This is another real estate post. Skip it if you don’t have any real estate investing interests. Buying a condo in Los Angeles is a way for me to have a base and an investment in SoCal. And for those physicians burnt out from working in our fucked up healthcare system, there is still a way for you to afford to live in Los Angeles and do meaningful work.
This is my 6th real estate purchase where I consider not only if it’s the right place for me to live but also if it’s a place I can readily rent in the future.
Because I have a CA state medical license, having a base in Los Angeles means I can work here whenever I am in the US. And though I have had a strained relationship with Cali, it’s definitely a place with tons of opportunities.
Real Estate in Southern California
I travel back and forth to California quite a lot. I considered central California and the lower eastern parts like 29 Palms or Joshua Tree.
Single-family homes are selling at a premium (overpriced) all over California. It’s often because people don’t want condos or townhomes. Perhaps it’s the HOAs or the lack of a backyard.
This post isn’t about a dream home; it’s about buying something safe and affordable that I can stay in while building out my virtual medical practice.
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3 Types of Real Estate
I categorize real estate purchases into 3 categories:
The first is absolute garbage. It’s the kind of place you would never be caught dead in. It’s dark, cockroaches, or undesirable neighbors.
The second is ideal to rent out to a potential renter. It would also make decent money if rented, and you could live there if you made some basic changes. This is my sweet spot.
The third category is your dream home. The kind of place you see in your dreams and want to show off to family and friends.
Obviously, renting is a great option. It’s just inconvenient, and it’s not an asset. You can’t play around with it, and you can’t leverage it all that much.
One thing I value a lot is my time. Money buys me more time. I have no desire to spend my time looking for a rental whenever I want to be in Los Angeles.
My business income is sporadic. For some landlords, this isn’t ideal, so I have had issues qualifying for rent without a W2 contract in the past. Go figure.
Purchasing a Condo in Los Angeles
Here are some things I have learned about the condo market in Los Angeles as I round the corner finalizing my purchase.
You can find condos in Los Angeles in desirable neighborhoods from $250k and up.
For $250k, you can find a place in Long Beach and some parts of the Valley.
It’s likely going to be a studio and might either need some TLC or not going to have the best views.
Conventional mortgages are somewhere in the 20% down with standard rates. At this time, we’re talking nearly 7%.
Non-conventional mortgages are for apartment complexes that are primarily renter-occupied instead of owner-occupied.
You’ll need a larger amount down (30-35%), and the rates are slightly over 8%.
Finding a Realtor
I like to work with a realtor with whom I have rapport. And ideally, a realtor who lives and knows a particular city.
If I’m looking in Long Beach, they should know LB. If I’m buying in Burbank, then there.
As of 2022, it’s rare to find an HOA under $200 per month. A one-bedroom unit can easily have an HOA in the $450 range.
And HOAs go up over time, that’s important to consider. If you get an HOA at $200 now, expect it to be $400 in 5-6 years.
Some consider HOAs to be a waste of money. I understand the sentiment. But it often comes from those who have never sat down to calculate how much they spend on home maintenance of a single-family home.
Building Complex Considerations
There are lots of HOA horror stories. If you’ve owned condos long enough, you will have experienced many of them.
From bad neighbors to special assessments to horrible board members. But that’s part of owning in a community.
Understanding the HOA’s status is essential. How much do they have in reserve, and how many special assessments have there been? Are there any big expenditures on the horizon?
In California, you are looking at around 1.25% of the property value annually.
A $400k unit will have a little over $4,000 in annual property taxes. My condo in Portland is nearly $3,000 a year.
Every once in a while, you get a difficult neighbor. It’s easy to get upset at this, but it can happen just as much if you had a single-family home.
The worst thing to do is to make enemies – that’s how you lock in a bad relationship.
If the complex is well-managed and the current neighbors are halfway decent, chances are good that it’ll stay that way.
Renting out the Condo
1 bedroom condos are quite desirable, especially if it has a den or a larger living room area. Such units will be occupied by a couple. For this, they are willing to pay a little more.
Parking and washer and dryer are big considerations. But frankly, I don’t worry too much about renting out my place. I always want it to be a good rental but not a perfect rental.
In popular and busy places like Los Angeles, people will look for a 1 bedroom to buy. A studio will be much less desirable but certainly a good purchase if you get a deal.
The units which sell fastest and at a premium are the ones with all the bells and whistles. The downside is that you’ll always pay a premium for these features.
I stay away from pools and gyms etc. They come with higher HOA dues and other headaches.
But parking and an in-unit washer and dryer are a big plus. People are willing to overlook other factors when these are present when it comes to finding renters.
I don’t want to rely on a car, so I don’t care much about parking. And I can purchase a small portable washing machine for my needs.
Advantages of Buying a Condo in Los Angeles
Buying in Los Angeles means I can fly into a nicely decorated apartment with all the luxuries I enjoy. A cush sofa, a clean floor, my clothes in the closet, and my favorite wine and coffee paraphernalia.
The condo can serve as a storage unit as well. This has rarely been an issue for me, so perhaps less relevant. I don’t own a lot of stuff.
Owning a condo is an asset. It’s always good to be able to show any investor that you have an asset. Even better if it’s rented out and earning you an income.
Food, housing, and health are some of the most important things in people’s lives. Owning a place where friends and family can stay or where I can rent out is a powerful place to be in society.
Disadvantages of Owning Property in Los Angeles
Owning property in Los Angeles means high taxes, filing state income taxes if you rent the property, and dealing with traffic and air pollution if you live there.
CA is a tenant-friendly state, so should something go wrong, few will have any pity for you as the owner.
The carrying cost for a condo in LA that you aren’t renting out is high. You could rent it out short-term, but that’s a headache. At $400/mo for taxes and $400/mo for HOA dues, that’s $800/mo.