Finding somewhere to live in LA
I started this little trip down memory lane a few months ago, reminiscing about all the things we needed to do to see if living in LA would work out for us.
When I last left you we were on a plane bound for LA with appointments at two schools and time set aside with a relocation agent to try to find somewhere to live in LA.
Our first step was getting through our interviews at the two schools we chose. Once we had a better idea whether or not we’d get in then we could start narrowing our search for somewhere to live.
Ten private schools to consider in LA
I realise I didn’t name the schools in my last post. And, if you’re coming to LA and looking for private schools you’re going to need a few names to start with. Here were some of the names on our list to help give you a start.
- Brentwood School
- Campbell Hall
- Chadwick School
- Windward School
This is by no way definitive—do your research and check the area they’re in first. Unless you’re a good commuter you don’t want to work on one side of LA, living on the other and having your kids at school in the opposite direction to both.
For single sex schools you might also consider:
- Loyola HS (Yrs 9-12)
- Marymount HS (yrs 9-12)
- Crespi HS (Yrs 9-12)
- Archer School for Girls
Eight areas to consider when finding somewhere to live in LA
You’re getting the message there are lots of different areas to live in LA and, not unlike anywhere else in the world, it dictates the type of lifestyle you’ll have when you move. If you’re relocating for work then you know where your office is. We knew MR H’s office was going to be in Hollywood. I knew I wanted to be close to the action and I didn’t want him to have a long commute—we wanted to replicate our Sydney experience as closely as we could because that works for us.
I opened Google Maps and started to look at different areas that could work for us. Here are some of our choices and/or suggestions.
1. Santa Monica
We heard Santa Monica was a bit tricky to get into and out of but being relatively self-contained, and by the beach, it would be a great lifestyle choice for us. The bonus was that the public schools were good so the extra rent could be saved in free public schooling.
Pros: Beachside, up to 20 degrees (F) cooler than in town and with everything at your fingertips you rarely need to leave.
Cons: Much smaller houses and high rent gives you less bang for buck. The traffic getting into and out of Santa Monica could also be a downer if you’re not used to it.
2. Hollywood Hills
When you think of Hollywood Hills you think mansion after mansion of sprawling celebrity estates. But there are some nice neighbourhoods that don’t have to break your budget and I like the feel of the area, plus it’s convenient for all of us.
Pros: Great areas, good choice of houses, retro style.
Cons: nothing really—just have to find the house.
3. Pacific Palisades
It’s a lovely area but you can’t get much further away from Hollywood. For some reason our Relocation agent kept pushing us towards the Palisades. We’ve since found out there’s a great Charter School there and many people try to get their kids in here as an alternative to Private School but we weren’t told that at the time. Anyway, for us the commute is the deal breaker.
Pros: Great neighbourhood and community
Cons: A long commute to Hollywood for Mr H and I felt like I’d be isolated away from the shopping and restaurant districts of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
4. The Valley
Movies have been made on the area–remember Valley Girls? We were advised to consider the valley because of its more affordable houses, and if you go out further enough you get good schools and McMansions—bigger houses and better bang for buck.
After two and a half years of living in Beverly Hills we bought a house in the Valley (Sherman Oaks). It’s nice and close to school, it’s not far from our old house, it’s close to the freeways to get around town and we can walk to shops and restaurants. We feel like it has given us a new lease on life in LA. It’s great for us and it’s great for the kids.
Pros: Bigger houses, lots of pools.
Cons: 50,000,000 degrees hotter in summer.
5. Beverly Hills &/or West Hollywood
I didn’t really think we were going to consider Beverly Hills because it’s well … Beverly Hills. But like the Hollywood Hills Beverly Hills isn’t all mansions, there are some more affordable areas.
South of Santa Monica is still Beverly Hills and it borders West Hollywood. This is definitely the area I would have loved to live in.
Pros: Proximity to shopping and restaurants.
Cons: There is absolutely nothing wrong with Beverly Hills as long as you can find the house. West Hollywood too for that matter.
Pasadena comes highly recommended by a great many people for its culture, great schools and lifestyle. We didn’t consider it though as it was a commute for all of us.
Pros: Lots of people love it and a good school district.
Cons: The commute–unless you’re working in the area.
7. Brentwood or Westwood
Brentwood was nice and close to Santa Monica making it convenient to the beach yet still convenient enough for Mr H and work.
Pros: Great location with close proximity to beaches and still easy access to West Hollywood and Beverly Hills restaurants.
Cons: Not much good stock in our price range.
8. South Bay
Many people come to SoCal (Southern California) for the lifestyle. So it’s no surprise that people are attracted to the South Bay area encompassing Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach.
Pros: Good schools, beautiful shops and township, community feeling
Cons: Quite the commute!
9. Hancock Park
Bordering Melrose and West Hollywood Hancock Park is a beautiful leafy suburb in the middle of concrete-paradise LA. It has great schools nearby and lots of the private schools have buses to and from each day.
Pros: Convenient to Hollywood and Downtown, great community neighbourhood.
Cons: It’s pretty hard to find good houses available for rent–but do put it on your list if it’s convenient for you.
Plus two other neighbourhoods I’d add to my list:
10. Silver Lake & Los Feliz
Silver Lake is on the other side of the 101 off Sunset. It’s hip & happening, funky, groovy and an eclectic group of people. I’m not sure there are many private schools in the area but if I were a young family this is where I’d want to be.
