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The Rise of the Small Lot Subdivision

As the price of land soars ever higher here in California, city planners and developers are turning to novel solutions to maximize housing development on small lots. Having just navigated the sale of a 3-lot parcel in Los Angeles to a large multiunit developer, I know how complex and how rare it is for developers to be able to secure multiple parcels of land in a row in highly desirable neighborhoods. In fact, on the block where we sold 3 duplexes, a 4th owner held back, resisting the opportunity to sell. As a result, this one duplex property will be sandwiched between two large multistory apartment complexes…and its future resale value will likely decrease, due to the loss of privacy and increased density on both sides.

The City of Los Angeles has made the opportunity to build multiple homes on small units a more efficient way to generate the greatest utility/value for these small lots. The original law passed in 2004 has helped small lot developers like Modative and Minaret to provide new housing in a far more affordable and efficient way than the traditional 5000 square foot lot formula for a single house. US Dept of HUD Case Study for Small Lot Subdivisions goes into further detail on the history of the passage of the small lot subdivision ordinance in L.A. Approximately 2500 of these small lot subdivisions have been built since the ordinance passed.

I recently helped a young couple purchase their first home: a gorgeous tri-level modern 3-bedroom property on the Culver City/L.A. border. With central air, plenty of glass for natural light, two-car garage,  clean and modern design, and other amenities including a ten-year warranty from the home builder, my clients were able to buy brand-new construction in an increasingly hot neighborhood (a short walk from Helms Bakery and the new Culver City Expo train stop). In comparison to this newly constructed house, existing single-family homes at the same price point in the same neighborhood are significantly smaller and in need of major repair including upgrading electrical, plumbing, roof, as well as updating of the kitchen and bathrooms. Meanwhile, once my buyers scraped together the fairly hefty down payment, they essentially moved into a turnkey home, which required little if any upgrades.  A NEST thermostat and Ring video doorbell were installed to prevent having to run up and downstairs to adjust the a/c and see who is at the front door.

Interior View Fay Ave

Interior view of the fully staged model home at 3266 Fay…the project my clients bought into. Photo courtesy of Pardee/the MLS listing.

More of these small-lot subdivision single family homes are coming online via developers who specialize in such development are bringing them to market. There has been some pushback from residents who may dislike the modern style as being disruptive to the existing neighborhoods’ architectural heritage, or complain of rental units being lost to homeowners, but in Los Angeles where sprawl has reached its limits and the need is urgent to increase density, I would anticipate that many more such small lot subdivisions will be popping up all over town.

 

 

Is Your Home Smart Enough? Part I.

For those of us who are lucky enough to have owned homes for a while, it is definitely worth considering some “smart” technologies to upgrade your home system functionalities. Smart technology can save water, save electricity, save gas, and overall reduce your home’s energy consumption and ecological footprint.

First, I recommend swapping out the old thermostat for a new smart design. There are several on the market but personally I love Nest. The thermostat is sleek, elegant and intelligent. You can precisely control your house’s climate either manually or via the simple app which you can access on your phone, ipad or computer. You can also create a custom schedule for your Nest thermostat, so that you can start the a/c or the heater 30 minutes before you get home to cool or heat your house as needed. The thermostat also has the ability to “learn” from your prior selections and senses when you are home due to motion near the thermostat. The thermostat costs only about $250 and takes very little time/effort to install.

nest thermostat

How about watering your outdoor landscape? In California, with our endless drought situation, saving water is a huge imperative. The old controller for sprinklers had no ability to sense if it was raining, could not be fine-tuned at all for quantity of water, and had to be controlled directly at the source. Check out Rachio, the smart water irrigation control unit. Rachio controls your outdoor landscape irrigation usage in three ways: 1. by monitoring weather patterns and reducing/eliminating cycles of watering if there is rain; 2. by adapting to varying climate needs during the year; 3. by eliminating/reducing water runoff by running shorter more frequent cycles to allow water to soak and penetrate into the ground. As with Nest, Rachio can be completely controlled remotely – no more trudging outside while its raining to turn the sprinklers off.  Rachio has also developed next generation software to work together with other home functionalities including Nest and Alarm.com

rachio-social-graphic

Can’t get to the front door but want to know who’s knocking? A variety of cool devices have recently hit the market including one of my favorites: Ring Pro. This ultra-cool doorbell has a built-in camera/video function and microphone so that you can literally “see” who is knocking and respond to them. You don’t even have to be home to respond to Ring. The UPS delivery person can ring your bell and you can tell them to leave the package at the door, while you are actually sitting in your office, or on a beach in Hawaii or Mexico.

doorbell_pro

The Ring Pro camera can also be setup to monitor various Motion Zones which are also helpful as a deterrent which you can use in conjunction with an alarm system for your house.

