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Real Estate newsletter: The scary underbelly of L.A. homes

A doll found beneath a house by one of Alpha Structural's assessors.
(Alpha Structural)

Welcome back to the Real Estate newsletter. My coverage typically takes you inside of L.A.’s finest properties, but this week, we’re taking a trip beneath them.

Do you know what lies below your home? Kyle Tourje probably does. He’s a structural assessor with Alpha Structural, and he spends his career digging through the dark underworld of Southern California real estate so you don’t have to.

It’s a dirty job — one brimming with deadly bugs, animal carcasses and foundation disasters waiting to happen, especially in an area as earthquake-prone as L.A. He has the stories and photos to prove it, and we sat down for a series of tales that include a 2,000-year-old Peruvian skull and a secret room loaded with military equipment.

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Fair warning: This story is only available to subscribers. But what better time to subscribe, especially when you can get six months for $1? I’m no salesman, but I shouldn’t even have to sell a deal as good as that.

The luxury side saw a big deal go down in Beverly Hills. It’s an area that’s usually loaded with blockbuster sales, but this year, it hasn’t quite seen price peaks compared to neighboring communities such as Beverly Crest or Bel-Air.

That changed this week when denim mogul Maurice Marciano, co-founder of Guess jeans, dropped $37.5 million on a remodeled mansion, making it the second-priciest sale in Beverly Hills so far this year. He bought it from Fred Bernstein, a real estate agent who spent the last few years expanding and restoring the modern estate.

Mount Washington, a neighborhood less known for luxury, also got the celebrity treatment this week when Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman listed their three-story hillside home for $1.55 million. The actors, who have since separated, have compiled multiple properties in hip neighborhoods over the years with spots in Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Hollywood Hills.

On the other end of the market, advocates for affordable housing got good and bad news this week.

The good news is that Article 34, a measure in the California Constitution that makes it harder to build public housing, will have a chance to be repealed on the 2024 ballot. The measure comes nearly 75 years after the amendment was passed, and in the seven decades since, it has blocked low-income housing construction by requiring voter approval for public housing.

The bad news is that the renter wage gap, also known as the difference between what typical workers can afford versus what rentals actually cost, is growing — especially in L.A. A new study found that L.A. has the biggest rent wage gap for millennials among California cities; the median renter here makes $36,649 but needs $73,560 to pay for a one-bedroom rental.

As always, while catching up on the latest, visit and like our Facebook page, where you can find real estate stories and updates throughout the week.

A human skull and a secret room

Structural assessor Kyle Tourje assesses a property.
Structural assessor Kyle Tourje assesses a property where unpermitted decks, raised fruit and plant beds are tucked into a hillside on Aug. 30.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Architects design homes. Agents sell them. Kyle Tourje plunges beneath them.

Tourje is one of nine structural assessors for Alpha Structural, a Los Angeles company that specializes in engineering and constructing foundation repairs. In other words, these people make sure your house doesn’t slide down the hill and crush the ones below it.

Each week, the assessors go out into the field and send back photos and videos of their most surprising finds: a mummified cat or maybe a mouse fight; a dog skeleton or a crop of ethereal fungi.

Tourje has been digging around for more than a decade and has enough stories to fill out the plot of a horror movie. Here are a few.

Denim mogul spends a fortune in Beverly Hills

Originally built in 1955, the newly restored home spans 9,300 square feet with five bedrooms and eight bathrooms.
Originally built in 1955, the newly restored home spans 9,300 square feet with five bedrooms and eight bathrooms spread across a single story.
(Mark Singer)

Maurice Marciano, the fashion designer best known for co-founding clothing brand Guess Inc. with his brothers in the 1980s, just shelled out $37.5 million for a newly remodeled mansion in Beverly Hills — one of the priciest deals the city has seen so far this year.

Records show he bought the home through his limited liability company, Beverly Financial Holdings. It’s less than a mile away from his old place, a Paul McClean-designed home in Trousdale Estates that he’s currently shopping around for $27.5 million.

The seller is real estate agent Fred Bernstein of Westside Estate Agency, who doubled as a developer and bought the property for $12.25 million in 2016 from Megan Ellison, the film producer and daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison. Listing photos show that Bernstein preserved the home’s original style while adding 3,000 square feet in the years since.

Actors offer up a scenic perch

The three-story residence takes in city and canyon views from walls of glass and multiple decks.
(Scott Everts / Ryan Lahiff)

Over the last decade, actors Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman have amassed an impressive real estate collection across L.A. with homes in hip neighborhoods such as Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Hollywood Hills.

Now, the pair are looking to cut one loose, listing their scenic home in Mount Washington for $1.55 million.

Records show the pair, who married in 1982 but have since separated, bought the property in 2018 for $1.3 million. Spanning three stories on a hillside lot, the loft-like residence takes in sweeping views of the city and canyon through walls of windows and multiple decks.

Anti-public housing measure up for repeal

New construction rises near old and dilapidated units of the Jordan Downs housing project.
New construction rises near old and dilapidated units of the Jordan Downs housing project in the Watts District of Los Angeles in 2019.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Nearly 75 years after amending the state Constitution to make it harder to build public housing, California voters will have a chance to repeal the provision on the 2024 ballot, writes Liam Dillon.

The measure will ask voters to do away with Article 34 of the California Constitution, which requires voter approval before public housing is built in a community. Article 34, which passed in 1950, stymied low-income housing construction in California for decades and continues today to add to the cost and uncertainty of building affordable housing.

The real estate industry sponsored the 1950 campaign, which appealed to racist fears about integrating neighborhoods and featured heated rhetoric about the need to combat socialism.

Those behind repealing Article 34 argue it’s a racist relic that needs repeal, especially during an affordable housing crisis. While other states have had and repealed laws that called for a public vote before the construction of low-income housing, only California’s Constitution currently requires voter approval for public housing.

Renter wage gap rages in L.A.

Sarah Abdeshahian, 22, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, at her one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco.
Sarah Abdeshahian, 22, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, at her one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco in February 2021. Students are moving to San Francisco because it’s more affordable.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and three other California cities have some of the biggest millennial renter wage gaps in the country — the gap being the difference between what the typical worker can afford versus the average rental costs, writes Summer Lin.

Of the California cities, L.A. has the biggest rent wage gap for millennials, followed by San Diego in third place, San Francisco in fifth, San Jose in seventh, Riverside in eighth and Sacramento in 12th, according to an analysis by the air filter company Filterbuy using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample.

In L.A., the millennial wage gap was minus 49.5% in 2020, with millennial renters making a median wage of $36,649, according to the analysis. However, renters needed an average wage of $72,560 to pay for a one-bedroom rental. The median rent for a one-bedroom place was about $1,814; about 35.6% of millennials in the city were renters.

What we’re reading

In California, the most populous state in the country, land is hard to come by (no surprise to Californians). The New York Times ran down the states with the largest lot sizes for new single-family homes and found that California had the second-smallest median lot size at 7,405 square feet — at a price of $82.60 per square foot. Vermont had the largest median lot at 78,408 square feet, and it comes a bit cheaper at $5.95 per square foot.

It’s typically either a seller’s market or a buyer’s market, but according to Business Insider, it’s a terrible time for both sides. Citing stalled prices for sellers, rising mortgage rates for buyers, and increasing pessimism from all involved, the outlet declared that the real estate market is currently “in limbo.”


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