September 22, 2017 at 7:04 pm PDT | by Michael Jortner
Navigating LA’s booming real estate market
Berkshire Hathaway, Nick Cacarnakis, Los Angeles, Real Estate

Nick Cacarnakis represents some of Los Angeles most exclusive properties from his Berkshire Hathaway offices in Beverly Hills. (Photo provided by Berkshire Hathaway)

It’s hard not to be captivated upon hearing: “Do you recall the scene in ‘Dynasty’ when Krystle and Alexis slap each other into the the lily pond?”

Oh good, you’re riveted now, too. That’s Nick Cacarnakis talking, the 43-year-old branch manager of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. “That house, which, of course, is every gay boy’s dream to live in that house, right? It’s listed at $28 million.”

Sigh…luxury real estate in the City of Angels, so reasonable, so within reach.

More attainable properties, from condos to three-bedroom homes, are generally the focus for the three real estate professionals interviewed for this article, all of whom happen to be gay. They buy, sell and manage real estate transactions throughout Los Angeles. One has a particular niche (West Hollywood) while the other two consider themselves generalists, the entire city their focus.

Each shared his perspective on, and experience with, the current market for LGBT clients, especially families, in search of luxury homes.

Berkshire Hathaway is offering perhaps the most iconic house in Los Angeles, the ‘Dynasty’ house. It’s surely the perfect home for any LGBT family. (Photo courtesy Berkshire Hathaway)

Defining luxury

What exactly meets such criteria? “Isn’t everything a family-size luxury property?” Cacarnakis asks. “We have a term that we use in our office: ‘Everybody’s House.’ It’s a house that will work for everybody.”

For him, that means enough bedrooms, enough bathrooms, maybe a backyard, too, a home that, “no matter what the family looks like,” can work.  

In terms of price, it can be all over the map. “Half of [our listings] in the Beverly Hills office, which are $2 million and up, would fall into the category of being a luxury family home,” Cacarnakis added.

Keith Kaplan of Sotheby’s International specializes in luxury properties, primarily in West Hollywood where he has lived for many years. (Photo courtesy Keith Kaplan)

Keith Kaplan, 57, an agent with Sotheby’s expanded on that. He said, “There’s really a wide range.”  

With a focus on WeHo and adjacent environs, for Kaplan that means the category of luxury family homes starts with condos, perhaps on Kings Road, let’s say, at around $750,000, all the way up to the new homes built along swanky, revamped Orlando Avenue between Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue listing as high as $8.5 million.

Randy Lopez represents a variety of home price points throughout Los Angeles and works at the Beverly Hills offices of Coldwell Banker. (Photo courtesy Randy Lopez)

“The word luxury brings it to a higher price point,” said Randy Lopez, 50, an agent with Coldwell Banker Beverly Hills North. “If you say ‘family-sized property,’ that’s different than ‘family-sized luxury property.’ In my mind, I’m thinking anywhere between three to five million and upwards, depending upon what their definition of luxury is.”

Maybe now is a good time to introduce the problem of sticker shock, the biggest challenge Kaplan faces when helping a client enter the market.

“I really like working with first-time buyers,” Kaplan said. “Walking them through the process, getting them to understand the value equation of owning versus renting. It’s a tremendous jump to take.”

Is there any hope for those trying to make that dramatic transition? “Although lenders have not gotten so relaxed we’re gonna be in the position we were in 2008,” Kaplan added, “they are relaxing a bit.” “Lower down payments are allowing more Millennials to enter the market, so we have more options for them.”

Kaplan added, “The first home product, or the first trade-up product, homes priced under $2.5 million, [there is] strong demand.”

Yet most readers will be familiar with the concept of competition. While all three agents said the market for high-priced homes ($2.5 million and higher) has softened, Lopez says, “In the $1 million to $10 million range, if something is well done, well-priced based on comps, and desirable, you’re still gonna have a huge demand for that property.”

All three said they still see properties sell in a single day with multiple offers all above asking. Lopez said, “Is it in a great area? Is it priced right? If there’s a value there for people, based on logic and numbers, we’re gonna see that [sell].”

The other two agents agree. “Expectations are high on all sides,” Cacarnakis said, “especially on the Westside when we’re dealing with business managers and attorneys.”

Kaplan added, “I’m seeing some crazy, crazy bidding over ask. I saw some 2-bedrooms in West Hollywood priced at $750,000…[they] went out at $825,000. That’s a tremendous overbid.” Apparently many bidders are investors who flip the property, coming in and renovating, adding premium fixtures and modern appliances, then put them back on the market. “And they’re getting top dollar.”

