5 Things You Should Know About Buying a Home in Los Angeles

L.A. may be the land of sunshine and stardust, but it’s also the home of heinous traffic, earthquakes and landslides. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your homebuying experience.

Photo courtesy of Pardee Properties This 3,300 square foot home in Santa Monica has a beachy price tag of $3.5 million, and is a perfect example of Tami Pardee's advice to consider a home with plenty of indoor/outdoor living space to take full advantage of the mild Southern California weather.

Anyone who’s ever purchased a home in the Los Angeles area will tell you that it’s a housing market like no other. While it has plenty of glamour and the weather is near perfect, there are certain peculiarities about the place that could spell discomfort at best, disaster at worst, for the naive homebuyer.

We’ve selected a number of agents who have been working in the L.A. market for years, have set real estate sales records, and have an unparalleled knowledge of local property purchase dos and don’ts. They’ve all contributed to this list of 5 (unique) Things You Should Know About Buying a Home in L.A.

Photo courtesy of RED Real Estate Group In earthquake and landslide prone California, a geological report is a must. Interestingly enough, an older home like this one that has withstood earthquakes already, is single story and located in the flats of Los Feliz, is probably a good bet. It's being offered for  $999,000 by the RED Real Estate Group.

1. Get a geological report. Houses perched on hillsides, beaches or palisades – and there are many in the L.A. area – may have amazing views, but you need to make sure they’re secure and not vulnerable to earthquakes or mud slides. You also need to know where the earthquake fault lines lie, according to The Agency's Hana Cha, Managing Director, Urban New Development. “Geo reports are common in Los Angeles since it's not easy to find a house on a flat lot, so don't cut corners and make sure to call a structural engineer if your geo report doesn't have an A+,” she advises.

Tami Pardee of Pardee Properties, who specializes in West Side homes, notes that some people actually prefer to live in single-story houses, because they often hold up better in earthquakes. In this area, most houses are built on sand, and landslides and erosion are of particular concern. That geological report is essential for myriad reasons.

2. Narrow the neighborhoods. There’s a little bit of everything in L.A., from dense urban condo dwelling to suburban family housing tracts to quaint walking villages to ritzy gated communities, and everything in between. “The vast geographic area we all call home can be daunting, and it is certainly a time-saver to narrow the search parameters,” says John Barrentine, CEO and Co-Founder, RED Real Estate Group

He says buyers become frustrated if they open their search up to the entire county, instead of zeroing in on a few particular neighborhoods. “The decision process can become protracted and exhaustive. An emotional roller coaster of making unsuccessful offers can take its tole,” he says. Not to mention the hassle of fighting traffic to traverse the entire area and trying to coordinate myriad agent and resident schedules.

3. Be aware of traffic in the area. L.A. freeways are some of the busiest in the world, and this can affect not only your commute time, but the quality of life in your neighborhood. Craig Knizek of The Agency advises asking “how much noise/traffic does the house get during the week and at night, not just on the weekend when you’re looking at the house.”

Savvy L.A. homebuyers return to the house they’re considering at various times of the day, night and week, including during rush hour. Homes in the main artery canyons, as well as in Pacific Palisades, for example, may be gorgeous, but they are practically inaccessible during rush hours. And homes that are several blocks from a freeway may not get much traffic noise during the day, but at night, when sound carries differently, you might find them too noisy. Then there are those traffic helicopters that will be constantly circling overhead when you live “freeway close.”

4. Consider extra expenses. Upkeep and maintenance, taxes and insurance all add to the total of your monthly expenses. You may be able to afford the house payment, but when you throw in gardeners, pool cleaners, property taxes and insurance (which can be much higher in L.A. if you want to cover earthquakes and fires), they can more than double your monthly payment. Of course, if you prefer not to deal with all this, you could consider “buying in a full-service building, where on-site property management handles all of the property's grounds and maintenance, conveniently bundled up for you in an easy monthly fee,” suggests Cha.

Photo courtesy of Zillow You might have always dreamed of a home in Beverly Hills or Malibu, but when you can get a nice, completely updated, four bedroom, two bath home in La Habra for about a third of the price ($650,000), you might reconsider.

You’ll still be responsible for property tax no matter what type of home you buy, which in L.A. is 1.25 percent annually. That’s one tax that is relatively lower in California than it is in many other states. But don’t worry — there are plenty of other places to pay taxes in and around L.A. 

5. Define your lifestyle. Unless you have wealth untold, you’re going to have to prioritize. You’d probably love a glorious beach house with ocean breezes wafting through, but if you value incidentals like food, transportation and financial stability, you might not be able to swing that. The good news is that the weather is so wonderful in the area, you don’t have to live near the beach to enjoy the great outdoors. “You end up spending a lot of time outside in L.A.” says Pardee. “Consider giving up some square footage inside so that you have a great place to eat/hang outside.” Fire pits, pools and outdoor showers can all make you feel like you’re living the ocean side lifestyle.

But it’s about more than just coastal living. Barrentine suggests asking yourself if you prefer “being in the hills, where you gain privacy and security, versus the flats, where you gain convenience and usability.” Are you the type who wants to be able to wake up in the morning and walk to the nearest Starbucks, or do you prefer to live away from the hustle of city life? 

The beauty of L.A. is that there’s a little bit of everything nearby, if you’re willing to pay for it. This is one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, and it’s a sellers market these days, so buyers need to be particularly smart and discerning. Choosing an established real estate agent who knows the area you prefer and is aware of L.A.’s particular quirks can prevent a world of pain.

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