges in June 2005 and has instead been residing in Bahrain. Raymone Bain, Mr. Jackson's publicist, could not be reached for comment Friday evening. The fire, which was reported at about 2:25 p.m., broke out just west of the entertainer's amusement park. A road that runs through the middle of the property split the fire into two flanks that burned on both sides of the 16 carnival rides, including a merry-go-round, Ferris wheel and octopus. From there, the blaze climbed up the steep terrain of the Neverland valley, where cattle had been grazing, but the herd safely escaped the flames.

The employees working on the ranch Friday were not evacuated, authorities said. Helicopters dipped their buckets into Mr. Jackson's pond, home to swans and pink flamingos, to scoop up water used to douse the flames from above, while hand crews and bulldozers battled the blaze from the ground.

A private fire crew stationed at Neverland Valley Ranch attempted to keep the fire under control until the closest county fire crews could arrive. It took the crews about 15 minutes to reach the ranch on Figueroa Mountain Road about five miles north of Highway 154. Mr. Jackson hired the Neverland crew after a fire there in 1989, which destroyed a $300,000 barn where two giraffes lived. The giraffes and chimpanzees in an adjacent barn were safely evacuated. That fire, county investigators determined, started in a large, propane-fueled fan installed two weeks earlier as part of the heating system.

Mr. Jackson bought the ranch in 1988 for $14.6 million and created a fairy tale-like setting, complete with a train, movie theater and arcade, to offer fun times to disadvantaged and sick children year-round. It costs about $3 million per year to maintain. A former ranch employee said there is an extensive fire hydrant system in all areas of the property and that each building is equipped with sprinklers.

Violet Silva, who worked as head of security and fire for the last seven years of her 15-year employment there, said ranch staff regularly took county firefighters around the property to familiarize them with the layout in case of such an event. "Our purpose was to be preventative," Ms. Silva said. "Neverland is in itself very well thought out, with the hydrants and sprinklers."

Ranch employees received regular fire training when she worked there. Also, a preplan book had been given to county Fire Station 32, mapping out the ranch. "I'm confident the situation will be handled efficiently and correctly because of all of this preparation," Ms. Silva said.
(Source: Santa Barbara News-Press, 2007)
Additional photos:

Excerpt from "Sideways In Neverland" by William Etling:

Fire on the mountain, cobras in the air: When a forest fire threatened to toast Jackson's ranch some years ago, the vet was told by the county fire department to evacuate Neverland's exotic zoo, or risk crispy critters.
They had barely begun on the 3.000 Square foot reptile barn, full of cobras, rattlers, coral and other poisonos snakes, plus albino pythons, boa constrictors, and huge anacondas, when the vet got word that a snake wrangler had been bitten.
It was his worst nightmare.
"Imagine looking for anti-venin at midnight," he said, shaking his head. Fortunately, the attack snake was non-poisonous.
A Wind shift spared the ranch.


View Zaca Lake Fire in a larger map