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2019: SoCal Residential Real Estate – Reading the Tea Leaves

aerial view of city buildings
Photo by Jamie McInall.

2019 has arrived and as usual with lots of prognosticators out there ruminating on how things will go in this coming year. For potential home sellers in SoCal, here are five data-based takeaways to kick off the New Year:

  1. Residential Real Estate Cooling Off in SoCal – after 6 years of a strong seller’s market here in Los Angeles, a couple of factors have combined to cool the market down. First, prices have risen so much that housing affordability has hit a new low – meaning that less and less people can afford to buy at current prices. Second, interest rates have been creeping up (although they have softened a bit at year end), which also affects affordability and home pricing.
  2. Repairs & Staging Are A Must: If  you are planning on selling this year – You will need to put your property’s best foot forward. Invest the money in painting your home, and do any necessary repairs that you have been procrastinating on; staging an empty home, or decluttering and making your home look as good as possible, will be critical. With less buyers out there and the balance shifting from seller to buyer, you need to remove any possible hurdles to your home being an enticing place to live. If it’s a house, spend some energy on curb appeal to make your home pull people in.
  3. Pricing Accurately: Have your real estate agent dig into the comparable sales to make sure that you are priced right. Overpricing in this market will lead to no offers, which leads to a property sitting on the market for a long time, which leads to people wondering what’s wrong with it. In this market the wise seller will price realistically.
  4. Seriously Consider All Offers: Do not reject the first offer out of hand if it is way below your expectations. Negotiate and see how strong the buyer’s interest is. And consider all the terms: an all-cash offer which closes in two weeks with minimal conditions, may be worth the lower profit, than trusting in a higher offer with financing that is not solid. If you are needing to sell this year, then be realistic – if you have owned your property for at least three years, your values are up and you have done well: be willing to take a fair and reasonable offer. Greed can kill deals and leave sellers floundering with a stale property.
  5. Keep An Eye On Interest Rates: Every uptick in the lending rate for a 30-year mortgage causes a downward pressure on the number of buyers who can afford to buy, and in turn will lead to downward pressure on sales pricing. We are already at a ten-year low in affordability, and wages although increasing modestly in 2018, are still stagnant compared to real estate appreciation.

For Potential Home Buyers, here is the outlook for 2019:

  1. Smaller Buyer Pool: If you are in the market now, the good news is that the number of buyers you are competing against has shrunk, so your chances of bagging the home you have been dreaming of, has increased.
  2. Protect Yourself Against Increasing Interest Rates: If you are all-cash, then skip past this bullet item. But if like most buyers, you are looking at borrowing, pay close attention to the loan rates floating around, and if you are thinking of buying this year, get your lender to give you a loan rate-lock to protect you against interest rate increases before you buy. At the end of 2018, interest rates were up at 4.50% percent, but with some of the political and global turmoil factoring in, lenders have softened their rates slightly. The likelihood is strong that lending rates will rise in 2019, so shop around and secure a loan now while the interest rates are softer.
  3. Offer Pricing: In Los Angeles, every neighborhood has its own micro-trends. If you are looking in the super-hot neighborhoods like Venice or Highland Park, look at how quickly other homes have been selling, and how close or over asking price they are closing at. Look to see if there is some price softening happening in the neighborhood you are interested in. Be practical in your offer: If you love the property, and would be disappointed to not secure it, writing a low-ball offer (unless you come in all cash and few conditions), will not win you points with the seller. On the other hand, if it’s a home that has been on the market for a while, then you can put some pricing pressure on the seller. Your agent should be able to talk to the listing agent to gauge how motivated the seller is, and what numbers will likely work. If on the other hand, it’s a rare penthouse unit in high demand or a perfect turnkey A+ property, there will still be lots of interest, and a low-ball offer will not serve you.

Natalie Bergman is a licensed realtor with Architecture8, who has worked in residential real estate for 10+ years. 

Playa Del Rey has been one of the hottest neighborhoods on the Westside, as people flock to the newly rebranded “Silicon Beach” area for tech jobs.

