Lights, Camera, Action, You’re Home! Buying A House in Los Angeles

Lights, camera, action, you’re home! Los Angeles is the land of perpetual sunshine, with high wages, $27.83 per hour in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), plus plenty of job growth in a wide range of industries (including gaming, aerospace, fashion, IT, and of course, entertainment). But there’s a reason why Los Angeles County has one of the highest renter populations (64% of residents rent) in the country: Buying a home in LA is not easy. Homes are expensive, finding the right neighborhood can be a challenge, and buyers always need to consider the living, breathing LA traffic.

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We talked to experts in LA real estate, scoured all 114 neighborhoods, and did the math to find the best recommendations for your budget and lifestyle, putting them all together in this comprehensive guide to common problems in LA houses, how to find the neighborhoods that match your budget and lifestyle, and when to shop to get the very best deal.

A neighborhood in Los Angeles, where you can buy a house.
Source: (Jack Finnigan/ Unsplash)

Consider different neighborhoods when looking at your budget.

According to the LA Almanac, average home prices in Los Angeles in 2008 ranged from over $4 million in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica to around $550,000 in Torrance or the San Fernando Valley. A general rule of thumb is: The closer you get to downtown or the beach, the more expensive the real estate and property taxes. At $17,000, the cost to maintain a property in Los Angeles is also slightly higher than the national average of $9,390 per year, and maintenance costs vary greatly depending on your home’s amenities. Pool maintenance alone in Los Angeles costs between $70 to $150 a month, and that doesn’t include new filters, motors, re-finishing the pool, or other expenses.

Take advantage of the geography.

One of the complaints about LA is that it’s so spread out, but when talking real estate, this can be a good thing! There are so many great neighborhoods to explore in Los Angeles, and each of them has its own distinct advantages:

La Cañada Flintridge

Sitting 14 miles north of LA proper, the suburb of La Cañada Flintridge is a favorite for its low crime rate, high employment, and quality schools.  The commute into downtown Los Angeles can be dicey, and homes in this area tend to sit at the high end of the spectrum as far as LA suburbs go. This is a good neighborhood for buyers (maybe with kids) who are looking to be out of the hustle and bustle of the city. The average commute time to DTLA is around 30 minutes.

Marina Del Rey

This beach town will knock your socks off with its gorgeous ocean views and hopping nightlife. Located just south of Santa Monica, Marina Del Rey also gets high scores for its schools and safety, and amenities are listed as another benefit. Fisherman’s Village is a favorite of local residents, with its beachfront shopping and adorable, colorful houses. Like many areas of Los Angeles, home prices are higher than average, and the cost of living is about 15 percent higher here than in other areas.

Silver Lake/Echo Park

Known as a hipster haven, Silver Lake is home to some of the best cool hangouts (Cliff’s Edge for brunch, Sunset Beer Company for cocktails) and hip boutiques (Clover, Mohawk General Store) in all of Los Angeles.  Echo Park sits between Los Angeles and Silver Lake, and it is heralded as one of the best up and coming neighborhoods by many local bloggers. This is a great neighborhood for young professionals looking for great nightlife and endless things to do, and the average commute time to DTLA is around 20 minutes.

Glendale

The city of Glendale boasts very high scores on GreatSchools.org, making it a fantastic option if you’re looking for a place to settle with your family.  Also filled with lots of cool eateries and a huge shopping complex, Glendale is very family-oriented. Being so family-friendly means this town shuts down pretty early, so don’t choose Glendale if you’re looking for a hopping after-hours scene. The average commute time to DTLA runs about 30 minutes.

The San Fernando Valley

If you can handle being a little further away from downtown, the San Fernando Valley has homes that are a bit lower in price than the City of Los Angeles. Neighborhoods like Lake Balboa and North Hollywood are up and coming, and the Valley is also an ideal place if you’re on the hunt for a fixer-upper. Los Angeles real estate agent Vic Vartan Markarian, who has almost three decades of real estate experience, says, “For first-time homebuyers, locations like Tujunga, Sunland, North Hollywood, Granada Hills, Lake Balboa,” are where he directs his clients. Commute times from SFV vary greatly depending on which specific city you’re living in.

