Life in LA January 6, 2023

A master of light: Interview with famed architectural photographer Tim Street-Porter

Architectural photographer Tim Street-Porter has made a career of capturing Los Angeles’ wildly varied built environment in its best light and form.  A British ex-pat, he’s made Los Angeles his home since 1978 where he continues to write, photograph and collaborate with his wife, design writer and decorator, Annie Kelly. He’s the author and photographer of six books on L.A. architecture and landscape, including 1995’s highly praised, Los Angeles House.

His latest finely crafted book, Palm Springs: A Modernist Paradise, is currently a best seller on Featuring original new photography, Street-Porter captures the romance, style and allure of this very popular modernist enclave. Restored showplaces and vintage residential favorites (Sunnylands and the Kaufmann House to name two) are shown in their eye-catching splendor. He’s also recognized for his commercial photography and decades of perceptive contributions to publications like Architectural Digest, The New York Times and Town & Country.

I’m pleased to share a brief question-and-answer interview with Street-Porter; I thank him for generously participating. His work inspires me to pause and appreciate the details of the world around me.


You’ve adopted Los Angeles as your home base and you’ve done several books on Los Angeles architecture.  What is it about Los Angeles that attracts you? 

Los Angeles attracted me from the time I first visited in the early 1970s. It was a photographer’s dream, with the desert landscapes, beautiful light, palm trees and cool ‘60s architecture–just as David Hockney, another early L.A. addict, portrayed it in his early paintings. This was exotic and irresistible to me, as it was to Hockney–coming as we both did from the grayness and drizzle of England.

I was also attracted to L.A.’s wonderful variety of old and new architecture, which led me journalistically to produce this ongoing series of books. Unlike other photographers, I enjoy writing about architecture as well as just taking pictures. It opens up another creative dimension for me. Also, it’s fun creating my own books.


You are quoted as saying that you and your wife Annie have spent time in Palm Springs over the years. Why did you decide to author Palm Springs: A Modernists Paradise now?

 The timing for a book about Palm Springs turned out to be perfect. No one had done a substantial one for over 10 years, and I was noticing a new wave of excitement about Palm Springs and its mid- century architecture. So I decided to jump in before anyone else did! Annie and I have been making the 110-mile trip to Palm Springs since the end of the ‘70s and always loved this Morocco-like haven in the desert.


How do you select the buildings and homes featured in the books?

I discovered houses as I went along, helped by realtors and friends. Luckily I unearthed several previously under the radar places that had just come onto the market after 30 or more years, and newly renovated by stylish new owners. This is how I work on all my books, plus research and projects I am already aware of; taking the journalistic approach in other words.


You have shot all over the world for the top design and architectural publications.  What is your process while shooting that results in the exquisite photographs you are known for?  It there a plan going in or is it something that organically evolves as you are working? 

I work instinctively, following the light as it moves around the building and its interiors to get the best effects. I guess otherwise, it’s just experience learned from all my years doing this!


Which photographers or architects have inspired you the most?

I don’t have any particular influences, but notice how great the work of everyone is now.


Is there a building you’d love to photograph but haven’t had access to?

Yes, [Punjab’s capital city] Chandigarh, in India, by [Swiss-French modernist architect] Le Corbusier. I’d love to do a book on that. I’d also like to photograph Paul Bangay’s garden in Australia.

For more information on Tim Street-Porter, go to


Life in LA January 5, 2023

Will $5 Million Plus Homes Flood the Market in November?

In the City of Los Angeles, a flood of inventory of $5 million + homes is a real possibility if Measure ULA passes November 8th. Measure ULA proposes to add a special tax when high-end properties sell to raise funds to build and acquire properties for the homeless population, as well as provide funds for homeless prevention measures.

Will $5 Million Plus Homes Flood the Market in November?Currently, when a property sells, 0.45% is charged the seller as a transfer tax and the money raised goes into the city’s General Fund. Measure ULA will significantly increase the cost to sell. Sellers of $5 million up to $10 million properties will be charged an additional 4% of the sales price. Sellers of $10 million and above properties will be charged an additional 5.5%. The additional money raised will be earmarked for several approaches intended to deal with the homeless crisis facing the city. Supporters of the measure estimate that $923 million annually will be raised and that it will impact approximately 4% of annual transactions. Of course, if you are one to those owners and you are thinking about selling, I encourage you to learn more about this ballot measure. Some of these sellers may follow other Californians leaving the Golden State.

