You’ve found the area you want to live in and even managed to narrow your search to a couple of house. But now you have to secure a lease. Here are five important tips for securing a lease in LA.
As expats you may know–and understand–each country has its idiosyncrasies when it comes to credit and finance. The US can be a tough market if you don’t know what you’re doing and if you don’t have established credit.
1. Secure a good agent–preferably one that understands expats
There are lots of agents in LA; not all of them good, not all of them bad. Securing an agent is a whole topic in itself but you need to find an agent that understands you, your family and your needs. That’s why I recommend asking someone for recommendations then secure one with whom you have a good relationship.
There are so many houses in LA and not all of them good. You could spend a lot of time looking at places that remind you of your uni days (like we did) so choose wisely.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because your situation is going to be a little out of left-field (even for LA) so you need to make sure your agent is not only good, but is on your side. Find someone that’s persuasive and affable. At the end of the day they need to go into bat for you–to convince your future landlord that you’re going to be a fantastic person/family to rent to.
My agent, Caroline Fleck from Caroline Fleck Real Estate, tells the story of how one agent got aggressive with her because her client didn’t accept a tenancy for her clients. “The last thing you want is an agent who is going to argue with her fellow agent. She should have sold her clients to me to take back to my client–that’s what I’d do.”
Subscriber Adam Halen who thanked me very much for my site as it helped him with decisions to move his family to LA says the same thing.
“Kate Sutton, our agent, ultimately had to “vouch” for us as solid, trustworthy and a credit-worthy family. Having someone go in to bat for you, as an agent, has credibility and professionalism to it.”
2. Be ready with the cash–and lots of it!
There’s no escaping this one. At least there’s rarely any escaping this.
You’ll need three months’ deposit upfront. Rent is not always cheap in LA so that can be a lot of cash upfront.
Remember, Americans rely on that stupid credit rating to help them work out if you’re a worthy tenant of not. If you don’t have a credit history in the US show them what you’re like in your home country. Show them you have the means to pay the rent so they’re not stuck with a mortgage without the rent coming in from you to pay it.
3. Have lots of supporting documents available
On top of the huge deposit you may also have to show an American bank account with plenty of money in it (enough to carry you through for a number of months). Sometimes landlords accept this in lieu of the deposit. Even in our case with an amazing landlord they wanted the cash upfront.
You may also be able to show that you have decent funds that you can call on from your home country if you need to.
Another thing that can help your case is a letter from your employer showing that you’re coming to LA with a secured job and they’ll vouch for you. This can’t hurt so ask your employer if they’ll vouch for you IN WRITING and if you can get it, provide it–even before they ask.
The bottom line is you won’t have much credit so you need to show as much financial info as possible–just give it all to them: pay stubs, tax returns, financial statements, references, a letter from your business manager, whatever it takes.
Remember, in the US everything revolves around that stupid credit rating so if you don’t have one yet you’ve got to show that you’re worth taking a chance on.
Caroline Fleck says, “Be open, honest & upfront. The more you show the more likely they are to have faith in you.”
4. Write a letter
Personalise your application by writing a letter to your potential landlord. Add a photo of your family.
Ask to meet the landlord in person. Even if they’re not up for it it shows that you’re all in.
When we applied I wrote to the Landlord saying we loved the house and could picture ourselves at home in it. I said that we rented out our houses at home in Australia so we know what it’s like to entrust your home to strangers.
If you are from overseas you won’t have a credit history. Tell them why and what your credit is like back home. You want them to trust that you are good for the rent and you won’t leave them with a mortgage to pay and no rent coming in to pay it.
When we met our landlord he said he was so grateful for that letter and was very happy to receive it and approve our application on the back of it.
It can work!
5. Clean up your social media
Adam Halen also recommends cleaning up your social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn etc). Sometimes you forget that you put your life out for everyone so make sure it says you and your family are amazing and will be great tenants. Yes, that might mean taking down the photos of your wild going away party back at your house!
A couple of extra things
Consider furnished versus unfurnished. Furnished houses cost more but some people like to furnish houses with their excess furniture. It could also help you if you don’t want to ship all your furniture over here. And you may need furniture while your stuff makes its way over.
If you’re furnishing the house yourself there are plenty of rental companies to get you through the three months until your furniture to arrive.
During the hunt
Look up properties not selling and ask them if they’re interested in renting for 6-12 months.
With a lease you really need to work 2-3 weeks out, sometimes a month. Much longer than that might not work. Do sus out market before hand but it’s highly likely that house you’ve fallen in love with won’t be available in three month’s time. So either don’t fall in love or be prepared to secure it earlier than you first though.
We ended up doing just that–with not much on the market we were happy to find a house that we’d be happy to live in for a while.
Remember! You almost always end up staying longer than you think. We ended up staying two years rather than one.
Either way good luck. It’s a real nightmare when you first come. It will get easier I promise you!
xx It Started in LA xx
PS: Need help narrowing down an area to live in LA? Check out this post.
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for me. As many of you know my son is in his senior year at school. But what does this opening sentence have to do with clinging to our motherland: US Gov and guns?
