Monday, November 22, 2010

Exploring North Santa Monica Homes in Neighborhoods that Rival John Hughes' Suburban Paradises

Santa Monica, famed the world over for its beaches, tourist attractions, pier, and bustling shopping centers, has a diverse and eclectic residential community ranging from enormous beachside architectural homes, to small run-down craftsmen cottages, high-rise condominiums, and modest apartment complexes. Surrounded on three sides by the city of Los Angeles, with Pacific Palisades to the northwest, Brentwood to the north, West LA to the northeast, Mar Vista to the east and Venice to the southeast, Santa Monica has a rich and diverse history that is exemplified in its varied and sometimes non-sensical real estate.

Today, I toured around an area of Santa Monica to the north, close to the border of the Palisades. This area is widely regarded as one of the more upscale and salubrious neighborhoods of the westside. Funnily enough, when I first moved to LA, I lived in this neighborhood in a small apartment building on the corner of 3rd and Montana. To me, it felt like a calm, suburban neighborhood and pretty much summed up my idea of what I thought beach living was meant to be like in Southern California. It feels safe. It's clean and it's the kind of area that could appeal to young professionals who want to live an urban lifestyle with all the benefits of being close to the beach, or to a well-heeled family that requires lots of space whilst having proximity to all the shops and some of the best schools in LA.

First up was 135 Palisades Avenue, just a couple of blocks north of trendy Montana Avenue and a mere half block away from the bluffs of Santa Monica and the beach. This sprawling, magnificently well-proportioned villa is a cross between Spanish, French and modernist architecture with large bright rooms that spill onto a spacious back yard that has been landscaped to include a large lawn area, a tiled patio, and a pool area with a garage / guest house. It has a hefty price tag at $5,961,000, but it's been reduced by around 10%. I really liked this property and with its proximity to the beach and shops on 3rd Street Promenade, I think it has a lot to offer. It features 6 bedrooms and 7.5 bathrooms. The interior design is really cool, with each room having its own distinct style. Whilst quite modernist inside, it seems to blend well with the more traditional Mediterranean architecture throughout.

Next up is 335 24th Street. Much further from the beach, this site feels like something out of a John Hughes movie with its tall conifers and wide, straight roads. The property itself is a Spanish-style home surrounded by lush landscaping, including a carp pond and fountains. There are 5 bedrooms and 4.5 baths with a large open plan kitchen / living room which would make an excellent space for entertaining. There is also a large wine cellar and a spacious family room adjoining the kitchen with French windows out to the yard featuring a stone pizza oven. This house has very particular decor and it’s a little hard to envisage what it would be like empty, but the space is certainly interesting. Whilst large and expansive, it also has a cozy family feel to it. It is on the market for $3,995,000.

After seeing two homes that have that 'lived-in' feel, I took in a couple of brand new constructions. First up was 342 12th Street, once again North of Montana in North Santa Monica. This Mediterranean-style, three-story home features 5 bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms with a huge basement with a bedroom, game room, media room, craft room and two additional spaces that could be easily customized. The property was entirely staged, but it’s basically a blank canvas. All modern appliances throughout with a full bar in the living room, a gourmet equipped kitchen and fairly spacious back yard with a detached private two-car garage. The odd thing about these new builds is the feeling that they're all just a bit, well, generic. And, it is this real estate agent’s opinion that when one tries to dress mutton as lamb, you run the risk of coming off a bit cheap. Example: throughout the property there are old-fashioned style iron banisters, railings and lamp fixtures. Who are we trying to kid? For me, I'd rather just see an entirely blank space with options to choose the interior design upon purchase. But, I'm splitting hairs. It's still a solid property with lots of potential. Of course, you're paying for the location. $4,600,000 for a mock Spanish home is steep, but if you want something modern and sturdy in a class-A neighborhood, then this one could be for you.

Listed by the same agency and located just a few blocks away is another new build at 534 19th Street. Very similar in design (same bizarre wrought-iron fixtures throughout) and yet without the benefit of the spacious basement below, I'm trying to figure out why this property is $250k more at $4,850,000? Granted, the lot size is bigger and it benefits from an expansive yard that could accommodate a pool, but it’s not nearly as well proportioned and is also further away from the beach. I would say that the kitchen / dining room, facing onto the back yard is a nicer design and since it has not been staged and is completely empty, I think it will be easier for someone to envisage living there. But the same problem remains; it’s a brand new build with no real character. Why would someone pay close to $5 million for something so generic?

So, perhaps I'm not such a huge fan of new builds. Perhaps I'm more attracted to homes with a bit of character and that 'lived-in' feel, but plenty of people want a blank canvas and so there is plenty of that in North Santa Monica. But some people may want more privacy or seclusion, particularly when forking out such a lot of money for a fairly urban environment. I think this is where Santa Monica defines itself. It is a densely populated part of LA that has gone through a boom since the 1980's and is no longer the sleepy little beach community it once was. If you're looking for a secluded compound without feeling like you have neighbors around you, then North Santa Monica may not be for you. But if you're looking for a little bit of suburbia within the center of the city, then North Santa Monica has it all.