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February 5, 2024

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The affluent Santa Barbara-Santa Maria metropolitan area has claimed the top spot in the latest Wall Street Journal/ Emerging Housing Markets Index (as announced in the Dow Jones publications The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, Mansion Global, and, among others). Nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean on California's picturesque Central Coast, this region, favored by the well-known and well-heeled, offers an active, culturally- and amenity-rich lifestyle. But, is it an “emerging” real estate market?

A birds eye view of Santa Barbara with the ocean and Channel Islands in the background bleeding into the blue sky.

The Criteria

The Emerging Housing Markets Index, unlike other indices that look primarily at existing, rising, and falling statistics and trends, focuses on a community’s economic vitality, quality of life, predicted future home price appreciation, and other housing market data. Hence, the sometimes seemingly radical discrepancy in the results from year to year, and from one position in the list to another. Let’s look at 6 things that make the Santa Barbara area #1 on the 2024 Wall Street Journal/ Emerging Housing Markets Index.

1. The Charm of the Santa Barbara Region
The enduring allure of the Santa Barbara area resides not only in its real estate prowess but also in its ability to encapsulate a lifestyle that transcends conventional expectations. From the rolling vineyards of the Santa Ynez Valley to the sun-kissed beaches lining the Pacific, the region beckons with a fusion of experiences that cater to its discerning residents. As someone intimately acquainted with the heartbeat of this community, I've witnessed firsthand how Santa Barbara weaves together the cultural richness of its Spanish heritage with the sophistication of modern luxury living. Beyond the confines of the housing market statistics, there's a narrative of community vibrancy, artistic expression, and a commitment to environmental stewardship that distinguishes this enclave with a multifaceted essence that, to me, makes Santa Barbara a truly exceptional place to live.

    The back patio of a luxury home, with stylish outdoor furniture surrounded by lush greenery.

    2. Unique Position on the West Coast
    The region boasted a median listing price of $1.795 million last December, outshining its counterparts by over $1 million. Chief Economist at, Danielle Hale, notes that Santa Barbara's unexpected rise underscores the current division in the housing market, where markets either offer affordable prices for healthy competition or, like Santa Barbara, sit at a premium where conventional affordability constraints are not a significant concern for potential buyers.

      The large backyard of a luxury Cape Cpod-style Montecito home, with a lush lawn, and a pool framed by mountains.

      3. Real Estate Dynamics
      Also from December, we learned that 71% of homes in our metro were listed at $1 million or higher, marking a significant rise from 62% in 2019. Aspiring buyers, enticed by declining interest rates and a gradual increase in inventory, are venturing into the market. Yet for sellers, the delicate balance of limited supply and heightened demand continues to exert upward pressure on prices.

        An aqua blue ocean view plunge pool lined with luxury lounge chairs outside of a white modernist home

        4. The Allure of Santa Barbara and Environs
        Beyond its real estate strengths, Santa Barbara beckons with a lifestyle that reads like a dream: 300 days of sunshine, a laid-back pace of living, pristine beaches, scenic mountain trails, culinary delights, and a rich cultural tapestry rivaling major metropolitan areas. This idyllic locale has long been a favorite for retirees seeking a mild climate and professionals looking for a balanced and less crowded lifestyle.

        5. International Appeal and Global Recognition
        Santa Barbara’s allure extends beyond the borders of the United States. The University of California, Santa Barbara, attracts a global cohort, with international viewership accounting for a sizable 3.3% of listing viewership. In short, the metro is a sought-after destination on a global scale.'s search data reveals that over three-quarters (79.5%) of views on home listings in the area during Q4 came from outside the metro. Los Angeles leads the way, contributing 32.8% of these views, followed by interest from Silicon Valley, Atlanta, and New York City.

        The. luxury living room of a Craftsman inspired, Mediterranean influenced home with beamed ceilings, wood floors and a glass door looking out to the ocean.