Back to School Night
Well last week we had “Back to School” night. It’s where you go to each class the kids have in their schedule and see the teachers and get a breakdown of the class and what they’ll be studying for the year.
Master H is taking AP (Advanced Placement) US Government. I thought nothing of it until one of the parents asks whether they’ll be discussing other systems of government. The answer was a categoric no. Much like the HSC in Australia the APs are taught to a curriculum guideline, the topics of which can be found in a test. That test is taken by everyone in the country taking that subject. And, a quick look at other systems isn’t covered by the syllabus–or on the test.
For those newer readers, we’re at a local private school in LA not an international one. Although, LA being LA, there are a number of expats or people who have moved to the US for one reason or another.
I got a bit peeved by the teacher’s response. I mean he chose the subject (there were no other real choices), US Gov is US Gov right?
When I studied Legal Studies at school it was essentially studying the Australian legal system. We covered other systems in the world but we focussed on ours. It makes plenty of sense to understand what other countries do in order to better understand ours.
And while the answer was a categoric no she did suggest that they would weave into their discussion other systems because of the expat nature of the group. (The small class had a Canadian family, British/German, Aussies (us) and Italian. So when I eventually calmed down about how she categorically answered the question, it isn’t going to be all bad.
Expat Facebook group
Before I had a chance to calm down I posted a comment on an Expat Facebook group I belong to. I wrote:
“Here’s my gripe: couldn’t she just say there’s no time in the curriculum to discuss the other systems it’s purely a US Govt subject? That would have sufficed.
“And am I wrong to be so sad that my son will know so much more about the US system of Government and the ins and outs of the Electoral College than the Westminster system?”
I was expecting some empathy from the Aussies amongst us and some lamenting from others about the downside of Expat life where the kids often know more about the country in which they live than their homeland–their motherland.
Instead, after the Australians supported me, I was barraged with comments accusing me of trying to change the AP courses and advising me that the AP system is very strict and must be adhered to. And this:
“With about 200 countries in the world, how could they effectively compare other systems of government while simultaneously going in-depth about the US?”
But I wasn’t asking for that … Just a bit of discussion if it fits, that’s all. (And remember I didn’t ask the question, one of my American compatriots–in the parental sense–asked).
With all that behind me I went along to the Potluck night we threw for the Senior parents. We were chatting away about stuff as you do. We were talking about what subjects our kids were doing and one of the dads said, “Are you sad that [he’s] doing US Gov and will know more about our messed up system than not your own?”
Oh my God. Hallelujah. Thank you. Yes!
Why wasn’t one of my fellow expats able to just say/ask/empathise like this all-American dad formerly of New York and more recently living in LA?
Did someone say guns?
Well one guy did. Made a huge statement didn’t he? We are literally walking around in disbelief. Vegas is so close to LA, it’s in our backyard. There’s someone you know in Vegas every week. In fact there were people I knew in Vegas at the time and thankfully they were fine and away from the trouble.
But there’s nothing more obvious than an Australian in a gun debate. Especially in America. I blogged about it early on when I was here for my first mass shooting. (Yep, like it’s an earthquake or hurricane, celebrity divorce or star meltdown)*.
My daughter was talking about it in school the day we woke to the news of the Vegas tragedy. One of her friends said she believed in the right to protect herself (I’m guessing she means her family not actually 15 year-old her). Miss H looked at her startled; it wasn’t something she was expecting to hear in LA amongst her friends.
Miss H said, “If there were proper gun laws then they wouldn’t have a gun in the first place would they?”
I’m happy to say I give my kids an Australian perspective when it really matters.
Australians actually have it all wrong
But actually us Australians have it all wrong. We do. If there’s one single thing we are polar opposites with America on it’s our attitude to guns. And never the two shall meet. Basically, we’re like guns suck, they kill people. And Americans (not all thank-you but the ones giving you a bad rap) are like guns are so good, I get to protect myself and it’s my right to have one. So there.
Every time there’s a mass shooting in America us Australians come out like Eddie Murphy in his classic standup routine “I got an ice-cream“.
Yeah, we go
“We don’t have guns,
“You got a problem,
“We can’t afford them,
“Cause they can’t sell them,
“You have to have a licence
“And it’s really hard.”
And Americans go, “Oh My God I’m so sorry, how do you cope?”
Well it’s our right to bear arms it’s in the second amendment so there. OR
You know you’ve had other mass shootings don’t you? Yeah, but you never talk about them do you?
Then we get all funny (because we like to win too). We have to concede defeat. One or two situations have tragically happened (the Lindt Cafe hostage situation freaked me out).
(BTW there were three deaths including the hostage taker and 18 injured).
Yeah, all of a sudden because we let a couple of incidents slip through to the keeper in the last 21 years, that means our rules suck. So basically it didn’t work.
“Take that Australia. We win.”
Yep. Let’s face it, when it comes to the number of psychotic mass shootings in the last (let’s just call it 10 years) you win America.
So Australia got it wrong after all.
