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Caitlin Found A House In The Hills For $299K And This Is What Happened

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A couple of weeks ago, I called my loan officer Andy and made him answer about 40 straight minutes of questions so I could pull together this post on how to buy a house. Most of my questions were about securing a mortgage, but then I asked one that really opened a can of worms: “Is it possible to get a loan to buy land and then build on it?” Andy said that yes, those loans do exist. He then said that because of COVID, lenders have gotten anxious and that those loans are few and far between (if they’re issued at all).

Now, when I was growing up, my grandma always used to accuse my grandpa of having “selective hearing.” And I think that trait may be genetic, because what transpired over the subsequent two weeks was a result of me only hearing the “yes” and ignoring the serious, adult part. I set myself up for a REALLY stressful situation, but I learned A LOT and it may (or may not???) have been worth it.

P.S. Yes, there is a video walkthrough of this home buried in this post if you can find it 🙂

The Beginning

I started officially house hunting (like, with a real team in place and intent to put down on offer if the right thing comes along) on July 13th and OOF. It’s no joke out here in LA! I just got a notification that a house I looked at 2 weeks ago is under contract for $140,000 OVER ASKING.

And despite the idea of buying a house being fun and exciting — I mean I work at a design blog, so how can it not be?! I can finally make a house my own! I can put down permanent roots on the west coast! — looking at so many gut reno projects can feel a little uninspiring and demoralizing. (“I’m agreeing to pay…half a million dollars…for the privilege…of paying another 100k…to gut a house???” – me, in the refractory minutes after I’ve frantically sent a listing to my realtor.) Like Sara, my price bracket falls in the “falling apart” range, and I still just haven’t found the one that feels right. Nuts, right?

So in the interim, despite Andy subtly telling me not to look at land…I decided to look at land. AND THAT IS WHEN I SAW HER. The hill house. I was scrolling through parcels and lots and architectural renderings when I spotted the listing photo above. It was definitely NOT a photo of a piece of land and if it was a rendering, it was a BAD ONE.

She had been sitting on the market for about two weeks at $299,000 and her bio was simple: “Three lots sold for land value. Incredible views!!! A combined total of 29,410 sq ft…the house on [one lot] has been sitting untouched for over a decade and may be a teardown.”

BINGO. MY TARGET WAS ACQUIRED. THIS WAS GOING TO BE MY HOUSE.

The Infatuation

IT’S WHAT’S ON THE INSIDE THAT COUNTS, OKAY?

I’m writing this like it happened in the distant past, but let me be clear: I found this place on AUGUST 7TH. It’s August 19th today. TWELVE DAYS, GUYS. In less than two weeks, I think I earned an honorary master’s degree in teardown properties. I basically took classes in city planning, building & safety codes, engineering and roadway guidelines, neighborhood alliances, local politics, construction costs, permitting procedures, structural engineering, and more.

There’s a Leslie Knope quote that goes, “There’s nothing we can’t do if we work hard, never sleep, and shirk all other responsibilities in our lives.” And y’all, that is what happened here…for a while. (I know, I know…did I buy it? STAY TUNED. I’LL GET THERE.)

Anyway. I found this house on a Friday and my thought process was simple: if I’m already looking at 400-500k gut jobs or tear downs, why NOT try to get one with a view for WAY less? Later that night after receiving too many very enthusiastic emails from me about this property, my realtor Francine emailed me the following: “Ok. So this one is interesting. It is currently owned by someone who wanted to build 3 homes on the land but has been unsuccessful. It does seem like a lot of work, which I’m not saying you can’t do. But it looks like you would be dealing with more than just the house…we can definitely go there if you want to take a look to see how it is.”

She had attached a document from a 2017 hearing with the Zoning Administrator, where the homeowners in the area had successfully blocked the current owner of the property from resuming development. Why? Because…

The Drama

So basically, this is when I learned all the dirty details about this house. I knew she had sat vacant(-ish, as evidence inside would prove) and unfinished for over a decade, but I didn’t know why.

And after a solid 4-day sprint of research and assistance from both friends and government workers, it boiled down to this: in 2005, a developer bought several plots of land at the top of this beautiful hillside with the intent of building a whole bunch of modern homes with gorgeous views. Normally, if you’re planning to develop several plots of land, you have to tell the city and they’ll send out a special team to gauge the environmental impact.

Now, our developer realized that he had bought land with a whole bunch of black walnut trees…and that was BAD for business. And I don’t know if you know this — because honestly, WHY WOULD YOU???? — but black walnut trees are very important in California. So to avoid having the government halt his project, the developer decides to shift around titles and land deeds to make it look like he’s only building one house — my hillside dream house — and he successfully usurps any environmental regulation of the project. He then cuts down A TON (read: approximately 10) of these trees to clear the land for this home.

This is what a HEAVILY SLOPED lot with black walnut trees. Some of my friends were like, “oh, so you’d have a yard?” NO, since I’m not spider man or good at climbing or coordinated.

In the meantime, the developer was also lying about the width of the road to the house (spoiler alert: there isn’t one) and finally, the neighbors call him out. They’re able to petition the city and his permits are revoked. If this is sounding like a Disney movie to you…well, please know that it sounded like a Disney movie to me, too.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL. In 2011, this developer is able to sell the land to a new buyer who, like me, intends to finish the house. (Unlike me, the new buyer also hopes to build 2 new homes on the neighboring parcels of land.) Once again, the development is stopped by the homeowners alliance. The new owner claims ignorance, saying that he thought everything was in order when he acquired the property, but the neighbors basically say, “Dude, are you serious? You didn’t know that this was an enormous issue? We’ll only consider letting you finish this house if you donate the 2 of the 3 lots to a land conservation project.”

Now, seeing as *I* am a person with no previous experience in permitting and building, I’d have to agree with the neighbors! HOW DID HE NOT KNOW? If I can find this information out, why wouldn’t a developer do their due diligence? (And is it dangerous to be trash-talking a corporation that may or may not hold the title to my home?)

But overall, this just inspired me to push harder. Since I am just a regular person with absolutely no vested interest in building multiple houses, I would be happy to donate the two lots next door. I’m looking to be a permanent member of a community! And I am lucky to have a great resource here, in this community and site with y’all, to see me through the renovation, right? WHAT COULD GO WRONG?!

The Hurdles

HAHA of course EVERYTHING CAN GO WRONG and this was going to be INCREDIBLY HARD. I woke up on Saturday, August 8th (yes, 11 days ago!), and sent everything I had pulled to my ice skating teammate and ACTUAL earth angel, Dafne, who has a masters in planning from USC. She had the actual brainpower and knowledge base to help me decipher all these documents, to make sure that I was reading things correctly, and to send me to ZIMAS where I could dig more deeply and get more details. (Side note: if you live in LA, ZIMAS IS SO COOL. I also spent time looking at my own address because it has a ton of documents and permits — like there are documents from the 1930s in there! NEAT.)

Anyway, she referred me to great points of contact in city government (THANK YOU DAFNE), but she also hit me with some wise words: “From what I’m reading, it sounds like a total sh*t show.” OK, GREAT. So I have my loan officer, my realtor, and my friend with planning experience all telling me that it’s not the best idea…but dang, that selective hearing kicked in high gear because I HAD ALREADY DECIDED THAT IT WAS MY HOUSE.

