Crowned by the sale of a Malibu estate for $74.5 million, the number of houses sold last year at $1 million and above statewide jumped to a six-year high, according to real estate information service DataQuick.
In the strongest showing, the number of homes sold at $2 million and up set state, Southern California and L.A. County records.
"The luxury market did bounce back last year," said housing market analyst Paul Habibi, a real estate lecturer at UCLA's Anderson School of Management. "A lot of people were stepping back into the waters."
Among them were lucrative investors looking for a place to park their dividends.
"The stock market lined the pockets of high-end buyers," Habibi said. "That translated into home purchases."
Appreciation-fueled gains in home equity allowed others who had been waiting On Sales the sidelines to move up to bigger and better digs, releasing pent-up demand from recent years.
"It's a herd mentality," said Westside Estate Agency co-founder Stephen Shapiro, who last year saw well-priced homes drawing multiple bidders. "When people start paying more for houses, other people don't mind paying more."
Statewide, 39,145 homes changed hands for $1 million or more in 2013, up 45% from the year before and the best showing since 2007, DataQuick said. This slice of the market outpaced overall sales, which were essentially the same as in 2012, down only 0.6%.
An all-time high of 7,383 homes sold in the state at the $2-million-and-above mark, up 33% from the 5,536 that changed hands in 2012. Southern California broke a record with 4,514 sales at $2 million and above, and L.A. County also eclipsed previous highs with 2,628 sales.
In L.A.'s ultra-luxury market, locals, foreigners, flippers and celebrities came to the party, with billionaires playing musical houses in the $20-million-and-up price range.
Oaktree Capital Management Chairman Howard Marks had the priciest sale statewide, unloading his 9.5-acre estate in Malibu in an off-market deal for $74.5 million. The beachfront property includes a 15,000-square-foot main house, two guesthouses, a gym and a swimming pool.
Just down the street, "Karate Kid" producer Jerry Weintraub had the next highest 2013 sale for L.A. County, based on public record searches conducted by PropertyShark.com and Coldwell Banker. His bluff-top seven-acre compound, with two guesthouses, a swimming pool, a tennis court and a guardhouse, sold for $41 million.
"Our market has finally caught up with what is happening globally," said Coldwell Banker's Bobby Syed, who brokered an off-market deal last year of a 12,000-square-foot Beverly Hills estate priced in the $37-million to $39-million range. "A lot of foreign money is coming in, particularly to Beverly Hills and Bel-Air, which are still very cheap by comparison" to other major cities.
The 2.5-acre property he sold boasts a large flat area and expansive vistas, Syed said. "It was the biggest view from here to Taiwan," he said.
He represented the buyers and the sellers, who had bought the property in the 1970s from actress Elizabeth Taylor.
Serial house buyer and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was among celebrities who did their part to push high-end home sales, buying a 13-acre estate centered on a Tuscan-style villa in Santa Barbara County's Toro Canyon that had been listed at $26.5 million.
She then started this year off with another big purchase, snagging a modernist trophy home on the Westside for $39.9 million.
Madonna pitched in too, ditching her 1.25-acre compound in Beverly Hills for $19.5 million.
Getting in on the high-end home-flipping act was retired actor Kristoffer Winters, who renovates homes with actor Jeremy Renner. Winters and his investors raked in $24 million for a mansion on two acres in Holmby Hills. The Roaring '20s Art Deco-style house, reached by a cobblestone driveway, includes five fireplaces, six bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and 10,005 square feet of living space.
Statewide, areas with the highest number of sales at $1 million-plus were led by Manhattan Beach, Hillsborough and La Jolla. Brentwood and Beverly Hills came in sixth and seventh, respectively.
In some communities, such as Santa Monica, Rancho Santa Fe, Atherton and Los Altos, almost all home sales were in the $1-million-and-up category, partly because of rising prices.
"A lot of homes have just popped up over the $1-million mark with appreciation," said DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage.firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @LATHotProperty