Real Estate newsletter: Amazon scoops up SoCal space

Welcome back to the Real Estate newsletter, where the week’s biggest mover is one of the world’s biggest companies: Amazon.

Jeff Bezos already has his own place in Southern California — a cozy little $165-million mansion in Beverly Hills — but now his company is scooping up more space around the area. This week, the retail giant announced three new office leases for a combined 439,000 square feet in Santa Monica, Irvine and San Diego.

The new offices will accompany a hiring spree of 2,500 locally recruited corporate and technology jobs, but the announcement comes at a crucial time for Amazon. Last week, the company reported a $3.8-billion quarterly loss, acknowledging that a previous hiring spree during the pandemic left it with a surplus of both workers and warehouse space.

On the luxury side, two listings showed us exactly how valuable land and space have become in the bougiest pockets of L.A. during the pandemic.

The first is in Beverly Crest, where the chief executive of high-end furniture retailer RH unloaded his half-built home for $24 million. With boarded-up windows and weeds growing on the rooftop deck, the modern mansion left in mid-renovation limbo looks like something straight out of a post-apocalyptic movie, but it still managed a massive profit. Records show the CEO bought it in the same unlivable state just three years ago for $15 million.

Over in Bel-Air, a reality TV star is chasing similar success. Lilly Ghalichi, who starred in Bravo’s “Shahs of Sunset,” is shopping around her Mediterranean-style mansion for $32 million — a bit more than the $19.5 million she paid in 2020. Before her, it was owned for nearly three decades by late automobile titan Lee Iacocca, whose many innovations include the development of the Ford Mustang.

On the design front: Take a peek at a tiny hideaway in Silver Lake inspired by Richard Neutra. It’s only 144 square feet, but the acoustically isolated box set into the earth and surrounded by gardens serves as the perfect escape from the city’s cacophony.

In our explainer of the week, we broke down the Forgivable Equity Builder Loan assistance program, a new state housing initiative with a name so vague and long that I got bored just writing it. It’s absolutely worth looking into, though, as it provides a possibly life-changing tool for first-time California homeowners: a down payment loan with 0% interest. Check the details to see if you qualify.

While catching up on the latest, visit and like our Facebook page, where you can find real estate stories and updates throughout the week.

Amazon expands in SoCal

amazon, real estate newsletter: amazon scoops up socal space
Amazon has signed a lease for a 200,000-square-foot space at the Water Garden complex in Santa Monica, one of three new leases totaling 439,000 square feet.(CBRE)

Amazon is significantly expanding its white-collar presence in Southern California, announcing office leases to accommodate 2,500 new corporate and technology jobs in Santa Monica, Irvine and San Diego.

The e-commerce giant said it has signed three leases, for a combined 439,000 square feet, for what it described as “tech hubs” in the three cities. The leases bring Amazon’s office footprint in Southern California to more than 1.5 million square feet, representing an increase of more than 40%, according to real estate brokerage data.

The Seattle company said it plans to recruit locally for jobs in various areas, including retail, operations, gaming and web services. Specific roles include software development engineers, game designers and user experience designers.

The three offices are the latest in a flurry of sites Amazon has opened over the last two years to handle the surge in demand from homebound consumers during the pandemic. Last week, the company acknowledged that the hiring spree has left it with too many workers and too much warehouse space as it reported a $3.8-billion quarterly loss.

Furniture mogul gets a fortune for unfinished home

amazon, real estate newsletter: amazon scoops up socal space
Originally built in 2013, the four-story home was marketed as either a tear-down or renovation project.(Aaron Kirman Group)

Gary Friedman, chief executive of the high-end furniture retailer RH (formerly known as Restoration Hardware), just quietly sold his half-built home in Beverly Crest for $24 million.

The off-market deal highlights the skyrocketing value of land in affluent pockets of L.A. since the pandemic. Records show Friedman bought the property in its half-finished state for $15 million in 2019, so the sale brings a profit of $9 million.

Even in its unlivable state, it’s no surprise the property fetched such a fortune. It sits at the end of a cul-de-sac and spans 2.8 acres — a rare amount of land for the neighborhood.

For reference, of the 105 properties currently on the market in Beverly Crest, only 15 are more than 2 acres. Of those, 14 cost more than $20 million.

Reality star lists auto titan’s mansion

amazon, real estate newsletter: amazon scoops up socal space
Built in 1990, the 10,700-square-foot mansion down the road from Hotel Bel-Air comes with a swimming pool and tennis court.(Mike Kelley)

In Bel-Air, the longtime home of late automobile titan Lee Iacocca is on the market for $32 million just two years after it traded hands for $19.5 million.

The seller is Lilly Ghalichi, a reality star who appeared in Bravo’s “Shahs of Sunset.” She and her husband, Dara Mir, made a few changes during their two-year stay, updating the kitchen with a marble island and adding herringbone floors in the bedroom.

Before Ghalichi, the home was owned for nearly three decades by Iacocca, who’s best known for developing the Ford Mustang and also saving Chrysler Corp. from the brink of bankruptcy as CEO in the 1980s. His daughter sold the estate after his death in 2019.

A terrarium-like gem in Silver Lake

amazon, real estate newsletter: amazon scoops up socal space
A view of the recreation room from the garden.(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

After many years spent living in Richard Neutra’s 900-square-foot McIntosh house in Silver Lake, architect John Bertram and his wife, actress and writer Ann Magnuson, felt cramped and wanted more room but didn’t need the kitchen and bathroom that comes with an accessory dwelling unit, Lisa Boone writes.

So last year, over a period of five months and at a cost of $170,000, Bertram added a soundproof backyard studio that was designed and permitted as a recreation room. It now serves as a quiet getaway where the couple can work, write and meditate in the stillness of a single room.

Like a Japanese tea house, the room is intentionally spare, with no visual distractions. Carefully situated on the sloped backyard behind the couple’s Silver Lake home, the recreation room has a terrarium vibe as a result of its low location and broad Fleetwood windows, including one at chest level that conveniently opens to allow Lucy, the couple’s cat, easy access to the unit.

New program offers 0% interest home loans

amazon, real estate newsletter: amazon scoops up socal space
California is trying to make it easier for first-time buyers in a brutal housing market.(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Low-income Californians looking to buy a home have a new tool at their disposal: an interest-free loan to use toward their down payment which, if certain criteria are met, doesn’t have to be paid back, Andrew Khouri writes.

The California Housing Finance Agency started offering this help last month through the Forgivable Equity Builder Loan assistance program. The Times outlined the program in March as part of a series on how to buy a home in Southern California.

Here are some more details on what’s on offer, as the state tries to make it easier for first-time buyers in a brutal housing market.

What we’re reading

Plenty of TV shows highlight the absurdity of the luxury real estate market, but a housing battle on the East Coast is drawing comparisons to a different kind of program: “Succession.” The saga revolves around the Alfieri family, who, like the Roys in the hit HBO show, are fighting over a real estate fortune worth hundreds of millions. NY Post has the story.

As a home buyer in the modern market, you might be competing against real estate companies and hedge funds to find your dream house. One rental fund backed by Goldman Sachs just took the unsettling trend to a new extreme, buying an entire community of 87 single-family homes in Florida, according to Benzinga.

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