Luxury Homes Spur Bidding Wars in L.A. as Market Rebounds

A week after Christine Lynch listed her house in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles for $3.625 million, she had seven offers. Within 10 days, a deal was reached for the five-bedroom, six-bathroom home -- and for $225,000 more than she asked.

“My first reaction was, ‘Wow, I guess we’re really doing this,’” Lynch, 55, said in an interview. The all-cash transaction was completed on April 23. “I was really surprised by this level of interest and how quickly it sold,” she said.

Bidding wars are breaking out for luxury homes in such wealthy Los Angeles enclaves as Brentwood, Beverly Hills and Bel Air as an increasing number of buyers bet on rising home prices and investors return to the market. Even properties in need of extensive renovation are being fought over by shoppers who expect to resell them for more after a remodel or rebuild.

“The percentage of people who think prices are only going to go up is the greatest I have ever seen in my career,” said Syd Leibovitch, president of Rodeo Realty Inc. in Beverly Hills.

Sales of Beverly Hills homes priced at $2 million and higher climbed 11 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier to 39, according to DataQuick, a San Diego-based provider of property information. In Brentwood, whose residents include actress and singer Julie Andrews, they increased 56 percent to 25, and in Malibu they gained 64 percent to 23.

Throughout the U.S., residential-property sales of $1 million and higher rose 7.2 percent in March, the most recent month for which figures are available, from a year earlier, according to the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors, whose price categories stop at that amount.

Across U.S.

Demand has been rising for high-end homes in the northeastern U.S., including Boston and New York; on the California coast; and in parts of the southern U.S. amid a recovery in financial markets, according to Paul Bishop, vice president of research at the Realtors group.

In Brentwood and Beverly Hills, homes usually start between $2.8 million and $3.2 million for those on smaller lots in low- lying areas, and can go as high as $20 million for larger plots, according to John Gould, manager of Rodeo Realty’s Beverly Hills office. Properties in hillier areas, which usually are larger and have views, tend to range from $5 million to $75 million.

In the Los Angeles area, multiple offers -- as many as a dozen per home -- have reduced listing times for the highest- priced houses as bidders worried about losing out act faster than they have in the past two years, according to Stephen Shapiro, cofounder of Westside Estate Agency in Beverly Hills.

Acting Quickly

While luxury properties used to linger on the market for weeks and months as recently as 2011, offers now come in on the day of the first showing, a phenomenon that was common during the 2007 buying frenzy, Shapiro said.

“In recent history, buyers would look at homes and return six months later to find the same home was still on the market,” he said. “Now if buyers hesitate, the house is often sold by the time they come back. And each time one sells, the next one comes on at a higher price.”

Sales remain less than the record reached from 2005 to 2007, said Leibovitch of Rodeo Realty. In Beverly Hills, where celebrities including Sharon Stone have homes, first-quarter transactions for properties priced $2 million and higher were 40 percent below the 65 homes sold in the third quarter of 2005, and in Brentwood the 25 purchased were 49 percent below 2007’s second quarter, according to DataQuick.

Too Few Sellers

Deals are being held back in part by a shortage of willing sellers. Nationwide, about 2.37 million existing homes were listed for sale in March, the fewest for the month since 2005, the year U.S. home sales reached a record 7.08 million, the National Association of Realtors reported April 19.

“We could have twice as many sales if we had more inventory,” Leibovitch said.

A total of 19,284 houses and condominiums sold in Los Angeles and five other Southern California counties in April, DataQuick reported yesterday. That was down 3.4 percent from March, and 21 percent below the average for April since 1988.

Jack Massopust listed his 92-year-old father’s Brentwood home, which boasts views of the city, the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island, on April 3 for $1.55 million. Within about a week, more than 100 shoppers had come to three open houses, and the 3,200-square-foot (300-square-meter) house, which Massopust’s father bought new in 1960, had received 11 offers. Eight were at or higher than the asking price.

‘Very Surprised’

The property, listed through Mary Lu Tuthill of Coldwell Banker Previews International in Brentwood, is in escrow, expected to close May 23, for about $1.705 million. The purchasers agreed to a “buy as is” condition, Massopust said.

“I have always appreciated the location and the view,” said Massopust, 64, a retired transportation engineer for the city of Los Angeles. “That’s in my opinion what sold the house for that price. But I was still very surprised.”

Sales volume for homes priced $5 million and higher at all of Coldwell’s West Los Angeles offices was up 35 percent this year through May 8 from a year earlier, according to Joyce Rey, the Beverly Hills-based head of the estates division at Coldwell Banker Previews International.

“There’s an added degree of confidence in the future and that prices are likely going to go up,” Rey said. “There is a definite change in consumer attitude.”

Tuthill, who also brokered the sale of Lynch’s house, said an increasing number of homes sell within a week of being listed. One 6,000-square-foot property on Tower Road in Beverly Hills, in escrow and scheduled to close by the end of the month, came on the market at $7.295 million and within a week received five offers, the highest of which was for more than $2 million greater than the asking price, Tuthill said.

Speculators Back

The increase in demand for high-end properties is being driven in part by investors looking to make a profit, a buyer pool that’s been almost nonexistent the past couple years, according to Rey. She said investors have grown to about 20 percent of the shoppers she represents since the beginning of the year.

Throughout Southern California, the portion of investor purchases was close to a record last month, and the share of buyers paying cash was double the historical average, according to DataQuick.

“The speculative buyer is back,” Rey said. “This is the first time since 2007 that I have investor clients again.”

That’s buoying an increase in bids for homes that need major work, she said.

Bidding War

One house on a 25,000-square-foot lot in Brentwood hadn’t been on the market in more than 50 years and was considered a “borderline tear-down,” according to Tuthill. The home, with original 1930s kitchen and bathrooms, was listed at $5.495 million at the beginning of March and received five offers, the highest of which was $5.6 million. After the seller countered at $5.695 million, two bidders upped their offers to $5.7 million and one jumped to $5.75 million, the eventual selling price.

“We were always joking that we were holding it together with bubble gum and paper clips,” Tuthill said. “The initial reaction was that this property was priced too high for recent comparables. But what brokers underestimated is the pent-up demand.”

A home on Bel Air Road in Bel Air came on the market in mid-March at $10.25 million and the final purchase agreement was signed for $1 million more. Escrow is scheduled to close next week.

Major Renovation

The mid-century house, once owned by the late television host Art Linkletter, hadn’t been on the market in 40 years. The buyer is considering a major renovation or tearing it down, Tuthill said.

“Those types of properties are more in demand than ever,” said Leibovitch of Rodeo Realty. “With interest rates as low as they are, investors can really get a good deal.”

Competition is so fierce that one couple looking to buy in Santa Monica had their daughters, ages 8 and 10, write a letter and draw a picture of the home to try to persuade the elderly seller to choose them over other bidders.

The neurologist and his wife, who asked not to be named because they don’t want his patients to know details of the purchase, agreed in mid-April to pay $155,000 more than the $2.695 million asking price for the four-bedroom, three-bathroom house, located two blocks from the beach.

Lynch and her husband, who’d owned their Brentwood home for 18 years, bought a smaller, three-bedroom house in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Rancho Park, because they now spend about 40 percent of the year on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. They’re relieved they decided to act now, she said.

“We didn’t really have to sell,” Lynch said. “It was more of a lifestyle choice, a question of where do we want to be 10 years from now. But with this type of response, it seemed like it was meant to be.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nadja Brandt in Los Angeles at nbrandt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kara Wetzel at kwetzel@bloomberg.net

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