Trailer trash? Not quite. Welcome to Malibu's million-dollar mobile homes

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The Independent US

A trailer park might seem an odd place for a vastly successful entrepreneur to make his home, especially an entrepreneur who owns other houses in Hawaii and on Catalina Island, 20 miles offshore from Los Angeles.

A trailer park might seem an odd place for a vastly successful entrepreneur to make his home, especially an entrepreneur who owns other houses in Hawaii and on Catalina Island, 20 miles offshore from Los Angeles.

But there is nothing down and dingy - much less trailer-trashy - about the house that skateboard king Steve Rocco built on the bluffs above Paradise Cove in Malibu. In fact, you'd never guess his stunning cottage, finished in redwood and Yosemite stone, was a trailer home at all, were it not for the original hitching post that still sticks out of one side.

After giving a quick tour of his roof deck with breathtaking ocean views, his impeccably landscaped garden, his double kitchen (one half indoors, the other half out) and an outside shower complete with door-weight fashioned from a Scandinavian anchor claw, Mr Rocco says the hitch is what makes him proudest of all - " the cherry on top of the sundae," as he calls it.

Mr Rocco bought his mobile home three years ago for just over $400,000 (£220,000), stripped it down to the metal frame which, by law, has to remain in place, and has since sunk more than $1m into it. Quite apart from the proximity it affords him to the surf, his great passion, it is almost certainly a good investment. All around him, trailer homes - some of them lavishly converted like his, others not - are selling for well over $1m.

The most expensive one to date along the Malibu coast has just sold for over $1.5m. If he ever put his on the market, it would almost certainly fetch more than $2m.

The concept of the million-dollar trailer park is both mind-boggling and quintessentially southern Californian. It is a testament to the peculiar economics of Malibu - the beach playground for Hollywood's rich and famous, with breathtaking views of both the Santa Monica mountains and the ocean - that $1m is considered dirt cheap. Most of the homes along this stretch of the Pacific are worth at least 10 times that much. Barbra Streisand's palatial spread, easily visible from Steve Rocco's hilltop perch, would probably fetch $20m-$30m if she ever chose to sell.

Until a couple of years ago, snobbery and a certain inattention ensured that the Paradise Cover trailer park, and another a few hundred yards away at Point Dume, were the best-kept property secret on the coast. No longer. The first $1m trailer home was recorded a year ago, and the first $2m one is surely imminent, according to David Carter, the undisputed estate agent king in these parts, who is himself a resident of Paradise Cove. "This is the last bastion of affordability in Malibu," he said, "and it's barely affordable any more." Mr Carter is a tanned, relaxed and contented man - as he should be, given the extraordinary business he has been turning over lately.

Intriguingly, trailer homes represent something of a loophole for the canny buyer. They are not subject to the usual planning rules laid down by the city of Malibu or the California Coastal Commission - making it both easier and cheaper to refashion them from the ground up. Hence the attraction both to the not-quite-so-wealthy and to those looking for a second home by the beach without wanting to lavish tens of millions of dollars on it.

Paradise Cove succeeds in being a surprisingly cohesive little community, and many of those who imagine they will descend only on weekends end up living there full-time.

The atmosphere is a little different up at Point Dume, with its own country club complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool. Here the boom is in equally full swing, inspiring a former beauty products executive called Janet Levine to start a business in which she buys up trailer homes, does them up in fancy architectural styles and sells them on at a profit. The name of her company: Fab Living.

She closed a new deal on the phone even as she was giving an interview to this newspaper. "I'm thrilled to be buying another one from you, darling," she told the agent. Eminem's mum would no doubt find it all extremely strange.


A selection of headlines from the past few days shows why Paradise Cove is millions of dollars and light years away from the traditional model. Trailer park burns most of day; smoke clouds engulf area (Connecticut); Sewage leak at trailer park (Alabama); Parents of slain girl file suit against trailer park (Georgia); Crime not uncommon at trailer park, owner says (New York)...

Websites run jokes such as: "You know you're trailer trash when you've been married three times and still have the same in-laws"; and the Trailer Trash Doll called Turleen (right) bears very little resemblance to Barbie.

But all of this barely disguised snobbery masks the reality of trailer park living: that it is the only affordable housing for some. And when, in the south and midwestern states, the hurricanes and tornadoes come, it is the trailer park people and their possessions who are first to be blown away.