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House Hunter: My House Hunt Begins


Let’s say you’ve got $2.4 million smoldering in your wallet and you’re craving a nest in Santa Barbara. Ah, here’s one: three bedrooms, two baths, on a mountain overlooking the city. Nice. Just sign on the dotted …

Wait! For that same money, you could buy Johnsonville, Connecticut — not just a house there — the whole village. The deal comes with some empty houses (it’s a ghost town), a covered bridge, a wooden dam, and a waterfall. The old mill village drew a high bid of $1.9 million a year ago, but the sale fell through. Now it’s back on the market for $2.4 million.

Hmm, tough one. In Johnsonville, you could possibly stroll around your village, going all feudal with your vassals, and then demand a nice lunch by your waterfall. In Santa Barbara, people are nice but not serf nice.

Well, $2.4 million also happens to be the median price for a home in Santa Barbara, according to PropertyShark’s annual list. That puts our city 12th on the list. The number one zip code is, once again, in the heart of The Hamptons: Sagaponack, Long Island, New York, with a median price tag of $5.125 million.

While researching the most expensive zip codes in the country, I also stumbled upon a Wall Street Journal story about Dennis Franz and his real-estate-developer wife, Joanie Franz, buying a house in Montecito in 2010 for $2.15 million. It caught my eye because of the link between Santa Barbara and The Hamptons. The story was headlined “A Hamptons-Style Home in California,” and photos do reveal that it’s Hamptonic.

First of all, I’m a big Dennis Franz fan. Among other things, he played Detective Andy Sipowicz on the fabulous NYPD Blue, one of the greatest pairings since pastrami on rye. Also, he’s originally from the Midwest (Illinois) like me (Ohio). And, for a price tag under the current median, he bought a Hamptons-style house, with the porch and everything, instead of a castle. (Yes, it was post-crash 2010, but still.)

Incidentally, Dennis recently gave a rare interview to the New York Post and said he has no qualms about stepping away from the limelight after 12 seasons (and four Emmys) on NYPD Blue. “I just wanted to live an enjoyable, irresponsible, spend-time-with-my-family kind of life. I haven’t regretted one minute of it. I’m pretty good at doing nothing.” You gotta love Dennis Franz. And he’s a Santa Barbaran!

As it happens, before we moved to Santa Barbara, we lived in an UnHampton not too far from Sagaponack. House prices weren’t as crazy, but they weren’t exactly cheap. Now we’re house hunting in Santa Barbara with a terrific realtor who’s working hard, but it’s a challenge since we’re apparently not the only people who want to live in paradise. In other words, we’ve jumped from the real estate frying pan into the fire.

Here, fittingly, was one of the first comments I heard on this situation, and it came in an email from none other than The Santa Barbara Independent’s own Nick Welsh. “What made you move out here?” he asked. “An irresistible urge to feed the real estate beast?”

That was not it.

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