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In Part II, I will touch base on other “smart home technologies” including the latest in light bulbs, smoke detectors, cameras/alarm systems, and more. Pretty much every aspect of our home can be made more efficient and versatile with the use of these technologies.

As a residential realtor in Los Angeles, I am seeing more and more incorporating of smart technologies in homes for sale, especially remodels and new construction. Buyers are expecting more convenience and efficiency.

If you have any questions regarding any of the above, feel free to email me at natalie @architecture8.com

 

 

Home Sales Surge Locally

Home sales surged by 24% in February, with the buying season kicking off early this year, possibly driven in part by our very mild winter. Home sales are up 12% this February, compared to Feb of 2015.   Interest rates are lower now than they were at the end of 2015 which is enticing more peeps to get into the home-buying fray. Of course, if you can manage all cash versus getting a loan, your chances of snagging the home of your dreams definitely increases, as it makes you a much sexier buyer. Interest rates have crept up a tiny bit over the past two weeks, but overall are still quite low (under 3.7% for 30-year fixed loans, and 2.96% for 15-year loans).

It’s definitely an excellent time to list your home – with inventory at significant lows – buyers are willing to pay a hefty premium to secure the home they want. 2016 is looking good for continued appreciation here in SoCal.

Los Angeles Homeowners Rejoice

Single-family home price increases in Los Angeles have shown no sign of slowing as we enter the third month of 2016. The main cause: our very constrained and limited supply. In general it is considered healthy for a real estate market to have a 6-month supply of inventory (houses for sale) on hand. At the moment in L.A., that level has dropped to a 4.8-month supply, which definitely puts an upward-pressure on home prices. People are willing to bid and pay top dollar, especially if your home has been remodeled and preferably staged to show well. Green and smart home features such as low-water-consuming landscaping, Nest thermostats, Launchpad or other smart devices to control your alarm system, your lights, your temperature, your sprinklers, your washer & dryer and more, are also growing more and more popular.

In the westside home sales market, houses that have even a modicum of good taste in design, sell quickly. Frankly, I am seeing total tear-downs (such as the one in the photo above) selling for over-asking price by land-starved developers looking for projects in high-demand neighborhoods. This little house on Harrison Avenue is listed at $1,180,000 for a 1/1 in Venice at only 647 SF; which averages to a cost of $1769.00 per square foot…

Many of our local aging baby boomer homeowners don’t want to sell their current homes. They are working longer, staying more physically and mentally active, retiring later, and loving living here in L.A. due to the depth and breadth of opportunities, communal and social experiences. As younger people come into the housing market, they are competing for very little inventory. The California economy and its real estate are still considered highly appealing to foreign investors, too, including money from mainland China, the Middle East and Europeans. Chinese investors in particular are desperately looking for ways to move cash out of China into U.S. dollars, before the Chinese debt crisis hits catastrophic proportions.

If you are interested in determining your home value, feel free to contact me for a courtesy home evaluation.

 

 

Buying a home in a seller’s market

As our very, very short winter seems to be coming to a premature end, the real estate market is continuing to warm up – especially here on the westside in L.A. Decent homes – by that I mean places that are livable without needing a major facelift – are in high demand and short supply. So as an agent who works on both sides of the fence, here are my recommendations for buyers today:

