WeHouse Hunting: Bidding Wars, Disappointment … Then the Ideal Space

Dr. Jonathan Leary with Rhody, his Rhodesian Ridgeback/Labrador mix, on the balcony at his new condo on Larrabee Street north of Sunset.

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.

The view from Dr. Leary’s condo on Larrabee Street north of Sunset.

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.”

The kitchen at Dr. Leary’s condo on Larrabee Street north of Sunset.

  1. WOW, this is one tough crowd….hard to believe nobody has commented on his dog not looking at the camera, the value of the watch on his wrist or his choice of carpet runners in the kitchen, amongst many other possibilities. The comments are absurdly ridiculous.Can’t more people just be happy for the guy???

  2. Isn’t this just an article about the typical home buying experience in LA? I have heard the same story from many people, all cash offers, being over bid, so on and so on.
    Not really news. Just fluff.

  3. @JL: Nothing to do with real estate appreciation or the Dr.’s joy of home ownership. It looked might like an advertorial. The Dr.’s website has many testimonials with practices I’m familiar with but no place of business. He has quite an enterprise. If one puts them self out there in this manner the criticism goes with it. This was not news.

  4. Wow. I’ve never seen so many whiny, bitchy comments from a news article whos primary purpose was merely to share the joy of another human being.

    Property appreciation happens everywhere, in every city, all over the world, and has been for hundreds of years!! Relax bitches.

  5. Not everyone in West Hollywood blows all their money on alcohol, drugs, prostitutes, restaurant food, leased cars, parties, vacations, expensive gyms, and frivolous waste, all financed with credit card debt, while slacking off at work and bouncing from job to job. A million dollars for a home is well within reach of anyone who took school and work seriously and saved invested a good part of their income for several years. It’s not the responsibility of people who make good choices to save real estate for people who who have blown on their money and spent their life barely pulling their own weight. The fact that unemployable losers whine and cry the loudest on public discussion boards doesn’t mean that they constitute a majority of the people in the city, or that there aren’t plenty of hard working, successful people who can buy nice homes. Nobody ever complains when a celebrity drops a couple million dollars for a condo in the Sierra Towers, but if a doctor buys a condo, people who have never even taken a CPR course declare him a public enemy and demand that he provide free health care services to unhealthy slackers who don’t want to pay for it.

    If you want to live in a million dollar condo, then work 50-60 hour weeks year after year like this guy did. Not just work in the office, but also on reading, education and personal development to support your career. Stop spending $16 on cocktails at The Abbey night after night, stop smoking, stop using meth and coke, cook your own food, go to a cheap gym, drive the same cheap car for ten years, save your income and invest it. If you do that for ten years, then you can buy a million dollar condo. But if you spend every penny of your money on consumables and whine and cry and blame society for all your problems and failures, then, no, you’ll never own so much as a credit card with a zero balance. Just enjoy your life in debt and perpetual want and leave it to the responsible people to enjoy the nice condo their earned through hard work and determination.

  6. Todd, you make a good point. But regarding the City Council, what legal restrictions can they put in place to prevent that? They’ve talked about incentives for existing building owners to make improvements (low interest loans), but nothing that can compete to a developer swooping in and making an all cash offer on and old property and then tearing it down for something new. Can the city government actually legally prevent that in any way? I don’t think they can.

  7. What we should look at is that a tear-down bungalow in many areas in West Hollywood is $1 million – or close to it. The crazy real estate prices contribute to the accelerating destruction of once-quiet neighborhoods with small single family homes. A developer buys a couple adjacent houses and then tears them down to build generic-looking “modern” condos. At nearly every Planning Commission meeting, we see another project that is boring and out-of-place.

    This also contributes to the high rents. You know, most people can’t afford $1 million (or more) for a small house. Even a “cheap” $500,000 condo is out-of-reach for most. Many people, I suspect, couldn’t afford to buy the place they live in now. I’m one of those people. I got lucky to buy my house when it was in terrible condition and sold for cheap – but that was more than 20 years ago. I didn’t tear it down, I fixed it up. The opposite happens now. When someone dies or ages out of their home, a developer swoops in, pays cash, and either tears it down or fixes it for a pricey flip.

    When’s the next crash?

  8. So he has a higher income, that doesn’t mean he’s privileged or that he didn’t work for what he has. And either way, what business is it of some of the you on this thread? Some of you don’t have to like it, but this story is about one of the residents of this city, and his experience purchasing real estate. This is representative of a demographic we have here, which are people with higher income. This publication has the right to tell stories of all kinds of people who live in the community, both poor and affluent.

    Regarding housing prices, some of you blame the City Council for everything. Yes, they’ve approved development. And from everything I’ve read, only more development is going to curb the housing prices that we see all over the LA Metro area. I do not believe approval of developments has increased housing prices … it has been market forces, and it isn’t just limited to the City of West Hollywood. This is a regional issue.

  9. In 25 years…as a city vs. low keyed unincorporated LA, west hollywood has gone from a village to a pissy hipster hood for the super rich and the super in debt pretenders. My my, has our old dream of a quaint little city of West Hollywood fallen off the cliff. Thank you power junkies of the city council (who’s never met a developer they didn’t want to have a one night stand with).

  10. The gym buddy broker who just happened to be a CPA. Beautiful, Bingo! After 5 different towns in 5 years this Dr.’s head was spinning, so he lands in a Larrabee condo with a Ridgeback, bred for hunting lions, on a terrace. Really? Only in Weho.

  11. I just re-read that he owns a concierge medical service (as in: I’ll tend to only the rich). I hope that Dr. Leary volunteers some of his time at free medical clinics.

  12. Where is all the money coming from, not only to buy over priced condos and homes but the insane rents for apartments?

  13. I feel bad for the people who live in the apartment complexes above this new cookie-cutter condo complex that is entirely too tall for the area. That’s the new Weho for ya. Million dollar shipping crate condos and the wealthy people who will pay for them.

  14. History repeats itself, and real estate is an easy example of vulnerability. It sounds like Dr. Jonathan Leary’s purchase was for the long term and not speculative. This is good news for the good doctor and his pet.

    If not, he’s in a shaky situation. Remember that licensed real estate salespeople don’t have to have graduated from Kindergarten because the State of California will permit anyone who can pass the test. Their advice is as valuable Goldman Sachs stating that there would be no economic crisis in 2008. These real estate schleppers are as reliable as fake news.

    Southern California had no other industry except real estate. That’s it.

    Southern California is a desert and was turned into an oasis by turn of the last century real estate shylocks who have morphed themselves into political hacks like the WEHO Townscape Three.

    They are the group of West Hollywood City Council Members who advance any third-rate development for the creative city as long as the developers dance the “Pay to Play” WEHO political shenanigans of these three.

    Back to the condo purchase … a million dollars for a bungalow in WEHO may sound promising for the long term, but, if you are speculating, seems our good Dr. Levy is not, then real estate in Southern California always has a “come to Jesus” meeting every decade.

    And in late 2018 because, unfortunately, history repeats itself, Dr. Leary might be the owner of a million dollar condo that you can’t give the condo away for Bubkes, a beautiful Yiddish word, which also means “absolutely nothing.”

  15. I believe we file this under First World Problems–WeHo Edition. Just below “I Can’t Find an English Nanny” and “My Bentley’s Insurance is Insane”. I understand that there is a market for all types of news and this is a real part of living in West Hollywood for some, However, there’s something cloyingly Beverly Hills about this article and I have to wonder how it fits into the general tone of this particular website and what is really news.

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