This is the first of an occasional series called “WeHouse Hunting” by Mark Cregar that tells the tales of recent home buyers in the West Hollywood area.
Dr. Jonathan Leary was tired of renting. In his quest to discover the ideal location, he leased in five different Southern California towns over a five-year period after moving here from Rhode Island. But as a business owner (of a concierge medical service), he saw the value of building equity versus putting his income into rent.
“It’s like owning a business versus working for someone…you can make someone else money or invest it for yourself”, said Leary, 27. Once he zeroed in on West Hollywood, he was anxious to put down roots here. “I knew from the moment I could buy, that I wanted to buy.”
A year ago, he met Ivan Estrada, a broker at Douglas Elliman who was a neighbor and fellow gym (Equinox) buddy. Estrada, who also happened to be a CPA, had already guided Leary through the setup of his business – so it was only natural that he’d also help him find his ideal home.
Leary’s target: a Spanish-style bungalow, one with good bones, a yard for Rhody, his Rhodesian Ridgeback/Labrador mix – and one that was located central to his client base, which stretched from Hollywood to Santa Monica.
“At first I thought I wanted modern”, he said. “But after living in a modern apartment, it seemed cold. Then I rented a Spanish bungalow, and feel in love with that style.” With a budget of $1 million and the willingness to look in adjacent areas, he felt that he was up for the challenge of L.A.’s challenging real estate market.
Shortly into his search, Leary discovered a hilltop house in Laurel Canyon. The outdoor area, with its wraparound deck, jacuzzi and fireplace, was the big selling point. It fit just within his budget at $995,000 . But it was love at first sight, so he offered the full asking price. He wasn’t the house’s only fan, though, and ultimately he lost out to an all cash buyer offering $100,000 over the asking price.
Next up was his ideal style – a coveted Spanish bungalow, asking just $899,000. It was located a bit outside his target area, though, near the intersection of Pico and San Vicente. And though it wasn’t exactly a fixer, the finishes weren’t quite up to par either. Again, he bid full asking price, hesitant to offer more given the work he would need to put into it. Turns out he needn’t have worried about renovations, though – at press time, the seller was still considering three offers over $1 million – again, all three offers were all cash.
Then came his dream property. “It was ‘The One’,” he said. “Absolutely amazing.” Leary stumbled onto the listing on the daily e-mails Estrada had been sending him so that he could jump on properties the minute they hit the market.
In the same neighborhood as the last place, this was another Spanish bungalow: Walled, gated and with a guest house out back. Although the asking price was $895,000, he bid his budget limit, the full million. It hit the market Friday, and by Sunday his offer was accompanied by 19 others. The defeat was crushing – his dream house went to a buyer offering $300,000 over asking: needless to say, all cash once again.
After the latest battlefield setback, Ivan the broker recommended a tactical retreat – into a condo.
“Any single-family home under $1 million – you’re looking at four to seven at least,” he said. And the neighborhoods Leary was considering were too far south and east for his purposes.
“Jonathan was looking at tripling his commute,” Estrada added.
Leary was willing to consider a condo, but with some caveats – limited amenities (he never uses them and didn’t want to pay for them), and only buildings with ten or fewer units. “I didn’t want to live in a place that felt like a dorm, so also…no hallways,” he insisted.
The daily e-mail guidelines were reset and soon produced a brand-new condo on Larrabee, just north of Sunset Boulevard. It wasn’t a house, but had a lot going for it. No work was required (a nice benefit when you’re working 80 hours a week). It was filled with light, ideally located, and, at 1,500 square feet, was larger than anything Leary had bid on prior. Plus, it had a large terrace for Rhody. As if to seal the deal, the price had just been lowered to $895,000 from $950,000, so the builder was motivated to sell. Leary’s bid of $870,000 was accepted immediately, and he just moved in last week.
He’s only been there for a few days, but is appreciating condo living. The building is filled with other dog owners, and he already sees an opportunity to create a second master bedroom out of a bonus space. And he doesn’t regret the bungalows that never were.
“My new place is amazing…I have a view, I live in West Hollywood, in the hills – it’s really perfect.” And, in contrast with his bungalow bidding experience, he feels like he got a relative bargain “Given the square footage, I got this at a really sweet price.”
Mark Cregar is a real estate investor who entered the field after a long career in marketing, at which time he contributed articles to Ad Age and Ad Week. He holds a real estate sales license and has bought and sold nearly 20 properties. Follow him on Twitter @mcreegs.