11. Culver City
Culver City has come a long way even from when we moved here: new restaurants and shops and it’s close to the Studios, especially Sony Pictures.
Plus, many other studios and entertainment businesses are setting up shop there.
Our journey two years ago finding somewhere to live in LA
We spent a lot of time covering different areas of LA looking for something semi-decent in our price range. We wanted a spare room and a pool and didn’t think it was a huge ask. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. In a horrible wake-up call it felt like we were struggling Uni students on a measly budget. Every house we went into was depressing—wardrobe doors that wouldn’t open or close let alone you wouldn’t want to put your clothes in, small and dirty kitchens, rundown houses with filthy carpet and—if there was a pool—grimy and couldn’t be less inviting if they tried. I felt like I was visiting Neil, Vivienne, Mike & Neil from The Young Ones.
Not one house we visited in the first couple of days would be one we’d be happy to visit let alone call home. It was back to the drawing board—we’d need to up our budget and/or forgo the guest room.
It was easier to find a house to suit our needs in Shanghai—a city where the majority of people couldn’t speak English—than it was in Los Angeles, one of America’s largest and most prestigious cities.
To say our relocation agent was useless was an understatement. She seemed surprised that we didn’t like any of the houses she showed us so we took things into our own hands. We started trawling the rental websites looking for places, increasing our budget and seeing where the sweet spot would be for us to find something vaguely decent. I thought getting into a school would be the problem, not finding a house.
We found a few places in West Hollywood and I decided this would be a perfect area for us—close the action like we were in Australia, not far from Mr H’s work and it wouldn’t be too bad getting the kids to a nearby bus stop for school commuting.
Everytime we sent our relocation agent a place we wanted to check out in West Hollywood she’d ignore it. I’d ask her when I saw her next how she’s going securing us an appointment she’d defensively say, “it takes time to get an appointment, please bear with me.”
Then Mr H said, about one particular place that looked really quite promising, “that was one of the first places we sent you,” she finally started saying something about West Hollywood being a questionable place to live.
She was alluding to the fact that—shock horror—there were a lot of gay people that lived in the area. We reminded her that we lived in inner city Sydney and we’ve always had lovely gay neighbours and we were very comfortable with this. Despite writing her a brief on our family and our tastes, she couldn’t relate to us because her picture of us had us in a family-oriented neighbourhood with conservative values.
After brushing us off to a Real-Estate agent to continue house hunting we hit the ground running with a full schedule of houses to visit. The Agent would give us a list of houses, we’d check the maps and drive past the house, then provide a short list of the ones we liked that we wanted to see inside.
That’s when we thought we were going to end up living in either the Hollywood Hills or Beverly Hills—great proximity to Hollywood and not bad for the kids for school.
After a week of solid searching and being totally despondent we settled on two houses—one in Beverly Hills off Mulholland Drive and the other in the Hollywood Hills. I was overruled and we put an application in for the house in the Hollywood Hills. It had a pool that was swimable and whatever made them happy I was happy enough to go with.
In our application we explained that we don’t have a credit history in America but we have a good one at home in Australia and that we’re being moved to LA by Mr H’s new company. For whatever it was worth they would back us if necessary. We also said we were pretty keen to stay longer than 12 months as it wouldn’t make sense for us to get settled only to have to move again.
Our application was rejected—apparently someone else had put an application in at the same time and were offering more money.
To me this didn’t make sense for two reasons—one we weren’t told anyone else was interested in the house let alone let looking let alone miraculously putting in an application at precisely the same time as us. Secondly, if there are two people putting an application on a property wouldn’t you go back and create an auction situation and try to get the best possible deal for the house? Exactly. So clearly our lack of credit history meant that we lost out on this house.
That meant it was Plan B and the Beverly Hills house I was keen on. It didn’t have a pool but it was the sort of style we were used to in Australia and a house we wouldn’t be ashamed to have the rich and famous over to visit.
When we were visiting the house we actually got a call from one of the schools saying we were accepted. What a relief, now we just have to find the house and our job here in LA was done for now.
We put an application in for the Beverly Hills house and it was accepted. The owner—a movie producer and composer came to LA from Austria a number of years ago only to find himself in the same position so he was sympathetic to us. We’ll never know whether we’d struggle to find another house but we were so thankful the search was over.
Plus, we later realised that the school was an incredible ten-minute commute away so we couldn’t be luckier.
It was the most stressful week and enough to put us off making the move to LA quite frankly. I actually don’t know why we persevered. Yeah, I actually do, it was the allure of Hollywood and the wonder of what life would have in store for this ordinary but happy Australian family about to move to Hollywood.
Now, two years on, I wish we’d chosen a bigger house and held off to get the pool we so desperately wanted. It’s one thing to get a house close to your needs in Australia but it would have been smarter to get a house different to what you’re used to so you get a different experience. And, as a growing family we could have grown into that “big American house.”
If only we were a bit more realistic and weren’t looking at the opportunity through rose-coloured glasses.
Did you make your move in a hurry? Did you find finding a house easy? Hard? Did you know where you wanted to live? Did you have anyone to help you? Would love it if you’d share your stories.
xx It Started in LA xx
Updated October, 2016