          6. The Santa Barbara Region’s Distinct Identity
          The Santa Barbara area stands not just as a symbol of real estate distinction but as a testament to an unparalleled lifestyle. Whether you're dreaming of oceanfront luxury or a laid-back opulence among the oaks and sycamores, Santa Barbara invites you to explore the area’s dynamic real estate market. The unexpected rise to the top of the Emerging Housing Markets Index only solidifies the metro’s distinct identity as a premier housing market in America.

            Now that you've gained insights into the captivation manifest in Santa Barbara, along with the reasons for its #1 ranking in the Wall Steret Journal/ Emerging Housing Markeys Index, I extend a cordial invitation for you to explore firsthand the unmatched charm and real estate splendor it holds. Experience the blend of opulence and coastal elegance that defines this region by perusing the remarkable properties listed on my comprehensive website. Should you find a residence that resonates with your vision, feel free to connect with me at (805) 886-9378 or via email at It would be my pleasure to guide you on a journey to discover your ideal home in this distinguished locale. Meantime let’s celebrate this amazing honor that Santa Barbara and its surrounding communities have earned.

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            Client Reviews

            “It was an emotional experience selling our mother’s home in Montecito that we all loved so much but Cristal made the process easier on our whole family by guiding us through the transaction every step of the way. She knows the market so well and everything she recommended was on point including the asking price, painting, and staging the home, which looked beautiful and helped the buyer envision her new home. We sold it the first day it hit the market with an offer above asking! Cristal did an incredible job communicating with us and the buyer to ensure that the transaction would run smoothly. We highly recommend using Cristal, she was a pleasure to work with! ”

            - J & A

            “Cristal is a pleasure to work with! Her knowledge of the local real estate market coupled with her amazing listening skills resulted in her showing us an array of homes that were all excellent choices. Her low-pressure patient attitude made us feel extremely comfortable with the whole process. I cannot recommend her highly enough.”

            - M.F.

            “Cristal Clarke is #1 in her field - and you don't become #1 by luck. Cristal works harder, and longer, and with more charm and patience than any real estate agent I have ever worked with in the past; her calendar has no weekend, her days have no clocks, her only concern is selling your property as soon as possible and for the best price on the market. Am I a fan? You bet!”

            - P.B.

            “We have used Cristal now several times and cannot express how grateful we are for her expertise, dedication, and unwavering support throughout the entire home-buying process. Cristal is knowledgeable, patient and attentive. Her attention to detail is remarkable, and she consistently went above and beyond to provide us with all the information and resources we needed to make informed decisions. Cristal is a skillful negotiator and advocate. She can navigate complex negotiations with professionalism and grace and felt like a true partner to us in the home-buying process. Cristal has a genuine passion for real estate and a deep commitment to her clients' satisfaction. I cannot speak highly enough of Cristal and her exceptional service. She is a true expert in her field and her dedication to excellence, combined with unwavering support is the reason we choose to work with her for all our real estate buying needs.”

            - T.C.

            “Cristal is a top-notch realtor who sold my home before it ever went on the market. I had two competing offers that enabled me to get top dollar for my home. Not only is Cristal superb but her team is extraordinary. I cannot say enough about Cristal and her team. They are simply phenomenal, the consummate professionals, who took care of every possible detail, making the sale and transition period, smooth from our end. They are also lovely, caring people, who knew all the right professionals, to get the job done. Thank you, everyone!”

            - D.R.

            “I could list lots of cool adjectives to describe Cristal. All good by the way. But, that is not why I or anyone should hire Cristal. My reason for hiring her, which proved to be correct, is very simple. She got the job done. And, she does it time and time again and with zero issues. And, that is why she is one of the top agents in the country. End of subject. ”

            - M.A.

            “Working with Cristal was a complete pleasure. Cristal was extremely patient with us as we evaluated nearly 2 dozen homes over a span of 2 years. Her knowledge of the market is unmatched. Cristal provided us with exceptional counsel as we evaluated opportunities and negotiated pricing. The closing process was handled thoroughly and efficiently. We could not be happier with our purchase and even more happy to now call Cristal our friend.”

            - D.K.

