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Living on the edge, Literally

Homes Perched on Cliffs

It takes some creative engineering — and a bit of daredevil spirit — to build a house that is truly waterside.

This week, we take you inside the fascinating world of cliffside homes. How do engineers accomplish this feat? Are cliffside homeowners worried about erosion/landslides? What are the extra costs to build and maintain these unique homes? We cover it all in this week’s blog below.

As residents of Los Angeles, we are very familiar with homes by the beach, but as architects become innovators and engineers look for creative ways to differentiate these waterfront spaces from one another, we are seeing more and more home designs that have never been conceived of before. Homes that follow the waves of the oceans they overlook and mimic the landscapes they are nestled within.

Not every house built on a cliff has stayed on a cliff. So how do homeowners and architects take on this challenge — one that is rewarded with glorious, unobstructed ocean vistas, but also full of potential problems — and still sleep well?


Building a home attached to a sheer wall of rock means balancing aesthetic temptations with the realities of exposure, accessibility, zoning issues and design. Jaime Bartolomé Yllera, co-founder of GilBartolome Architects, says that the danger is part of the draw.

“It’s in some sense dangerous, but you can safely experience it,” he said. “Engineering goes a long way.”

Specialized engineers take extra steps in ensuring these cliffside homes don’t succumb to erosion and landslides. One tactic is to  dig 60 feet deep micropiles into the ground and drill anchors horizontally 60 feet into the rock.

For these houses to fall into the sea, the whole mountain would have to go into the sea.

Though houses built this way can incur additional construction costs, some builders say they are able to build a 2,400-square-foot House on the Cliff for about $200 per square foot, including the retaining wall and the bespoke furniture, for a total construction cost around $480,000.

You have to have energy to take on this challenge as a homeowner . You run into all sorts of challenges, so mental fortitude and smart budgeting are absolutely essential. Cliff homes present obvious challenges that can be costly to overcome. They have erosion, they have landslides, so they are tricky. But of course, from the standpoint of science and engineering, there are many solutions.

Even someone with the budget for it has to find the perfect location. Geotechnical tests, which extract a core sample from the rock, show which locations are untenable.

Cliff houses don’t always have to be such grand affairs. Marialena Hatzigeorgiou and her husband, Daniel Braig, who live in Virginia, just finished their first summer in their new cliff house, one of two simple houses they planned for the future of their two sons, each about 800 square feet and costing about $200 to $300 per square foot to build. They built on the Greek island of Skopelos, on property which had been in her family for decades, but used to be home only to grapes, olive trees and hens.

“They’re not really big houses, but they’re just perfect,” Mrs. Hatzigeorgiou said. “The view is just breathtaking. It would make you stop doing whatever you’re doing to just sit there and look at the water.”

They still met challenges. To get permission to pave an access road, they had to go to court and show World War II-era photos of a mule path that proved the area had been used for entrance even back then. When they built the house in 2018, they chose to forgo testing the cliff, because the family had owned the property for so long and not seen any shifting, even after pouring a foundation and basement back in 2012.

“There is a house just a couple of corners around us, and we feel that if it’s doing well, we are doing OK,” Mrs. Hatzigeorgiou said, adding that they routed rainwater with erosion in mind, would insure the house soon and will get it tested if they see any changes.

“For the time being, I’m not really worried about it.”


Presented by Lorin Ruttenberg and Erica Lockhart of Ahead of the Curve Homes.

Read more about cliffside homes here.

Read more of our blogs here.

Erica Lockhart – DRE 01763313
Lorin Ruttenberg – DRE 01309588
Compass is a licensed real estate broker licensed by the state of California and abides by equal housing opportunity laws. All material presented herein is intended for informational purposes only. Information is compiled from sources deemed reliable but is subject to errors, omissions, changes in price, condition, sale, or withdrawal without notice. No statement is made as to accuracy of any description. All measurements and square footages are approximate. This is not intended to solicit property already listed. Nothing herein shall be construed as legal, accounting or other professional advice outside the realm of real estate brokerage.