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Buy a house in LA: Launching my house hunt as a millennial

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My experience shopping for a house on a budget of $480,000

After qualifying for a home loan of $480,000, our property search took us to South LA and the Valley.
Derek Jing / EyeEmGetty Images

I’m a millennial, and I’m here to report from the front lines that buying a house in LA isn’t entirely impossible—even if your budget is under $500,000. Case in point: My husband and I are heading into escrow on our first house, and we’re now knee-deep in the inspection and appraisal process. And contrary to the commonly-held belief that you need a 20 percent down payment, we only put down 4 percent.

Call us the poster children for first-time millennial homebuyers. My husband and I are two bachelor degree-holders in our early 30s who have been renting in mid-gentrification West Adams for three years. With a barely-enough chunk of savings, we decided that 2017 would be the year that we attempted to buy a house in LA, the city I’ve called home my entire life. We took the plunge and applied for a home loan just after tax season, installed the Redfin app, and began our LA house hunting adventure.

If you, too, are in the same boat (or simply have a morbid curiosity of how millennials manage to live LA without rooming with their parents), know that owning the roof over your head doesn’t necessarily mean saying goodbye to avocado toast and daily nitro cold brew. (Kidding! Really though, a pro tip: Get a Costco membership, buy your avos in bulk, and make your own toast.)

With the arrival of our first son, we quickly outgrew our tiny two-bedroom apartment, where the rent is a reasonable $1,600 per month. With a cat and dog completing the household, finding another, larger place would be a massive headache, especially considering the cost of an average one-bed rental in LA, which LA Times’ Steve Lopez writes is about $2,000. Plus, like many other millennials in the early throes of #adulting, our house hunting quest was expedited by the fact that we’re welcoming another little human this fall.

Thanks to our fairly decent nest egg, investing in property seemed like the most sensible option.

Before we start number-crunching, here’s our profile: He works full-time at a major video streaming service based in Santa Monica, and I’m a freelance editor and writer.

We’re far from collecting butterflies and sharpening pencils for a living, but we bring home enough to pre-qualify for a mortgage loan of $480,000—putting our budget well below the county’s median-priced homes, which these days go for $536,720.

But it wasn’t enough to buy in mid-gentrification West Adams, where we live now. The neighborhood is home to our favorite hip-hop pizzeria and we’re within walking distance to a charming shopping center made of shipping containers, where cups of artisanal joe, delicious barbecue, and organic tomatoes are all sold in one place. My husband’s commute is car-free, thanks to the Expo Line. However, it’s the ninth most competitive home buying market in America, with a median price of $550,688, according to Redfin.

Priced out of our own neighborhood, we set our sights on South LA. We had seen first-hand how the Expo Line changed the dynamic of the West Adams area, so we (like everyone else) bet on the fact that the Crenshaw Line would do the same for South LA. If we bought property in South LA, we’d be gentrifiers (but not ones who are so oblivious as to join a tone-deaf bike tour of our prospective new neighborhood).

Ever the snot-nosed, born-and-raised Angeleno, I snubbed the ’burbs of The Valley—that is, until listing prices quickly brought me back to reality. My San Diego-bred husband didn’t have those preconceptions, so we expanded our search between the 118 and 101.

Now, we’re throwing around words like “closing costs,” and “escrow,” and “foundation inspection,” and we’ve finally turned off all of our Redfin mobile notifications.

Curious about where we ultimately landed? In the weeks ahead, I’ll share more about my LA home-buying experience alongside advice from experts. Stay tuned to learn about what it’s like to go through the loan application process, what nobody tells you about buying in a seller’s market, and more.

For more home-buying tips from Curbed, check out: