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Real Estate newsletter: An 1890s water tower finds new life

House on scaffold base surrounded by shorter houses with ocean and beach to the left
First constructed in the 1890s and rebuilt multiple times since, the tower features four stories of living spaces with pirate themes and striking views.
(Sheldon / IVESTER creative inc.)

Welcome back to the Real Estate newsletter, your weekly window into the nation’s most interesting housing market — at least in my professional opinion. Where else does a 19th-century water tower turn into a pirate-themed retreat steps from the Pacific Ocean?

The local landmark was by far the week’s most interesting listing. Built in the 1890s and reimagined multiple times since, the 87-foot-tall structure in Sunset Beach is shedding its life as a luxury Airbnb rental and searching for a permanent resident (ideally one who’s willing to pony up $4.95 million.)

The San Fernando Valley saw some action in the early days of June as well, with rapper Polo G dropping roughly $5 million on a Chatsworth mansion with a souped-up garage. He joins Swae Lee, YG and DJ Mustard in the neighborhood, which is quickly becoming a haven for hip-hop stars.

Over in Los Feliz, a 101-year-old haunt with a celebrity-filled past surfaced for sale at $15 million. Most famously the former residence of comedian W.C. Fields in the 1940s, it housed multiple actors in the decades since and currently belongs to Dodgers co-owner Bobby Patton.

Searching for a summer project? Beware: The cost of lumber is skyrocketing to the point where even a picnic table can run you over budget. Lumber suppliers wrongly assumed demand would plunge during the pandemic, and their miscalculation is leading to prices double or even triple what they were last year.

So building a house may be out of the picture. But what about buying one for $1? Personal finance columnist Liz Weston took a look at the pros and cons of buying your parents’ place for a buck, and the tax liabilities that are sure to follow. There’s no such thing as a free house.

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A local landmark lists for sale

A 1890s water tower in Sunset Beach that was converted to a home sits near the beach.
First constructed in the 1890s and rebuilt multiple times since, the tower features four stories of living spaces with pirate themes and striking views.
(Sheldon / Ivester creative inc.)

In Sunset Beach stands one of California’s quirkiest homes: an 87-foot-tall structure that serves both as eye candy for passersby on Pacific Coast Highway and a reminder, in an era of rapid redevelopment, that some things are worth saving.

The landmark water tower dates from the 1890s, when it serviced steam engines traveling up the California coast. Now, it’s up for grabs at $4.95 million.

Looming above the houses crammed along the sand near the border of Seal Beach and Sunset Beach, the striking residence has become beloved by locals in the decades since it was built — but it has a tumultuous past.

Another rapper lands in Chatsworth

The 11,000-square-foot home comes with a pool, tennis court and custom garage with room for 14 cars.
(Neue Focus)

Chatsworth is becoming a hip-hop haven with musicians such as Swae Lee, YG and DJ Mustard taking up residence there in recent years. Rapper Polo G is the latest to flock to the San Fernando Valley suburb; he just shelled out $4.885 million for a Mediterranean-style spot in the guard-gated community of Indian Falls Estates.

Claiming nearly 2 acres, the property has waffled on and off the market since it was built in 2018. Records show it first listed for $6.2 million and was most recently offered at $5 million before Polo G, whose real name is Taurus Bartlett, scooped it up.

The place is packed with amenities, but what really makes it stand out is the garage. There’s a standard two-car garage attached to the house, but out back, a custom garage the size of a guesthouse features 14-foot doors and space for 14 cars.

Dodgers owner offers historic estate

Built in 1920, the Italianate residence has been owned by comedian W.C. Fields and actress Lily Tomlin.
(Todd Goodman / LA Light Photography)

Hollywood history is up for grabs in Los Feliz, where the W.C. Fields estate — a 101-year-old Italianate mansion where the namesake comedian lived in the 1940s — just hit the market for $15 million.

Built in 1920, the architectural gem has housed multiple celebrities since Fields, including “Pay It Forward” actor Gary Werntz and “Grace and Frankie” star Lily Tomlin. Today, it’s owned by Bobby Patton, the Texas oil magnate who co-owns the Los Angeles Dodgers. Records show he picked up the property for $7 million in 2013.

The leafy residence covers two-thirds of an acre in Laughlin Park, a gated enclave home to stars such as Angelina Jolie, Casey Affleck, Emma Roberts and Kristen Stewart.

Where’s all the wood?

Carlos Guido works on a project site with contractor Chris Williams in San Marino.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The cost of a common commodity has scrambled summer plans, and it’s not gas: Soaring lumber prices are making new homes, renovations and even simple picnic tables drastically more expensive, write Andrew Khouri, Carly Olson and Andrew Mendez.

At times, bills are coming in thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars over estimate. In the most extreme cases, projects have come to a screeching halt as prices spiral out of control.

Analysts said pricing is likely to remain elevated for a prolonged period because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the coronavirus started to spread in the U.S. last year, lumber suppliers assumed demand would plunge, and they stalled production accordingly. Distributors followed this lead, stopped buying lumber and sold off inventories.

A house for $1

In a recent piece, columnist Liz Weston answered a question about the pros and cons of taking on your parents’ house for free.

Dear Liz: My father-in-law died recently. My mother-in-law is not well enough to live alone. My husband has a brother and a sister who would like my husband and me to buy my in-laws’ big, old home for $1, take care of my mother-in-law 24/7, and make 60 years’ worth of updates and repairs to the house. I see plenty of downsides to this arrangement, but no upside. Is there a way this deal can work for us, and not just for the other siblings?

Answer: The upside is that you would own the house. Although the home may not be in great shape, it presumably is an asset with some value. Whether it has enough value to be worthwhile, and whether you want to acquire it this way, are open questions. (Click through for the discussion of taxes and the strains of full-time caregiving.)

What we’re reading

Could the national real estate market be getting cool? Or at least slightly less hot? The Washington Post analyzed data from Realtor.com and Redfin and found that home prices are still rising, but at a slower pace than recent months.

Location, location, location. When looking for a house, make sure to check whether it’s more than an arm’s length away from an amusement park ride. In The Know looked at a beach house in Delaware that went viral thanks to a giant swinging ship that seems to hurl itself within feet of the home.


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