Find out why buying a home in Los Angeles is unique, with insider tips and advice from two LA locals.
Whether movie stars, traffic snarls, or juice bars come to mind when you think of Los Angeles, CA, the reality is, there’s a lot to love about living in the City of Angels. And LA lovers say it lives up to the hype.
“It’s such an amazing, collaborative city for independent artists and small business owners,” says lifestyle photographer Jeff Mindell, who has lived in Los Angeles with his wife for five years and hopes to buy his first home in the next several months. “You really can’t beat it. I wake up every day so happy to live here.” LA-based creative director Whitney Leigh Morris, who posts about living in a tiny Venice Beach cottage on Instagram, agrees. “I’ve lived in many other cities, big and small, United States and abroad,” she says, “And I came back to LA.”
But there is a downside to living in a city where everyone wants to be: Whether you rent or own, Los Angeles is a particularly challenging (and competitive!) real estate market. We chatted with Morris and Mindell to get a sense of what it’s really like to find a place to live in La-La Land — these are their 10 best tips to keep in mind when you’re hunting for houses for sale in Los Angeles.
1. Know what you want before you start looking
A natural setting and walkability were at the top of the list for Morris when she was house hunting in Los Angeles. “We looked at about 30 houses before we decided to go with this one,” she says. “We knew we wanted to stay in Venice. We walk everywhere, we bike everywhere. It’s just a beautiful place to live.”
Real estate, like marriage, is all about the compromise. But you have to start somewhere, and that somewhere means daydreaming about all the things you want in a home and then whittling that list down to the bare essentials. This is your list of must-haves, and it’s an important tool to help you sift through listings to find only the houses you’re truly interested in — from price range to location to the number of bathrooms. This narrow focus can give you a competitive edge, freeing you up to take fast action, especially in a hot market, where homes (especially starter homes) can go under contract in hours instead of days or weeks.
2. Be realistic
“I think it’s a huge accomplishment when you are finally able to buy a home, in LA or otherwise,” says Mindell. But he admits it might be a slightly bigger accomplishment here, considering the competitive nature of real estate in Los Angeles. “We’re being super-realistic. We know we’re not buying our dream home.”
But even with some compromises, he’s excited to get started. “My wife and I are both not really afraid of projects,” he says. “So we’re definitely leaning in the direction of our first home being a fixer, then working on those projects.” This way, the couple can be flexible on price, spend a little less than if they were buying move-in ready, and make the home their own.
3. Consider your future
In real estate, as in life, it’s important to play the long game. Even if you’re not planning to start a family right away (or ever), it’s never a bad idea to look for a home in a good school district. If you can afford it, being zoned for a popular school will make your home even more desirable when it’s time to sell. In addition, a home that’s just right for two people can feel a little claustrophobic as a family grows.
“I was looking for very different things in my 20s and 30s,” says Morris, who says that her priorities are shifting now that she’s expecting her first child. Morris and her husband have chosen to stay in their tiny home, downsizing their belongings to make room for their new addition. “We have converted our bedroom closet into a mini-nursery with mobile pieces. We got rid of about half of our clothes.”
4. Expect a bidding war
Mindell says he’s expecting to compete with multiple offers and enter a bidding war when he’s ready to make an offer. “A lot of times in the LA area, houses are being picked up by flippers and sold for price and a half of what they were bought for.” He admits it can be frustrating when you’re looking for a place to make your home and you’re competing with investors. “You’re going up against businesspeople. They have no personal connection to the house.”
5. Give yourself a competitive edge
Although Mindell admits it can be intimidating to go up against an investor when you’re house-hunting, he remains optimistic by remembering that the sellers are ultimately in control. “At the end of the day, the homeowners are picking the person who’s buying the house. Do something to help you stand out,” he says, adding that his real estate agent has had clients who have written persuasive offer letters or even made videos introducing themselves to help their offer rise to the top.
6. Don’t discount the potential of your outdoor square footage
All that SoCal sunshine makes Los Angeles a very special place when it comes to outdoor living spaces — and smart buyers will see potential to transform outdoor space into livable square footage, whether that’s adding cozy seating area or dining room on an outside patio or even putting in a “she shed.” That’s one huge reason Morris and her husband decided to stay put instead of moving to a larger home to raise their child. “The LA climate has definitely played a part in how we expanded,” she says, and adds that since she and her husband are from Florida, where it rains all the time, they definitely don’t take the sunny weather in Los Angeles for granted. “We put a 2-foot-by-4-foot shed outside to hold some things for the baby that we don’t need to use on a daily basis. The idea of storing things in a cedar shed is not laughable here.”
7. Get your finances in order before you hit up that open house
Mindell and his wife are working to organize their finances now and plan to meet with a lender before they go on any showings with their real estate agent. But Mindell says he’s put in some work over the years to set himself up for success as a young homeowner. “My parents did a good thing for me when I was younger. Before I knew what a credit card was, my dad opened up a credit card in my name,” he says. “And then started using it and paying it off, so that now I have a really great credit score.” Establishing a good credit history — and a high credit score — is an important early step toward homeownership.
8. Take your new ’hood for a test-drive
As a way to learn about the local real estate market — and have a little fun while you’re at it — Mindell suggests taking a “staycation” in neighborhoods you think you might like. “We took a weekend and parked our car and just pretended we were locals,” he says. “We went to the farmers market, people-watched, and got a feel for the neighborhood. We’re trying to find a place that feels like home but that is maybe a little bit cheaper than where we are now.”
9. Don’t forget to consider the convenience aspect
If you don’t want to do daily battle with LA’s famous traffic jams, it’s important to look for a home that offers convenient access to where you need to be — whether that’s work, schools, or leisure activities. For instance, Morris and her husband carefully considered their home’s proximity to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) before making their final decision. “We love that it’s close to LAX without being so close that we’re influenced by the air noise,” she says, adding that she didn’t want family and friends to have difficulty getting from the airport to their home. “That’s something we definitely considered when moving here.”