Sellers leaving expensive coastal markets have hit their highest levels since 2019. In 2022, 34,832 Angelinos moved elsewhere, the second largest outflow behind San Francisco. San Diego and Las Vegas were the top destinations for our former neighbors, according to Redfin. An influx of houses hitting the market and forcing prices down just hasn’t happened. Nationally, August saw 7% fewer listings compared to 2020 and 43% fewer compared to 2019. Another way to look at it, this year buyers have five houses to choose from, but had only four last year. Compared to last year, the number of active listings in August was flat in Beverly Hills, up 1.4% in Santa Monica and up 10.4% in Los Angeles. And the low inventory level persists while the escrow cancellation rate remains at historic highs. Per Redfin, 64,000 or 15.2% of escrows cancelled in August nationally, slightly down from July’s high of 15.5%, but well above August 2021’s 12.1% rate. New listings also dropped in August, which is not news.

What is news? The Real Deal reported that the declines in new listings hit its 10th consecutive week to 13% annually across the nation. The drop in new listings cannot be explained by just vacations and school starts. Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Los Angeles experienced 23.3%, 25.7% and 14.7%, respectively in declines this August compared to the previous year. Not surprisingly, sales are down. California year-to-date sales were down 14.9% in August and existing homes sales were down 24.4% from August last year according to the California Association of Realtors. Southern California dipped 28.8% versus last year. Local markets suffered similar if not higher declines. Beverly Hills was down 40% year-over-year, Santa Monica 23% and Los Angeles 28%. Pending sales are also down according to the National Association of Relators.

In the U.S. pending sales dropped 24% in August compared to a year ago and dropped 31.3% in the West. Despite the continued low inventory levels, the median number of days it took to sell a California single-family home was 19 days in August 2022 and nine days in August 2021. Locally, the stats are very different. In Beverly Hills, the days on market was down 8% vs. August 2021. Los Angeles is down 3%, but in Santa Monica, the average market time increased 20%. Sales prices, however, continue to climb. Using the average sold price per square foot, local sellers have continued to see gains this year when compared to August 2021. In Beverly Hills, sellers saw an increased price average of 13%, while Santa Monica and Los Angeles sellers saw increases of 10.2% and 3% respectively. According to The Real Deal, the week of September 15th saw an annual increase in the median list price of 11.7% – the 39th consecutive week of a double-digit increase. However, in August 19.4% of sellers reduced their asking prices, according to This is up from 11% earlier in the year. Overall, sales are down, prices are up and inventory supply is still below demand, although improving slowly. As’s Chief Economist Danielle Hale wrote, “The big shift in inventory that helped shift the market in a buyer-friendly direction has lost some momentum.”

Mortgage rates will certainly have some impact as the Fed continues to raise rates. Now buyers are finding mortgage rates as high as, if not more than 6%. Still, historically low rates but to buyers planning on 4%, it’s a shock. In fact, mortgage applications are down 28.6% vs. a year ago for the week ending September 9th, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). Nevertheless, the actual rate is less important to buyers than their ability to service the debt. For the week of September 9th, the MBA reported that Adjustable-Rate Mortgage applications rose 9% year-over-year. To recap, mixed economic signals continue and I’m always available to help you decipher what they mean for your current selling or buying prospects.

I have a few ideas such as why you need a new approach in setting an asking price or how the Residential Purchase Agreement can help lessen the buyer’s mortgage costs. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to discuss how today’s overall residential real estate market impacts your specific property or plans for future purchases.

Life in LA November 6, 2022

Is Residential Real Estate  In A Deep Freeze?

Here’s the current scenario for today’s residential real estate market: Buyers are talking about waiting for the big price drop to come. Some even say there will be a 15-20% decline. Sellers, on the other hand, bring up their property’s Zestimate on Zillow and the multiple offers the house across the street got last month.  It’s become something of an impasse with no clear winner in sight.

Both perspectives are right and both are wrong.

Economists at Redfin recently released a report that looked at the national market from June 5th to July 3rd, the time that the market changed due to the upswing in mortgage rates and the declines in the stock market.

