How This Couple Bought Their First Home in L.A. With a Budget Under $500,000

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The year was 2019, and Jay and her husband were finally ready to buy their first home in Los Angeles.

Buying a house (especially your first) is a rollercoaster ride of an experience in any market, but in L.A., where everything is larger than life, that ride can feel even more emotional. Let’s follow their journey and see how it unfolded for these first-time homebuyers who bought a house in L.A.

An older woman with a young lady using an iPhone together.
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Meeting the right agent

The couple had been casually house-hunting for about a year — popping into listings when they happened to pass an open house sign, maybe viewing about 20 homes in all — when they met their agent, Wendy Rich-Soto, at an open house in November 2019.

They hit it off with Rich-Soto right away; their baby daughter and her granddaughter’s birthdays were merely a day apart, and they bonded over family.

“She really liked my baby,” Jay explains.

“And she was very helpful to me in finding a place that’s good to raise kids.”

The personal approach really appealed to the family. “It was almost like she was my baby’s god grandma,” Jay said. “She really cares about her.” (The baby joined the couple all throughout their search and stayed precociously calm and quiet throughout.)

“I really just try to key in on what makes each individual client comfortable, and it’s different for everybody,” Rich-Soto said. “But I do love little kids and grandkids!” She also helped entertain the little one so her clients could focus on and analyze what they were seeing.

A first home search in Los Angeles

Together, their search for the family’s first home continued for several months, during which time they saw approximately an additional 30 listings, about three every weekend.

They kept their options open by casting a wide net geographically. They had lived in Alhambra and liked it, so they did some searching there. They also looked at areas including Sierra Madre and Torrance, where they thought they might land, and they came very close to doing so (but more on that later).

While Jay is a stay-at-home mom, her husband commutes to Culver City, and although they were priced out of that area, they were comfortable looking anywhere that had a reasonable commute. “We were trying to find a place that’s near there, but it’s not too expensive and also not dangerous,” Jay says.

Fortunately, they didn’t face any specific time pressures.

“But we were stressed because, after about 15 houses, they all look the same,” Jay explains. The houses they saw all seemed to fit their profile, but few triggered an emotional reaction.

An aerial view of LA where people bought a house.
Source: (Roberto Nickson / Pexels)

The best Los Angeles neighborhoods for a first home

Ultimately, they settled on a home in the city of Carson, approximately 15 miles south of Culver City, within L.A. County. The home has two bedrooms and two and a half baths, covering a bit more than 1,200 square feet. Outdoor space includes a small front porch area.

It matched up with the profile the family was seeking — and actually tempted them to stretch a bit. “We were looking for a house that was a little smaller and a little cheaper than this house, but we fell in love,” Jay explains.

They loved that the home was in a gated community, and that it was safe and well-maintained. “It looked like it was a good environment for us to raise our kid,” she says.

A realistic budget for a first home in Los Angeles

The family had what Rich-Soto considers to be a “good budget, a realistic budget,” given their wish list. Still, they initially explored what they could get toward the lower end of the scale.

“We went, we looked at those things,” Rich-Soto says. “And they decided that because it was such a big purchase that maybe they should go up a little bit more, because they wanted to buy something where they’d be really happy.

“So that was a process for them to go through. Everybody takes as much time as they need to take for that.”

She also noted what can be a harsh reality for homebuyers, especially in hot markets like L.A.: “This is just not a buyer’s market.”

The Carson home had gone on the market mid-week, and had been listed for a few days when they went to see it over the weekend. During the showing, they were aware it would be competitive; visitors had to pass through a security guard, and they were aware of four other teams doing so.

Indeed, Rich-Soto explained there were other offers on the property. But Jay’s family ultimately won the home with an offer of $490,000, which was just above its $489,000 asking price.

Although they came in with a price over asking, theirs was not the highest offer in raw numbers. However, the couple’s financials looked great on paper, Rich-Soto explains, which can help sellers feel more confident that the buyer can get the mortgage and the deal will actually close. In addition, they were willing to give the seller a week to live rent-free in the property following closing, which was an important point for the previous homeowner (a fact Rich-Soto had sussed out by building a great working relationship with the listing agent).

The seller accepted their offer, and they put 20% down ($98,000), ultimately closing on their very first home on February 28, 2020.

From there, Jay reports an almost entirely seamless closing process — with just one problem.

The seller had taken away the washer and dryer that was supposed to be included in the sale. “It was included in the contract, but I guess she missed it,” Jay says, “and she took it with her.”

Naturally, they called their agent right away; Rich-Soto quickly coordinated with the listing agent and arranged a time for the return of the appliances. It was several hundred dollars in moving expenses that the seller could have avoided — but all was well that ended well.

A row of townhouses people bought in L.A.
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A second escrow — with a better result

Perhaps another reason the seller selected their offer is that it was clear these buyers were serious about making a purchase and absolutely ready to close the deal.

And they were indeed: Earlier in the process, they had put an offer on another home, that one in Torrance. They’d agreed to the contingency stipulating that the seller had 30 days to find another place and move out. But after the 30 days were up, the seller hadn’t found another place to go… or perhaps he changed his mind. So the deal fell through.

But in the end, the outcome worked in their favor. “It was better for them because they ended up with a way nicer place,” Rich-Soto explains. “You can’t even compare the two.”

Happy first-time Los Angeles homebuyers

If you’re keeping score at home, it wasn’t two weeks after they closed on their home that the coronavirus crisis spread across the country, and California soon faced early shelter-in-place orders.

On moving day, the company the family booked never showed up to do the job under the circumstances.

“That was the biggest trouble we ran into in the process,” Jay notes. But she was able to call in a backup company who showed up to do the job that very same day.

Overall, Jay said she doesn’t have any regrets, now that she’s all settled in. In fact, she thinks her result was even more seamless that she might have expected, given she wasn’t as organized in the process as she might have been.

“Come to think of it, I got lucky,” she recalls. “I should have had a list of all the things you’re supposed to ask. No big trouble happened, but it could have.”

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