Homey Red Lentil & Barley Soup

Red Lentil Barley Soup

Fall is finally arriving – having just been in NYC where it was really getting cold, I have started craving fall foods and flavors. This lentil barley soup is comforting and a meal in a bowl. Make enough for leftovers as it reheats beautifully. The prep is not hard and the soup comes together within an hour – although if you make it a little earlier and let it sit for a bit after cooking, the flavors continue to marry.

Here are the ingredients:

  • 10 ounces red lentils (I prefer red as they soften up more than the green do for this soup)
  • 10 ounces barley (I used Trader Joes 10-minute barley but you can use regular barley as the soup does need to cook for a while). You can also sub another chewy grain like farro if you prefer.
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1  cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 4 tablespoons oil or fat (can use butter, vegetable oil, olive oil, or ghee)
  • 8 cups of chicken stock or for vegetarians, a high quality veggie stock (this makes the soup) do not buy cheap stock. I make my own chicken stock which is really the best way to go: I make large quantities of stock then freeze it in quart-size freezer bags)
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt (to taste)
  • 1/2- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • Handful minced fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice


  • Add oil to soup pot, warm gently and then add mire poix: carrots, celery and onions. Sprinkle a little salt on the veggies and stir.
  • Gently sweat the veggies on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Do not burn the veggies.
  • Add cumin, salt, pepper, tomato paste to pot, and let the cumin spice warm up and tomato paste coat all the veggies and slightly caramelize.
  • Add lentils and barley and stir in for a minute.
  • Add stock and raise temp to bring soup to a gentle simmer. Let the soup cook on a gentle simmer for at least 45 minutes so that lentils begin to fall apart, and barley is tender.
  • Adjust seasonings to taste.
  • Sprinkle a little more cilantro on top.
  • Optional toppings: a spoonful of garlic sauce, some dashes of hot sauce, sprinkles of high quality parmesan cheese.
  • Serve with a loaf of crusty bread or a lovely fresh salad or both!


Charming Silicon Beach Condo For Sale

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Good morning everyone! Super happy to share this gorgeous 2 bedroom/2.5 bath French Normandy style townhome condo located on a quiet street in tranquil Playa Del Rey. Just a short distance from the beach, this rear corner unit is sunny and bright, and move-in ready. Finding anything under $700K these days is a challenge on the westside. Contact me for showing info and more details. Or text MLS282890 to 85377 for full listing info.

A Classic Chocolate Mousse

Sometimes, going retro is best – especially for the gluten-free folks who love dessert but can’t (or won’t) consume anything with flour in it. This decadent chocolate mousse fits the bill and will not leave anyone feeling deprived. For decoration you can pipe a little freshly whipped vanilla scented cream and a perfect raspberry on top – or shave some chocolate…but frankly it is perfection as is. And this dessert is perfect after a delicious steak and salad (which is what we enjoyed for dinner last night!)


8 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate either finely chopped or in callets (I highly recommend Callebaut Chocolate. I use their semi-sweet callets which melt quickly and are absolutely delicious.)

1/2 cup whole milk

2 large egg yolks (room temperature)

5 large egg whites (chilled for better beating)

3 tablespoons sugar

1 pinch salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (best quality possible)


Melt the chocolate gently over a pot of boiling water.

Meanwhile, heat up the milk in either the microwave or stovetop until scalding hot.

Once the chocolate is melted, gently stir in the heated milk until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla, and then stir in the egg yolks very delicately until incorporated.

Beat the egg whites until they start form soft peaks and then add the sugar. Continue whipping the egg whites until they are forming firm glossy peaks.

Ladle out some of the beaten egg whites and gently incorporate into the chocolate mixture. Once incorporated, gradually add the rest of the egg whites and gently fold until evenly mixed. It’s important to be gentle with the egg whites so that their airiness is not entirely dissipated.


Set up 6 coupe glasses or other serving dishes and gently ladle out equal portions into each glass. Cover with plastic wrap and chill/set for at least 3 hours before serving.

Bon Appetit!



Channeling Grandma Sadie’s Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Do you have a sensory memory of a particular food from your childhood, which a beloved family member would make for you? For my wife and her family, Grandma Sadie’s Cinnamon Coffee Cake is that much loved recipe which had not been baked by anyone in the family in decades.

