Walter Munk house for sale for $5.5 million

Judith Zeng

Oceanographer Walter Munk was able to see the waves of the Pacific from his home, and for $5.5 million, so can you.

His La Jolla Shores home went on sale two weeks ago and offers on the property are due Wednesday afternoon. Listing agent Brett Dickinson said there have been 80 showings of the property and interest seems to be strong for the 3,478-square-foot home.

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The property at 9530 La Jolla Shores Drive is on the National Register of Historic Places. Depending on the home shopper, that could be a positive or negative: Older homes in the area tend to get knocked down to make way for new, modern properties. That would not be a possibility here. But, its historic designation means a buyer could apply for the Mills Act and pay around 50 percent lower property taxes.

Regardless of its historic value, it is still a home with ocean views in a highly desired neighborhood with a direct trail to the beach. There is also plenty of room to spread out with six bedrooms across a main and a guest house, as well as features that demand a premium: a pool, outdoor grass amphitheater, gardens and large windows to maximize ocean views.

Dickinson said potential buyers so far have been a mix of people who really want to live in La Jolla Shores and others who are interested in the story behind the house.

“I think the person that is going to buy it is someone that has a love affair with the story and history of the property,” he said. “It’s going to sell at, or above, its (listing) price.”

Munk died in the home, which he called Seiche (named after a standing wave oscillating in a body of water), in February 2019 at age 101. His scientific accomplishments earned him the nickname “Einstein of the Oceans.” His decades of work in oceanography included greatly improving surf forecasting, helping countless American troops land more safely during the D-Day invasion in World War II and even analyze the impact of a hydrogen bomb blast in the early 1950s.

The home was designed by his wife, Judith, and completed in 1954 . The home was added onto throughout the years as their family grew. Judith Munk died in 2006 and Walter Munk would later marry Mary Coakley Munk. Upon Walter Munk’s death, the house was donated to UC San Diego, based on his wishes. Mary Coakley Munk opposed selling the home and — against the wishes of the university and Munk’s daughters — began the process to designate the home as historic, as reported by the La Jolla Light, a publication of the U-T Community Press.

Home sales on Seiche’s section of La Jolla Shores over the last two years have averaged around $2 million. For instance, a 2,673-square-foot house across the street from Munk’s home that was built in 2001 sold for $1.9 million in February 2020. However, it is worth noting while many of the homes are modern and listed for less money, not all have direct trails to Black’s Beach.

Mark Goldman, a real estate analyst with C2 Financial Corp., said there will always be home shoppers who would prefer a tear-down to put up their dream mansion. Yet he said there are those out there willing to pay a premium for a historic home, especially if they are in some way interested in the story of the property or an architect who designed it or the person who lived there.

“These kind of homes are not going to appeal to all buyers,” he said.

Dickinson said the bathrooms and kitchen are dated and a buyer would likely want to remodel. However, Goldman said classic features and appliances in old bathrooms can be hard to find and might be worth something to the right buyer.

Without being familiar with the Munk house, Goldman said there is sometimes a mismatch in prices for historic homes. He said he has seen historic homes that a listing agent might price at a premium go for much less when the market has its say.

The owner of Munk’s house won’t have to worry about the view ever changing because the canyon in front of it is protected open space. The lot is more than a half-acre, making it fairly large compared with most ocean view homes in the county.

The way the historic designation works is about 50 percent of the property must remain the same, leaving the door open for improvements and other features a potential buyer could add. It would be up to a buyer to apply for California’s Mills Act, which allows a local jurisdiction to significantly reduce property taxes if they maintain the home’s historic significance. San Diego says the average tax savings for homes on the Mills Act is 50 percent, but can range from 25 percent to 75 percent.

UC San Diego said money from the sale will be distributed equally among the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Foundation for Earth Sciences, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to support the work of professor Octavio Aburto and research related to the marine habitat and biodiversity of the Gulf of California, and the Kyoto/Munk Fund.

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