“But yeah, my initial opinion is, if this were easy, it wouldn’t be $299/it would be done by now,” Dafne texted. Yes, that is true, but it also already WASN’T easy. Based on all the searching I did, I came up with a couple of key stakeholders I would need to win over and problems I’d need to solve (Note these are specific to this house but good things to keep in mind if you are in a similar situation):

  1. Financing: can I get a loan for this?
  2. Neighbors: if they’ve successfully killed two attempts, my fate is in their hands.
  3. Permits: am I even allowed to build here anymore?
  4. Utilities: did they build them? Are there hookups in place?
  5. The Road: OK. A CATCH. This ol’ girl does not have a freaking road, which is a major issue. And I also still haven’t heard back from the Bureau of Engineering — I’ve been told that they’re slammed — so it’s unclear on whether or not *I* would be responsible for extending the road or if the city would pay. Basically, this is a dealbreaker because OMG ROADS ARE SO EXPENSIVE.

None of this seemed particularly easy — it actually seemed like a real frickin’ nightmare — so I basically thought, “ah yes, THIS is why this house is still available. I am the only person with the patience and willingness to figure out all this annoying stuff.” And to some extent, I think I was right. I can also see why developers are such a big thing. The information varies so much by neighborhood — not even by city! By neighborhood! — and it makes the barrier for entry SO HIGH. It is really difficult to figure these things out for yourself while trying to maintain any semblance of a normal life. (To that end, HELLO! to all my friends whom I absolutely ghosted while this was happening! I had the bandwidth for EHD and for this house. Everything else was punted.)

The Walkthrough

Here’s the video for all my impatient friends. Three floors in all her vacant and unfinished glory (if there’s an ad, just give it 5 seconds!)…

Let me be clear: this hill house is NOT a looker from the outside. She has seen better days. And so that Sunday — two days after finding the house, and several gut reno tours into my search — I was prepared for a big ol’ wreck. A neighbor next door warned me about squatters and I had worn workout clothes and sneakers so I could climb through internal debris (also so I’d be able to land safely in case any of the floors gave out, which I fully anticipated).

But then…I was NOT PREPARED for what I found inside. Was there mold? Yes. Was there water damage? Yes. Some graffiti? Sure. And one room had been painted periwinkle, so it was clear that there had been a few inhabitants in the past. But overall, she was beautiful. I WAS OFFICIALLY IN LOVE. Over 2,000 square feet, 3 floors, 3 beds, 2.5 baths, AND major views in the hills…for $299,000? I was ready to do whatever it took. SHE WAS MY HOUSE.

I had figured that all the drywall and subfloor would have to come out, all the systems (e.g. plumbing, wiring, HVAC) replaced, and she’d need new windows, doors, housewrap, and siding, but overall…this seemed doable. In a shocking twist, she seemed to need less work than most of the homes I’d been looking at. WHO THE HECK WANTS TO TEAR DOWN THIS INHABITABLE BEAUTY?

But she was also way bigger than I had anticipated (yes, TWO fireplaces!) or budgeted for, which started to get concerning. And while we’ve handled a ton of renovations at EHD and while I can pump out a budget for a new kitchen or new windows or a full bathroom, I don’t have any clue how to budget for an exterior update…or how to figure out if any part of the exterior was even salvageable. (ESPECIALLY CAUSE THIS GIRL IS ON A REAL STEEP HILL! How do you even start?)

The Logistics

Fun fact: You, too, can probably find floor plans for ANY space if you try hard enough! Maybe you can also save them on your phone and stare at them every time you open up safari!

This is when I had to get serious…and y’all, I cannot tell you how many phone calls and emails were made over the following week. JK. I can tell you: over 100 phone calls and over 200 emails! I was waking up at 4:30 AM (normal for me), but then jumping straight into EHD work (not normal for me — I’m more of a “lay in silence and stare at your phone for 2 hours” gal) so I’d be able to connect with permitting departments and city planners during their working hours.

I feel like this — in addition to, you know, navigating the entire system — is what makes exploring non-traditional buying options SO HARD for regular people. In a normal situation, I’d love to delegate my questions and research to the weekend! But when you’re relying on others or when you need feedback to move forward, it’s really tough to manage fitting everything into business hours. I ghosted every friend and responsibility in my life that did not directly correlate with either EHD or this house.

So naturally, now that I had devoted all of my effort, things started to fall apart. I had sent Andy, my loan officer, a text with the listing when I had first found the property and he had responded that it would be “tough but possible.” But when I sent him new photos of the interior, it was a hard pass. He was willing to look into other land loans, but the prognosis wasn’t great. NO PROBLEM, I’ll just find an alternate bank! Add it to the to-do list! Why not?!

I can’t believe no one wanted to finance this water-damaged vacant house!!! Who needs moulding when you can have molding?!

I then reached out to the homeowners’ alliance who had blocked the initial build…but there was just radio silence. And a few days later, my realtor texted me to let me know that someone else was planning to put an offer, so I slid into their Instagram DMs as a last-ditch effort to plead my case. Basically, I told them that I’d heard that a developer may be trying to get the lots and that I’d be interested in renovating, moving in, and conserving the neighboring land, but not without clear guidelines and a blessing from the alliance in place. Someone responded and said that they’d reach out, but they never did. (And as of today, they still haven’t.)

And while I’m still willing to meet their demands listed in the original grievances with past developers — and while city staffers debriefed me on the full drama and suggested the best ways to mediate — I couldn’t figure out if it was worth it to put an offer in on a home whose repairs could be blocked by neighbors. (If you’re like, “wow, I would have thought that they would have been excited to have that house fixed up and not tanking property values while guaranteeing no other development,” ME TOO. THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT. But nope. There are some politics I don’t understand!) I definitely didn’t want to be sitting on a $299k home that I could never live in.

Then, I couldn’t find a contractor to bid on the project. Fun fact: contractors don’t have a particular interest in accompanying you to a house that you may or may not choose to purchase — and they shouldn’t, because that would be an enormous waste of time. But I couldn’t even pay someone for their time — 3 separate GCs took a peek at the exterior and passed. One quoted me an arbitrary $500k upon seeing the exterior photos and then raised it to a million after I said it had been vacant for 10 years. One said that he’d come look, and then ghosted. (He has since reappeared! Maybe his ears were tingling.)

Finally, I was able to get someone out. He’d managed projects for a ton of *my* favorite designers out here in LA, so while I hadn’t worked with him before, I knew he was trustworthy. His estimate? 300k – 400k for BASIC, builder-grade finishes. WOW. This is where I really started to spiral. Because look, that’s a LOT (and it feels insane to write about it now)…but at the time, I was just thinking “HEY, is there really even a difference between buying a 500k house that needs 100k of work and a 300k house that needs 300k of work? It’s the same at the end of the day, BASICALLY, right?!” (Do I know that renovations often go over budget? YUP. Was I ignoring that fact? ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY. Selective hearing is my downfall.)

