Real Estate Newsletter: The Scary Underside of LA Homes

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Welcome back to the real estate newsletter. My coverage usually takes you inside LA’s finest properties, but this week we’re taking a journey among them.

Do you know what’s under your house? Kyle Tourje probably does. He’s a structural surveyor with Alpha Structural and spends his career digging through the dark underbelly of Southern California real estate so you don’t have to.

It’s a dirty job — full of deadly bugs, animal carcasses, and foundation disasters waiting to happen, especially in an area as earthquake-prone as LA. He has the stories and photos to prove it, and we sat down for a series of stories that include a 2,000-year-old Peruvian skull and a secret room full of military gear.

Fair warning: This story is only available to subscribers. But what better time to subscribe, especially when you can get six months for $1? I’m not a salesman, but I shouldn’t have to sell a deal this good.

On the luxury side, a big deal went down in Beverly Hills. It’s an area normally peppered with blockbuster sales, but this year it hasn’t seen price spikes compared to neighboring communities like Beverly Crest or Bel-Air.

That changed this week when denim mogul Maurice Marciano, co-founder of Guess Jeans, lost $37.5 million on a converted mansion, making it the second-highest-priced sale in Beverly Hills so far this year. He bought it from Fred Bernstein, a real estate agent who has spent the last few years expanding and restoring the modern property.

Mount Washington, a neighborhood less known for luxury, also got celebrity treatment this week when Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman listed their three-story hillside home for $1.55 million. The actors, who have since split, have put together several properties in hip neighborhoods over the years, with spots in Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Hollywood Hills.

At the other end of the market, affordable housing advocates got good and bad news this week.

The good news is that Article 34, a measure in the California constitution that makes public housing more difficult to build, will stand a chance of being overturned in the 2024 vote. The measure comes nearly 75 years after the amendment was passed and has blocked construction of low-income housing for the seven decades since by requiring voter approval for public housing.

The bad news is that the renter wage gap, aka the difference between what typical workers can afford and what rents actually cost, is widening — especially in LA. A new study found that LA has the largest rental wage gap for millennials among California cities; The average renter here makes $36,649 but needs $73,560 to pay a one-bedroom rent.

As always, please visit and like our Facebook page for property stories and updates throughout the week while keeping up to date.

A human skull and a secret room

Structural surveyor Kyle Tourje on August 30 assesses a property where unauthorized decks, raised fruit and plant beds are hidden in a hillside.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Architects design houses. Agents sell them. Kyle Tourje falls under her.

Tourje is one of nine surveyors for Alpha Structural, a Los Angeles firm specializing in the design and construction of foundation repairs. In other words, these people make sure your house doesn’t slide down the hill and crush those below.

Each week reviewers go out into the field and send back photos and videos of their most surprising finds: a mummified cat, or maybe a mouse fight; a dog skeleton or a harvest of essential mushrooms.

Tourje has been digging around for more than a decade and has enough stories to fill the plot of a horror movie. Here are a few.

Denim mogul spends a fortune in Beverly Hills

Originally built in 1955, the newly restored home spans 9,300 square feet with five bedrooms and eight bathrooms.

Originally built in 1955, the newly restored home is 9,300 square feet with five bedrooms and eight bathrooms spread over a single floor.

(Mark Singer)

Maurice Marciano, the fashion designer best known for co-founding clothing brand Guess Inc. with his brothers in the 1980s, just spent $37.5 million on a newly renovated Beverly Hills mansion — one of the most expensive deals that the city has seen so far year.

Records show that he purchased the home through his limited liability company, Beverly Financial Holdings. It’s less than a mile from his old home, a Paul McClean-designed home in Trousdale Estates, which he’s currently buying for $27.5 million.

The seller is Westside Estate Agency real estate agent Fred Bernstein, who also acted as developer and bought the property in 2016 for $12.25 million from Megan Ellison, the film producer and daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison. The listing photos show that Amber has maintained the original style of the home while adding 3,000 square feet in the years since.

Actors offer a scenic perch

The three-story residence offers city and canyon views from glass walls and multiple decks.

The three-story residence offers city and canyon views from glass walls and multiple decks.

(Scott Everts/Ryan Lahiff)

Over the past decade, actors Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman have amassed an impressive real estate collection across LA, with homes in hip neighborhoods like Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Hollywood Hills.

Now the two are looking to break away, listing their quaint Mount Washington home for $1.55 million.

Records show the couple, who married in 1982 but have since split, bought the property in 2018 for $1.3 million. The loft-style residence is spread over three stories on a sloping lot and offers expansive city and canyon views through walls of windows and multiple decks.

Anti-social housing measure to repeal

New construction rises near old and dilapidated units of the Jordan Downs residential development.

New construction in 2019 will be built near old and derelict units of the Jordan Downs residential project in the Watts District of Los Angeles.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Nearly 75 years after the state constitution was amended to make public housing more difficult to build, California voters have the option to overturn the provision on the 2024 ballot, writes Liam Dillon.

The measure asks voters to eliminate Section 34 of the California Constitution, which requires voter approval before building public housing in a community. Article 34, passed in 1950, impeded the construction of low-income housing in California for decades and continues to add to the cost and uncertainty of building affordable housing today.

The real estate industry sponsored the 1950 campaign, which appealed to racist fears of neighborhood integration and contained heated rhetoric about the need to fight socialism.

Those behind the repeal of Article 34 argue that it is a racist relic that needs to be repealed, especially during an affordable housing crisis. While other states have enacted and repealed laws that required a public vote before building low-income housing, only California’s constitution currently requires voter approval for public housing.

The renter wage gap is raging in LA

Sarah Abdeshahian, 22, a UC Berkeley graduate, in her one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.

Sarah Abdeshahian, 22, a UC Berkeley graduate, in her one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco in February 2021. Students move to San Francisco because it’s cheaper.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and three other California cities have some of the largest wage disparities among millennial renters in the country — the disparity is the difference between what a typical worker can afford and the average cost of rent, Summer Lin writes.

Among California cities, according to an analysis by the air filter company, LA has the largest rental wage gap for millennials, followed by San Diego in third place, San Francisco in fifth, San Jose in seventh, Riverside in eighth and Sacramento in 12th place Filterbuy using data from the US Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey Public Use microdata sample.

In LA, the pay gap for millennials was minus 49.5% in 2020, with millennial renters earning a median wage of $36,649, according to the analysis. However, tenants needed an average wage of $72,560 to pay a one-bedroom rent. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment was about $1,814; About 35.6% of the city’s millennials were renters.

what we read

In California, the country’s most populous state, land is hard to come by (no surprise to Californians). The New York Times searched the states with the largest lot sizes for new single-family homes and found that California had the second-smallest median lot size at 7,405 square feet—at a cost of $82.60 per square foot. Vermont had the largest middle lot at 78,408 square feet, and it’s slightly cheaper at $5.95 per square foot.

It’s usually either a sellers’ market or a buyers’ market, but according to Business Insider, it’s a terrible time for both sides. Citing stuck prices for sellers, rising mortgage rates for buyers and increasing pessimism from all stakeholders, the outlet said the real estate market is currently “in limbo”.

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