His client was a movie director, realtor Jack Hupp said, and was adamant about living in Beverly Hills.
The film maker had found a house he liked, Hupp said, but was so concerned that it have a Beverly Hills address that he made it a contingency in his offer.
Hupp discovered to his alarm that the house was not within the city limits of Beverly Hills, but found with some quick checking that it was in the Beverly Hills Post Office area, which means that it has a Beverly Hills mailing address.
"So the deal went through," Hupp said.
That was 18 months ago, and now the "Post Office" or "BHPO" as it's called by realtors and residents, has become what David Perry of Fred Sands Estates says is "a hot ticket."
People are increasingly buying in the area for two reasons, said John Aaroe of Douglas Properties: "First, because of the Beverly Hills name, and second, because it's less expensive than Beverly Hills, which it adjoins."
The BHPO has the same 90210 ZIP code as part of Beverly Hills but is just outside city limits, generally extending from a few blocks north of Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive and Coldwater Canyon to Benedict Canyon Drive. (The BHPO is not to be confused with "Beverly Hills Adjacent," which is used in real estate ads for other areas skirting the city.)
The Beverly Hills Post Office makes 3,000 residential deliveries in the BHPO area, 17,000 in the city, Postmaster Koula Fuller said. Realtors estimate the geographical size of the BHPO as about one-third the size of the 5-mile-square city.
The Post Office area is also a hot market because it is what realtors describe as "countrified," and it has many more view properties and much more available land than Beverly Hills.
"The Post Office area has become as desirable, depending on the property, as Beverly Hills," Perry said, "and it's more desirable than some parts of Bel-Air."
Added Jeff Hyland of Alvarez, Hyland & Young:
"I'm sure there are people who prefer it (the BHPO) to Bel-Air and even Holmby (Hills), because you don't use Bel-Air or Holmby as a mailing address--you use Los Angeles. So there is a cachet or a plus to living in the Post Office."
"Many people buy in the Post Office because they can't afford Beverly Hills prices," said Beverly Hills broker Mike Silverman. Added Bruce Nelson of Asher Dann & Associates: "Prices drop dramatically once you're out of Beverly Hills."
"You can still buy a house in the Post Office, though it's a cantilevered tear-down, for $249,000," said Cecelia Waeschle of Merrill Lynch/Rodeo Realty.
By comparison, the cheapest house in Beverly Hills is "a two-bedroom, one-bath with a one-car garage just east of the civic center at $550,000," Hyland said.
The highest asking price for a house in Beverly Hills is $30 million, while the highest in the BHPO is $7.8 million, and several homes have been sold there in the last few months in the $5-million to $7-million category.
Among them was an old house that actress Barbra Streisand purchased for nearly $6 million, with plans to tear it down, and a new house industrialist Sir Gordon White acquired for about $7 million. His house is in a subdivision called Beverly Park Estates, where entertainer Pia Zadora is buying a new house for nearly $6.7 million, and producer Jon Peters took title to another new house at $6 million.
Mike Koven, a Westside Bekins moving consultant, said, "Certain areas of the BHPO are known to be celebrity enclaves, like upper Benedict Canyon."
Among the celebrities living in the Post Office area are Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Don Johnson, Sylvester Stallone, Roger Moore, Kate Jackson, Jacqueline Bisset, Charlton Heston, Stefanie Powers, Juliet Mills, Donna Mills, Eddie Murphy, Jean Simmons, Barry Bostwick and Ann-Margret.
Post Office residents range, Hyland said, "from nobodys to well-knowns," and include "people who bought when houses were selling at $50,000 or $75,000 and can't afford to move . . . people who had large homes but wanted smaller houses with less maintenance . . . and even first-time buyers," he said, to yuppies and other professionals, movie stars and moguls, willing to spend millions on a residence.
"More regular folks than celebrities live in the Post Office," Hupp said, "but a lot of celebrities live there because there is more seclusion as you get into the hills than there is in the Beverly Hills flats, where the tour buses go."
That's what prompted Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward to move years ago to the Post Office, he noted.
Hupp remembers getting a phone call from the actress at 11:30 p.m., saying she wanted to sell her Beverly Hills house "because some guy knocked on her door just before she called, asking for her husband's autograph."
Hupp then sold them a house on a quiet street in the BHPO, where they lived a number of years before moving to Connecticut.
Not all BHPO streets are quiet; Coldwater and Benedict canyons are often clogged with traffic.
"But there are some really good streets in the Post Office," Hyland said, "and many have spectacular views."
"Not many houses in Beverly Hills have views," Hupp said, "while some of the least expensive homes in the Post Office have great views."
Another draw to home buyers, say realtors, is the "countrified" nature of the BHPO.
Remnants remain from its rural days in the 1920s, when much of the area was the Doheny Ranch and the federal government decided to have the Beverly Hills Post Office service the neighborhood, which, except for a small county "island," is in the city of Los Angeles.
The BHPO also has more unimproved land than many in-town neighborhoods. Hyland said most of the Post Office area is unimproved, "while 95% of the city is improved, with the exception of some hillside areas north of Sunset. More of the Post Office is in a natural state, with mainly the canyon valleys and ridge tops built up."
"The land there is what is valuable," said realtor Stan Herman of the BHPO.
The availability of land made it possible for Merv Griffin to buy 157 acres for a private home and developers to build such projects as Beverly Park and Mulholland Estates, where homes yet to be completed have been selling for an average of $3 million.
Because there is more land in the BHPO, even the older houses aren't usually right next door to each other.
As Thelma Orloff of Fred Sands Estates explained it, "When you buy in the flats (of Beverly Hills), you shake hands with your neighbors, but when you buy in the Post Office area, you get some land, and with some updating, you can have what you want."
Many homes in the BHPO date back decades, to an era when the area took a definite back seat to Beverly Hills proper.
As Hupp recalls, "When I first went into the real estate business in 1948, it was hard to get customers and broker cooperation on properties in the Post Office area, because if you lived there, you'd pay about a third more in (property) taxes than you would if you lived in Beverly Hills; you couldn't send your children to Beverly Hills schools, and you couldn't get Beverly Hills police or fire protection."
But Karl Schurz, another longtime Beverly Hills broker, remembers that price differentiation was an incentive even then:
"After the war, when people couldn't afford Beverly Hills, they bought in the Post Office."
Many of the BHPO houses then were like "little mountain cabins, with birds and deer," he said. But there were also some large estates in the Post Office area, which had been built in the '20s for such famous people as Rudolph Valentino, John Barrymore, John Gilbert, King Vidor and Carl Laemmle.
In the '60s and '70s, said Schurz, some real estate brokers built some "huge houses" in the BHPO to sell.
As housing choices in the BHPO broadened and prices in Beverly Hills grew, "more people were willing," said Hupp, "to take something outside the city limits."
"People used to want to be in the city for the schools, but now that's not so true, because many people send their kids to private schools," Hyland said.
"And people used to want Beverly Hills because the taxes there were lower, but with Proposition 13, taxes became the same."
There is no longer much of a disparity between buying in the city or in the BHPO, said Hupp, "though there is still a premium on houses in Beverly Hills."
That's also why the BHPO is becoming a hot market.
"When Trousdale was subdivided in the '50s, Paul Trousdale drove me around and asked me if he thought he could get $10,000 more per lot if he paid the city $1,000 an acre to have it incorporated (into Beverly Hills).
"I said, 'Absolutely.' So he spent the $440,000, and his property values immediately went up."