Owning a Classic Craftsman Home in Northeast Los Angeles

NELA home architectural styles vary widely: Modern, Art Deco, Victorian, Tudors, and others. But perhaps the Craftsman residences get the most attention.

Craftsman homes are among the most sought after real estate in Northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods. One of the many reasons why homes for sale in Pasadena, Eagle Rock, Hermon and elsewhere have become hot commodities is a renewed interest in so-called “character homes”. But Craftsman homes come in significant variations, sizes, and conditions – opening up opportunities for homebuyers in a range of prices.

The high value – i.e., prices ranging from $400,000 on past $2 million – being placed on Craftsman homes in NELA is an interesting turn of historical events. These solid structures were originally designed for the advent of middle class home ownership in the late 19th and early 20th century. Gone were the features of Victorian homes that included butler’s quarters and kitchens only used by household staff. Instead, the family prepared their own meals while some features of kitchens blended with dining rooms – which are why there are those built-in, glass-front cabinets for dishware that was previously stowed out of sight from formal dining rooms.

The characteristics of Craftsman homes range from low-pitched roofs to deep eaves, exposed rafters (usually with distinctive decorative knee braces), dormers, one- to one-and-a-half stories, large fireplaces (often flanked by built-in cabinetry), and double-hung windows. Outside, Craftsman bungalows had large porches that welcomed newcomers to the California lifestyle, which offered a longer outdoor season for people arriving from the Northeast and Midwest.

Note that Bungalow and Craftsman style homes are often – but not always- the same thing; Bungalows always have that front porch (“veranda” if you prefer), while Craftsman sometimes do not. (If looking at homes for sale in Glassell Park, Garvanza or Mt. Washington, you might nerd out with your realtor by looking for the distinction.)

A further distinction might be made between Craftsman homes designed by certain architects (Greene & Greene built the trend-setting larger versions, which drew from Spanish mission and Japanese aesthetics), while Craftsman-style homes had a lower cost and were more modest in proportions and features. Craftsman-style homes may have shipped by train in a kit (e.g., “Sears homes”) or been a much-replicated design used by 1920s developers who knew a popular style when they saw one.

What made Craftsmans so popular when first built is what makes them equally popular today. These solid buildings have a relaxed style, one that accommodates an easy flow between rooms and activities. Mothers and fathers making meals in the kitchen can take a break to help children with their homework while keeping an eye on something cooking on the stove. Throw a party on the veranda but some guests might easily drift inside to admire the Arts & Crafts detailing of the cabinetry, fireplace surround, or wainscoting. They are healthy, unpretentious and sturdy: anything standing today has withstood a century of seismic activity, testimony to the sturdy craftsmanship of these Craftsman homes.

Drive for Show, Putt for Dough

Last week I shot a 97. That was my best round yet. I started golfing about 3 years ago, and I am enjoying the challenge. I first took lessons to learn how to hold the club and make contact with the ball, which was surprisingly difficult. I remember that accidentally breaking a club in half was the highlight of my first lesson. Yes, I was swinging hard. I was trying to show off and hit the ball farther than a friend. That was embarrassing. Travis took me to one of his favorite courses for my first 18-hole round. Once again, I thought I had to hit the ball far, so I swung hard. The ball sailed… right into a house.

It was not too long before I started consistently hitting the ball, so I recently took lessons to see if I could hit straight. I had hopes to score under 100 this year, so it was satisfying to reach that goal last week. The instructor in my recent lesson told me over and over to control my club speed and practice my short game. Keeping the ball in play by focusing on hitting it straight, instead of far, and getting better at putting, would shave several strokes off my game. “It won’t look as good as the big drive,” he explained, “but it will win you the round.” This is why they say, “drive for show and putt for dough.” A far drive looks great, but your money is made with consistency in the short game.

The same idea is true in baseball. The most valuable baseball players have high batting averages and get on base regularly. They are not swinging for a home-run every time they go to the plate. Home-runs are exciting and rewarding and fans love them, but at what expense? Big home run hitters also have high strike out rates. Focusing on just making contact with the ball to get on base helps to avoid an out, while moving runners around the diamond. This is how the best teams win games. Singles win games.