Nightly Talk Shows
But not all Americans believe semi-automatic and automatic guns should be out there for anyone to buy. And use. And kill people.
I recorded every late night show to see how the comedians handled the latest tragedy. I follow them all on Twitter and I’ve tweeted and retweeted anything vaguely intelligent on the subject.
But, the problem with the way the situation here is that these guys are preaching to the converted. We share their posts on Facebook, we tweet them and post photos on our Instagram like the Pray Policy Change for America. They unite with the Australians, we look at each other and go “yeah, exactly”, we puff our chests out and wear a grin from ear to ear.
The same thing happened before Trump got elected. They think common sense should prevail.
But change won’t happen unless we stop preaching to the converted. And not by preaching to the non-converts either. I don’t know how to talk to these people but somehow there’s a way. And once we work out that way, then we’ll start to see a difference.
But to start there are two ways. First is through education: get into the classrooms. It’s going to be a generational change that’s needed because it will never be a mindset change. Second, stop the bloody NRA from being allowed to donate money to bribe the politicians. Actually, just disband them. If politicians aren’t being paid to keep guns legal I will guarantee you their perspective will change. And if it doesn’t, see step one.
And, because I’m one of those “converteds” here is a story including a video with some powerful statements from said Late Night hosts. Powerful statements that will fall on deaf ears yet again.
Curve ball … empathy. As I was writing the first part of this post I started thinking.
Immigration is such a huge topic and it’s so deeply dividing (what topic isn’t these days?) An expat is just a temporary immigrant really.
When you leave your family and friends behind, move to a new country to start a “better life” (for whatever reason) it’s pretty bloody hard to start afresh. You have to make new friends, experience different ways of doing things and assimilate into your new world. Take a US Gov class instead of Australian Legal Studies.
So what if you move to a country that’s nothing like your motherland? How much harder must it be then? We experienced it in China as expats but not as immigrants.
Just a thought if you’re down on people for clinging to their motherland. Cut them some slack. They want to be in your country (OK, most of them–don’t get nitpicky on me) and they want to assimilate. But sometimes, when you move away, the bond is stronger and the memories grow fonder and fonder.
Renewing my expired CA Driver’s Licence? (California but you know that!) Doesn’t it seem like only a few months ago I (finally) got my Californian driver’s license?
Well. At home you can renew your license for 5 years or 10 years (5 years now if you’re over a certain age. Ugh). Here (where, let’s face it, bureaucracy isn’t their strong point) they only give you a licence valid for the length of your Visa. Somehow though, even though my Visa is valid until next March my license was only valid until November.
I got a form in the mail telling me to fill in the blanks, provide a copy of my passport and my i94 and visa page in my passport.
Alas I never heard back and so you know what that meant?
Yup, it meant I had to go in and apply to renew my license.
Again you know what that meant don’t you? Yep, forms and queue. Horrendous.
We were going on our road trip so it was important for me to get my license renewed. Mr H was at home so could take over my carpool and I’d get up and join the DMV queue at 7AM (ish).
Trying to pack and get organized I needed to wash my hair. My first instinct was to put a beanie on, suck it up and head over. But with a bit of packing still to do, appointments banked up and precision timing required I decided the safest thing to do was to actually do my hair, pop on some eyeliner and finish the rest of my make up when I came home.
I head on down (still early enough) to join the queue. There is always the longest queue at those DMVs it’s a nightmare.
So to share my pain with my fellow expats living in LA here you go. Three steps to renew your Californian license.
Renewing my expired Driver’s Licence
This applies to renewing “in-between” times because it’s coinciding with your Visa date not the length of time they would have given you a license.
1. Get in the queue early. Best to be there around 7/7:15 to get the shortest wait time. Seriously. If you don’t want to wait in the queue make an appointment, it saves so much time. (https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/portal/foa/welcome). Having said that sometimes you don’t have a chance as appointments can take weeks to wait for.
2. Complete the form. It is the same form as when you applied. It’s called the DL44 and it must be the original form.
Some things you’ll need to know or bring to get your temporary licence:
You’ll also need to know your Social Security number for the form (I know Americans know it by heart but I don’t).
3. Wait your turn and they’ll process your form.
That may well be good information but here’s the number one tip I will leave you with:
DO YOUR HAIR AND MAKE-UP
Because they’re issuing you with a new license. That means a new photo.
Oddly enough there was no fee to get you a new license. (And on the positive how much cheaper are licenses are to get here?)
One more thing. And this happened to my son who passed his test and hasn’t had his proper license yet (three months later). And it happened to Mr H whose temporary license kept expiring and he had to continually follow up. If you don’t get your license back you might need to call this number:
Legal Presence: (916) 657 7445
I believe it might just jolt the system back into place and move your license along a bit. That’s because our licences have to go through an extra step. I was recommended to call the two weeks before the temporary one expires.
I’m not living in 90210 anymore, instead I’m a “Valley Girl”. There is a whole backstory (and a half) that goes along with the move but for now let me tell you this: I didn’t want to move; I wanted to keep my 90210 postcode. Who wouldn’t?
