WeHouse Hunting is an occasional series which tells the tales of recent home buyers and renters in the West Hollywood area.
Joel Wingelman was facing a classic Los Angeles real estate challenge: How to move to a better neighborhood without giving up some of the features he had grown to cherish in his current apartment.
An events planner originally from Wisconsin, he fell in love with the charm and character of his 1940’s era East Hollywood apartment when he first moved to town: Its ample space, hardwood floors, high ceilings, in unit laundry and onsite parking only sweetened the pot. As an added bonus, copious shelving helped showcase his proud collection of Olivia Newton John memorabilia. “I’m obsessed with her”, he explained, “what can I say?”
What he didn’t count on was loud music playing from the neighbors’ houses late into the wee hours, and rarely was it from the seminal ONJ album “Physical.” Frequent bouncy house rentals added to the racket, necessitating a few late night 911 complaint calls. “And I wasn’t ready to turn into Kathy Griffin fighting the KB Homes president,” he added. Unexpected utility bills and garbage strewn throughout neighborhood streets only reinforced his decision. Clearly it was time to make a move.
His dream: a spacious (800 square foot or larger) one bedroom apartment in West Hollywood. WeHo was his dream neighborhood, reminding him of San Diego’s Hillcrest area, where he had spent his formative years. Ideally, the apartment would feature hardwood floors, parking, in-unit laundry and, he hoped, be on an upper floor with natural light. Most important: Avoid anything depressingly generic.
“At this point in my life, I feel like I’ve moved beyond the beige box,” Wingelman said.
He knew that the West Hollywood market, especially for anyone looking beyond a brown-carpeted studio, would be tough. So, he came armed with all the necessary tools: a near-perfect credit score, a check in hand for the deposit and first month’s rent and a willingness to spend half his income on rent – if that’s what it took. His agents were digital in nature, with names like Craigslist, Apartments.com, Zumper and Zillow. Unfortunately, they were not held to the same code of ethics as a real estate agent, as could be seen from the differences between listings and reality.
“I’d say about 85% of the apartments listed on Apartments.com had no pictures,” Wingelman said. A number of the “one bedrooms” turned out to be studios. Many calls went unanswered. He started his search looking at $1,200 listings, affordable for him, but quickly understood what that would get him: “a studio, and a dated one at that.” One listing in that range weighed in at a mere 325 square feet. A bump up to $1,500 got him worn carpeting, particle board kitchen cabinets sporting thumbprints from decades of use, and basically dated beige everything.
Finally, a promising listing on Orange Grove Avenue was spotted, featuring large windows and hardwood floors. It even met Wingelman’s 800-square-foot minimum. And best of all, there were two units to choose from. At $1,795 and $1,895 per month, they were at the top of his price range, but at this point he had realized that he’d need to pay this much to get what he wanted.
When Wingelman arrived, a walk through showed him what Craigslist wouldn’t: Dated appliances, ancient pink tile in the bathrooms, and those large windows actually faced an exterior walkway trafficked by the rest of the buildings’ tenants. So, the choice had to be made between sunshine and privacy. He decided to move on.
Having given his East Hollywood landlord notice, time was quickly running out. With just a few weeks to spare, Zillow served up what looked like a lovely unit in an even better location: 1247 Sweetzer Ave. Wingelman rushed over and fell in love: At $1,800 a month, the unit had the requisite hardwood floors, handily exceeded the 800-square-foot minimum and boasted new(er) appliances and plenty of natural light (walkway view not included).
And, the apartment faced a large, relatively noise-free vacant lot. He tried his best to make a good impression with the current tenants, who were screening all applicants for the landlord. His charm must have worked, since he soon received a request to meet with the owner.
“It was a doctor living there and his pregnant wife. I really hit it off with her, which was good, since there were two other applicants for the same place.”
The meeting went just as well with the owner, who was highly impressed with Wingelman’s credit score and the check for two month’s rent that he held in his hand. He moves in late November.
Looking back on his decision, Wingelman admits that he had to give up a bit to move to his beloved WeHo: While he had in-unit laundry in East Hollywood, laundry facilities here are communal. He’d also rather be west of La Cienega Boulevard, closer to his friends. And for him, the dream apartment is something of a budget buster. But overall, he is thrilled with his choice and can’t wait to move in.
“I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving… most of all the security of knowing there will be no more bouncy houses squealing late into the night.”
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.