In that period, 52% of homes sold above list price, which is down 1% from the same period a year ago. The average house sold 1.9% above list price and it took the same amount of time to sell this year as last.  Across all sectors, the residential real estate market is still setting price records.  The national median existing home sales price hit $416,000, up 13.4% versus a year ago. In Southern California home prices rose 8.4% year-over-year.

However, 7% of homes for sale each week during this time period reduced their asking price and 14.9% (60,000 escrows) canceled in June.  That is the largest percentage of cancellations recorded, excluding the first two months of the pandemic, since Redfin began tracking cancellations in 2017.

The impact on sales is just beginning. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), existing home sales dropped 5.4% in June from May and 14.3% from June last year.  In the West, the NAR says sales declined 11.1% from May and 21.3% from June 2021.  The California Association of Realtors (CAR) is projecting residential sales to be down 14.4% this year as compared to 2021.  CAR also noted that the Southern California region has had the biggest year-over-year drop in unit sales: a 27.1% decline year-over-year.

The national inventory increased 9.6% from May and 2.4% versus June last year, according to NAR. CAR finds that active listings are up 64.4% in the state versus last June and up 28.8% from May.

If price reductions and inventory levels are increasing, why are sales prices also increasing?  And why did Mark Zandi, Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist, predict on CNBC last Wednesday that real estate is going into a freeze with prices remaining flat for the next two to three years?

Supply and demand is the big picture answer. Supply is still going to remain low compared to buyer demand.  When interest rates were at historic lows, many people either bought or refinanced.  They have no motivation to sell a home financed with cheap money for a new property financed at a higher rate.  Before Covid, the average homeowner stayed in their property five to seven years.  The new market is going to see that timeframe expand.

Shouldn’t higher mortgage rates dampen buyer demand?  Yes and no.  Buyers care more about the monthly payment than the interest rate.  And, the mortgage industry has responded…the Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) has made a comeback.  I’ve seen rate sheets with ARMs in the 4% range and 30-year fixed rates in the 5% range.

Another thing to consider is the comparable or “comp” price (what recent sales indicate a property should sell for).  This data is always behind the action because the sales price is agreed to as much as 45 days prior to closing.

If inventory continues to remain low and buyers can find affordable, monthly mortgage payments, then we still have a seller’s market.  It may not be as strong as it was last year or even three months ago, but that is good news.

“Homes listed competitively are still selling very quickly,” according to the Redfin economist and that’s the key variable in all of this:  LISTED COMPETITIVELY.  If the market, through lack of offers or showings, tells a seller that they have missed the competitive price point, they need to react quickly and make the necessary adjustment.  I am observing this in both the current sales data and in conversations with colleagues.  Homes priced just below a price justified by comparable sales are still receiving multiple offers.  The days of 10 plus offers are over, but five offers aren’t unheard of now.  And, with only a few offers, the sellers can optimize the selling price.  Properties listed at “comp” prices seem to be sitting, taking price reductions and selling lower than expected.

To recap, there’s mixed economic signals out there and I’m always available to help you decipher what they mean for your current selling or buying prospects. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to discuss how today’s overall residential real estate market impacts your specific property or plans for future purchases.

Life in LA May 6, 2022

Tips on creating a drought tolerant landscape from an expert

California leads the nation in water conservation and cultivating drought tolerant landscaping. With a predicted major wildfire season upon us, we may have to conserve even more water than usual. For more than 27 years landscape architect and designer Jeff Smith of JMS Design Associates has created beautiful landscapes while considering water use. His full-service, Westside Los Angeles firm handles all aspects of landscaping from design plans to installation.

I met Jeff more than 15 years ago: I continue to be inspired by his gorgeous landscapes that are mindful of our specific Southern California environment.  Follows are Jeff’s answers to my questions on how homeowners can adapt to drought conditions and his valuable tips for eco-smart and attractive drought tolerant landscaping.

For more information on how to prepare for fire season (and P.S. now is the ideal time to review your homeowner’s policy and coverage) read my fire safety tips for homeowners.


Drought seems to be a new normal, so what can homeowners do to keep a beautiful landscape while conserving water?