True to form, it just got worse and bigger and harder! My realtor clarified that I’d need to pay in cash to compete with this other potential pending offer that she’d been tipped off to. And instead of me being like, “hey, dummy, clearly the universe says that this is not for you,” I just got MORE INVESTED. I WAS ON A MISSION TO FIGURE IT OUT. I ran a ton of financial scenarios, talked to about a million different bankers, and then my mom stepped in and offered to help. This is where I gotta be real: I am VERY privileged and very lucky.

We ended up exploring a lot of options: what happens if she loans me the money? (Answer: paperwork, and she’d be required to report my repayments as income, which I didn’t love.) What happens if she gifts me the money? (Answer: taxes, and I’d obviously be feeling wildly uncomfortable forever until I could repay her.) But the bankers I chatted with thought that this was the best option, and said that if I owned the land outright, I would be able to be pre-approved for a construction loan that would more than cover the expenses.

But I felt — and still feel — REALLY uncomfortable playing fast and loose with money that belongs to my mom, so I did more research. I had my realtor pull comps for the neighborhood just so I could figure out what repayment would look like. Basically, houses with “worse” views and less privacy are selling for 1.1 million, while new builds down the hill are currently on the market for up to 1.7 million. I figured that if I bought the land in cash, took out a 300k construction loan, used 80k from my own savings (ah, yes, there it is, buried my own financial information deep in the post), I’d be able to fund a renovation (along with any surprises). I’d then be able to have the house appraised upon completion so I could take out a HELOC — AKA a “home equity line of credit.”

Greetings from my dream kitchen! Please ignore the years of neglect! She will be fixed! (Or will she?!)

A HELOC is basically the difference between what you owe on your house and what it’s worth — so in this example, since I’d own the house outright, I could have access to nearly a million dollars. (!!!!) Mathematically, I’d be able to pay back my mom, pay back the construction loan, and just pay off this equity line of credit til the end of time (instead of paying a mortgage)…but it still felt kind of wrong in my gut. At this point, I also had a good pal come in and offer to go in on the property with me, but I just don’t think I have the stomach to be a real estate tycoon.

My mom is SO GENEROUS and SO SUPPORTIVE and she tolerated about a million texts and phone calls from me as I started to figure it out. It still felt like a sound investment — a hole in the market that’s made off-limits and cumbersome by bureaucracy — and honestly, a home with a view like that will always be valuable, so I just continued to double down and do some more research. Before I officially made the ask for ANY funds from anyone, I wanted to start knocking out some inspections and confirming that that the house was stable (and not, you know, in danger of sliding off the hill anytime soon, which became a big concern of mine).

This is Casey (yes, there is a man down there!!!) who bravely scaled a hill and crawled around on the ground. He was worth every penny.

AND GUESS WHAT. TURNS OUT…SHE ISN’T STABLE. Last week, I paid a very talented structural engineer SEVENTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS to climb down a very steep hill and then send me a 14-page report telling me that my dream home is not necessarily structurally sound and it would need to be re-permitted.

IT WAS DEVASTATING. In hindsight, there are a lot of other things I wish I could have spent $1,700 on (you know, rent, food, literally ANYTHING ELSE) but I’m glad I spent it here — I wouldn’t have felt okay asking ANYONE, whether they’re a bank or my mom or my friend — for a loan knowing that I could have done more due diligence and chose not to. (My mom also sent me a text after I bemoaned the cost, telling me not to be “penny wise and pound foolish,” which did make a lot of sense considering that I was willing to go into SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS worth of debt for this house. Perspective. Thanks, mom!)

Did I have to pay a structural engineer upfront? I guess technically not. I had noodled over a competitive offer with my realtor which would have given me a ten day inspection period, but y’all — there’s no way I would have been able to knock all this research and all these meetings out in those ten days.

As evidenced by today’s post, I needed at least twelve days to get my ducks in a row — I never could have figured all this out while under contract. (And now, my metaphorical ducks have been ripped away from me because honestly, I shouldn’t have even been looking at these ducks to begin with!!! This has gotten away from me, but the point is that I’m glad I did as much work up front as I could handle, even though this all could have been avoided if I had stayed in my lane.)

BUT ANYWAY. This potential foundation issue, to my contractor, may be a kiss of death. If we could rebuild on the current foundation and if the current framing had been permitted/approved, we’d be golden…but since the permits were revoked, the foundation was never technically approved (the framing was, though!), and the current underneath of the house is incredibly suspect (I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure houses on hills are not supposed to be balanced on 6 pieces of wood!), the whole thing would need to be fixed which adds a whole new round of expenses. RIP TO MY HOPES AND DREAMS. But maybe?????

Where We’re At

While I had the structural engineer out last week, my realtor got a text that the aforementioned “very qualified buyer” had put in an offer on the house. OF FREAKING COURSE THAT HAPPENED. BRB, just spending a month’s rent to learn that a house I DON’T EVEN OWN may or may not be in danger of crumbling. OF COURSE SOMEONE ELSE WOULD TRY TO BUY THAT HOUSE IN THAT MOMENT. As if the universe hadn’t been like, “GIRL NO!!!” the whole time.

But I wasn’t sure if this was the seller’s agent trying to force an offer from me or if it was real — and the status hasn’t updated, so honestly, maybe the former? — but I’m sort of at an impasse. I did so much groundwork — and it’s not over yet! I actually have another call with the Specific Plan team today (certain neighborhoods have certain plans and rules, who knew?!) as a followup from our last chat last week. I’ve also had a few banks circle back with me — after looking at my LinkedIn!!!! (I think they saw I worked here and were like, “oh this team seems competent, maybe she can handle a renovation”) — to offer up lot + construction loans, so in a NICE happy ending, I could do this without asking my mom for money, which makes me feel a whole lot more comfortable! (The caveat here: I’d just submit an offer with a note saying that they can leave it on the market while my loan clears, but I would lose it if someone could swoop in and pay cash.)

And they’d be VERY lucky, because this view WAS UNREAL.

So maybe I’ll just keep an eye on my sweet hill house and if it’s meant to work out, it’ll work out, right? Maybe the Bureau of Engineering will respond to my email and let me know if I could just build a driveway instead of extending the road. Maybe a neighbor will see this and bless my plan. (In which case HI, I really want to move in and live there!!! I am not a flipper! Just a regular person trying to buy a house in LA!)

But I am glad I’ve had the experience. It’s felt like a crash course, but in the best way — I was thrown WAY out of my comfort zone and I’m still alive to tell the tale! I thought I had home buying figured out, but WOW, teardowns and lots and permitting issues are a whole new playing field and I’m lucky I had the chance to learn about them while trying to grab a house I *love*.

For what it’s worth, I’ve also been SO impressed by the city planners and department staffers I’ve chatted with. I don’t have a ton of local government experience, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate that anyone from the government would have the time or bandwidth to chat on the phone with me for 30 minutes about a house that I may or may not buy. And they’ve sent thoughtful emails, and follow up notes, and meeting invitations! WHAT?! ARE THESE MY TAX DOLLARS AT WORK? How do I find more of these lovely people?! Even calling 311 has been a joy — I vaguely describe issues and they competently connect me to the actual person who can help. AND THEN THAT PERSON ACTUALLY HELPS! I don’t know if this is normal or just an LA thing but y’all, we have some AWESOME FOLKS working out here.