My mother-in-law recently stumbled across a handwritten copy of the recipe with its charmingly vague quantities (such as “add raisins, sugar and cinammon”), and handed it to me to give it a whirl. Using common sense and past baking experience, I decided to give it a try: the result was exactly the dense, moist textured crumb of my wife’s childhood memory with the right flavor profile. The only thing needed was to ramp up the level of cinnamon and sugar to create a more pronounced line within the cake. My wife’s Aunt Marilyn, teared up when I brought over a freshly baked version of her mother’s cake.

I think it’s important to share family recipes across time and space, so that they are not lost as people pass. Since this is a simple cake, every ingredient needs to be as fresh and high quality as possible. I recommend that you don’t skimp on the quality of your butter, eggs, milk, vanilla or cinnamon.


2.5 cups All-purpose flour (sifted)

2.5 cups granulated sugar

1 3/4 cups of whole milk

2 large eggs (room temperature)

3 heaping teaspoons of baking powder

1 generous teaspoon of vanilla (preferably high-quality vanilla)

2 pinches salt

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter (room temperature)

3 tablespoons of cinnamon (high-quality cinnamon is best)

1 cup black raisins (I usually prefer golden raisins, but the family insisted that black Thompson raisins are the type Grandma Sadie used).

1 Angel Food Cake Pan (if your cake pan is very large, you may need to double the recipe).


Pre-heat your oven to 350 (or 325 if convection).

Take a little butter and grease the inside of the angel food cake pan.

Take the rest of the butter, and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and place into a mixing bowl. My mother-in-law Joan insists that you should hand mix each step (she states that the texture is not the same if the batter is machine mixed).  Once I have creamed the butter and the sugar, I added the flour/baking powder/salt and again hand mix to gently incorporate the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, beat the two eggs, milk and vanilla. Then pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredient bowl and gently hand mix with a spoon, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, until the batter is fully emulsified.

In a small third bowl, take the remaining cup of sugar and the three tablespoons of cinnamon and blend the two together until the cinnamon is evenly dispersed.

Pour or ladle 1/3 of the batter into the bottom of the angel food cake pan.

IMG_5983.JPGTake a spoon and gently sprinkle about 1/3 of the sugar/cinammon mixture onto the batter. Then take about 1/3 of the raisins and also gently sprinkle them onto the batter. In the photo below, I have not completed adding as much cinnamon/sugar/raisins as I recommend in the recipe: this is one time where you can’t be timid with sugar.


Pour or ladle the 2/3 of the batter, then repeat with the cinnamon/sugar and raisins.

Pour or ladle the final 1/3 of the batter, and again repeat with the cinammon/sugar and raisins. There should be a nice coating of cinammon/sugar on top of the batter (which will then carmelize and form a lovely crunchy crust once baked).

Bake for approx 1 hour (if you double the recipe, you will need to bake for at least 90 minutes). You really need to check the cake every 15 minutes after the 45-minute mark, to ensure the cake is cooked thoroughly. I use a long wooden skewer to check all the way through the cake to ensure it is thoroughly done. Any wet batter means it needs longer. For my double recipe, it took at least 90 minutes for the cake to cook all the way through.

Let the cake cool on a baking rack before removing from the pan. Enjoy!



Sublime Pork Ragu

As someone raised Jewishly, cooking pork did not come with the upbringing. However, I love pork’s delicate qualities and versatility as a protein. This dish is a big family favorite, and no matter how many pounds I make, it disappears rapidly. I use the combination of the Instant Pot to quickly cook the pork with all the flavors under pressure which helps this denser piece of meat to melt its connective fibers into a tender ragu. For serving purposes, this can be served over a bed of perfectly cooked pasta, or over brown rice, or over polenta, or for the paleo types, over cauliflower rice.


