Home Search: First-timers set realistic expectations in Montecito Heights


First-time home buyers take a look at a Montecito Heights bungalow. | Marni Epstein

By Marni Epstein

MONTECITO HEIGHTS – High up on a hill, a  two-bedroom Montecito Heights home welcomes would-be buyers with its panoramic views as well as the sight of a  dilapidated Victorian Mansion across the street.  Max, 32 and Miriam, 29, who are looking to purchase their first home, are checking out the renovated bungalow. They’ve been renting in Echo Park for quite some time but have decided it is now time to make the leap to home ownership. With a modest Los Angeles budget of $475,000 and a year’s worth of research in their back pockets, these first-time buyers know they can’t get everything they want – and with that they are weighing space versus location.

What features are you looking for in a home?
A Yard
Max: Miriam’s a set designer and set painter, and she’s got a lot of equipment, so we want to make sure that she’s taken care of.
Miriam: It’s a little tough here. But a lot of places have a garage where I can just pull up and dump my stuff off. But we’ll trade, for a view.
Max: We know with our price range we can’t really get something that’s necessarily in the best area. So it’s condo with walkability or something like this. It’s hard to figure out where we want to be with that [decision].

What drew you to the Montecito Heights area?
Miriam: Really just looking in the areas we can afford. We like the area and we know that it could be a good investment property in the future.

How Many homes have you looked at so far?
Miriam: This is like our seventh house. We’re still new.

Have you had any home search horror stories?
Miriam: No horror stories. But everything always looks smaller because everyone uses wide-angle shots in their pictures. Other than that we’ve been pleasantly surprised with everything we’ve seen.

How are you finding the market?  Is the first-time process at all scary?
Miriam: No! Not at all. We have a Realtor we work with and she’s really cool. And we had been looking online for a year before we were even ready, just to kind of get an idea of what we could afford.


Marni Epstein is an entertainment, music, and lifestyle Journalist and resident of Echo Park. She has previously worked in the film and digital media industries with FOX and Sony Pictures Entertainment. She is currently also pursuing a Masters in Historic Preservation.

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  1. This article highlights a big problem no one is addressing. These people are young creatives. These are the people everyone is saying wants to live in a transit-oriented development (5 story condo) and ride bikes everywhere. Yet, I’m sure they have cars. They need to get around the city, to work. Miriam will not be dragging her set pieces up and down the huge hill of Via Marisol to the Gold line station, or using the bike lane to get to Burbank or Culver City. They want a yard and a view. And they are the majority.

    Also, I empathize with them… unless that $475K budget is what they have in cash, it’s going to be hard to break into the market. It’s tough out there for homebuyers, competing with all cash offers. And these all cash offers are not from Chinese nationals, but Americans. Good luck to them – they seem like a great couple!

    • Kyle,

      Even if they are a two car household, folks in this age group will want to ride their bikes after work and on the weekends to run errands and go out on the town. Surprisingly though the biggest jump in cycling numbers isn’t even coming from the young folks – it the aging boomers that are blowing up the bike riding scene.

    • Fun fact: if you ask Germans what kind of home they’d like to live in (apartment, house, townhouse, etc), the majority say a single family house, just like Americans. But the German government, unlike the U.S., doesn’t subsidize things just to meet their people’s personal preferences. It subsidizes those things that save society and taxpayers money and reduce external costs. Driving, as a mode of transportation, and single family housing, as an urban form, have the MOST direct and external (pollution, congestion, energy use, etc) to society and taxpayers. By providing insured mortgages and mortgage interest deductions the government is subsidizing single family housing, which discourages denser development, a type of development that is far less costly to taxpayers. If you like driving and living in a SFH that’s great! Just don’t ask for the rest of us to pay for it. The more the government spends subsidizing housing and automobiles, the greater our future pollution, healthcare, energy and congestion costs will be. Personal prefers should have little bearing on what urban forms and transportation modes the government chooses to subsidize – economic efficiency should be the number one concern. And when it comes to efficiency, cars and single-family homes are as efficient as you can get.

      • ****INefficient as you can get

      • Hmm, I think it depends on the Germans in question. The Germans I knew best lived in a condo in multi-floor building in central Munich. They also used the government-subsidized tram to get to their jobs, and of course the government-subsidized Deutsche Bahn (DB) train for out-of-town travel.

        My point is that subsidies and desires about urban forms cut in many directions.

    • Kyle, As ElNimby points out, commute trips represent less than half of the trips taken by the average SFR. If you don’t think there is lots of current and latent demand for bicycle and walk trips you aren’t paying much attention to the neighborhood. But you are right that this isn’t talked about enough, unfortunately I don’t think the statistics support the point you are trying to make.

  2. @Kyle, this is Max (from the article above). Thanks for the kind words. We actually found a spot in Highland Park about 3 weeks ago (after living in Angelino Heights since 2004) and we are currently in escrow. I own a screen-printing and design business by the Cornfields, so I’d be able to take the Gold Line a bit easier that Miriam, who needs her car for all of her gear. Definitely a tough market out there right now!

    • Congrats! Also a 90026 to 90065 transplant here. I love our side of town, glad you’re in the mix! I take the Gold Line to work and I think it’s existence is a huge plus over Silver Lake/Echo Park and will definitely help your property values in the future 🙂

  3. Welcome to the neighborhood Matt. You will love it. I’m sure you already know about all the “cool” places on York. Don’t forget to give the many taco places in the area a try. Huarache Azteca and Tacos La Estrella .

    Did you buy north of york?

