They Wanted a House in Los Angeles, Without the Bidding War. Would Their Budget Be Enough?

Kenleigh Weber and Andrew Martin were living in a one-bedroom rental in Seattle when their jobs went remote during the pandemic. Suddenly untethered to their offices, the Pacific Northwest natives were free to think about where they really wanted to live, and they agreed it was time for more sun and less rain. So they chose Los Angeles, where they had some friends.

Last March, the couple rented a townhome in Highland Park, a popular neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, to get the lay of the land. After a few months, Mr. Martin, who had recently cashed out some company stock options to put toward a down payment, was ready to hunt. As first-time home buyers, though, the couple found themselves confronted by one of the country’s most formidable markets.

“The price for what you’re getting is wild,” said Ms. Weber, 28, who met Mr. Martin in 2013, when they were working at a Nordstrom retail store. “I also acknowledge that I’m coming in from out of state and contributing to rising costs.”

Ms. Weber, who works in marketing, and Mr. Martin, 32, a product manager at an e-commerce retail company, liked Highland Park, where the bohemian vibe reminded them of Portland, Ore. So they started their search there and in the neighboring areas of Mount Washington and Eagle Rock.

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The goal was to find a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house in move-in-ready condition, or close to it. Ms. Weber dreamed of a 1920s-era Spanish-style home, which seemed classically Californian. And they wanted a backyard, which they had never had.

Ms. Weber found an agent, Justin Freeling, of Compass, on Instagram, where his @takesunset team has more than 80,000 followers. Mr. Freeling warned that the market was frenzied and the competition stiff. “We were putting in offers and competing with 25 to 35 buyers on some houses,” he said.

Before long, their initial budget of around $800,000 stretched to $925,000.

Single-family homes priced under $1.2 million on the Eastside of Los Angeles were the most in demand. “For the longest time, people were priced out of the Westside,” Mr. Freeling said. “In comparison, with Eastside homes, you get a little bit more for your money.”

Ms. Weber and Mr. Martin went to open houses on most Sundays, but had the luxury of taking their time, as they were comfortable in their rental. They learned that most listing prices were set low to encourage bidding wars, so they needed to shop in a price range just below their actual budget.

Among their options:

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