Kaplan sold this one-bedroom/one-bath condo (listed at $530,000) on Kings Road north of Santa Monica Blvd. last year. (Photo courtesy Keith Kaplan)

What’s trending?

What about trends? Managing 100 agents in Beverly Hills, Cacarnakis is able to get an aerial view of the market on a regular basis.

“Mega-mansions,” Cacarnakis said. “These mega-prices that we just haven’t seen in LA before. I had a situation where an agent wrote an offer on a listing of $22 million and they had [several] offers. That kind of money is out there.”

Another trend, perhaps obvious, is the big glass boxes replacing older homes knocked down by developers. “The style is contemporary as far as the building is concerned,” Cacarnakis said. “Lots and lots of construction going on. But I think everybody knows that.”

What about up-and-coming areas for family homes? “I think the next frontier is that area south of Melrose all the way to Fairfax,” said Kaplan. “You’re seeing a lot of rehabbing of the Old Spanish and bungalow type homes.”

Lopez’s view is, “It’s really dependent upon [budget]. Do they have unlimited resources and want to live in Beverly Park, where homes are $20 to $30 million? Or are they more on a budget and going east to Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, Mt. Washington, where you can still find a luxury home for a million dollars?”

“Up and coming?” wondered Cacarnakis. “All around that Wilshire Corridor area, and then you have all Echo Park. It’s too late for Silver Lake, that already came and went.”

Needs of LGBT families

But what do LGBT families need in their choice of home and neighborhood? Cacarnakis, a father with two teenage children, thinks “LGBT families moving into that sort of Silverlake [area]…those neighborhoods have good school districts [and] they’re very accepting.” If he had to pinpoint a section of the city that is “super LGBT friendly [and] also not incredibly insane on prices, that whole Echo Park, Silverlake area is definitely a prime area.”

Kaplan has done his homework on West Hollywood schools, even though he hasn’t had an LGBT family as a client thus far in his five years as an agent. He considers it his responsibility to know what parents will ask, though, once he does.

“We have WeHo Elementary, which is one of the best schools in the area,” Kaplan said. “Rosewood is rising quickly and then we’ve got the Center for Early Education and a number other really good private schools.”

He adds to that by waxing on West Hollywood Park and their recreation programs for kids. “I have friends that I actually meet there on Saturdays with their three boys. One plays T-ball, one plays in a basketball clinic and one swims on the swim team. It’s almost like a summer camp year-round.”  

All three agents feel being gay gives them a competitive advantage over straight agents when working with LGBT clients and families.

“It’s like going to a gay doctor,” Cacarnakis said. “It’s maybe just the insight and that level of understanding. I’m gonna know…what areas we are gonna feel comfortable holding hands, and maybe what areas we’re not.”

Kaplan echoed that. “I think there is perhaps a sensitivity to, and an understanding of, the unique needs of [gay clients]. For instance, I think it’s important for a gay family to understand the community that they’re entering. Even at the school. How will they be perceived? Will it be comfortable for their children? What is faculty like?”

“There’s a compassionate psychological component to working with clients,” Lopez said. “I feel like having a common foundation with your clients…being able to hold [their] hands during the process is helpful. It provides another level of connection…as opposed to agents who are not part of the LGBT community.”

Even with this shared bond of experience in mainstream society, I wondered if these agents run into any particular challenges, or unique surprises, they might not otherwise?

“Working with LGBT clients, or not,” says Lopez, “the challenges are very much the same. Gay or straight…it’s about honoring the commitment you’re making to your Realtor.”

Cacarnakis, the married, gay dad, said, “I’m surprised at how non-different it is. We’re still just families looking for everything that everybody else is. The right schools, the right family configuration.”

For Kaplan it was “not in the process of selling, it was after the sale.” A gay couple he sold a condo to chose a contractor (“a member of the community”) to renovate the unit. Supposedly he “had the gay eye” but “the most shocking thing [was] the shoddy work and the lack of attention to detail.” Mismatched color tile on a backsplash did not bode well. “Ultimately it went to small claims court.”

I requested video links and photos of active luxury listings from all the agents featured in this story. Regarding the “Dynasty” property, Cacarnakis tells me, “Take a look at the two videos.” He pauses. “One of them is the ‘Dynasty’ mansion, which…I mean, it is a family…” residence, I think he wants to say.

“A dysfunctional family,” I joke.

“Right?” Cacarnakis says, laughing.

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