            “Cristal Clarke has conducted numerous real estate transactions for me beginning 13 years ago with the purchase of a Lemon Ranch. She has handled both large and small purchases and sales with equal dedication. As a negotiator, you can’t find anyone better. Her transactions are always conducted in the most appropriate and professional manner. Cristal has considerable knowledge of the Santa Barbara market.”

            - S.N. Decker Ph.D.

            “Living in Europe, we were to say the least, unaccustomed to the nuances of Real Estate acquisition in California and Cristal steered us through the process with absolute professionalism and personal attention to detail at every turn. Her in-depth knowledge of the market place combined with enthusiasm and drive was the only reason we secured the property of our dreams and will be forever grateful. If you are looking for personal discrete and private representation of the highest quality we suggest you look no further than Cristal Clarke.”

            - Johan and Paula van den Berg

            “Cristal is very straightforward, cheerful, helpful, professional and trustworthy….we felt very lucky to work with her.”

            - John and Lacey Williams

            “After considering our many choices, we are grateful it was Cristal Clarke of Sotheby’s International who represented the sale of our Montecito cottage. We are familiar with Cristal’s reputation of hard work and dedication to clients, but it was her attention to detail that made our experience so positive. She offered suggestions for staging the property, worked in harmony with potential buyers and was even able to secure back up offers. The sale of our cottage was completed much sooner than we expected, due in great part to Cristal’s professional skills and support. We highly recommend Cristal as a first choice for anyone needing representation with real estate.”

            - Michael & Nancy Lee

            “Our experience in working with Cristal Clarke resulted in the successful and discrete acquisition of a property which was not yet on the open market. Her knowledge of the Montecito/Santa Barbara area and vast expertise blended with her passion for real estate and architecture, provided us with the very highest level of professionalism and personalized services. Cristal exhibited a rare combination of excellent communications, attention to detail, creativity and patience.”

            - Richard and Catherine Frinier

            “Cristal really breaks the mold. She knows every nook and cranny of this real estate market, understands value, and follows up on everything, all the time. She was incredibly patient with our two year quest to find the perfect house. Every house hunting trip from across the country was well planned, and our time was never wasted. On top of her professionalism and expertise, she is delightful to spend time with. We are thrilled with the home we purchased, and grateful to Cristal for so wisely advising us through this process, right through to the close and beyond.”

            - Laurie Siegel

            “We met Cristal first in the course of renting a winter home (for three years), then buying a house using her as our agent. She was amazingly good at listening to our wants and showing us homes that fit our needs. Her mastery of the paperwork was perfect. Most importantly, there was never a situation where we doubted her straightforwardness or integrity. If we do another real estate transaction in Montecito (which I doubt, we’re happy with what we purchased), without question we’d use Cristal again.”

            - Ken Saffir

            “Susan and I just want to thank you for your efforts in the sale of our home. You are really quite amazing. Your competence, persistence, optimism and humor made the entire process effortless. Every problem that arose, you somehow fixed; any obstacle, you overcame. We have bought and sold many homes. It has never been such a painless and enjoyable process!”

            - Michael & Susan Marquart

            “A little something about “our” realtor, Cristal Clarke. My wife and I came to Santa Barbara about fifteen years ago looking for a seasonal home from which to enjoy the weather and amenities of the central coast. Being in the real estate business myself I was familiar with agents and brokers so entered the market with open eyes. We “flipped” a few houses in the early years, dealing with various agents and finally ended up in Montecito. That’s when good fortune put us together with Cristal. To say we were impressed is to put it mildly. Cristal really knows the market. She is familiar with the area, its history and trends. When we have questions about a particular property she either has the answers immediately or gets back to us by phone or email. There is no waiting or wondering with Cristal. She is an agent who is “on top of it.” Her recommendations as to price points, contractors, inspectors and title agents have proven to be exceptional, showing great insight and the highest professional standards. We consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to say that Cristal Clarke is our realtor and would recommend her services to any serious buyer or seller.”

            - Rob & Judi Kelch