  1. 3-4 lb pork butt (the butt is actually the shoulder)
  2. 8 cups of chicken stock (preferably homemade)
  3. 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes (preferably san marzano)
  4. 3 bay leaves
  5. 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  6. 1.5 cups of chopped onion
  7. 6-8 cloves of crushed/minced garlic
  8. 1-2 carrots, diced
  9. 1-2 stalks of celery, diced
  10. 1 teaspoon sugar
  11. 1 parmesan rind
  12. 1-2 teaspoons dry oregano
  13. 1 teaspoon dry thyme
  14. 1/4-1/2 cup of breadcrumbs

Special Tools:

  1. Instant Pot
  2. Dutch Oven


  1. Season the pork butt with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  2. Plug in the instant pot, and start by sauteeing the onion, carrot and celery until slightly softened. Add the crushed garlic and saute for another 30-60 seconds.
  3. Put the pork butt into the instant pot and add the chicken stock, crushed tomatoes, and herbs, so that the pork should be covered with liquid. Switch the instant pot setting to pressure cook on high, put on the lid to seal it and let it cook for 45 minutes untouched.
  4. After the cooking is over, let the instant pot sit for a while if you have the flexibility with time, so that the pressure is slowly released. If not, slowly vent the steam manually being careful not to get burned or to let too much steam out too rapidly (it will make a mess if it’s done too quickly).
  5. Open the lid gently once the seal is released, and use a ladle to skim off most of the liquid fat that has floated to the surface and discard or store for use in another recipe.
  6. With tongs, take the pork out and put it into the dutch oven. Remove the string from around the pork. Remove any still solid fat and discard (there is often a ribbon of fat along the outside edge of the pork). Use two forks to shred the meat. Shredding should be quite easy to do.
  7. Pour all of the braising liquid over the shredded pork. Add a parmesan rind and a spoonful of sugar and begin to slowly simmer the sauce uncovered.Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning/salt level if needed. To thicken the sauce without reducing it down too much, add breadcrumbs which gives a lovely texture without altering the flavor profile in any way. Let the sauce cook uncovered on the stovetop for at least an hour (or put the dutch oven in the oven and cook at 350 degrees for at least one hour).





Lemon Ricotta & Almond Flourless Torte with Raspberry Coulis

This little torte is perfect for a lighter style of dessert and would be great to end a Passover Seder or any meal with a gluten-free (flourless) desssert option. Don’t skip making the raspberry coulis – the contrasting flavors of tart, sweet, creamy and fruity work really well together.


Lemon, Ricotta Almond Torte with Raspberry Coulis
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened/room temp (I prefer European butters)
1 1/4 cups super fine sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon rind (use organic, unsprayed lemons)
4 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
4 eggs, separate yolks from whites
2 cups almond flour (make sure the flour is finely textured)
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (try to buy fresh ricotta and avoid low-fat/skim with its gums and fillers)
1 cup raspberries (frozen) for coulis
1/2 cup fresh raspberries to decorate top of cake
powdered sugar, for garnish and for coulis


Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees (convection) or 350 standard. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper, grease/butter sides of pan and parchment paper.  Place butter, sugar, vanilla extract into a large mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer until mixture is light and fluffy, at least 3 minutes.  Add lemon rind and lemon juice and beat for 30 seconds until included. Add the four egg yolks and mix for about three minutes until completely combined.  In another clean dry bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites until they have reached stiff peaks. (make sure the whites do not have any specks of egg yolk, or your whites will not form stiff peaks).  Fold half of the egg whites into the mixture until incorporated then add the almond flour, gently folding until evenly combined.
Add remaining egg whites and the ricotta cheese, continuing to gently fold batter until all ingredients have come together.  Pour into cake pan and allow to cook for 45 to 50 minutes or until the cake is firm to the touch and when a toothpick is inserted into the center and it comes out clean.  Once done, place cake on cooling rack until thoroughly cooled.  Once cooled remove and place on serving plate.  Dust the top of the torte with powdered sugar, and add raspberries in whatever fashion gives you joy.
While the cake is baking, prepare the raspberry coulis. You can either use fresh or frozen raspberries for this sauce. Puree the 8-10 ounces of raspberries with 2-4 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. (I do this to taste, as raspberries can be tart and may require more sugar for balance). Strain the solids through a sieve and reserve sauce. Solids can be tossed out.
For plating, I like to pour a small pool of sauce onto the plate, then place a slice of the torte on top.