Apart from loving the area, having friends close; we were surrounded by “celebrities” new and old, famous and infamous. I knew there were many celebrities in the Valley too but most likely not in my street or little neighbourhood.
That’s where I was wrong.
Yep, my life is not scripted or made more dramatic for the Blog, my life is just very LA. The day a ‘famous’ actor moved in next door.
When your neighbour turns out to be “so so famous”
The day we moved in our neighbours put up a For Sale sign. Nice welcome. Thank God they did because they weren’t very nice and not at all friendly.
Fast forward six or so weeks (the house sold within 10 days of being on the market) and the house was abuzz with renovation. That afternoon I got a knock at the door.
(The shitty thing about moving down into the suburbs of The Valley is that it’s too easy to walk up and down the streets so we get every man and his dog wanting to sell us their wares and convert us to ‘see the light”.)
So that afternoon I get a knock on my door. And it’s not someone in black pants and a white shirt or someone selling LA Times subscriptions.
At my door is a rather groovily dressed guy in hipster pants, a T-Shirt, and a red baseball cap.
“Hi. My name is Glenn and I’ve just moved in next door.”
1. Glenn is not his real name so you can forget about switching over to Google ‘Celebrities with the name Glenn’.
2. He had the most delightful British accent—music to my ears.
He continues, “I’m so sorry about the noise, I’m renovating my house and I asked the guys to start at 7am but I heard they started at 6am.”
“No problems,” I replied. “We’re up anyway and we didn’t even notice the noise.”
Did I mention he had a plant in hand, handing it over as a “peace offering”?
What beautiful manners was my first reaction. It’s not often I’ve seen anyone here with such consideration for the neighbours let alone coming in with a thoughtful gift. Ah! That’s because he’s not from these parts.
It was a short encounter, he handed over the gift, we exchanged pleasantries and I got on with my afternoon. Actually, truth be told, I wasn’t very warm—I should have invited him in but I was so fearful of our dog weeing all over him that I barely had the door open wide enough for him to feel the least bit welcome. And why is it that whenever I get a random knock at the door I’m looking like shite?
Celebrity next door?
That night as everyone was coming home we talked about how exciting it was to have a non-American neighbour (sorry American friends) who was thoughtful and youthful. (I’ve guessed his age as mid to late 20s). We haven’t had a great trot with neighbours so I didn’t want to get too carried away. For now I reserve my judgement, on a scale of 1 to 10, as 7.0—hopeful.
My daughter asked me what the neighbour did.
“I don’t know, we didn’t get that far,” I said. “I assume he’s an actor.”
My daughter laughed at me. “Mum, you just assume everyone in LA is an actor. Or at least in Entertainment. They don’t have to be you know; you’re so weird.”
She was right of course. He didn’t look like an actor, he was totally unassuming and he was incredibly nice and polite.
So we started talking about the assumptions you make when you live in a certain place.
“What would you assume he did if we were in Sydney?” my daughter asked. “Well most people in Sydney work traditional hours. I guess he would be in IT (working from home).”
In Wales it’s easy as many people work shift work. In China … well I don’t think that would happen as everyone goes to an office–maybe work in hospitality but by that time of day they would already be at work.
So I saw Glenn a number of times as he set about renovating his house to move in.
He moved in and there was music coming from his backyard and a bit of life in what is otherwise a quiet neighbourhood. it was good. A week later, as he kids had friends over with the music going, there was a little gathering going on next door.
My son’s British friend noted, “your new neighbours are lit.”
“Yeah right”, I said, “He’s British.” We laughed and thought nothing more of it.
Than we noticed our dream car—Audi R8—outside the front of our house.
He must totally be an actor.
Living next door to a celebrity
Another week goes by and one night my daughter sees “someone” coming and going from our neighbour’s house. She yells from her room.
“Mum, there’s a famous guy next door. Is he visiting or is our neighbour famous?”
“I’m not sure honey, let’s see.”
By some stroke of a miracle the “famous guy” comes back down his drive.
“Oh honey, that’s Glenn. That’s our neighbour.”
Squeals of delight and excitement ensue with a shrill only a 13 year-old can pull off. In one Snapchat her entire friend network knows the news.
“Oh my God, I’m pretty sure I just read he recently moved in with his girlfriend. And <screams> you know who it is? It’s Hannah Montana (clearly NOT a real person but I’m not going to divulge her real name and you get the idea that we’re actually talking about someone with HIGH name recognition amongst the tweens and teens).
More squeals … and lots of Googling.
“Oh my God, oh my God, I’m living next door to HANNAH MONTANA.”
And so, my fear of moving away from the celebrity action couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead I have a bona fide ‘it’ couple living right next door to me.
Routes. Better known to us Aussies as which way to go.
We call them “roots” they call them “rowtes” (row as in argument not what you do in a boat). However you say it Los Angelinos love to talk about it. It starts every conversation when you meet up somewhere, and it will be the last conversation you will have when you part ways.
“Which way are you going…?”
“Which way did you come…?”
“Did you take the 405…?”
