Moses Kagan on Real Estate

Archive for the ‘Property Management’ Category

Termites, housing and LAHD

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You might be wondering how termites and the Housing Department intersect. I’m going to tell you.

First, a bit about termites: In Southern California, most structures are constructed from wood. This is because wood is cheap, durable, and holds up well in earthquakes (because it’s flexible). The main downside to wood construction, which is that wood deteriorates rapidly in damp conditions, is irrelevant in our desert-like climate. So wood is great for SoCal, except… termites love to eat it and they will, given enough opportunity.

In order to stop termites from eating buildings, you tent them periodically. For $3-8k (depending on the size of the building), a company comes, puts up a gigantic tent over the structure, and pumps the tent (and, thus, the structure) full of gas that poisons termites and other insects.

The problem with this procedure is that no one can be in the building for the 2-3 days it takes to tent it.

With single family homes, this is not a big deal. The family goes to a hotel or grandma’s or whatever for a few days and the job is done.

With apartment buildings, it’s a disaster. Why? Because you need to coordinate removing all of the tenants from the building at the same time, housing them somewhere, and then returning them to the building thereafter.

Given that termite tenting is necessary for the continued existence of a building, you would think that LAHD would have a simple procedure for ensuring that would:

  • Allow the landlord to get tenants out of her building to tent it; and
  • Require the landlord to compensate the tenants for the inconvenience and expense

Does the housing department have such a policy? Of course not.

So, what happens is that each time a building needs to be tented, the landlord needs to engage in a whole round of negotiation with his tenants in order to get them to move out for a few days. The result is bruised feelings, untented buildings, and tenants who (because they don’t know their rights) receive less-than-fair compensation.

Given the city’s demonstrable interest in preserving its aging stock of wood-framed apartment buildings, you’d think LAHD would sort this out, but I’m not holding my breath.

Written by mjkagan

01/08/2015 at 10:03 am

Silver Lake duplexes nearing completion

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We’ve got two wonderful duplexes just south of Sunset nearing completion.

When we help our client buy them, they were in rough shape. There was all kinds of deferred maintenance and the tenants weren’t paying much rent.

The upside was that they were in a fabulous location, non-rent control and had parking, views, decks, and private outdoor space.

Among other things, we squared off some horrible windows, removed a bunch of horrible 1980s detailing, uncovered and polished concrete floors in the kitchens, and expanded some living rooms.

We’re nearing completion and I’m pretty excited. Here are some “work in progress” pics:

image (20)image (19)image (16)

If you’re willing to pay a premium for an apartment with literally everything, shoot an email to Ilana [at] adaptiverealty [dot] com. We begin leasing in about a week and they’ll be ready for move-in during the back half of the month.

Written by mjkagan

01/10/2014 at 4:04 am

2514 London is in lease up

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We’ve just completed construction on another fourplex for Adaptive Realty Fund 1.

This one is on London St, just south of the 101. It’s kind of an experiment for us, since we’ve never done a project there before. But the units came out great, and we’re pretty confident we’re going to get our rents.

If you know anyone interested in an amazing 2 bed / 1 bath place with private outdoors space, two off-street parking spaces, and all of the modern conveniences, have them shoot an email to Doll [at] adaptiverealty [dot] com.

Meanwhile, check out these pics:

IMG_6839 IMG_6841 IMG_6844 IMG_6847 IMG_6851 IMG_6855 IMG_6857 IMG_6862 IMG_6866 IMG_6867 IMG_6868 IMG_6872 IMG_6877 IMG_6878 IMG_6884 IMG_6889

Written by mjkagan

11/19/2013 at 10:25 am

653-659 Silver Lake… leased.

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We just signed the last lease on a 13 unit project on Silver Lake Blvd.

Total time to lease up all of the units was 18 days, start to finish.

Rents ended up averaging around 10% more than what we expected when we started the project last Christmas.

Hat tip to Jon for his designs and Ilana for managing the whole leasing process.

Written by mjkagan

11/15/2013 at 1:14 pm

Love that dirty water?

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If you spend a lot of time in crappy parts of LA (like I do), you have probably noticed an odd kind of retail establishment popping up in low-end strip malls: Water stores.

Here’s how these businesses work:

  • They have a normal connection to the city water system
  • They install a fairly expensive charcoal filtering system to filter the city water
  • The sell the water, sometimes via vending machine, to customers who bring in containers of the type you see on top of office water bubblers

But wait, you ask, why do people need to pay for filtered water when city water is supposed to be potable right out of the tap?

The answer, like many things on this blog, comes down to rent control. Why?

Imagine you are the owner of a 1920s apartment building with, say 30 units. Your building is rent controlled and many of your tenants have lived there for years. Your plumbing system probably dates to the time the building was built, with patching done over the decades as the pipes started to leak.

Now the water in your building is brown coming out of the tap due to corrosion in the pipes and your tenants want you to fix it.

Re-piping your building is going to cost you around $100k, give or take. The city will only let you recover 50% of the cost from your tenants in the form of a maximum rent increase of $50 per unit spread out over 33 months (almost three years).

So, here’s the investment decision:

  • Invest $100k
  • Get back $50k, in the form of additional monthly payments of $1,500 for nearly 3 years

Do you make that investment? Not if you’re sane.

So, your tenants spend time and money each week driving to the water store to fill up bottles like they live in a village in the developing world, instead of in the center of the second largest city in America.

Written by mjkagan

11/01/2013 at 2:28 pm

Silver Lake one beds – get ‘em while they last

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Just opened a new project for a fee for service client on Silver Lake Blvd.

Take a look at these units:

I spent two weeks right before Christmas 2012 helping our partner close on what was a terribly neglected, blighted property in a great location. It’s amazing to see what Jon has done with the place.

