Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles Real Estate / by Joseph Palumbo

“I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing,” I text my wife one Saturday morning from a Starbucks nestled deep within the posh and newly tech-infused Play Vista neighborhood in Los Angeles, “, but it reminds me of Agrestic, the fictional neighborhood in Weeds that was supposed to be suburban utopia.” 

I remember when apartments were buildings. Then they became complexes (I thought simplicity was the answer). Now they’re full-fledged compounds with enough rations and fortification to defend against even the worst zombie apocalypse. 

I’ve been looking for an apartment in Los Angeles for 1 week now, which is 1 week longer than any normal human being should be subjected to. Shopping for real estate in Los Angeles is half training for a triathlon and half psychotherapy - you’re traversing long distances over land and water all the while asking yourself, “Who am I really? Am I ‘Venice’ or am I ‘Culver City’?”

It should go without saying that real estate prices in Los Angeles are ridiculous. In fact, I think there needs to be another word that is even more ridiculous than “ridiculous” to better encapsulate the frenetic consumption and irrational pricing that fuels this marketplace. 

For some point of reference and in desperate attempt to search for sanity, I compared LA rental prices against some other tech cities (except San Francisco, but that place is beyond crazy). What I found? Essentially, I could afford two luxury 1 bed/1bath in downtown Austin for the price of a single studio apartment in Los Angeles’ Silicon Beach conglomerate of neighborhoods.   

Ugh. Just…ugh. 

Can I afford it? Not to be brag, but yes. Do I want to drop that much money on a place to live, especially when it comes to rent. Emphatically, no. 

When I was looking at a $4095/month studio in Santa Monica that had a breath taking view of the building’s inner stair well, I asked the rental agent where most people work, or at least where do they commute. He explained that most people are entrepreneurs, working for themselves out of their apartment. 

“Ah, drug dealers,” I thought, “that makes sense.” 

But the reality is I think that’s really the only way you can comfortably live in some of these LA neighborhoods without putting more than 20% of your annual income towards living. In my case, I would have my day job and then work on my book and develop projects on the side.

My 2 philosophies when it comes to LA real estate

Find an apartment I don't want to be in, get out and do things

I was looking at cheap places in Venice, thinking that I could save money with small, austere living quarters if I I had Venice Beach and Abbot Kinney within walking distance. Not a bad plan. It would also double as an exercise in (first world) poverty. But I realized I wasn’t think it through all the way. It’s not just me any more. I want my family to come and stay with me as much as possible (without having to rent/buy a 3 bed/2 bath just yet). And while Venice entices my sense of adventure and romantic notions of LA in the 60s (I’ve been to my fair share of Grateful Dead shows back in the day), I don’t think of it as the ideal backyard for my 10 and 12 year old kids.

Find an apartment I want to be in, stay inside, make things that will generate the money I need to afford the apartment (go outside once in a while) 

So if not save money by living in a renovated shack and living out of Intelligentsia Coffee, then what? Well, I find an apartment that is calm and centered and allows me to focus on my writing and coding, oh, and my day job as well since I’m sure I’ll be working remotely on occasion. Also, something that allows my kids to safely run around and my wife to not have to deal with the insanity of LA traffic. The downside of such a utopia is that it costs an arm and a leg and a spleen and your soul for a security deposit, but you get that back at the end of the lease.

Which did I choose? 

I started writing this post sitting in that Starbucks, but I'm finishing it a few days later sitting in my hotel room...

Lucky for me I'm fecund with ideas for books, web sites/apps and other projects. So I decided to go with the latter choice. I found a nice, clean and modern studio apartment in the previously mentioned zombie-proofed compound in which I can spend chunks of my day working on a long list of projects that I've been wanting to get at. 


The question is will I follow through?