It’s really been like working with a team of Leslie Knopes and I’m so grateful for all the time and energy they’ve devoted towards breaking this down in ways I, a not-developer, can understand. (Another fitting Knope quote while we’re at it: “I have the most powerful currency in America. The blind, stubborn belief that what I am doing is 100 percent right,” WHICH IS BASICALLY THIS WHOLE ESCAPADE IN A NUTSHELL.

BYE HOUSE, I LOVE YOU. See you soon?

To that end…I guess this is a bit of an unfinished story. AND THAT WAS THE ABRIDGED VERSION. The door seems like it may be closing right now but WHO KNOWS, MAYBE IT’S NOT? Maybe I should reach back out to those banks and take them up on that lot + construction loan combo? Are these views just too good to pass up? And maybe y’all can advise: will I ever find another one like this? Will I regret sliding into passive mode after two solid weeks of nothing but hustle? WILL THIS BE MY “ONE THAT GOT AWAY”, but for houses?!

But I guuuuuuess in the interim, if you’re the person who has immediate access funds and the bandwidth to fix up a hill house…BOY, do I have a spot for you. Just make sure that you invite me over when it’s finished, okay????

Fin Mark

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Alison

WHOA this was a roller coaster and I loved every minute of it! The title was pretty click-baity and I was like, Come on, EHD! But damn, it was worth it 🙂 Good luck, Caitlin, you’re crazier/braver than I am! When you talked about the city planning people, I’m definitely imagining you on the phone with Chris Traeger and Mark Brandanowicz!

isabelle

Agreed – such a rollercoaster! Caitlin, WALK AWAY. You paid for a great story and an educational experience! Don’t sink the next decade (or more) of your life into this moneypit. I am an architect and wouldn’t touch this with a ten foot pole unless I had a $1 million or more to put into this. You are going to be dealing with things that you legally cannot DIY – architecture, civil engineering, structural problems, mold issues, environmental regulations, etc. on top of the “over-invested” neighbors. So if you can’t afford it, the home will continue to sit empty and drain your bank account no matter how much elbow grease you’re willing to put into it. Can you afford to continue to pay rent on top of a mortgage and finance an expensive renovation all at once? This is not a renovation that would be done in a month or two. I’m also not sure I’d want to rely on using this home as collateral for financing, not knowing what could happen in the future. The view will always be in demand, but that doesn’t mean the house will, or that you can afford to weather the storm before resale.… Read more »

sona

Isabelle sounds like she knows what she’s talking about. Listen to her Caitlin. I know how one can see the potential is something and already be decorating it in their mind but this really is a money pit. One door closes, another one opens. You’ll find the right property.

Run screaming. Isabelle is giving you invaluable advice. Take it. There are more opportunities out there that are a better fit for your budget. If what attracts you is the ability to have a bigger home with a killer view in a great neighborhood and you are willing to work hard for it, start smaller. Be a flipper. Work your way up to your dream home with a few smaller, more strategic purchases, renovations and sales that allow you to build the equity you are looking for. Take your time and really hear the opinions of the professionals you are soliciting. Walk away and don’t look back.

Julie

I’m impressed with all you were able to accomplish in two weeks and am honestly quite thankful you shared this journey. Also in California, houses that are less than 1,000sqft and in need of a complete remodel often list for $700-$900k. I imagine others can’t comprehend the rabbit hole you went down but I could honestly see myself doing the same thing if I thought *just maybe* it might present a somewhat affordable home ownership option. Thankfully you’ve done the work and I now know, I’m not equipped for such an endeavor. I think I’ll keep saving my rent controlled pennies until I can afford taking a pay cut to move to a more affordable home.

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the right person/s see this post and the stars align so you can buy a home. I look forward to following along on your journey.

Julie

**taking a pay cut to move to a more affordable region

Ally

I’ve always wanted to know if people in these over-priced markets actually get paid more money than those of us the rest of the country? Seems like national companies have set pay-scales for specific job levels; so who are these young people with resources to spend over $600K on a questionable house at such a young age? Where do they work? I’ve seen them here on this blog and TV flip shows! I want their job please!

Clara

When I was 30 I knew people with family money and people who rented. There was (in my circle of friends) no overlap. Either you had family who paid for your college and your parents gave you the downpayment (or a no-interest loan) for the house, or you rented. This is less true now that I’m in my 40’s! I know there are exceptions – but in Seattle and LA (where I lived in those years) – I didn’t know any.

And THANK YOU for sharing your financial picture!

Christa

Same. This is why so many people in LA buy places in Lake Arrowhead or weekend desert cabins – they keep the apartment close to work, and buy something for their weekends.

Ellie

Which is the weirdest phenomenon, right?! I live in Boston now and have a ton of friends in/leaving NYC and it’s so nutty that in these major cities it’s cheaper to have an apartment in the city AND a mortgage on the second home than to just buy in the city. What a twisted way for things to be!

Frances

Actually – yes. One of the things we’ve seen in the Bay Area during COVID has been the big tech companies saying – ok, you can choose to work remotely permanently, but expect to see a pay-cut.

Saima

People do get paid more in LA than say, Oklahoma, but even with that cost-of-living increase, buying a house in LA is unaffordable for the majority of residents. The real estate market here is insane. I’m in my late 30s, and most people I know my age who have purchased a house or condo did so a few years ago when the market was still a little depressed from the 2008 financial crash. I don’t really know anyone who’s buying now when fixer uppers in less than desirable areas are selling for $50k over asking, and the asking was half a million.

Bella

Yes folks in high cost of living areas do get paid more depending on the location. When I moved out of CA I stayed with the same company but had to take a pay cut because my salary had to match the average in my new location.

Who are these young folks with resources? Some were lucky to have stock and cashed out from a successful IPO (case in point: the Bay Area market started really exploding once some tech companies went public or got bought by other giants). And social media influencer money. Or saving and investing and reaping the benefit of the record stock market.

kiki

I think I can help answer this! I grew up in rural Kansas where you can still get a new house for $70k and now live in Portland, OR where starter homes are about $500k. That blew my mind and I never thought I’d be able to be a homeowner in Oregon. Yes, wages are a bit higher. College educated people with a white collar job in Portland are making between $60k-120k. People get into houses a few different way: They are from here. Which means their parents are from here and most likely have equity in their homes. They are able to put that equity into a down payment for a new house for their kids. Or, with a lot of tech jobs, you get a signing bonus. That signing bonus is often enough for a down payment. Or, with bigger companies, they get stock…that stock grows over a few years and once one is fully vested, they can cash it out and either buy a house outright or put down a healthy down payment. Not sure if that’s helpful, or maybe it’s super common knowledge but I certainly did not know that in my 20’s! So, it may… Read more »

Haive

Just wanted to chime in as someone with a college education and a master’s degree in the earth sciences who only earns $43,000 living in Portland. I would not say that $60-$120 is realistic. Definitely depends how much the economy values your field.