If you or someone you know is looking for a stylish one bedroom apartment with every modern convenience, private outdoor space, and parking, my strong suggestion would be to get in touch with Ilana at (215) 833-5015.


Written by mjkagan

10/27/2013 at 8:33 am

Is a rent controlled tenancy an asset?

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Interesting story from NY over the weekend about a court case which will determine whether a rent-controlled tenancy is an asset.

Here is a simplified version:

  • Woman in NYC has a rent controlled apartment
  • She runs up large credit card bills
  • She files Chapter 7 bankruptcy to get the creditors to charge off her debts
  • Her landlord steps in and offers to buy out her lease, with the money going to the creditors
  • His offer does not require her to move out, but would prevent her from passing the apartment on to her 50 year old son upon her death

The question is whether the woman’s rent controlled tenancy is (1) an asset which can be ordered sold by a judge in order to satisfy a debt; or (2) a public benefit, like food stamps or welfare, which can not be treated as an asset and sold off.

Why does this matter?

Obviously, if the rent controlled tenancy is an asset, then  any rent-controlled tenant who declares bankruptcy is under threat of being evicted, since the landlord may step in and offer to (partially) satisfy the creditors in exchange for freeing up the apartment.

If it’s not an asset, why can the tenant voluntarily agree to sell / monetize it under normal circumstances?

My personal view is that it is an asset and that it ought to be treated like one in all kinds of ways. For example, I think tenants ought to be able to borrow against their tenancies. And, when they accept money to move out, the money they receive ought to be treated as a capital gains, rather than as income.

We’ll have to wait for the court to figure out where it comes out on this…



Written by mjkagan

10/22/2013 at 4:13 am

New units coming on line

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We are just finishing a Silver Lake triplex we renovated on a fee-for-service basis for a very nice family.

We put the upper two units online this weekend and we’re getting a ton of interest.

Here’s the Craigslist ad.

If you’re interested in an incredible, newly-renovated 3 bed / 1 bath apartment in the hills north of Sunset with parking and a large private outdoor space, walking distance to the Thirsty Crow, Dusty’s, Local, etc., you should get in touch with Ilana by texting 215-833-5015.

My strong suggestion is to move very quickly… this building is going to lease-up quickly.

Written by mjkagan

10/21/2013 at 4:14 am

5 Things You Must Do/Have to Get An Adaptive Apartment

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We’ve been doing this for a while now and we’ve learned a lot about what makes a great building. Yes, the location is important. And the renovations have to be right.

But a major part of making a building great for the people who live in it and manage it is making sure that the tenants are nice people. So, we’ve established some ground-rules to try to ensure that we get the right kind of people in our buildings:

1. Have good credit. It’s pretty tough to check references these days, because a lot of landlords are worried about being sued for saying the wrong thing (though we try!). So, we use a credit check as a proxy for looking at your financial reliability. In general, we don’t mind debt – lot’s of people have student loans. But we don’t like late / missed payments, because if you’re willing to stiff your lenders, you’re probably willing to stiff us.

2. Have two or fewer pets. Some people like visiting zoos (not me, but that’s a different story), but no one wants to live in them. It’s not fair to the other people in the building if we allow in huge numbers of pets. So we might allow 1-2, depending on the building and the pets. But we’re not allowing more.

3. Have some way of demonstrating sufficient income to cover the rent. Oh, you have no income? But you’d like me to give you a brand new, beautiful apartment in a great part of town, one that would cost me $3-5k to get back from you if you don’t pay? I’m probably not signing up to that deal.

4. If you don’t have great credit or a way to demonstrate income, be prepared to put down a larger deposit and/or have a co-signer. We totally understand that some people have weird/untraditional circumstances. Maybe you come from another country and don’t have credit yet. Or maybe you don’t work, but have some dough in the bank or a parent who foots the tab. That’s cool… but we’re going to need to make an explicit arrangement so that we’re not left holding the bag.

5. Don’t be a jerk. This one is slightly harder to quantify. But, if you miss appointments with our leasing people, treat our staff rudely, fail to answer calls / texts / emails, be assured that you won’t get one of our apartment homes. There are plenty of nice people out there; life’s too short to deal with jerks.

Written by mjkagan

08/22/2013 at 3:39 am

Be a good steward

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One of the challenges of being a property owner is figuring out how much to spend maintaining / improving your building.

There is a permanent temptation to keep costs down by papering over problems. You can almost always find a cheap way to fix whatever problem has arisen. And, short term, you probably won’t notice much of a difference in how your building performs financially (except, of course, that your costs will be a bit lower, so there will be more cashflow).

However, over time, if you take the cheaper choice every time, your property will degrade. You may not notice, because you’re so used to how the place looks. And, your rents probably won’t decrease… in fact, they will probably increase, because that’s just the nature of owning apartment buildings in Los Angeles. So, how does the degradation of the property hurt you?

Simple: Your rents won’t rise as much as they could. And, because of rent control, each loss rental increment will compound. That $100 increase you didn’t get isn’t just $100. It’s $103 next year and $106 the year after that and $109 the year after that. Over time, across all of your units, that lost rent adds up.

Twenty-seven and a half years down the line, when the building is fully depreciated, and you or your heirs go to sell it and 1031 the equity into a new building, all that missed rent will result in a dramatically lower selling price.

So, do what I do: When something breaks, and you have the chance to do the right thing or the cheap thing, do the right thing. Yeah, it hurts short term. But the long term benefits of being a good steward of the property will accrue to you and/or your family. Oh, and it’s also just the right thing to do.

Written by mjkagan

08/14/2013 at 11:15 am