Smart Home Tech Becoming More Popular

With the pandemic forcing people to stay at home, many are looking to improve the smart technology features of their home. A quarter of those surveyed have more interest in smart tech as a result of spending more time at home, up to 37% for those in the 18-34 age range. Even people who already own smart home technology, which encompasses 57% of all people in the US, are looking for more, with 41% having purchased more since the pandemic began.

The most commonly owned smart tech includes smart TVs, speakers, doorbells, robot vacuums, and thermostats. But if people had to choose just one smart feature to add to their home, over a fifth said it would be a high-tech home security system. This was also one of the most desirable features of a new home, along with a smart doorbell with a camera. Looking to the future, however, 35% want smart home features that would enable them to be more green and energy efficient, particularly focused on solar energy. Practicality isn’t the only concern, though, as entertainment and relaxation based smart tech features are also gaining in popularity as it has become more difficult to entertain oneself outside the home.

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FHA Foreclosure Moratorium Gets An Extension

Foreclosure and eviction moratoriums for FHA-backed loans were previously set to expire December 31st, 2020. The FHA has now given them a two-month extension to February 28th, 2021. Borrowers will also be able to request initial forbearance through this date, potentially allowing them to remain in forbearance through February 2022. The moratorium applies only to legal occupants of single-family residences.

This extension means FHA moratoriums are extended beyond the FHFA moratoriums affecting those with loans backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Those were also recently extended, but only through January 31st, 2021. Of course, given how recent that extension was, it’s entirely possible FHFA borrowers will also get another extension in the future if needed.

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Neverland Ranch Has a New Owner

The Neverland Ranch, near Santa Barbara, California, is a 2700 acre property previously owned by Michael Jackson. The main residence is 12,500 square feet, and there is also a 3,700 square foot pool house as well as a movie theatre and dance studio. Neverland Ranch additionally features a train station, fire house, and barn. After attempting to list the property for $100 million in 2016 and then again for $67 million in 2017, the trust has now sold it for $22 million.

The new owner is billionaire Ron Burkle, co-founder of the investment firm Yucaipa Companies, who had been an associate of Michael Jackson. Also the controlling shareholder of Soho House, he had been searching for a new location for the members-only club. Burkle eventually concluded that Neverland Ranch was too remote for a new Soho House location, but decided to put in an offer anyway, and was successful.

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The Hong Kong Blue Refrigerator Project

In the neighborhood of Jordan in Hong Kong is a street called Woosung Street, popular for its restaurants. There is also a hockey academy there, as well as a sports foundation founded by Ahmen Khan. But Khan is doing something else to make people want to come to Woosung Street — he went to a nearby refuse collection site, picked up a refrigerator, painted it blue, and set it up just outside the hockey academy. The color isn’t important, though; what’s important is the sign reading “Give what you can give, take what you need to take.”

And that’s exactly what’s happening. The blue refrigerator project has gone viral, and people are visiting just to drop off food so that others can pick it up for free. The refrigerator is there 24 hours per day. Even though it’s a refrigerator, food isn’t the only thing people are picking up and dropping off. You’ll also find masks, cleaning supplies such as towels, and even clothing items such as socks.

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This photo does not depict the refrigerator described in this article.


2021 Real Estate Forecast Looking Hopeful

2020 hasn’t been quite as bad for the real estate market as expected; Quarters 3 and 4 have actually experienced incredible recovery and even some growth from Q1 since the enormous downturn in Q2. Home sales are up about 800 from Q1, after falling by over 1100 in Q2. Despite the slowdown in construction, total housing starts now are slightly higher than they were in Q1, with the main difference being that more of them are individual homes and fewer are the more affordable multi-family residences. And now, the announcement of the COVID-19 vaccine has brought even more hope for a better 2021. Fannie Mae still expects a slowdown during the first half of 2021, but that’s because people, including builders, are going to need a bit of time to get back into the flow of things. Once prospective buyers have their incomes sorted, sellers see values going up, and halted constructions have been completed, those new homes should fly off the market. While it’s true that this is a lot of things that need to go right, it’ll be an automatic, albeit slow, process once lockdowns end and employment starts back up.

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What Exactly is a Home Inspector?

Chances are you’re familiar with the concept of inspecting a home before sale. Seller’s agents are required to list observable defects, but sometimes problems aren’t as easily noticed, which is why seller’s agents will frequently recommend that a qualified home inspector take a look. A good home inspector will always look for defects that affect the property’s value, desirability, habitability, and safety, and they are required to provide the seller’s agent with a home inspection report (HIR). But it may surprise you to know that who can be considered a home inspector is actually rather broad.

A home inspector is really anyone whose business is conducting home inspections and preparing an HIR. The State of California has no home inspection licensing. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily unlicensed, however, as many home inspectors have general contracting licenses or are pest control operators, architects, or engineers. You will occasionally find home inspectors without a license of any kind, which is why seller’s agents always want to be cautious about which home inspector they choose. There are some rules that even unlicensed home inspectors must follow, such as that the inspection be non-invasive and non-damaging to the structure, and that they provide an HIR to the seller’s agent.

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Prices Rise Despite Pandemic

Quite a year! Soon we’ll have to do a wrap-up on 2020. But, for today it’s going to be November 2020 versus last year, (November 2019) and versus last month (September 2020).

Let’s start with the big numbers. Over all, total sales in the Los Angeles South Bay for November came in at just shy of $880M, 9% off from September. One could easily consider that drop a seasonal variation as we move into the cold months.

Compared to November 2019, total sales dollars for the combined areas of the South Bay were up 25%. Much of that is making up for sales that didn’t happen during the confusion of the first shutdown this year. Now that things are more stable, we’re seeing a lot more come on the market. Nearly everything coming on the market is selling, and at good prices.