“Which way should we go, the 101 is busy at this time of day, is it quicker to use the side streets?”
Even recently, when an Australian friend was talking about which way her friends were going on the way from the airport to her place, she said this:
“From LAX they took the 105 to the 10 to the 101….” Only at the end did she say “they went via Downtown.”
The sad part about that is not that she just didn’t say, “yeah, they went via Downtown,” it’s that I actually could picture the “route” (said with an American pronunciation if you will) they took.
One time when I hadn’t been here too long and went off to Disneyland for the first time my friend said, “Let me send you the best way to get down there.”
“Don’t I just plug it in my GPS and follow?”
Which way you go is a sport in LA.
And now it’s fuelled by apps like Waze (pronounced ways) that will tell you the “fastest” way to get to a given destination.
Waze has fuelled the discussion even more making it an extreme sport.
“Did you check Waze?”
“What does your Waze say?”
And Waze has a lot to answer for in the back streets of LA. I’m too lazy and selfish to suck up my phone’s battery to use Waze. My GPS will be just fine. But I have to confess I’m getting suckered into the “Which route …?” discussion too.
Halloween makes way for Thanksgiving and Christmas … but in Australia November kicks off with Melbourne Cup Day: Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA
In one day here in LA the shops switch over from Halloween mode to “baking season” and, of course, “The Holidays” (as in Christmas, Hanukkah or Chanukkah). The pumpkin farms make way for Christmas trees—or holiday trees and the three-month long holiday session moves up a gear.
Meanwhile … in Australia the first Tuesday of November is Melbourne Cup Day. It’s the “horse race that stops a nation”.
It is by far my favourite day, so this week I thought I’d share with my American readers what Melbourne Cup Day is all about. (I think it would make a great episode for my Chuck Lorre-produced sitcom).
To start, if you hadn’t already gathered, Melbourne Cup is a horse race. As the name suggests it is run in Melbourne and if you live in Melbourne you have a DAY OFF work (that’s right, a public holiday for a horse race—don’t you love Australia?!). If you live in Sydney, like I did, then you either host or attend a Melbourne Cup function of some kind. Between my girlfriend and I we always hosted a lunch.
The rules of engagement are pretty clear.
This is a rule. You must serve and drink Champagne at a Cup Day function. The boys may drink beer from a bottle.
My theme was traditionally “hats and heels”. A hat, fascinator and dress are also compulsory. If you’re going to make an effort to dress up, today is the day.
I don’t know if you do a “sweep” here in the US. It’s basically where you put every horse racing into a cup and blindly draw names. There are usually few sweeps at different price ranges—say $2, $5 and $10. Then you work out the winnings according to winners for coming 1st, 2nd and 3rd; last place gets their money back. So if you put in $30 to the $10 sweep, you can draw three horses. The fun of it is you could draw a good horse—or you could draw a dud!
Lunch is served to a group of ladies, given the blokes are working hard at work. Even if you work, many of my working friends will try to get the day off so they can still join the festivities, they’re that important.
It is compulsory that the live telecast of the race be screened on your TV and everyone must critique the “fashion on the field”. Remember this is the day to make your mark on the fashion so you’re opening yourself up for scrutiny—it is possibly more serious than the red carpet on the Oscars.
The race itself
Literally the race that stops the nation, everyone stops to watch the race. Even if you’re not interested in horse racing for the rest of the year, everyone is captivated—and cheers for their horse to win.
Functions generally start at 12:00 and the race starts around 3:20. School typically finishes at either 3:00 or 3:30 clearly interfering with the race. So the kids get booked into After-school care (the busiest of the year!) and the Dads are on pick-up duty at 5:30. The older kids get their own way home because this is Australia and they catch public transport.
IMPORTANT: Unlike LA the race being raced signals more partying, time to open another bottle of Champagne or turn the music on to start dancing. It does not signal it is time to go home.
Then, when the kids and dads get home, the second leg of the function starts. This is usually a smaller version of the lunch as only typically a few friends kick on. The dads chug down 50 beers to catch up to their wives and the kids are fed dinner.
At sometime around 9:00 or 10:00 everyone has had a truck load to drink and walks or cabs home.
Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA
This year I thought about doing a lunch on the Tuesday but it’s already Wednesday in Australia so it just wouldn’t work. And, most people have to pick up their kids because there’s little to no public transport so I doubted it would work.
In a fit of desperation, I texted a couple of friends to see if they’d like to have a glass of Champagne with me after school. I know, it’s a Monday night but it’s still Melbourne Cup Day!
Thankfully for me they answered my call and came over. Then my Australian friends FaceTimed me from their lunch. It was so cool that I got to introduce my friends to each other—not that anyone could hear what anyone was saying! We posed for photos together and I got to watch the race with them. The wonders of technology. How fun.
Watching Melbourne Cup Day in Australia in LA | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
The day after the night before and life is back to normal once again. And back in LA it’s finally cooling down meaning we might get to experience Fall rather than summer. How novel!
I often get asked the question: do Australians celebrate Halloween?
