5 new buyers talk about owning a home in LA

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It’s been more than a year since my husband and I bought our Craftsman home, and I’m happy to report that we don’t count ourselves among the four out of 10 millennials who regret purchasing property. (There’s plenty of time to change our mind as we spend the next 29 years paying off our house.)

For those who didn’t catch the series the first time around, here it is in a nutshell: After finding out that our family of three was becoming four, we decided to move from our tiny West Adams apartment and attempt to buy a house in LA.

We searched in South LA and the Valley and ultimately found a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house in the city of San Fernando for under $470,000.

After spending most of my adulthood as a renter, playing my own landlord has its first-world pros and cons.

Rites of passage have included installing a Nest thermostat (and discovering that our breakers are mislabeled), upgrading bathroom faucets (oh, the joys of a basin wrench), and learning to sidestep all of the creaky floorboards that might wake a napping baby.


Our Craftsman in San Fernando.

Me and my family in our house.

Like many new homeowners, we’re slowly building our collection of home maintenance tools and binge-watching every HGTV renovation show. (Vintage Flip, we’re taking notes.)

Today’s shoppers face an uphill battle in their search for a new roof over their heads. The City of Angels is an incredibly pricey place to live, and while home prices dipped last month to a median $607,500, the dwindling supply of houses hasn’t stopped people from buying in LA.

Since I’ve already revealed my own journey searching for a home, I asked a handful of fellow millennial homeowners who also bought houses within the last one to two years to share their honest experiences.

Here, five Angelenos tell us what it was like for them to buy in one of the least affordable cities (at least when it comes to mortgages). Read on to find out where they bought, how they saved for their down payment, what they wish they knew about the loan and buying process, and ultimately, the burning question, “Do you regret buying a house in LA?”



Chesterfield Square.
By Jean-Claude Vorgeack

Renee, South LA

Architect Renee, 29, and her husband Gray, a 31-year-old freelancer who works in sound production, bought their first home in South LA’s Chesterfield Square at the end of June 2017. The couple (along with their tuxedo cat, Ellie) moved into their Craftsman home, built in 1912, just in time to “throw an awesome Fourth of July housewarming, with no furniture or fridge, that is.”

Their house features two-and-a-half bedrooms and one bath, “perfect for our family size, plus a little room for growth,” says Renee.

What do you love about your home?

There are original built-ins and molding throughout the living room and dining room. The kitchen was reworked at some point into a more open layout, making the 100-year-old house feel very modern in flow. We love that the house has great natural ventilation and is comfortable with windows open most of the year. We also love our fireplace and our open backyard with all of its open potential.


Renee and Gray, South LA homeowners
Renee and Gray, South LA homeowners.

Where did you move from and why?

My husband and I moved from Boston to LA in 2013 due to his need to be closer to the film industry and my love of the weather. We originally settled in a back house near USC, and when we started looking for our house, we knew we loved the South LA neighborhood.

If you were previously renting, approximately how much was your rent?

We had a great deal with our rent at $1,450 a month for a one-bedroom when we moved out. But we were starting to burst at the seams and weren’t able to find as good of a deal for a two-bedroom.

How did you save for your down payment?

My husband had a trust fund from his grandparents who sat him down when he was 14 and told him it was for his down payment on a house. We were very privileged to have this down payment passed down to us.

In retrospect, what do you wish you had known about the loan application?

I was surprised, actually, at how easy it was to get a loan assessment. It’s a lot of paperwork for us freelancers, but loan representatives were very helpful and turned it around very quickly. The number they say they will let you borrow is way too high, at least in our case. So I hope most people also do their own calculations to make sure they understand what their mortgage, taxes, and insurance are going to be each month.

What was the most difficult aspect of your search process?

Being an architect, I had a lot of hangups about the style of the house—I initially wanted something Spanish- or bungalow-style which was really narrowing my search perimeters—so eventually I just went with neighborhood and budget, which is much more reasonable.

Any unexpected issues during the search, loan application, or inspection process?

The inspection process was a doozy. We had at that point really thought we had found ourselves a winner, right price, great street, etc. Then the inspection came back, and it was like, you need new foundations and plumbing, and you have a serious bird and termite infestation. A few people advised us to walk away; instead we negotiated with the seller for a reduction in price. We didn’t get as much as we wanted but the compromise felt okay, and I was able to get good deals on the renovations.

What do you love about your new neighborhood?

My neighborhood, especially my street, is a close-knit community going back decades. My neighbors have been so welcoming and helpful, and it’s really been a joy getting to know them. I also love that I’m basically 30 minutes from most places in LA; you can’t beat the commute from here.