  1. Put your best foot forward in writing your offer. If you can write an all-cash offer, do it. Cash is king, and a seller will readily choose cash over financing. If you can stretch yourself to manage it, even if you immediately refi the house once it’s purchased to pull money back out, being able to buy with an ALL CASH offer is your best bet for being top of the sellers’ list of offers.
  2. Make your terms as reasonable as possible. If you are going to be needing a loan to make the purchase possible, consider other ways to make your offer as appealing as possible. I recommend making the inspection period as short as possible: 7-10 days instead of 14-17. See if you can get all your loan ducks in a row so that you are fully approved and ready to go – a fully approved loan will give sellers less heartburn and more confidence that you can close the deal.
  3. Consider removing the appraisal contingency. If you are going to need a loan and an appraisal, consider if you would be able to come up with cash to bridge the gap between what a lender might appraise a house for and what the seller is asking. If you can remove the appraisal contingency because you have enough cash on hand, it can be very encouraging to seller for you to remove it. In our rapidly appreciating SoCal market, it is often difficult to get comps (comparable sales) to keep up with the quickly increasing prices. As a result, conservative lenders frequently appraise lower than market value leaving a gap between the contract price and the loan amount. If this were a buyers’ market, sellers would have no choice but to lower their price to match the appraisal, however if the house is everything you have been looking for, and you are planning on holding the house for at least 3-5 years, then a gap between the bank appraisal and the purchase price may not really matter. Your home will continue to appreciate, and the appraisal will be long forgotten.
  4. Make sure your credit is squeaky clean. Spend a little time getting your credit to look as good as possible BEFORE applying for a home loan. Pay down credit card balances as much as possible, and check all three of your bureau scores to see if there are any errors or if there has been any identity theft – which is a massive problem right now and not getting better any time soon.
  5. If you are self-employed and tend to show a lower income for tax purposes by having a ton of write-offs for your business, be prepared to have more cash reserves on hand or a co-signer with a full-time steady paycheck or other assets to help give the lender confidence in your ability to handle loan repayment.
  6. If you are going to be needing financing, don’t write a ridiculously low offer. Sellers are already taking a gamble that you can close the deal with your loan, and a low price will just not cut it in this market. Be realistic about what the house is worth – insulting the sellers will not be a persuasive way to get your offer accepted. In fact, if you are financing in a seller’s market, I usually recommend coming in at full-asking price (unless the price is way inflated), or even consider slightly above asking to entice the seller to choose your offer over someone else’s offer.

Looking to buy soon? Contact me and I will walk you through every step of the process. I have an excellent team including highly experienced lenders, who can smooth out the lending process. 

Freshly Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Warning: Once you have made this ricotta cheese, you won’t be able to buy store-bought ricotta again. There is just no comparison. This cheese is so delicious and so simple to make. You will need to have a fine mesh strainer and cheesecloth handy.

Ingredients

3 cups of whole milk – I recommend buying the best organic glass bottled milk you can find

1 cup of heavy cream – ditto for the cream

Pinch of salt

Juice of 1 lemon – this must be a regular lemon and NOT a meyer lemon – meyer lemons do not have the acidity to break the milk into curd and whey.

Bring the milk and cream mixture to a simmer at a temp of 180 degrees.

Bring the milk and cream mixture to a simmer at a temp of 180 degrees.

Set up the strainer over a large bowl or pot to capture the whey. Drape several layers of cheesecloth over the strainer.

Set up the strainer over a large bowl or pot to capture the whey. Drape several layers of cheesecloth over the strainer.

Here you can see the separation of the curds from the whey as its poured into the strainer.

Here you can see the separation of the curds from the whey as it’s poured into the strainer.

Here is the finished product: ricotta cheese.

Here is the finished product: ricotta cheese.

Steps

Warm the milk and cream and salt in a nonreactive pot over medium high; stir until you reach a simmer. Do not boil the milk mixture. Once the mixture has reached simmer; turn off the heat, and add the juice of one lemon. Stir as the mixture separates into the whey (liquid) and curd (cheese).

Let the mixture sit for a few minutes. Meanwhile, set up a bowl with the strainer resting on top of it. Line the strainer with a several, layers of cheesecloth, making sure that cheesecloth drapes over the edges of the strainer.

Pour the mixture into the strainer and let it sit for at least 20-30 minutes. Once the liquid has mainly passed through the cheesecloth, take the edges of the cloth and twist them tightly around the bundle of curd, wringing out more liquid until you all that is left is a soft cheese inside the cloth.

Use a spoon to scrape and gather all the ricotta cheese from the cheesecloth and place in a container to chill in the fridge. The liquid whey can be reserved and used instead of water for cooking oatmeal or other uses.

Serving Suggestions:

You can serve the ricotta with a drizzle of honey and ripe figs; or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and vine ripe tomatoes…You can use it instead of cream cheese or creme fraiche with smoked salmon or other smoked fish. Thanks to @Newschoolofcooking for this recipe.