It’s a well-known fact that Halloween is an “American” thing. I wrote about it last year and how I was embracing Halloween now that we’re in America. In fact, we started embracing it when our gorgeous American friends “introduced” us to their favourite “holiday” while we were in Shanghai.
We were invited to a Halloween party at their house and the kids could go Trick or Treating in their compound. I’ve talked about this a few times now but the story never gets old (to me!) Thinking we all needed to dress up Mr H and I rushed out to the Fabric Markets and got Fred & Wilma costumes made. We were so impressed that we pulled it off in such a short time only to walk in and find that none of the other parents had dressed up. Yep, leave it to the Australians to make their mark.
Don’t we make a great Fred & Wilma?! It Started in LA
The Americans do Halloween well. And, if for no other reason, Halloween is fantastic because, along with Thanksgiving (to an extent), it keeps the Christmas stuff out of the shops until it’s over. It’s so festive to drive around and see the houses go all out and decorate as they do.
In Australia …
Australians don’t “do” Halloween. It’s true, that’s changing but it depends where you live as to what they do. The area I live in in Sydney’s inner west actually has quite a bit of trick or treating going on which is fun.
I listen to Australian breakfast radio via the Nova app. They were talking about who does Halloween and who doesn’t. While the spirit of Halloween is definitely growing, it can still be spasmodic.
The thing in Australia is we can be quite guilty of anti-American sentiment. So there are many Australians who refuse to embrace Halloween traditions America-style because, well, it’s American.
What’s the difference then?
Because Americans embrace Halloween they research the right areas to go and visit. I talked about how people flock to many streets well reputed to have great Halloween decorations and trick or treating (think Claire on Modern Family). It must cost them a fortune in “candy”.
So Americans generally gather together, eat, then when it gets dark will spend the better part of the early evening trick or treating.
Australians, if they go out, will come home from school, get dressed then go out before it goes dark. The tendency is to stay in your own neighbourhood—or your friends—but not make an entire (spooky) night of it.
This year there will be lots of Halloween parties around town because it’s Saturday. My daughter is going to one but sadly it’s kids only and we come to the sad realisation that our kids are growing up and don’t need us around as much anymore.
I’ll leave you on this note found a friend’s Facebook site and posted to my page:
I don’t know about you but when I think of Halloween I think of the fabulous Thriller by Michael Jackson. They’ve been playing it on the radio so I thought I’d share it with you.
Two years on: the first six months are the hardest
We’re in the thick of the first semester and it’s getting harder to work out what’s for dinner each night and we’re struggling to get up in the morning. Isn’t that a sure sign the novelty’s worn off and you’re in normality?
It’s a lot easier this time around than two years ago–our first six months in LA–though.
It’s nearing the end of October and it’s still so warm. Despite this everyone here seems to be very excited about “Fall”. I’m not exactly sure why. It could be the cooler weather (well that’s not happening), the smells of Fall like cinnamon and fires (that’s not happening either) or the prospect of a little rain (nope, still not happening).
I’ve started noticing people on the East Coast dressing up and the Coats starting to come on and the magazines are filled with darker colours. But here in LA the only thing that’s not playing the game is the weather.
I don’t get the Fall love. It feels more like Spring to me (apart from the leaves falling from the trees). It’s still warm and probably has more to do with the fact that I’m intrinsically trained to think that September and October are the Spring months. I don’t know, maybe it’s a wavelength thing.
When we first arrived we didn’t want the weather to cool down as we’d just come out of an Australian winter (yes it’s mild but still winter) and the prospect of back-to-back winters was not something I was looking forward to—no matter how mild they were.
The first six months
It’s time to continue with my series on looking back at our first couple of years here. I left you having found a place to live and the kids accepted at a private school here in LA. All was going well until reality set in.
It’s so true of moving anywhere that the first six months are the hardest. But you’d think a girl from Sydney moving to LA—California—with a few moves under her belt would not have such a tough time. Right? Wrong.
Let me tell you the first six months are the pits. The honest-to-goodness pits. Then they can be exhilaratingly good: everything is new, life is an adventure and things as simple as grocery shopping can be a challenge. I was used to that in China but not America—land of the ultra big supermarket. But when I had to buy bullet chilies for example, I had to go to an Asian grocer because they don’t sell them at the normal supermarket. That’s right, all the chilies are Mexican.
So then the challenges become nightmares. The glass half full starts to look more empty.
Even things like paying bills I have to think twice. No more BPay or Direct Debit. I’ve caught myself a couple of times saying, “how do I pay you?” to which the response is generally always, “Well I take a check,” yes not a cheque. That means I’ll have to go to the Post Office and buy stamps. Such a foreign concept for me.
Anyway, It’s true the most important thing to do is to find a school and somewhere to live. But once you’ve moved in, done a bit of sightseeing and getting around … then what?
So I started going to visit different areas checking them out, taking photos and posting lots of “cool” stuff on Instagram. But there’s only so much of that you can do. On your own. We all go through it. And we all get over it.
