Condos put Angelenos in a New York state of mind

You can bet producer Barry Krost is happy. Not only has his film “Love! Valour! Compassion!” been favorably received on the arthouse circuit, he also has one of the coolest pads in town. Located on the 16th floor of the Sierra Towers building in Beverly Hills, Krost’s spacious, loft-style condominium has plenty of room for the Hockneys and Lichtensteins, every luxury amenity imaginable and a drop-dead view of the city. “I love my condo, I think it’s great,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m extremely happy here.”

No maintenance hassles, full-service details such as high security and valet parking, dry cleaning and a fully equipped gym with a trainer on staff, are features to which Krost has grown accustomed. And he’s not alone. Sierra Towers is full of industry folks, including agents, actors, managers and producers. But in spite of enthusiastic occupants, Los Angeles real estate agents have had a difficult time convincing the market of the condominium’s legitimacy.

Unlike Manhattan, where penthouses and brownstone co-ops are part and parcel of big-city sophistication, condo-living in L.A. doesn’t have quite the same cachet. Not quite an apartment, not quite a house, condos in Los Angeles generally are regarded as less desirable than detached single-family dwellings.

“Even before the real estate market bottomed out, condos were maligned,” observes Michael H. Collins, condominium director for Fred Sands Estates Directors Office. “Parents always said, ‘Buy a house, buy a house.’ Parents never said, ‘Buy a condo.’ The thought was, why buy a condo when you can buy a house? Condominiums were just never taken seriously as an investment.” A glut of luxury towers erected along Wilshire Boulevard (dubbed the “Golden Mile”), with a Rolls Royce to every penthouse buyer, only fueled such skepticism.

Lagging the market

When the real estate market began to erode, condos depreciated at a more dramatic rate than detached homes did. And under the umbrella of recovery, they have been slow on the rebound. The advantage is that buyers locked out of the flourishing single-family arena can still compete in the condo sector, reaping the tax benefits of real property ownership.

But, Collins warns, condominium prices won’t stay soft forever. As better units are selling with multiple offers above list price, even the Golden Mile is reclaiming its name. Take the glamorous Wilshire, a deco-styled highrise in the heart of the Golden Mile. The $124 million buiding, completed in 1991, is 92% occupied with only eight units left, according to general manager Al Gaspar.

All the comforts

:This full-service, high-security building has 24-hour valet service, ever-present concierge, dry cleaning, gym, pool, two social rooms and a wine cellar — in short, everything a luxury hotel would provide except food service. The units average 3,200 square feet and range from $660,000 to $5 million, providing just the kind of pampered lifesstyle that would invite entertainment industry clientele. “Unfortunately,” notes Gaspar wryly, who adds that showbiz residents, in expressing their needs, “never heard of 9-5.”

Still, general uncertainty about condos as an investment remains. This is due in large part to ignorance about exactly what condo ownership means. “With a condo, all you really own is the airspace within your unit,” explains Vince Kapadia, senior analyst for Gribin Associates, a real estate appraisal firm. “Technically, that means you don’t even own the walls inside your unit; they are common property along with the pool and tennis court and whatever else.” Common areas are maintained through monthly homeowner’s fees that can be in excess of $1,000 a month, and are under the auspices of an often highly political board of directors.

The soft market, politics and unique form of ownership haven’t dampened Krost’s enthusiasm one bit, however. In fact, his only complaint about life in a condo is the lack of a private garden.

His sentiments are shared by David Sweeney, co-producer of “Wigstock: The Movie.” Sweeney was so smitten with his first unit in Hancock Park’s Country Club Manor that he bought a second. Built in the 1920s in the French Normandy style, the building was recently renovated, giving it, he says, the aura of Park Avenue. “Living here is like living in a Ritz Carlton. It’s a very sophisticated, New York way of life. I just love it,” he says. He does still have one reservation: “I must admit, I do miss having my own private backyard.”

The lack of yard space may explain why, in central Los Angeles at least, families with children are less commonly seen living the condo life. Country Club Manor has 45 units and not a single child. The more upscale condos tend to be populated by young career couples and empty nesters. This is not the case in Manhattan, however, where co-ops have long been a way of life and condominiums have recently become quite chic.

The Corcoran Group, one of New York’s leading real estate brokerage firms, even has a new advertising campaign focused exclusively on the virtues of condominiums. “They are easier to get into (no stuffy approval procedure, like that required of co-ops) and easier to finance,” Barbara Corcoran says matter-of-factly. “We see a lot of industry families, people with young kids coming from Los Angeles, choosing to buy a condo. Especially Downtown, Tribeca — that area is very hot, very hip, and it’s all entertainment.”

“Manhattan envy” actually sells a lot of condominiums in Los Angeles. With her daughters off to college, Bobbie Geller sold the family estate in Bel Air and moved into Wilshire Boulevard’s Blair House. From her high-style contemporary unit on the 19th floor, Geller has views from Downtown to Catalina Island. “I compare this to the 70s on Fifth Avenue,” she says. “It’s very prestigious to live on Wilshire Boulevard, and the views are absolutely spectacular. People in Manhattan should have such a view!”

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