This is also true in real estate. I have one client in mind that is always swinging for a home-run. He is a great guy! He has a big heart and is a lot of fun to be around. He is also a fantastic builder and rehabber. The problem I have seen though is that he is passing on singles, so he can swing for the big one. He wants to make six figures on everyone flip, or more by doing new construction projects. He keeps waiting for the perfect deal, or he gets into trouble doing deals that are too big for him. Either way, he is not helping his cause. There seems to be a simple fix looking at it from the outside, but he has the mindset that he needs to hit it big. A short drive down the fairway or a simple base hit is not exciting enough for this experienced real estate investor.

I have another client that is only looking for base hits or the easy chip out of the trees. He is doing deals for profits in the $15,000 to $20,000 range in Denver. Some would say that is too thin, but he is doing three or four a month!! And he recently got lucky and is going to make over $100,000 on a single flip in Denver. He understands that luck behind it and is happy, but he is not setting his mind on those big pay days.

The annual income difference between these two highly capable investors is over a half a million dollars.

Even the best investors that I know work towards a simple shot off the tee. They want the easy and safe base hit over and over. Some of them have increased what they consider a base hit, but they all started small. It is a process to work up to, but no successful investor that I know is always trying to hit the home-run or the long drive over an obstacle. They take those when they present themselves but are on the hunt for the straight shot down the middle; which is why I would suggest keeping your real estate business simple and grow with it over time. Don’t do a bad deal but don’t pass on a good one. Our office is more than happy to have a conversation with you about your real estate plan or a specific deal to help guide you to success. Consistency is key. Whenever I swing my club hard looking for the big drive, I come up short. The easy swing without the pressure produces great drives. Remember… four singles without losing your ass is better than swinging big and missing.

Consider Resale Value Before You Renovate

When doing renovations, people rarely think about long-term resale value. Most families just want a really nice place to live and they work to create their forever home. However, life can be unpredictable. So while it is joyful to make a dream home, those dreams need to be balanced with an understanding of whether or not those granite countertops or that second story are good investments in the long run.

What is resale value?

We hear the idea of resale value quite often pertaining to real estate. The ideal is to buy a property that is a good investment and to have its value appreciate. Good maintenance and appropriate renovations help ensure that when it comes time to sell again, the property has gained equity and you’ll make money.

However, the amount of money you’ll make depends on market appreciation. Which is why it’s important to make improvements that fit the property and the neighborhood.

Location the key factor to consider

If you’ve bought a property by a highway or another not-so-great location, you probably got it for a good price. If that location’s value doesn’t increase during the time you own it, you’ll probably have to sell it for a similarly good price, even if you’ve done a lot of work on it.

Many property owners invest in renovations that aren’t in keeping with the neighbourhood. As a result, they end up selling for less than they invested, which can be heartbreaking.

Before you renovate, look at what has been selling around you – at what cost for what quality? If the most expensive home in your neighborhood sold for $400,000 after being completely renovated, it doesn’t make sense to style your house to a value any higher.

And really, how special are those $10-per-square-foot tiles anyway? Go with the $5 tiles instead.

Focus your investment to one or two elements per room. Make pricey items such as granite countertops, a fancy backsplash, or a higher end faucet; work like show pieces, similar to a piece of art.

Smallest may be best when it comes to resale
As for adding a second story to create more space for an expanding family, it may be worth it in the long run to hunt for a bigger home.

If you invest an extra $100,000 on a two-bedroom bungalow in a neighborhood full of two-bedroom bungalows, you may never recover that full investment. It may be a much better idea to take your equity and find a larger home in a neighborhood where your investment will hold and even grow in time.

When it comes to resale value, it’s always better to have the smallest house in an area with mansions rather than a $600K house surrounded by $300K houses.

Of course, creating a joyful home should always be the first priority. Just make wise decisions that will bring you prosperity and happiness for years to come.