Traffic in Los Angeles, where you can buy a house.
Source: (Alexander Popov/ Unsplash)

Los Angeles buyer, beware

Traffic

If you don’t live in Los Angeles and have ever seen a skit like SNL’s The Californians, you might wonder, “Why the heck do they talk about the freeways so much?”  Traffic in Los Angeles is a living, breathing thing, and it’s bad pretty much everywhere. Plus, while public transportation may be a good option in other cities like Chicago and New York, think twice before ditching your ride. Public transportation in Los Angeles is notoriously unreliable.

Home improvement?

The most common problem buyers run into in Los Angeles is unpermitted work. Many people in LA will buy a home, then decide to convert the garage to a spare apartment or turn part of a large living room into a bedroom — but they don’t get a permit for the work. “I see so many of them,” says Markarian, who says that one red flag indicating a lack of permits is a mismatch between the county records and the home listing. “It’s a three-bedroom, but the county shows two-bedroom,” Markarian explains, adding that he recommends buyers hire a licensed contractor to look at any permits. Buyers securing FHA and VA loans generally will not get approved to buy homes with unpermitted work.

Other possible problems

Sun damage is another problem that buyers will see in LA homes for sale, as well as plumbing issues and roof age. Rising utility costs can be an issue, and though sometimes houses come with a solar power system to help offset electric costs, solar panels are often leased. Make sure you understand the terms before taking over a solar lease.

Pest inspections are always a good idea, since cockroaches and termites are a common problem in the desert.  Many pest companies in Los Angeles will do an initial inspection for free and only charge for the work if they find problems. Costs for a big upfront job vary, but most people in Los Angeles pay $40 to $60 for monthly treatments. Though not required in California, getting a pest inspection upfront is always a good idea, and you may be able to negotiate for a seller to pay for the extermination if there is a problem.

Because of the mountainous terrain, hillside homes are popular in Los Angeles, and these homes face a unique problem: sinking. “Mid-century hillside homes are prone to settlement or sinking.  The cost to repair these homes can get expensive.” says Max Oliva, Senior Vice President at Alpha Structural. “Earthquake retrofitting can also be an issue with houses built in the early 1900s, because oftentimes the homes were built on unreinforced masonry such as brick foundations or river rock foundations. The typical brace and bolt method of earthquake retrofitting does not work with these brick or river rock foundations as they are typically too deteriorated and need to be replaced or reinforced with a sister foundation. Because these foundations are not secured to the framing of the home, these houses come with a higher risk of earthquake related damages,” explains Oliva.

Solar panels on a house you can buy in Los Angeles.
Source: (Vivint Solar/ Unsplash)

Popular home upgrades

The great news in a market like LA is that sellers do whatever they can to stay competitive. Energy-efficient upgrading is a huge trend in LA, which includes solar panel installation and smart energy devices like Nest thermostats. LADWP and Southern California Gas offer lots of rebate programs, so if upgrades haven’t been made, you can look to do those yourself post-purchase. Hardscaping is another hot trend in Los Angeles. Pulling out grass in favor of stone yards and desert-friendly plants is environmentally friendly and can save thousands of dollars in water bills over the years.

Best time to buy

The best time to buy a house in the Los Angeles market is January through March.  According to the housing market trends, you can get a house for up to 6% less during those times of the year.  It’s important to pay attention to the trends using HomeLight’s calculator in order to stay ahead of the curve and buy at the right time.

Buying a home in Los Angeles has some serious advantages.  According to the LA Almanac, median home values in LA County have risen 38 percent over the last 10 years.  Even more staggering, according to the California Association of Realtors, buying versus renting can save you 96.4 percent per month when taking insurance, taxes, home improvement expenses, and tax deductions into account.

Ready to take the plunge? Then it’s time to find a great agent, because the real estate market moves lightning-fast, and it’s critical to work with the right agent if you want to get a good deal. Top buyer’s agents in Los Angeles typically snag their clients’ dream property for 8.7% less than the average L.A. agent — that’s an average of $101,957 that you could use to update the house and make it your own. Fortunately, Los Angeles is brimming with fantastic real estate agents to help take the stress out of buying a home. Find a top agent in Los Angeles now and go get your dream house!

Header Image Source: (Henning Witzel/ Unsplash)