Doing away with and replacing conventional sprinkler heads that broadcast a tremendous amount of water into the atmosphere is a first step that homeowners can take in the effort to keep a beautiful landscape.  Implement the use of drip irrigation into your flowerbeds and container plantings.  The rate that water is delivered is so minimal via drip irrigation, approximately .0.9 gallons per hour. Change out old irrigation valves with newer ones that have a pressure regulating device incorporated into the valve so the water is delivered through the drip tubing to the plants at a very low rate, which allows for it to seep into the soil instead of running onto the sidewalk and into the street.

Consider implementing MP Rotator nozzle-style heads in your hillside planting areas for ground covers and erosion controlling shrubs. These kinds of irrigation heads distribute water in a fine fingerlike spray at a low rate that allows for the water to percolate into the soil below the plants instead of running off.


What are your tips on when and how to water a landscape?

For plant health and sustainability, always water established landscapes in the very early morning.  Water can start to be applied to planting beds and turf grasses as early as 4:00am. Run the system based on the guidelines that have been established by your specific municipality.


What do you think of rain barrels and other on-property collection systems?

Rain barrels that collect water during times of heavy precipitation are great ways to collect water for use during the warmer days of the year. I would use it on ornamental plantings but would hesitate to use it on organic vegetable plots as the water that runs into them from a roof or gutter could have some harmful trace elements from the atmosphere, vehicular exhaust emissions, soot, etc.


What are your thoughts on irrigating using gray water? 

Gray water from your washing machine is a great way to use less water and help to keep your garden lush and green. However, the tricky part about its use is the delivery system once it leaves the house. You have to direct it via flexible tubing to a space that you actually wish to water.


Which plants are the most drought tolerant? Do we have to rip everything out and replant? And if we do replant, what do you recommend?  

I think that there are ways to gradually move an existing landscape’s planting towards a more drought tolerant one. Start with your main anchor element plants that frame the picture, and then slowly over time eliminate and replace smaller foundation plantings with less thirsty shrubs.  Try incorporating more native grasses into the planting design. Native grasses to consider are: Canyon Prince (Leymus condensatus), Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima), Curly top sedge (Carex buchananii) or Pink Muhlygrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).

Use ample amounts of mulch over exposed soil in planting beds to keep down the weeds. Mulch helps retain the water in the soil after watering and it looks a lot better than just exposed dirt.  Limit the amount of grass you have in your design or take it out completely.


I’ve seen so many lawns replaced with fake lawns (and some versions look good), but I’ve heard that it may not be the solution it is supposed to be.  What do you think?   

At the beginning when artificial turf started to gain in popularity many people dove in and installed it. But research has found that the artificial grass heats up, retains heat and actually makes the space that it surrounds hotter.  So I have shifted my position on it. I think it is a great solution in shady areas where natural turf will not grow due to low light.

If someone is going to remove a lawn from their existing landscape, I would like to see some attractive planting combinations of grasses, succulents and California native shrubs composed together and then add big swath of a drought tolerant groundcover like Lippia nodiflora, more commonly known as Kurapia.  Now we are very careful when we specify artificial turf into a landscape.  We certainly do not want to contribute to our environmental problem of global warming.

Life in LA January 22, 2022


Did you know that households in California must now contribute actively to a greener future?  As of January 2022, Californians are required to compost their food waste and food soiled paper (think pizza boxes and coffee filters). These efforts will divert tons of food waste from local landfills, reducing methane gas and creating organic compost, which recycles important nutrients back into the soil when applied. Plant and food waste in landfills contributes to global warming: as they decompose, the potent greenhouse gas methane is produced. Diverting food waste to compost facilities or a home composter allows the materials to break down organically.

Both businesses and residents must compost food scraps per SB 1383. Former Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in 2016; municipalities and waste management services and utilities are striving to comply. Full compliance is mandated by 2024 when fines and enforcement will go into effect initially on the municipal level. Depending on where you live, food waste can be added to weekly yard waste pick-ups, saved for local composting organizations (LACompost organizes farmer’s market drop-offs) or if you’re the DIY-type, composted at home.

LA Sanitation and Environment offers free home composting and gardening seminars to those who want to learn more and dig deeper into the process, which begins at the kitchen counter. Nifty compost pails, 100% compostable bags (BioBag and EcoSafe are two popular brands) or even paper bags can be used to collect scraps, unwanted leftovers or spoiled foods. Compostable paper towels, napkins, paper plates, coffee filters and tea bags are among the non-food items that can also be recycled this way.

