Welcome back to the Real Estate newsletter, which this week is anchored by a transmission from the rolling hills of rural Italy.
If Southern California home prices have you down — and you happen to have a dollar lying around — you’re in luck. Eager to attract new residents, towns and villages across Italy have historic homes on the market for around $1. They’d cost even less, but it’s technically illegal to give a property away for free.
Unfortunately, there are no such bargains in the still-hot L.A. market. Compare that one-buck bucolic retreat in the Italian countryside with the $14 million needed to buy a modern home above the Sunset Strip. That’s how much Ariana Grande hauled in for her nest in the Bird Streets of Hollywood Hills — $300,000 more than she paid for the place last year.
The “Most Dramatic Listing of the Week Award” goes to NBA star Ben Simmons; not because of the house itself, but the circumstances behind it. The Philadelphia 76ers point guard demanded a trade during the offseason, and after the team refused, he put his custom mansion outside Philly on the market for $5 million. The listing surfaced one day after he was kicked out of practice and suspended for a game due to conduct detrimental to the team.
If you’re getting tired of scrolling through photos of extravagant mansions such as these online, try checking them out in person. Every weekend, open houses for homes that cost anywhere from $10 million to $40 million pop up across L.A. County, and The Times published a guide on how to find them.
We were also treated this week to two deeply reported columns from Erika D. Smith, who explored gentrification and the housing situation in South L.A. One column explores why real estate in the area is getting more expensive, and the other issues a call to action best summarized by a quote straight out of the story: “Don’t sell your house if you’re Black and you’re from this neighborhood. Don’t sell your damn house!”
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Italian estates are in the bargain bin
The first time Heather and Steve Giammichele of Southern California decided to take a road trip through Steve’s ancestral homeland of Italy, their car broke down about three hours outside of Pisa. At least 30 townspeople stopped to make sure the couple were OK, and one ended up canceling his plans for the day to drive them all the way to the Pisa airport to make sure they got a new rental, writes Janna Brancolini.
The Giammicheles, from Orange County, were so struck by the hospitality that almost as soon as their 2019 trip ended, Heather began researching how they could move to Italy one day. A few months later, they enlisted an Italian company to help them start looking seriously at buying one of the country’s famously low-priced homes, including some on the market with the symbolic price of one euro — about $1.16.
The Giammicheles aren’t alone in the quest for a cheap home in the bel paese — or “beautiful country,” as Italy is known — and Palmoli isn’t alone in boasting properties to fulfill it. More and more Italian towns and villages eager to attract new residents are putting up homes for sale for as little as one euro (it’s illegal to give away property for free), a trend that was once confined to the impoverished and depopulated mountain towns in the south but that has spread since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to wealthier northern regions such as Liguria and Lombardy.
Pop star sells a scenic home
It was a short stay in Hollywood Hills for Ariana Grande, who just sold her modern home above the Sunset Strip for $14 million after buying it last year. The deal ranks as one of the neighborhood’s priciest so far in 2021.
Records show she grabbed it for $13.7 million in June 2020 during a shopping spree that also saw her pay $6.75 million for Ellen DeGeneres’ Tudor-style retreat in Montecito a few weeks prior.
Perched in the Bird Streets, the hillside home boasts an interesting ownership history beyond the actress-turned-pop star. Before Grande, it was one of 138 properties owned by Woodbridge Group, the Sherman Oaks development company that orchestrated a $1.3-billion real estate Ponzi scheme that stole money from roughly 7,000 investors — many of them retirees. The former chief executive, Robert Shapiro, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the fraud.
Sixers star wants out
Ben Simmons has made it quite clear that he’s no longer interested in playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, and his latest real estate move suggests he’s serious. The star point guard recently put his custom mansion in the area on the market for $5 million.
The listing surfaced a day after he was sent home from practice and suspended by the 76ers for one game due to conduct detrimental to the team.
The $5-million price tag is an ambitious ask for the three-time NBA all-star, who bought the place newly built in 2019 for $2.275 million a few months after inking a contract extension with the 76ers worth $170 million. He likely only lives there during basketball season; over the summer, he dropped $17.5 million on a 12,000-square-foot farmhouse in Hidden Hills.
How to tour a mega-mansion
At any given moment in Southern California, in markets hot and cold, hundreds of stellar estates are listed for sale. And each weekend, dozens of these houses open to the masses, letting potential buyers — or just people bored on a Sunday afternoon — experience the opulence that’s supposedly reserved for the ultra-rich.
Take it from a luxury real estate reporter who lives with roommates: There’s a bizarre thrill that comes from entering spaces meant for those in tax brackets several above your own. If developers insist on cramming huge houses onto tiny lots, replacing the few vacant hills that L.A. has left with massive monuments to opulence and excess, why shouldn’t the general public at least be able to bear witness to such estates?
Typically, open houses for listings of $10 million or more are either appointment-only or exclusively for other real estate agents, but the sheer number of mansions on the market in Southern California means that there are dozens open to the public every single weekend.
Finding them couldn’t be easier: Just click this link, which automatically searches real estate database Redfin for open houses happening this weekend in L.A. County and sorts them from most expensive to least expensive.
Who’s buying South L.A.’s expensive houses?
Go to any open house in South L.A. and Black homebuyers are few and far between, writes Erika D. Smith.
And yet, it was only a generation ago that Black parents were dragging their kids from South L.A. to the San Fernando Valley for a better life, as colleague Sandy Banks recounted in a recent column. Never mind that for decades, those neighborhoods were notoriously whites-only.
Smith asked Stacy Lewis, head of the Leimert Park Neighborhood Assn., if he knew of many Black families other than his that had bought homes south of the 10 Freeway lately. He shook his head.
“No, just white people,” he said flatly.
As if on cue, a white woman in yoga pants strolled by the table where Smith and Lewis were sitting outside Harun Coffee.
A solution for gentrification in South L.A.
Homes in Crenshaw, West Adams, Hyde Park, Leimert Park and, of course, Baldwin Village and View Park, now regularly sell for north of $1 million. Bidding wars among white families are common, writes Times columnist Erika D. Smith.
For longtime homeowners, many of whom are elderly and Black, the temptation to sell to a house flipper or a developer is at an all-time high. Equally high are the economic barriers for younger Black families who want to buy into a South L.A. neighborhood for the first time.
Ask many residents and they’ll call what’s happening a crisis of unchecked gentrification and displacement. They’ll curse opportunistic developers in one breath and, in the next, denounce a new state law that allows apartments and condos to be built on land that was previously designated for only one house.
But not real estate agent Pam Lumpkin. She is among a small but growing group of Black Angelenos who, though torn, prefer to see what’s happening in South L.A. as an opportunity.
One that if seized by enough Black people could lead to an unprecedented transfer of generational wealth and, by extension, slow the pace of gentrification. Or, if squandered, could put the neighborhoods that have long been at the center of Black life in Southern California at further risk of cultural erasure.
No pressure or anything.
What we’re reading
Using data from CoreLogic, the Washington Post ran down a list of the states and metro areas where home prices rose the most over the last year. Surprisingly, California wasn’t one of the five states with the sharpest price increases, but Los Angeles was the fifth-ranked metro area, with prices rising 14.9%. Only Phoenix, San Diego, Las Vegas and Denver ranked higher.
Homes are getting pricier across the entire country, not just in California. Yahoo Finance reports that the U.S. median home price just passed $400,000 for the first time ever, jumping nearly 20% year-over-year.