I remember hearing about some women in Shanghai living far out in the “suburbs” feeling lonely and depressed. If I felt lonely and depressed and I live in the middle of Beverly Hills—with a car to drive myself around and a working internet connection—it’s a wonder they survived their long weekdays.
That’s why you can’t write this post at the time. No, you need the benefit of “I live to tell the tale” behind you and a bit of perspective.
LA Private School
I remember the first time I went to school to the Orientation, the Welcome BBQ and even to pick up the kids in carpool I was feeling very intimidated. I imagined everyone being rich and groovy and famous. If not then they’d look like something out of Housewives of Beverly Hills. I thought I’d be the beached whale—helpless out of water and a little larger than my LA counterparts.
Last weekend–two years on–I volunteered to help at the school’s Open House and if I wasn’t comfortable with my place at school by then, I am now. Granted they’re not in yet but there were some interesting looking people. Why do we always doubt ourselves in a new environment? Why can’t we—I—back myself and be confident I would fit in?
Scattered amongst some rather good-looking people were fat people, skinny people, daggy people and just plain weird people. I actually started to think that I fit into LA life better than some of these people. How’s that for a turnaround? And, I wonder if the family that came in matching-coloured tops—five of them—and daggy footwear will get in?
It’s true as a family moving into 90210 and finding ourselves at a school with well-known identities we’ve done our fair share of Googling. What did we do without it?
I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before my daughter is friends with the son of arguably one of the most famous people in the world, certainly one of the most successful. She’s recently told us that her friend is obsessed with Mr H’s company and thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world. And, in an interesting turn of events he was telling her how he’s been Googling Mr H. Wow, Mr H being Googled by said famous offspring. How funny. It’s all about perspective.
What else do you need to know when moving to LA?
Back to those first few months. The most frustrating thing would have to be …
Credit rating, credit rating, credit rating
… it affects everything. Literally everything.
When Mr H tried to connect up to our Direct TV “cable” service there were specials on at the time. Ready to go ahead he found out that our price would be higher than the advertised special price. Because we had no credit rating.
Same thing when we went to open our Electricity account. We needed a giant deposit because we had no credit rating. Aren’t they supposed to help people with no credit? Isn’t that discrimination?
Everywhere we turned it came down to credit.
Luckily, with a Citibank account in Australia we were able to open up an account in the US. And, once Mr H said he’d get his salary paid into the account we could open a credit card.
To this date I don’t really have any accounts in my name—something I should seriously try to do.
We were also lucky we could get a car—actually two. That was thanks to BMW recognising that Executives tend to move around so if they’ve previously owned a BMW in another country they’ll take a look at you. Thank you BMW!
Two years later on the whole credit thing
Two years later and I’m still tossing up whether or not to buy a house here. The good news is we can get a mortgage, the bad news is we need a sizeable deposit. And they still look at your bloody credit rating. The rate they give you actually depends on your credit rating–the better your credit the sweeter the deal. The lower your credit rating, the higher the interest rate. Wow, way to go America, nothing like being supportive and helping those trying to get ahead in life. Keep the poor downtroden and the rich richer. OMG. Granted ours is better now but the fact that we’ve only had a credit rating for two years tends to go against you. Go figure.
I’m off to keep Googling. Who knows? Maybe my daughter’s friend will start Googling me and subscribing to this Blog. That’d be cool—so long as he tells Chuck Lorre he loves it.
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.
One the plane ready to interview with LA schools & find somewhere to live. Wish us luck | It Started 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.
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.
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.
LA Stereotypes according to LAist
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.
I’ve been neglectful again because I had friends in town last week then a busy weekend catching up. But showing friends around LA is the very reason this Blog started–to share my surreal life–so I can’t abandon ship on that.
It was a full-on “Only-in-LA” week so I thought I should share it with you.
It started on Saturday when friends landed in LA. We went out to catch some lunch at Urth Caffe on Melrose and do a bit of people watching. It never disappoints and it’s always busy.
One of my favourite phrases when I’m out is “Oh,” said with great drama and excitement, “he (or she) is someone.” It’s true many people have that look about them. And I probably “see” lots of people out but just don’t recognise them. But as useless as I am at identifying people, the paparazzi never fail to impress me. One of my favourite things I look out for–maybe more than celebrities–is the paparazzi trying to snap that pic that might pull them in a small fortune.
Hiding behind the bushes was a pap doing his best to stay in cognito whilst trying to pap a pic. I looked and looked but couldn’t see who he had his eye on. Wonder if he got the pic he needed. Welcome to LA Andrew & Chris!
The next night we had dinner planned at one of my favourite West Hollywood restaurants. With one pap out the front I felt like I’d let the side down; this would be a quiet night. We sat down at our table straight away (unheard of) and it was really quiet at the bar. Given the request was a bit of “Celeb Spotting” I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t delivered–or didn’t look like delivering.
“Oh, it’s such a shame,” I started saying. “A couple of weeks ago Chris Noth–Mr Big–was here.”
“Oh, love him,” said my friend.
“I know, me too. I’d love to see him.” No sooner had I said it but there at the bar was the man himself. “Mr Big” sitting at one of the bar tables. Sigh.