What’s the biggest lifestyle adjustment you’ve made?

It’s funny, as an architect I deal with contractors all the time. But it’s usually general contractors, and it isn’t my house. Re-learning how to properly get three bids for every project, negotiate the price, show up, and make sure the work gets done properly was the biggest adjustment we’ve had to homeownership. Since we have both rented our whole adult lives, it’s hard to get out of the mindset of, “This problem needs to get solved now.

Lastly, any regrets?

On the one hand I wish we had bought two years earlier when the market was better. On the other hand, buying a house and making that financial decision is huge and hard on a relationship. I’m also glad we waited and gave ourselves two years to mature and be ready for the curve balls that looking for, buying, and then owning a house throws at you.


The type of Craftsman you’ll find in South LA.
Getty Images

Angela, South LA

Originally from Glendale, 33-year-old Angela bought a home in South LA last July. The LA native works in university fundraising and was living in Mar Vista before moving into her two-bedroom, one-bathroom Craftsman with her blind cat, Pantoufle, in tow. Her 1920s-built house includes a small den along with an unfinished detached garage with its own separate small office space.

What do you love about your home?

I love architectural style of the house and the fact that it’s painted orange and teal. Somehow, I feel like it works! Also, there are two big palm trees on either side of the walkway up to the front door, and you can sit on the porch and enjoy the breeze!

Where did you move from and why?

Mar Vista. Rent prices kept going up, and I was tired of sharing walls with my neighbors. I was also super tired of saving quarters for laundry.

How much was your rent?

$1,750 for a one-bedroom apartment.

How did you save for your down payment, and how much did you put down?

I saved 25 percent, or $130,000. My dad chipped in on the down payment, so he is part owner of the house.

What was the most difficult aspect of your search process?

Cost and competition. After putting down a number of offers, I came to realize that most of the places tended to end up selling for at least 15 to 20 percent over the asking price. Because my budget was pretty low by LA standards, there weren’t many ideal options for homes. The options were super limited, which of course can be difficult. But in some ways that made it easier as well because I didn’t have to live up to any expectations of finding the perfect home, and I didn’t have too many deal breakers.

What do you love about your new neighborhood?

People in the neighborhood seemed to have lived there for generations. Also, I get to see a lot of cared for stray cats!

What’s the biggest lifestyle adjustment you’ve made?

Fewer $14 cocktails, always bringing a lunch, no more cable TV, and an hour-long commute in traffic.

Lastly, any regrets?

I was too eager to redo my bathroom, and I feel like I made some hasty design choices! No regrets on buying the house though.


Getty Images

Tim, Encino

Before buying their first home in the San Fernando Valley this February, Tim and his wife, Katie, were living in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in North Redondo Beach. “When it came time to buy, we decided on Encino because my wife grew up here and always dreamed of buying her own home in the Valley, and actually in our exact neighborhood,” says Tim, 31, native who grew up in and around Long Beach. “Luckily, I started working at a new company right after we made the purchase, and am now able to work from home, so the commute issue didn’t last long.”

Tim, who works in project management in the healthcare industry, and Katie, a 28-year-old attorney, bought a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in Encino Village.

What do you love about your home?

It’s a 1956-built single-story house, 1700 square feet, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a two-car garage. My favorite feature is the original hardwood floors. They looked too light and a little worn down when we purchased the home, but rather than replacing them we had them refinished in a walnut color, and we’re really glad we did.


House in San Fernando Valley
Tim and Katie’s house in the Valley.
Courtesy

Where did you move from and why?

We originally shared a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment for $2,200 per month in Santa Monica. We then moved to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in North Redondo Beach at $2,800 per month for a little more room and slightly better commutes.

How did you save for your down payment, and how much did you put down?

Even though our income is more than enough to comfortably make the mortgage payment, we would never have been able to get into the housing market this soon without help from family for the down payment. The bulk of the down payment came from an investment account that my wife’s aunt and uncle started for her when she was born. This help enabled us to use our own savings to complete the rest of the down payment and to refinish the entire house, inside and out.

We bought our home in February of this year for $785,000 and we’re glad we got in when we did, because prices have already gone up. We put $157,000 (or 20 percent) down.

In retrospect, what do you wish you had known about the loan application process?

The loan application process wasn’t too difficult or stressful. We used a loan officer who has worked with our realtor (who is my childhood best friend) for many years. The two of them made the process smooth, but there were some headaches. The only bit of advice I have is to save everything related to your finances for at least two years before you plan to buy a home. We were missing a few documents, and tracking them down is possible, but painful.

What was the most difficult aspect of your search process?

