You not living in California (or some other coastal region) means that I am paying as much rent as you might be paying in mortgage. But I am currently unavailable to move in the house next to you—especially when snow falls on top of your house. What is important for me to remember is that my rent is still not a ‘real’ mortgage in California. A real mortgage here easily exceeds $2000. When you add your commuting fuel costs this might make the figure $2500 for the working couple. Part of the gentrification movement has to do with rising fuel costs.
So, for me, just draw a 50-km radius around Culver City, CA and start looking for apartments. When you still need to look for houses in this area called the “West side,” then this means that you can handle a mortgage of about $5000—or you know how to professionally repair/build homes (or you are a gambler with an ARM—or worse). For the “average” Joe trying to swing $5000, you are going to have to shack up with some kind of mate that can swing $2500 out the box every month. More power to you brothers who be loving a (healthy) woman that can push weight like that.
So for us poor single guys, winking at women working cash registers, we have to rent as long as the sun sets on us in California. These are the critical constraints for me to consider during this very complex process:
- Parking my vehicle on the street is not an option. It was a surprise to me how garaging increases in value the closer you get to Santa Monica. The insurance rates for vehicles without garaging increases as well and may threaten any savings from squeezing into a unit with no parking. However, buildings built on top of garages can be more toxic because of car exhaust seeping through ceiling in the parking garage. When you see a sign that says something like, “This building contains substances known to cause birth defects in the state of California,” (sometimes these signs are hard to find) this is due to inadequate ventilation for cars and (more likely) cigarette smoke from your lovely, quiet neighbors.
- Also my attraction to hardwood floors correlates with units without parking. This is because most large properties (including the many new ones being built right now) will save on maintenance costs by using carpet instead of hardwood floors. It is harder to conceal tenant damage to hardwood floors and it is easier to find rolls of cheap (relatively toxic) carpet that can be replaced every 12 months.
- No westward-facing windows in beams of sunlight. As much as my body clearly dislikes cold weather, the damage done by baking every time the sun sets because of west-facing windows can be worse. This is further exacerbated by toxins boiling in the landlord’s cheap carpet.
- No old plumbing. Checking for this can be tricky unless the fixtures clearly look brand new. Check for hot water appearing promptly in showers and sinks. When the toilet flushes, it should do so with enthusiasm. The dishwasher (for “luxury” apartments) should not look old or have any kind of odor (suggesting mold).
- Reconsider central heating. Yes, people in California need central heating! Laugh at us all you want frosty! The problem with central heating is dirty ducts. My suspicion is that there is a correlation between silverfish and heating ducts. I’m not going to even get into dust issues. That would probably be too picky for young America.
- Watch out for “spacious” apartments in large complexes on the West Side. A spacious apartment is upwards of 1000 square feet. This roominess might be due to the wonderful asbestos experiments run in buildings of the late 1960s and 1970s. This building in Culver City, California is made of asbestos and I was asked to sign a waiver to live in it. I promptly moved out (alone, for 19 hours) and suspect that too many buildings in my mother’s legendary Fox Hills are full of asbestos. This very well might be the dirty little secret of Fox Hills and is sad to see so many proud professional women “of color” strutting around the park there.
- Most “modern looking” apartments are made of wood and are covered with stucco. This means that noise will travel from room to room (as well as fire). This means that you might want to avoid “vibrant youth culture” in certain “upscale” neighborhoods. You can’t really win here. Even decent mega-church-going folk have surround-sound home entertainment systems with lots of 5.1 bass.
- Unless you know the history of customer service for a property through personal connections, you might want to invest in a property management company. My current recommendation is a property management company with an organized and useful website that shows current vacancies. My assumption (that could be very wrong) is that you can judge the quality of a company by how well they run their web site. For example, compasspropertymanagement.com sucks—just like their customer service.
Assuming that a “business-friendly climate” will continue to fester, only a handful of property management companies will control the majority of (decent) rental property in Los Angeles. This may mean that expensive search services like www.westsiderentals.com will have to adapt to deal with the professional Web presence of large, serious property managers (many of whom use craigslist.org as a gateway to their formal Web sites). For the year 2007, these are my property management picks:
- roque-mark.com is based in Santa Monica and has the bulk of their properties in the same area.
- lidoapartments.com is based in Beverly Hills and dropped some serious cash (relatively speaking) on a Java-based Web site. It even forecasts upcoming rentals.
- centurywestproperties.net is based in Santa Monica and quite quickly exceeds my price range. They use a properly formatted Excel spreadsheet exported to HTML to list properties. This is like rocket science compared to most property managers here in California. I’m sadly serious.
For a more complete list of Los Angeles property managers (a list compiled for property owners), see “Los Angeles—California (CA) Property Management Companies.” My three companies own/manage enough properties to cover the areas of my concern. However, to scrape for a deal with hardwood floors it’s back to www.westsiderentals.com or for real hustlers, Craig’s List.