“Oh my god, oh my god,” I said, “it’s him.”
How cool we all thought immediately giving him the once over like he was there for the sole purpose of giving us someone to dissect.
“He looks good.”
“He needs a shave.”
“He’s grayer than I imagined.”
“He’s still hot.”
Just getting into the running commentary and he was saved only by JLo walking in. Yes. JLo.
“Don’t look now guys but JLo has just walked in.”
“That’s not JLo,” says MR H.
“Is it Beyonce?” asks our mate.
“Oh no, you’re right,” I say, “It’s not JLo. Bummer.”
Until common sense prevailed and my girlfriend announces, “Of course it’s JLo. Who else looks that flawless and perfect?
“We’re not in Glen Iris (Melbourne) or Lilyfield (Sydney), we’re in West Hollywood and you’ve seen her here before so you know she comes here! How can it be anyone BUT JLo?”
Well yes, now that you put it like that. Good point.
As she’s escorted to her table it becomes clear that she’s going to be seated in the booth DIRECTLY OPPOSITE US. We only had one way to look and that was straight at her. Poor us. Our poor boys. There goes any decent conversation for the rest of the night. (Actually, you’re right. Poor boys nothing).
And yes, there were a few more paps waiting outside when we left. I wonder who tips them off.
Cut forward a couple of days and we managed to arrange to get out to Paramount to have a quick look at the sound studios at Mr H’s work. Even if we don’t get to see anything I at least know my way around the lot and can conduct a mini tour of my own.
Well there we are in the “ADR” room (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) and I look up at the talent who’s on a break and recording some lines. I look again. And again. And again because I can’t quite work it out. It looks like David Duchovny. With make up on. I look again. He catches me (again) but I don’t care because it’s not him but I need to know WHO it is.
Meanwhile right next to me I’m completely oblivious to my friends–one apparently having heart palpitations, the other apparently trying to get my attention so we can make eye contact and telepathically give each other the thumbs up. We’re. Standing. In. The. Same. Room. As. David. Duchovny.
Nope. I’m too busy checking out the David Duchovny look-a-like, looking at him up and down and trying to work out who he is and how remarkably he has some of his mannerisms as David Duchovny.
Again, we’re in Hollywood, David Duchovny has started shooting a new series Aquarius on the Paramount lot (that one of my friends is producing) and he has make-up on but it doesn’t occur to me that that guy IS David Duchovny. I don’t deserve to live in LA.
Later as we’re driving a cart around the lot who should follow us but the man himself. My friends were sitting at the back of the cart (looking out) and had no choice but to look straight at him. Lucky them. I wonder what he was thinking: “who are these people I keep bumping into”. Or of course there’s always the fact he didn’t notice us at all. Nah … not possible.
Welcome to LA Andy & Jess.
Forrest Gump’s bench now sits at the Paramount lot | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
Shanghighs and Shanghlows
I could end the story there. But I won’t. I’ve joined in an Instagram project called #myreality where we’re posting a pic a day on various topics. It’s been fun to be part of and gets me thinking about what pics I can post and also what pics I’ve already taken that I can share. (You can see my pics on my Facebook page in an album I’ve created of the same name). And if you’re not already following me on Instagram I’m @itstartedinla.
So it got me thinking I must be giving the wrong impression about #myreality. Yes of course I see amazing things (straight from movie sets) daily and get to do lots of fun things I never dreamt of only 15 months ago. But. And there is a but. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about FOMO. As settled as I am here in LA, I’m unsettled. I like our house but it’s only supposed to be temporary. I hate renting, I want to buy a nice house (not unlike the one I plan to build some day–one day–at home).
The kids and I have been chatting and if life is meant to be here for us for a while then we’re ready for it. We’re prepared to embrace it and stay. But Mr H doesn’t feel the same way. I’m pretty sure he’s in denial. He’s job is here, he’s happy here but he doesn’t want that lightbulb moment where he thinks he can lay down some roots here and settle for a while.
And so, life as an expat is about the highs and the lows. There was a saying in Shanghai and it was exactly that: the Shanghighs and the Shanglows. Some choose to dwell on the lows, we try to focus on the highs. And I don’t really expect much (any) sympathy from you. But when you read this in your house that you call your home think of me living in a sort of limbo land and count your lucky stars because with your life comes family, friends and security.
Not falling but “Fall”. Because we always end on a positive note it’s starting to feel more like Fall here now: it’s getting a little cooler and the Halloween decorations are out. Also, the air freshners and candles are scented for the “holidays” in a glorious combination of cinnamon, cloves and “apple pie”. It reminds me of this time last year when we were newbies and were trying to navigate around town. That smell reminds me of home and security and family. So I think we’re lucky the kids and I can picture ourselves staying here another few years and we can gently let go of the “smells of home” that lure us back. I think we’ve come a long way. As unsettling as that is it is somehow very settling.
And of course the start of Fall means Halloween, people have their decorations out and the “spirit” is out there. It’s a fun time of the year.
With Fall comes Halloween | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com