The star of the month is the Harbor area with a 42% year over year improvement in sales dollars. Units sold were up 26% Y-Y and median sales price was up 13%. This is a big boost for the San Pedro-Carson-Long Beach area. The increased action and the increased price, outpaced the rest of the South Bay by huge margins.

Generally speaking, the Harbor cities have entry level homes. Those are being bid up dramatically by buyers who newly qualify for purchase loans because mortgage interest rates are now down in the 2-3% range. I suspect there are more than a couple of investors are mixed in there, too.

Palos Verdes

The Palos Verdes peninsula presents an anomaly this month. November compared to October universally shows a seasonal decline in the 1-10% range, but PV dropped 27% in dollar volume. Looking deeper we see the M-M median sales price has dropped by 13%, while neighboring areas have remained within 1-2% of last month’s median price. Monthly sales volume also plummeted by 15% versus an average of 4% down for other areas. Year over year values are all in line with the rest of the South Bay, by PV seems to be taking a beating from the pandemic.


The Beach, by comparison to PV and the Harbor, had a boring November. Volume was down from October by 9% and median price off by 2%. Total dollar sales fell from October by 9%. All was well within seasonal expectations. Looking at 2020 over 2019, the number of sales was up 1% and median price was up 3%, leaving a tidy 11% increase in Y-Y total dollars sold.


Inland cities sales volume for November dropped off from last month by 3%. It should be noted that October volume was already down by 10% from September. Median sales price declined a mere 1%, while total sales dollars were off by 3%. Minor drops given seasonal impact. Looking back to last year, the Torrance-Gardena-Lomita area showed respectable middle-of-the-road growth. Sales volume was up 12% over 2019. Median price was up 10%. Those increases created a total sales dollar increase of 25% above last year.

Not bad for being in a pandemic. We’re left with two questions to look closely at for the year end report in January: “What’s happening with values on the Hill?” and “What and who is driving the 42% annual increase in sales dollars for the Harbor?” We’ll be back with more on that in our next post.

Not bad for being in a pandemic. Existence of a vaccine should relieve the fear keeping many people away from buying and selling during the coming months. The Federal Reserve Bank has indicated that interest rates will stay down for another 12-24 months. Everything points to a growing confidence over the winter and a booming market in the spring.

The High and the Low

The Los Angeles South Bay is a very diverse set of communities. To show you the breadth of that diversity, let’s take a quick look at the highest priced sale for November, versus the lowest priced sale.

On The Strand in Manhattan Beach a 6025 sq ft house on a double width lot of 6927sf sold for $17,750,000. The listing agent bills this property as a perfect opportunity to build a world class home of over 11,500sf of living space. The sold price per square foot of residence is $2,946.

On Ackerfield Ave in Long Beach a one bedroom one bathroom condo of 641sf sold for $205,000. Per the listing agent the home boasts a community pool and laundry facility, with one carport plus storage. The sold price represents a rate of $319 per square foot.

NASA Has Partnered With Brazil to Help Combat COVID

Earlier this year, in April, NASA announced development of Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally (VITAL), a ventilator designed specifically with COVID-19 in mind. Existing ventilators have more general use cases, but are more expensive and more difficult to build. Currently, 28 manufacturers are licensed to build VITAL, with models variably either pneumatic or using compressed air. In August, one such manufacturer, Russer, has gained approval for its pneumatic model from Anvisa, which is Brazil’s equivalent of the FDA. Nonprofit research organization CIMATEC in Brazil helped develop the Brazilian model. Leone Andrade, the Director of CIMATEC, says that VITAL can also help boost Brazilian industry in addition to helping combat the pandemic.

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Apartment Conversions Will Become More Common

It’s no secret that California has a shortage of affordable housing, and the diminishing construction rates definitely aren’t helping. Fortunately, there’s a rising statistic that isn’t captured in construction rates — conversions. Various types of commercial structures have been being converted into apartments over the past three decades. In the 90s, the most common type was hotels, followed by factories in the 2000s then offices in the 2010s. Now it seems we’re likely to circle back to hotels, which are experiencing extraordinarily high vacancy rates as travel has decreased during the lockdowns and recession. Hotels are also the best target for conversion to affordable housing because they generally produce lower tier apartments. We shouldn’t discount office conversions, either. As businesses are transitioning to partial or full work-from-home models, less office space is required and businesses will be looking for mixed-use structures.

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Some Homeless Find Employment Guarding Vacant Houses

With the large homeless population and significant number of vacant properties, it’s no surprise that homeless people often squat there. One company has turned that fact into a business. Weekend Warriors, run by Diane Montano, is a security company in Los Angeles and surrounding areas that operates by hiring homeless people to guard vacant homes, rather than simply squatting there. This gives jobs and temporary housing to homeless people while also protecting the property from vandalism or allowing the owner to perform maintenance or remodels undisturbed by squatters.

While it may sound like Weekend Warriors is in favor of helping the homeless, their employees tend to see it as simply a way to survive, not a blessing. They may be grateful for the opportunity, but at its heart the position is designed to help homeowners and corporations avoid squatters. The company works closely with Wedgewood, a real estate company specializing in renovating and flipping homes, particularly in majority Black and Latino neighborhoods, accelerating gentrification by frequently selling the newly remodeled property to more well-off White buyers. Employees are asked not to leave the building or talk to people while working, despite the fact that shifts are between twelve and twenty-four hours, seven days a week at far less than minimum wage. Of course, the employees, some of them ex-convicts and many of whom sympathize with other squatters, don’t tend to abide by these rules.

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