Suzanne

In the Silicon Valley (aka Santa Clara Valley when I grew up), it is not uncommon for a double income couple earning $150k a year to buy a $600k home, but those don’t really exist anymore. A starter 2/1, 800sf home is around $800k, depending an the neighborhood. There are condos for less in some neighborhoods, too. I know a couple who was able to buy there second home earning $150-180k for $1.1 million, but they had about $300k of equity from their first home. That is still an $800k mortgage. Since COVID, they are down to one income of $99k, and it’s not sustainable. While they’re able to defer the loan, they need a second income, which is hard to come by in the pandemic. So basically, while people in the high priced areas earn a little more, they usually afford places by spending more of their income on housing. Those with family money are certainly better off, but others do it with a lot of risk with less.

Karyn

Salaries in the Bay Area are higher than in the Southbay region due to the housing prices/crisis. Those that work in tech and engineering are set, but those in the service areas are hit HARD. We have been here forever (worked and retired out of tech) and own several homes here, but it’s utterly unsustainable.

isabelle

The salaries are higher but not in proportion to the cost of living. I make about 15% more than friends in equivalent positions in my hometown, but my rent is twice as much as theirs. Gas prices and food are more expensive. A “starter home” here is almost always north of $400k, and for some reason people think it’s normal to spend half a million dollars on a house. Everyone I know who bought a home in their twenties did so with help from their family. The fact is that unless you inherited wealth or got really lucky in FAANG, most young people living in HCOL areas cannot afford a down payment, much less fees, inspections, and maintenance. Even if you can technically afford to buy a $450k “starter” home, it’s not uncommon for someone from out of town to come in and throw down a cash offer for an investment property they will never live in, making it harder for normal people to break into the market. This is how you end up in a city with homes and apartments sitting empty while rent still climbs and people are sleeping on the streets or in their cars. (I’m simplifying… Read more »

Jamie

Ally, I absolutely hear you and can attest, yes California pays extremely well. I know several young (20 and 30-something year olds) recruiters who work at Google and Tesla and who make $150k. California salaries are insane but so is the cost of living. Several of my friends have moved out of the Bay Area alone just because they can’t afford it (and that’s on salaries of $150k!)

Lynly

I work for a Fortune 50 company with international sites. Salaries are based on cost of living for each local market. Which is how it should be.

Lauren

It really depends. I’m a teacher in a suburb of Houston; housing is pretty affordable here and my husband (a professor at a community college) and I were able to save up enough for a down payment within a few years. I had a friend who moved to Hawaii and was making just a little bit more even though the cost of living was way higher. She ended up coming back after a few years because it wasn’t sustainable. I’ve looked up teacher salaries in California and they weren’t as high as I was expecting.

Amanda

It’s not their job, it’s their family money.

JDubb

This convo is so interesting. FWIW, my husband and I do not come from family money, we are in our mid-thirties and bought a home in LA at the end of 2018. We make less than 200K combined now. He made some good financial decisions in his twenties and didn’t have student loan debt (I did). We bought a tiny fixer rowhouse in DC in 2013, and were able to live in that for a few years and hung onto it after we moved to LA. The rental income helps pull in a bit each month. And after a few years of renting here (at an exorbitant cost), we decided to try to buy. We had enough for a downpayment, and determined that the only way we could afford a mortgage (comfortably) would be to have an income unit. We put in more than 10 offers, and finally found our 3/2 home in Eagle Rock with a rental basement studio (and a huge backyard). The only way we got the house — it needed total plumbing, sewage, and electircal overhaul (and they gave us the disclosures up front), and needed cosmetic work. I think we finally found one that people… Read more »

Julie

Ally-I’m in the Bay Area and for my husband and I it’s more complex than income (though we both do make substantially more here than other markets we’ve looked at). I’m a nurse and while we do make more here than anywhere else in the country, one reason I haven’t taken a pay cut to relocate is because working conditions are incredible where I am. California has state mandated patient safety ratios and we have a very strong union advocating for our safety. More than half of my co-workers are nurses who started as travelers from other states who came for a temporary job but never left because conditions were so much better. I also work in a specialty that pretty much only exists in bigger markets so that’s a thing too. Another reason we’ve stayed is that I graduated with lots of student loan debt. Our one bedroom apartment costs as much as my sister’s mortgage on a 3-bedroom house but by holding out in our tiny place, we’ve been able to pay down my student loan debt years faster than would have been possible in a lower cost of living city. The math doesn’t work even if we… Read more »

Mk

In CA, most people are what we call, Mortgage Poor.

SW

Agreed. I’m also in LA in my mid 30s. We were lucky enough to purchase something almost 3 years ago in the valley. It’s a single family home 3b2b (fixer! Just under 600k). Our income is about 150k per year and I feel so poor every month. We have to be stingy to save money every month. I do not feel like someone makes over 150k a year. I don’t even have kids!!!

Mk

However, in 30 years, everyone can sell their CA homes and mover to other areas and live like kings with their immense equity.

Norah

Eek! I’m impressed, inspired…and freaked out on your behalf! It would be a hard pass for me, but after living through just one bathroom remodel in my life I’m scared off of house renovations.

A big important question to ask yourself – do you want to spend the next 1-2 years of your life remodeling? Is that how you want to spend all your free time and cash? Because that’s what you’d be signing up for.

Good luck 🙂

Jill

I really enjoyed reading this post! This is a little hard to relate to being from the Midwest where real estate prices are nowhere as high, but having bought my first home last year I can understand the emotional attachment to a property. Good luck moving forward in your house hunt!

holy crap. i do not have this level of perseverance. it’s a beautiful view for sure! but i’m also scared of living on hills. also, i hate anyone that tries circumventing environmental protections and cuts down trees. that guy was a jerk extraordinaire.

Kelly

Wow. I guess it’s worth it to live in LA? : )

J

You could say that about any area, actually 🙂

https://www.boredpanda.com/honest-state-mottoes-slogans/

Emily

On one hand, I’m sure that if you moved forward it would end up costing way more in money, time, and emotion than you bargained for. On the other, hopefully it would turn out to be a good financial investment. Plus I’ve several times done things that turned out to be more than I bargained for, and I’m glad in retrospect that I didn’t understand what it would take because I wouldn’t have done it. . . and I’m glad I did it.

Christina

We did one of those major renovations saving the worst house on the block that took way longer and way more work and caused way more family drama than anticipated, and I don’t regret it overall. But I also wouldn’t do it a second time.

The foundation issues would kill this house for me. If the foundation were ok, and you could make the top end of the contractor $300-400k estimate work plus at least $100k padding for unexpected costs and because if you cheap out on basic finishes you probably won’t be happy, and the road issue can be resolved… if all that were true I wouldn’t think you were crazy for going for it, knowing it means a year or two of stress and insanity but you end up with an awesome house. But with the foundation issue I don’t think you’ll kick yourself if you walk away from it — that tips it way over into money pit territory for me.

Is the seller even making back what they paid in 2011 plus holding costs? That’s another red flag, that the current owner hasn’t been able to make it work in 9 years.