You can place food scraps directly into your kitchen food scrap container or you can line it with a paper bag. Regular plastic bags aren’t recyclable per se; if you must use a bag to transport, 100% compostable bags are recommended. Some Calif. municipalities like Napa have robust food waste recycling programs already in place; Los Angeles began a pilot program (distributing compost pails to 18,000 households) allowing residents to combine food debris into their 90-gallon green yard waste containers. LA County residents can also participate in food waste recycling. In Beverly Hills, food scraps can be co-mingled with yard waste in the large green bins.

Diverting food scraps from landfills is an easy way to contribute to improving the environment one household or business at a time.



With all the concerning economic data being reported, the number one question I’m getting is, “How is this impacting our local real estate market?” I’ve noticed two things that I haven’t seen since the pandemic started: more houses for sale and more reductions in asking prices.

According to Market Quest, Beverly Hills had a 21% increase in the number of properties for sale in May over April. Westwood, Brentwood and Hancock Park (based on zip codes 90024, 90049 and 90020) show inventory growing by 3%, 12% and 10% respectively.

From the Multiple Listing Service, the percentage of homes currently on the market or in escrow, which have taken a price reduction are: 26% in Beverly Hills, 9% in Westwood (90024), 16% in Brentwood (90049) and 33% in Hancock Park (90020).

There is still a lot of pent-up buyer demand. The market is at an inflection point moving from being a hot seller’s market to, hopefully, a better balance of power between buyers and sellers. Stay tuned!

As always, I’m here to answer your questions regarding the residential real estate market. And on request, I’m happy to send you a link to my comprehensive Historic Home Report.

Life in LA January 6, 2021

Residential historic preservation buzzwords explained

There are some tax advantages available to property owners who buy and restore historic homes and commercial buildings in Los Angeles. I’ve developed a primer to explain these common terms associated with historic preservation in California. These terms are often misunderstood: the Ellis Act, Mills Act, Mello-Roos and adaptive reuse.

As always, if you have a question regarding the sale of your home or questions regarding possible property tax savings and credits, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m pleased to share information and investigate any concerns when you buy or sell a home in Los Angeles.


What is California’s Ellis Act?

The Ellis Act is a 1985 California state law, which allows landlords to evict tenants in rent stabilized units in order to take the building out of the rental business or demolish the building entirely. It most often has been applied to older properties and those with long-term tenants covered by rent stabilization ordinances. Lawmakers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere in California have pushed back against so-called Ellis Act evictions and there are many rules surrounding the process. Initially, the Ellis Act was intended to help “mom and pop” landlords who wanted to exit the rental business.


What is the Mills Act?

The Mills Act is a 1972 California state law allowing cities to enter into contracts with homeowners to provide property tax relief and reductions, provided historic structures were restored and maintained following Department of the Interior standards. A homeowner in Los Angeles must apply for a Mills Act reduction through the city’s Office of Historic Resources. The annual application process begins in January and homeowners must propose a preservation plan in order to be considered and approved for a property tax reduction. Contributing structures in a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) and designated City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments are among the buildings eligible for this program.


What is Mello-Roos? Why does Mello-Roos matter to home buyers in Los Angeles?

If you’ve read any information or a listing on a residential property, you may have noticed an indication whether or not the property covered by Mello-Roos. A YES answer means the property is subject to a special property tax lien or bonded debt established by a city, county or other entity. Once a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District (CFD) is established, it allows for the financing of public works and services; it is often utilized for the improvement of public works (streets, sewer systems and other infrastructure updates) and civic works such schools, parks and cultural facilities.

These special property taxes typically have a time frame or will be reduced after a certain number of years. A seller must make a good faith effort to disclose if their residential property is in a CFD and subject to a Mello-Roos special tax.


What is the adaptive reuse ordinance?

In Los Angeles, the adaptive reuse ordinance allows for historic commercial buildings to be converted into other uses such as residences, live/work spaces, condominiums and hotels. Building and zoning requirements were changed and streamlined to encourage the preservation and remodeling of underutilized historic buildings and thus jumpstart downtown’s revitalization. Downtown Los Angeles is the shining star of adaptive reuse.