    • We found a place north of York. Thanks for the recommendations!

    • Especially all the shootings! Love!

      • Gentrification & shootings go together like love and marriage. The police suggest that you be ready to defend your household with a shotgun because it may take a while to get to you, resulting in more shootings.

      • many of the newer residents have a vested interest in having a community free of crime and filth. Most will not subscribe to the outdated concept of “no snitchin'”. Given these two factors, shootings will decline as the newcomers drive them out. Gentrification is definitely good for cleaning up a neighborhood.

        • How could you possibly know this all the way from Pasadena? All you know about OUR community is what you watch on the local news, which is why why you fled to Pasadena. Once again, mind your own business on YOUR side of town.

          • To be fair, Echo Park is probably as far from Highland Park as Pasadena is.

          • Good ole proper douchey with his welcoming attitude.

            I don’t need to see the atoms that make up matter to know they are there; Capitan douche.

  4. It’s a tough market for sure but the possibilities are out there. I’ve seen homes sit on the market for many months before they find a buyer. Especially if you’re willing to pick up a hammer, invest a little sweat equity and renovate, just like our parents did.

  5. Congrats Max and Miriam!!! Welcome to North of York Blvd and Highland Park!!!
    It’s definitely competitive; but, worth it!!!

    • Is north of York preferable to south of York in Highland Park?

      • In general, yes, although there are plenty of scummy parts of the neighborhood that are north of York (like most of Figueroa north of York).

        Here’s the real trick to northeast LA (and a lot of other areas): the higher the elevation, the nicer the area.

        • OTOH, some people will say it’s not nicer to live on a hill because they want to be able to easily walk to shops and restaurants.

          • Nicer may be a euphemism for safer. Generally houses in the hills are priced higher and the may be cleaner. As you said, the flats are nice for walking around and close shops, restaurants and services are a bonus.

  6. Hi Max-
    Do you mind me asking how much you put down? My boyfriend and I have started looking but we are concerned that we don’t have enough cash to put down to compete with all cash offers in Highland Park.

    • Hey Kaitlyn– We put 10% down. It’s not all cash offers right now despite what everyone says. You’ll Just need to be on top of the searches in the area and be ready to put offers in right away.

      • Putting down less than 20% means paying PMI, I’ve heard that under new rules PMI will stay on for the life of loan, it no longer come off once you reach the 80/20 value. Is this true?

        • @Elbatmanuel – I do not believe it’s true! The FHA requires PMI payments for as long as you have less than 20 percent equity in your home. Since most FHA borrowers only provide the minimum 3.5 percent down payment, most borrowers must pay PMI. Most of my friends had PMI removed once they achieved the 20% threshold.

          • Your friends might have mortgages prior to 6/3/13. From what I can tell new rules are that pmi stays on for 11yr or the life of the loan, no longer being removed after 78% Ltd ratio.

          • PMI still expires , if you get a non FHA loan. Which, you can do with a regular bank for 10% down.

            Just did it for a home in Eagle Rock, closed in Jan this year.

          • Homeowners with PMI (not MMI, which is the FHA’s name for their PMI) should know that PMI won’t automatically be removed when they have 20% equity in their home, unless they do it by paying down the principal of their loan. Once you think that the value of your home has increased to the point where you have 20% equity, contact your lender and ask them for info. on how to have the PMI insurance cancelled/removed. They’re probably going to require an appraisal.

            (For the uninitiated, PMI is insurance that covers 10% of the loan in the case of a default. It benefits the lender, but it allows lenders to make loans for 90% of the home’s sales price.)

            I bought my first house in 1997 with PMI, and by 1999 I knew the value of my home had increased, so I called Countrywide, and they took another month or two to send me the information I needed, and then I had to pay for an appraisal, but shortly after the appraisal, they removed the PMI from my loan. (On a side note, my first mortgage in 1997 was 7 3/8%, and that was the best rate available at the time.)

  7. Thank you so much, Max! That gives us some hope. And congrats!

  8. Max,

    Do you live on Roy St. at Eastview? [cue Alfred Hitchcock stalker music]

  9. Max, where is that house you’re standing in front of? I love the planters and it looks like it’s in good shape. What’s it like inside?

  10. I live nearby, these fools got themselves into a big financial mess with this purchase! Don’t park your car on that winding street, eventually someone will crash into it, likely when it starts to rain. I hope the neighbors across the way are ok cuz you’ll be seeing them often! HAHA! Plus, sorry to break it to you, but you are in lowly Lincoln Heights not Montecito Heights. HAHA! Burn. If you wanted to be near that shitty York Blvd scene you shoulda moved there. Instead, you moved into “something that’s [not] necessarily in the best area”. Welcome to the neighborhood! That old victorian was owned by Baltazar, his chimney broke during the Northridge earthquake. He would have been nice to you but prob hated you for all the right reasons.

    You don’t live up a hill, you are on Griffin and live next to a hill (careful when it rains) and you get to walk up a bunch of stairs to get home.

    “Miriam: Really just looking in the areas we can afford. We like the area and we know that it could be a good investment property in the future.”

    I can not hate this post and this website any more than I do now.

    • @El Chavo: Max said in his post on July 15th that he and Miriam ended up buying a house in Highland Park north of York, not the one in the picture, whether it’s in Montecito Heights or Lincoln Heights.

    • @ElChavo- We didn’t buy this spot, but it makes sense you didn’t read the full post to figure this out on your own. You must have been too busy building up angst about a blog post. Keep on trolling man.

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