Not-That-Kind-of-Karen

Caitlyn, the whole time I read this I could FEEL your excitement. And this project is indeed SO EXCITING! And the four-years-ago/pre-renovations-Karen would so be on your speeding lets-do-this project train, sitting front and center. But please know that the rough budget from the GC, even not considering foundation issues b/c you didn’t know that was something at the time he went by – seems very low. I am SO LEARNED in renovations and construction costs as we have done extensive renovations at our house. Some structural, lots of “back end” work – but nothing outside our exterior walls. And we have spent hundreds of thousands (three to be exact). This industry is NOT CHEAP! It’s crazy-expensive (I’m also in SoCal). So when I see a house like this, it’s gotta be AT LEAST $500k and probably more. In fact, you may be better off starting from scratch. So for reals (now I’ve got my girlfriend-hat on), next time you get an estimate, add to it big time. And work with that increased figure. Cause that’s the world of construction – twice as long and twice as much. Also, maybe connect with Oh Joy! She just finished building her own… Read more »

Rae

I want to echo the twice as much part. Seriously, double whatever you think it should cost. I can empathize with this kind of search and intense research so deeply. I spent over 3 years looking at properties online daily, driving to every potential property that looked like it might even tick some of the boxes, researching septic tank guidelines, paying for septic field testing, learning about environmental impact restraints when there is a protected creek running through the property, etc etc. In short, there’s a reason it’s so difficult for the average person to buy anything other than a fully finished house on a clearly defined lot. It’s maddening! In the end we found the perfect house and did a remodel which did not involve moving any walls or expanding the footprint and was described by the GC as “easy”. It still cost twice as much as we originally thought it would. Basically, buying, building, and/or remodeling houses in high cost of living areas is a wealthy person’s game and for the rest of us who are doing it because it’s our passion and THE THING we are completely obsessed with it requires the creative financial jumping through hoops… Read more »

Karen

YES! Why is it always so much more expensive than you think? I blame HGTV and any sort of “online reno calculator”. My husband thinks strongly that we have not over-invested in our house, and so does our RE agent (whew!). And I do now have my dream house (well, one bathroom left to renovate!), and even if/when we do move – well, I’d probably want to do it all over again – I think? The money is crazy, and that makes me a little sick to my tummy. My husband said we will not renovate again. Period. LOL……

Mary E

Just finished over 1 year of actual remodel/construction on an 19th century cottage in small town northern CA (read now 2 blocks from fire evac zone!! Can 2020 just end now?) and I want to add my voice that the original estimate of $400k for remodeling costs is yes, just over double that. It’s a 1300sf cottage and a big 3 car garage with an apartment but it’s crazy. This does not include the architects/engineers/and permitting costs (which were insane!) So in CA be sure to factor in FIRE $$$ insurance, especially on a hill. But having lived in many other states, I’m not ready to relocate for cheap housing. I’m very blessed to be able to retire in a beautiful location and be able to afford it. Of course, the kids will get the house and NO money 🙂

The Kitten Abides

Hi, Mary – my Mom lives in NorCal in the Grass Valley area and it sounds like you might be near there also. I’m sending you lots of good luck vibes that you can come through the Jones fire unscathed. I’m also really interested in your post as my husband and I are in the process of moving back there to be closer to my mom. I’ll keep your experience in mind as we house shop. Thank you so much for the input!

Casi

I’m from Nevada City and we have a house there. I got a quote from a local contractor to add a not huge or complicated deck (mostly flat land off the kitchen) and his quote was $100k! To add one deck. Contractor prices up there are very high!

Char

LOVE your name!

Emily

Absolutely relate. My boyfriend and I bought a total gut reno outside Yosemite because the house overlooked a 20’ waterfall. And we overlooked the fact that we have no experience in gut renos :). Initial quotes from contractors were totally low so we thought we could reno it for another $150k. We are two years and >$300k in…. it’s been hard and long and exhausting. Our story isn’t done… we are close but still working on it. Do I regret it… ? Some days for sure. But most days I believe it’ll all be with it… good luck!

liz

I think maybe EHD needs to do a story on your renovation job. The house location sounds amazing!

Valerie Post

That sounds incredible! Do you have a blog or Instagram?

Paula

Didn’t Orlando Soria’s family live in Yosemite? Maybe he could give you some tips!

Maggie

This was so exciting to read! I don’t know what the answer is (I mean, I want you to get the house but I always love spending other people’s money 😂) but I wish you luck!!

Emily

I’m so excited and anxious at the same time after reading that! I really want to see you get your hands on that house and renovate. On the flip-side (punny?) – I also don’t want to see you invest in it and it all fall apart – literally. Keep us updated. This could be so awesome!

Renee

Wow, loved every minute of this real-life story! Good luck with all of it! I’m sure if that house is meant to be yours, it will work out for you. And, I would suggest writing a novel based on the entire experience. Great reading!!

I am in the Bay Area and I get it! Thank you for sharing the roller coaster journey. My family is living in our home after a complete gut and addition. I am still licking my wounds and considering if it was all worth it.

But after years of going without because we were “waiting for the remodel”, it’s so nice to walk into a light and bright room where you flick a switch and over head lighting magically turns on.

When we bought our fixer years ago, it was the tippy top of what we could afford. But, we knew we could and would always make our mortgage payment. Along the way, we found good people to help us, people we trusted (mortgage broker, contractor, etc.). Along the way, we found not so trust worthy people, as well. You figure it out.

I am envious of you at the start of your journey. It is a wild ride, but it’s the ride of your life. You will be so glad you documented the trials and tribulations here. Good luck to you.

Molly

Great post; I can totally relate to becoming this level of obsessed. Serious question: can you talk about how you have $80K in savings?

Sarah

A second ask for a breakdown of 80K in savings, please!!

isabelle

I thought that was what her mom was going to loan her but upon closer reading it seems like her mom was going to loan her $300k to buy the property in cash and then she’d be using $80k of her own savings. And I’m assuming she actually has more than that saved, because you’d want to at least reserve some in an emergency fund. I am interested to hear about this too! I’m guessing if your parents can give you $300k in cash, there are probably some other “head starts” that aren’t available to others, but who knows! I want to up my savings game but it’s just so hard to stay ahead of the cost of living. Caitlin, pls share any tips you have!

A

Such a rollercoaster! This is an amazing opportunity but the financial conservative inside is so scared for you too. I have no advice but am excited to see where your journey takes you regardless. Here’s hoping more ppl get back to you!

PS. You may want to remove your address from the top corner in the pic of the engineer report

I thought that too initially, but that is the address of the unfinished house in the hills.

Sherri

This is so like something I would do…it took me 3 years of looking to find mine (and millions of phone calls). Sending positive vibes your way…I really want you to get this house!

Jessica

Wowsers! If nothing else, you definitely have gained a foundation of knowledge that you can now use to buy a somewhat-less-terrifying fixer-upper!

We just bought a place in Brooklyn and started out with big ideas about redoing the kitchen, etc etc, but now that we’ve spent alllll that money and, you know, pandemic!, we’re definitely not feeling like paying for the privilege of living in a construction site.

Lori

Oh man, I totally relate! I had to be talked out of buying a house that was in a similar state– vacant, no utilities, no driveway, a mountain of permitting issues. But I could see all the potential, and when that happens, things like large holes in the living room exterior wall don’t really matter. The thing that killed the dream for me was going out there when traffic was busy and realizing the road noise was way too loud and would only get worse.

Very curious to see what happens with this! Despite the foundation issues, man, that view! There’s a lot I’d put up with for that view!

