L.A. Real Estate Rebound! Wild Buying Spree Hits Westside

12:46 PM PST 04/05/2012 by Daniel Miller
Courtesy of Markus Canter
Michael LaFetra's new Foothill Drive residence.

From the beach to Beverly Hills, a surging stock market and lower prices have inflamed bidding wars, revitalized sales and sparked activity not seen in years.

This story originally appeared in the April 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

To get a sense of the state of the high-end housing market on the Westside, consider the fevered recent sale of an A. Quincy Jones-designed residence in Beverly Hills. The five-bedroom post-and-beam Modernist property hit the market March 7 at $6.499 million. It immediately attracted seven offers and was under contract eight days later at $6.625 million. The deal wrapped up March 20, with architectural property collector and producer Michael LaFetra (Night Train, Kevorkian) acquiring the North Foothill Road residence. Such aggressive sales processes have been nearly nonexistent during the past half-decade or so, when the market crashed during the economic meltdown and then floundered. "It's probably been four years since we've had seven offers on one property -- we are no longer bumping along the bottom," says Prudential California Realty's Cristie St. James, who along with husband Markus Canter represented the seller, a local businessman.

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Although the information is anecdotal, several agents told The Hollywood Reporter that their business on the Westside in areas such as Brentwood and Holmby Hills exploded in March, with some saying they closed four, five and even six deals during the month (data on March sales is not yet available). But the uptick, which brokers have begun calling "March Madness," didn't come out of nowhere. It started the old-fashioned way: Sellers lowered their asking prices, which were down 5 percent year-over-year on the Westside and appear to be hitting a sweet spot. Agent Drew Fenton of Hilton & Hyland says momentum began building in January, "in February it climbed, and then in March took off."

Agents say the paring of inventory of luxury for-sale properties has had its own effect. According to Realtor.com, in February, the median number of days a house sat on the market was 88, compared with 115 days a year earlier. "For years now, buyers have been accustomed to looking at a house and coming back six months later and seeing it is still available. But now they are coming back and seeing it is sold, and they are having to react more quickly," says Stephen Shapiro, chairman of Westside Estate Agency.

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Also playing a role in the revival are the rising stock market (up 8 percent from the start of 2012 through March 29), low interest rates and the market's seasonal boost at this time of year. "Spring is a strong time of the year; the holidays are over, and people are planning their year," says Fenton, who closed three deals in March and expects to complete four in April.

Other notable March dealings include the sale of Conde Nast Entertainment president Dawn Ostroff's North Faring Road residence in Holmby Hills to an undisclosed businessman for $11.5 million, the sale of Britney Spears' Mulholland Drive-adjacent Summit Circle house for more than $4 million, the listing for sale of Warner Bros. president Jeff Robinov's 4,200-square-foot Craftsman residence in Santa Monica for $7.395 million and the listing of the $10.25 million, five-bedroom Bel-Air residence of the late television personality Art Linkletter (a bidding war is on, and one of Shapiro's clients is in the running).

Then there's John Nogawski, president of CBS Television Distribution, who until recently was looking to unload his house and buy another. Last summer, he quietly put his Pacific Palisades residence up for sale but didn't register it on multiple-listing services. It received strong interest from prospective buyers but no offers. Nogawski formally listed the five-bedroom property March 10 at a slightly lower price than he was asking during the summer, with the hope of selling the house by August. Instead, he quickly received two offers and came to terms with an all-cash buyer March 17. The next day, Nogawski toured a four-bedroom contemporary residence in the Palisades and was smitten. He had an all-cash deal in place that night. Says Nogawski, "I've never seen anything like this."

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller

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