Finding a home in the LA area that is in a safe neighborhood, has good schools, has a reasonable commute to downtown and other commercial areas, and does not cost $4 million. You hear about the shrinking middle class, and you can feel that if you’re house hunting in LA.

Any unexpected issues during the search, loan application, or inspection process?

If the previous owners are renting the house at the time they sell it, it can be a pain to coordinate inspections and move-in dates with multiple parties (owner and renters). It can be difficult to maintain a balance between empathy for the renters who need to arrange a new living situation and your excitement to move into your new home.

What you love about your new neighborhood?

I love walking our six-month-old Old English Sheepdog and meeting the neighbors. The neighborhood feels like the ones you grew up seeing on TV. There are kids playing basketball in the driveways, lots of dogs on walks, and little old ladies walking with two-pound weights in their hands. Our neighborhood also has direct access to Balboa Park with its soccer fields, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, and golf courses.

Biggest lifestyle adjustment you’ve made?

It is very hot in the Valley compared to the beach towns of southern LA County and the OC. In summer, A/C is a must, and you can’t walk your dog if the sun is up (unless you can get your dog to wear those silly shoes).

Lastly, any regrets?

Not at all. Home ownership brings some unexpected stressors (and related expenses), but my pride in owning a very small part of our great city more than makes up for those.


Homes in Leimert Park
Homes in South Los Angeles.
George Steinmetz / Getty Images

Irvin, South LA

Irvin, a data analyst, bought his South LA home over two years ago when the housing market was already tightening. The 30-year-old grew up in Koreatown and El Monte and was living on the Westside before buying a two-bedroom, one-bathroom Craftsman. “I bought the house all on my own. I believe the neighborhood is called Congress North, [but] there are so many different names for these neighborhoods,” he says.

A few months after buying his house, he adopted a dog and a few friends also moved in as roommates.

What do you love about your home?

The house was redone over the years but the original architecture was Craftsman. It was originally a two-bedroom, one-bathroom, but it had an extra bed and bath added. I love the backyard, and I also love that little by little I can make it mine. I also love the location, it’s very central and close to a lot of things and having the Metro rail just a block away has really been a big lifestyle change.

Where did you move from and why?

I was living in Baldwin Hills before, because it was close to Santa Monica and still affordable.

If you were previously renting, approximately how much was your rent?

$1,600 a month for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment.

How much did you put down for your house?

I bought at $375,000 and put down $30,000. I actually got a steal, though it didn’t feel like it at the time. That included closing costs, origination fees, title insurance, etc.

In retrospect, what do you wish you had known about the loan application process?

I probably would have purchased the house under a land trust rather than purchasing it myself, because it makes transferring ownership much easier.

Most difficult aspect of your search process?

Two years ago houses wouldn’t last on the market very long. They would last a week a most before an offer was made and accepted.

Any unexpected issues during the search, loan application, or inspection process?

There were no real snags during the process. I feel like I had a good team and enough time to prepare for the process of purchasing a house.

What you love about your new neighborhood?

I love the people and the food. There’s a variety of authentic food from several different countries, and it isn’t overpriced. Also, ingredients that are normally hard to find can be found here.

Biggest lifestyle adjustment you’ve made?

A house is a huge responsibility. Being a homeowner means being ready to spend a lot of money and spending weekends working on things around the house. Using public transportation has also been a huge change, but it has definitely been for the better for the environment.

Lastly, any regrets?

None!


Angineh, Simi Valley

Before buying her two-bedroom condo in Simi Valley, Angineh, an insurance claims adjuster, was living with her parents in Burbank in order to save for her down payment.


Suburban Simi Valley.
By trekandshoot / Shutterstock.com

Can you tell us more about the house and what you love about it?

It’s a two-bedroom condo, first floor with a patio that goes around the unit, complex has two pools. I love my place because it’s very cozy and in a quiet area. I get to grill in my patio, which I love.

How much did you put down for your house, and how did you save for it?

I saved $27,000.

In retrospect, what do you wish you had known about the loan application process?

Everything was new to me, and my agent was well informed in her field, so I didn’t really have any issues.

Most difficult aspect of your search process?

Traveling to different neighborhoods and deciding on a location.

Any unexpected issues during the search, loan application, or inspection process?

The seller wanted to back out, because there was a buyer who was willing to place a larger down payment.

What you love about your new neighborhood?

It’s quiet, and there’s no traffic.

Biggest lifestyle adjustment you’ve made?

I had to cut down on expenses for eating out and going out on weekends.

Lastly, any regrets?

I wish I started saving sooner to buy a place!

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