Shannon

Wow. This was such a fun read! You have been on quite the journey with this house and I can’t blame you! I would never expect to be able to buy such an incredible view for such a low price in LA. I hate to be a negative Nancy, but my first thought about buying this lot was “fire hazard!!” Being up in the hills next to a bunch of protected walnut trees sounds nice in theory, but I would imagine the fire risk is very high. After the terrible wildfires we’ve been having the last few years, I would be very nervous! I’m not sure how the insurance works for this situation, but I would hate to put so much love and work into a house/property only to worry that it might burn down. Still, if the insurance isn’t an issue, I would love to see someone save this home!

Jill

I don’t live in LA but my first thought was ohhhhh that’s for sure going to slide down the hill if there is even a hint of an earthquake.

Edan

Black Walnut Trees are native to California and are actually fire-resistant. That doesn’t meant they aren’t fireproof–they can burn down–but if they’re well maintained they don’t easily ignite or spread flames…

I’m a architect and design enthusiast married to a city planner turned urban forester in LA. This story had me on the edge of my seat! I hope it works out for you, Caitlin. We need more normal people buying homes like this and less deep pockets developers. Keeping my fingers crossed for you.

Laura

Wow, what a story! I am very risk-averse but also love the idea of gutting a house and making it my own… can fully understand your dilemma haha. What I will say, as someone who bought their first home a year ago after 6 (SIX!) failed offers, is this: you may have a house that got away. You will think about that house and picture your life and furniture there. You may drive by it from time to time and judge the current owner’s choice of patio chairs. (Speaking from experience here.) BUT you will also fully love the house you end up in. If this house isn’t THE house, you will find The One eventually and you will make it your dream home. (Speaking from experience here too!) Don’t stress too much about possible future regrets. You will end up in the place you’re meant to end up in, and when that time comes you will love it because it’s yours. Hugs!

Alison

Totally agree with this! Sometimes I think about a two story house not far from where I ended up buying… but it was more expensive than the house I did purchase (seven years ago now!) and the only bathroom in the house was upstairs (which would have prevented my grandparents from being able to visit). It had a huge yard, which might not have been great for maintenance. I already felt in over my head with my mortgage at that time in my life and now am so grateful that I went way under my means instead of stretching myself to the limit. While I loved that house and could have made it my own, I also can’t imagine being anywhere but my current place.

I am curious what the owners have since done with it though! Did they squeeze in a half bath on the main floor like I was going to if I’d redone the kitchen??? Is the laundry still in the sketchy basement? Please tell me they didn’t demolish the built ins upstairs!

Emily Hood

I can’t agree more. There’s always one (or several) that got away … but you might also be dodging a bullet. I love a good fixer, but that unpermitted foundation is pretty scary to me …

Sarah

I would run the other direction. There’s already structural issues. He cut down a bunch of trees. Did that destabilize the hillside so even if you correct what’s there more issues will pop up? Idk. Out of my wheelhouse and the closest thing I can compare it to are some of the houses on dunes along the Great Lakes. Years of worry for a great view.

Alice

I would think the neighbors would be interested in something being done with the house so it doesn’t continue to be a potential source of trouble and an eyesore, especially since the houses seem to be pretty close.

Bella

Sadly, maybe the neighbors are also discouraging anyone from buying it so the house can get bulldozed eventually (due to it being a hazard) and the hillside can remain undeveloped. I know it sounds horrible but we do hear those kinds of stories. 🙁

Sarah

I loved reading this story! It feels like an extreme story but that is totally what house hunting feels like even when it’s not an amazing house with a view, so I can’t even imagine. Thanks for sharing and hope that your hunt ends with the perfect one! 🙂

Sarah

Oh boy what a ride. I was so nervous because this does indeed seem like a textbook moneypit, but it also has SO! MUCH! POTENTIAL! I am keeping my fingers crossed it’ll come back around in the best way and be one of the most amazing EHD Before & Afters of all time!!

Mk

One look at the picture and I was saying, “Girl, NO!”
Hill plus water = mud slides. From the moment I started reading, I was thinking “Oh please, let me read she got a structural inspection.“
Did you by chance speak to the neighbor Nextdoor to this house? If there was anyone who had a vested interest in seeing something done with this property it would be them.
With that all said, I felt I was sitting across from you as you were giving the lowdown on this property. A great read!
When I look for a house, I always have two things running through my mind: Do not start decorating until your offer is accepted and there is always another house.
Your journey with this house proves you are ready for the challenge. Best of luck to you.

Maria

This would be a hard pass for me unless I was independently wealthy and was prepared to spend $800K+ and it taking 1-2 years. That said I used to live in the Bay Area and totally get the draw of a property with great views and potential!

Rusty

This was a great, scary read, althougha little manic. 👀

I read this quote the other day (not exact wording):

“Have you ever wished you could go back to the time you met someone and run really fast in the opposite direction?”

Caitlin, really, this house has immense visual potential, but far greater are the immense potential and very real issues of so many things tutning to shite, real fast!!! Run. Run. Run!!!

You’re young. You’re full of potential. You do not need this messing your life up for 20 years.

INTUITION IS LIFE SAVING!
Excitement and clinging often lead to long-term heartache.

I say stay in your lane. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!
(I’m not being negative, itsincredibly exciting! NOTE: dictionary meaning of incredible! NOT CREDIBLE!)
🙊🙉🙈

Shan

Great great great great great great post.

Marcella

This is so crazy, but I have learned a bit more about the LA real estate market after binging two seasons of Selling Sunset in the past few days!! lol. But yeah coming from where I live in TX it just blows my mind the real estate market in LA! It’s insane!! Best of luck and hope something works out!!

Whoa! I would work this hard for that house too! I hope it works out.

Anne

This was a WILD RIDE!! I am completely torn in what would be best — it would be years of headaches and a huge financial undertaking but THOSE VIEWS!!

Also, I very much appreciated all of the love for LA’s city planners. As a former planner for the City of New York, I have full confidence they’re incredibly helpful and smart — so glad to see you give them a shout out 🙂

Rusty

Those views aren’t great when you’re face down in a mudslide and in debt up to you neck.

Alice

This was such a fun read! I bought land a year and a half ago and we are starting construction now. The land was passed on by a lot of people because it is partially a protected wetland and there are a lot of permitting issues and restrictions on where we can build. But I LIKE that there is nature on my doorstep and I LIKE that it is protected and I agree with the restrictions, so it’s not an issue for me. We are building a net zero home, super environmentally conscious, so this all fits in together.

It sounds like you and the neighbors there may actually be aligned in your goals which is great… but wow is there a lot of red tape.

I wish you luck! Keep us posted!

Suz

I’m exhausted! What a crazy ride you’ve been on. I’m not sure what you should do, but leaning toward what others have posted. RUN!

Edan

As someone who lives in this area, next to an empty canyon filled w/ protected black walnut trees that pernicious developers are always trying to cut down in the name of profit, pretending not to know all the rules, I’m rooting for you–or someone like you–to save this house and protect these beautiful trees. Since the pandemic I’ve spent so much more time walking the hills and being among these trees. They’re special. And endangered. xoxo

Rusty

That developer ALREADY CUT THE TREES DOWN!!!
THAT’S why the foundations might be dodgy…no roots…mudslide.

