So, you’re in love and ready to commit! Topanga Canyon is where you want to call home. The natural beauty, the trees! (One of the few places in LA county with native trees!) Creeks, canyon views, wildlife, hiking, sunsets!!! Yes. It is magical. A very special place to live. I have been her for almost 20 years and still am in love and appreciate all it has to offer, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring.
But, moving from “the city” to The Canyon is a big change and even if you own your own home in the flats, buying and owning a home in Topanga is a whole nuther beast. I had to learn it the hard way myself, so I’m going to share some of what I wish I knew then, all I know now. Over the past 20 years I have remodeled and lived in two different homes in Topanga and bought, remodeled and sold a few more. Each home in Topanga is unique. Each lot is unique. Each location unique. Comparing houses in Topanga is like comparing apples to oranges. (Or maybe kiwis?)
I’m going to address the key things that are not issues with buying a home in town, from septic systems to irregular lot lines including road access considerations and other location information in this guide. I will not be covering financing or how to make an offer or any of those things. Your local Topanga real estate agent will help you with all that. There are some tricky aspects to getting Topanga properties to appraise at true market value since often there is additional square footage that is not on the county assessors site, but local agents know how to work with appraisers and make it all work out.
When we first decided to buy a home in Topanga every weekend we would drive out and look at the open houses. Back then Redfin and Zillow were not what they are today. These days you can let your computer do the walking. And looking at homes online saves a lot of time. You can eliminate the truly ugly, tiny or too rundown usually by just looking at the pictures. But one thing you really can’t evaluate is the location and orientation unless you take the drive and go see it in person. Also, road access can be an issue in Topanga. If you work from home and tend to be a hermit this is less of an issue. If you have kids or an active social life or just want your friends to come visit you in your new paradise, then getting there has to be considered.
Our first home was in Fernwood and just a few houses off of Fernwood Pacific Dr. Which made for fairly easy access. Also Fernwood is the closest area toward the beach side and Santa Monica. Though… it had a very special driveway. Super steep at the top so it felt like you were driving off a cliff on the way down. (Once bringing home a little playmate for my daughter for the first time, the poor child, let out a scream of terror as we descended!) We got used to it and so did our friends. There are some things you can adjust to and somethings that will forever bother you. Only you know the answer to that. I recommend anyone in your family who will be living and driving to and from your future home to actually do the dive personally to make sure they can handle it for the long haul.
Since I’m still on the access issue, one thing I really hate are certain roads where turning on to Topanga Canyon Boulevard (aka TCB in local speak) is treacherous. Where on both sides are blind curves so that there is no visibility from either direction of the oncoming traffic. I’ll get more into that when I go into the different areas of Topanga and their pros and cons.
So you found a house that you love the look of (or can make it into something you love) and you can get there without any major issues. Dirt roads, one lane roads, no guardrails, impossible left turns, blind curves, I know this is starting to sound bad, but my current home has most of these issues and it doesn’t bother me a bit. But then again I have been driving Topanga for 2 decades. Somethings you just get used to. Ok! Enough about access.
The next major consideration is orientation and lay-of-the-land. Orientation is the direction the house faces. The best being south-south east, but some people prefer south-west since thats where we get our amazing sunset views. The only problem with westerly orientation is it can get pretty hot during our long summers. There are certain areas in Topanga that tend to have certain orientations depending of which side of the canyon you are on or if your in a lower creekside area. But even in those areas there is no hard and fast rule since one property can be situated very differently from its neighbor. So, ya gotta go and see for yourself. See it in the morning, see it at lunchtime, and see it in the late afternoon. It’s the only way.
Our first house was North facing. Not really a great orientation but it did have a great view of the State Park, mist covered valleys and shade in the summer. But, is was dark in the winter, the south facing side was up against a hill so no winter sun for me. Our second home in Topanga has south south-west orientation and I never tire of the ever changing sunsets and light filled winter days. But, thats me. Some people like the security and coziness of cavelike spaces. I guess the point is, be aware of the orientation and know what you prefer and what you don’t.
Lay-of-the-Land You can get a sense of orientation on a map but it is hard to tell if the hill or mountain in front will create shadows or not. Which brings us to “lay-of-the-land”. Many homes are hillside homes since there is very little flat land in Topanga. It’s not impossible, just more rare. And more valuable. Another consideration is privacy. In Topanga homes are not usually set side by side exactly, which is one of the nice things. Not having to have curtains if you don’t want them because often your neighbors can’t look out their window into yours. (Unlike city living.) Some homes may be set high, some low, all in the same area. Although our first house was set close to the lot line and we had neighbors homes very near by, they couldn’t see us. We could “hear”each other if anyone got loud but either the other houses were set above ours or below ours and of course the wonderful trees gave us a sense of being on our own and yet within a community. (A note on sound: Sound waves carry up. For example you could be right on the boulevard but set below it and you won’t hear the traffic. Or you could be way up high and far from the road but if theres not much between you, the noise could be a nuisance.) We have had many a free outdoor concerts when the local philharmonic were practicing in the spring.
So now you have found a viable home that has the Access, Look and Location (The A.L.L.) that works for you. But that’s not ALL! Topanga is not on the county sewer system. Yep. That’s right, you are responsible for your….Um, well you know what I mean.
Next I will share some basic information on septic systems so that when you get your inspection you’ll know what to look out for.
Other articles in the Topanga Canyon buying guide:
Lot lines and craziness- coming soon
Local Agent List