Lucy

Ah what a whirlwind! As a City Planner I love hearing these kinds of stories!! I always tell friends “don’t buy anything without letting me look at it, you can’t trust anyone.” (Even realtors unless you really vet them very well. I’ve met so many who just plain didn’t know about zoning issues and advised a homeowner the wrong way!).

Also: developers are often dumb! You will sit there and wonder “how did you make millions of dollar?”

Wow! I could just feel al of your emotions in this post what a whirl wind! It looks amazing and that view!!!! Best of luck to you!

This is the kind of quarantine content I need, holy cow. What a whirlwind! I have to say…I’m team “this is the one that got away” BUT it’s not my money or my livelihood or my stress. It’s just so special! Please tell us you’ll update us?

Zay

Caitlin—I am most impressed with you—obviously a hard worker, a pro active gal. And your mom—so supportive and loving. I feel sure you will end up with a winner of a house-be it this one or another.
The neighbors disappoint me in that they are unwilling to engage in conversation with you. I want you to be with good, helpful neighbors.
Good luck and thank for sharing this griping tale with us.

E.D.

I admire your spirit but every fiber in my being wants to tell you to run and that the stress and possible health issues it can cause will probably not be worth it. Before buying, I 1000% recommend “tape sampling” the various mold growths and sending samples to Hayes Microbial to see if you’re dealing with toxic mold ($25 a sample). And do an ERMI test to measure for mycotoxins in the air (there could be hidden toxic mold sending out mycotoxins). Toxic mold and bad water damage are totally not worth it. Good luck to you! 🙂

I thought the same when I saw the water damage. I’m from the Houston area and mold is bad news. I’d also forever worry about the home when the inspector already noted shoddy concrete work and lack of adequate support. Foundation repair is crazy expensive down here where everything is flat. I can’t imagine how much it would be on the side of a hill!

If the original developer was ok with shortcutting the fundamental supports and foundation of the home, what other shortcuts did he take? Not to mention his blatant disregard for the environment in which he was building… It would be a hard pass from me. I do completely understand Caitlin’s desire to make it work though. Finding a home is such an emotional process, even more so when the financial investment is so huge in an area like LA.

Ann

This was amazing. I don’t have any actual *useful* advice, but I REALLY hope this works out because I would LOVE to see what you do with it!!

Saima

I hate to be a downer because I’m one of those people who thinks renovating houses is fun! BUT, this house terrifies me. Over the last 3 years, I’ve spent $100k gut renovating a 650 sq ft fixer on FLAT ground. My first thought upon seeing that 2500 sq ft house with questionable utility hookups, no road, an unpermitted, unstable foundation, and 10 years’ worth of damage to the structure that needs literally everything including new drywall and floors was that it would cost you easily another $500k-$600k to finish – maybe more. Honestly, the views are amazing, but I agree with other commenters here who are saying you will eventually fall in love with another house. This house makes me want to daydream for a week and then RUN in the opposite direction.

Bella

I’m so impressed with your tenacity and positive attitude in the face of all these setbacks Caitlyn! You definitely got a crash course in these issues and thank you for sharing them with us! As someone who went through a gut reno not too long ago, I would run far, far away from this house. Like others have said, the the actual renovation cost of this house very likely will balloon well past what you were quoted. 300k is basically just the value of the land, and honestly I would consider the house itself a teardown after sitting vacant for so long, and with all the structural and permitting issues mentioned. But house structure aside, seems to me like there are so many other extra unknowns with the land, the road, zoning, and neighborhood issues that you could be stuck with a huge white elephant if just one or two elements goes wrong. There are some houses that are hidden gems worth the risk, and some you should just walk away from and leave to someone else who possibly has more time/resources/experience. And honestly I feel like this may be one of those “leave it to be someone else’s headache”… Read more »

Molly

I completely agree. I would consider the house a tear down. The house has a bad foundation, and was left without a finished exterior, with products that are part of the exterior walls exposed for years longer than they are tested to withstand exposure, and drywall, etc. installed before it should have been, with the house not completely dried in, and left semi-exposed for years. I doubt there’s anything truly salvageable, especially since she already mentioned going for new windows.

More than that, there was no clearance on the foundation from the AHJ, and it’s not clear about removing the neighborhood’s block on development of the land. Even with a tear down and starting from scratch, and all of the math about how much the equity on a finished house there could turn out to be, there is a very long way between this abandoned house and a finished house that could be lived in and that could accrue equity. Without guaranteeing the ability to get the building permit, I would consider it much more likely that she’ll still have this abandoned house in approximately its same state on her hands in another 9 years.

Caitlyn, Run.

Julia

How old are you Caitlin?? I’m 25 and don’t understand how somebody who is youngish can have 80K in savings. I have maybe 15K to my name, living a very privileged young adult life where I don’t have to pay rent and am currently not driving to work so no gas/parking. I would love to buy a house but like — how do you possibly get that kind of money?

I found a house in Highland Park last year for $799k and it was so dreamy and it looked aesthetically perfect, which is to say it had good bones, but I would totally need to gut the original kitchen (my dream amount of work). Mind you, I was hoping for something under $630k because: money. But it felt like my house, after a couple years of searching, maybe I just needed to drop a little more money. So I put an offer in at asking price (because homes in HP go quickly), and the homeowner wanted to sell to ME more than higher bidders (those letters to homeowners are important, folks). So I started inspections and meanwhile was falling more in love with it. I already had started mockup design plans for the spaces. But then the inspections started rolling in. Just because everything looked visually perfect (and the kitchen was usable until I could afford to change it up), doesn’t mean what lurking under was perfect. Turns out this $799k needed >$100k in repairs. And the type of repairs that kill your soul: ones you can’t see. I was already really above my comfort zone. I, too, had parents… Read more »

isabelle

Personal letters to the homeowner tend to not work as well for people who are not white. Sounds like a nice idea in theory, wanting to sell to individuals and families, but I feel for all my POC family and friends dealing with the subtle persistence of redlining and segregation.

Jane

gretchen i love your story! glad you got a great place. isabelle – truth. thanks for mentioning. pervasive as all hell.

Ahhh!! That house could be so amazing! I am invested! Please keep is updated!! And since I’ve already used a ton, here are a few more for good measure!!!!

It’s the view. I’d do almost anything humanly possible to have a house with that view. <3

Christa

Oh no! Run away. There are way too many red flags here.

Rachel

Hahaha my thoughts as well! This is a very cool house with amazing views I would love to follow along on a renovation… but OMG structurally unsound on that hill in earthquake and mudslide-prone LA? Too risky! I agree with Caitlin’s friend Dafne – if this were doable it would have been done by now. The price is just too good to be true. The problems are too many and too big. WOW that would have been exciting, though!

kiki

If you still can, go for it! It sounds like your mom could help bail you out if it gets really hairy, and the investment in the location is sound. That land isn’t going to lose value. It’s LA. Take the risk and bring us all along for the ride 🙂

allie

the listing agent does not always update the MLS in a timely manner when an offer is submitted…so it’s possible that just hasn’t been done yet.

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