Like several of the United States' urban centers, Los Angeles is facing an acute housing shortage that is driving up costs in many parts of the city. This makes the hunt for housing very competitive and you'll need to move quickly (or have a healthy budget) to get a place you like.
RENTING IN LOS ANGELES
In some of the more popular neighborhoods, things are so competitive that the only way to get a rental is to be the first person to see it and put down an application. This can mean you'll be spending a lot of time scouring rental sites looking for something that matches your needs. It also means it's a good idea to spend a week (or two) in the city before you start a job so you can be flexible. You should also plan on looking for a place to live 2-3 weeks before you need it; any earlier than that and most of what you see online will have a nearer term rental date.
As with all things in life, if something appears too good to be true then it likely is. If an apartment or home is particularly cheap compared to others around it, chances are it's not real.
Also, make sure to ask whether the property will include key appliances, like a refrigerator, washer and dryer (if there's a hookup), and even – though it's rare – a stove. Not all do and it can be an unpleasant surprise if you move in only to find out you'll have to buy one.
Note that Los Angeles does have very strong tenants' rights laws, which protect you from bad behavior by the landlord, such as unauthorized rent increases, refusal to make repairs in your home, and threats of eviction for no cause. There is a basic list of things your landlord is required to do (or not do) provided by a real estate-focused website and a much more detailed guide on the state government's Department of Consumer Affairs website.
BUYING IN LOS ANGELES
Los Angeles home prices have almost fully recovered from the Great Recession, and the real estate market is once again going crazy. In certain price ranges, all cash buyers are swooping in -- sometimes sight unseen -- leaving buyers with a conventional loan out of luck.
Many are calling it another housing bubble, but this time around it's not driven by cheap money, but by supply and demand. All those people who couldn't afford to buy after the recession are finally looking for a place, and there just aren't enough places to go around. On top of that, there's just not much open space left in the Los Angeles area to build on. High density housing is the only option to relieve some of the pressure, but those are the types of big projects that neighborhoods fight, so they drag out through the legal process over years. In short: prices aren't likely to go down anytime soon.
So what does it take to get a home?
You will need to keep on top of new listings. We've found that Redfin is the fastest at sending alerts for new properties compared to other popular sites like Realtor.com, Zillow.com, and OpenListings.com.
Buying as an Expat
There are no restrictions in the United States on foreign citizens owning property. You'll generally need to work with a real estate agent and a real estate lawyer to complete the transaction. Foreign buyers are often required to provide a larger down payment than domestic buyers (30-40% versus 20%). A commission of 5-6% of the value of the sale is typically paid to the real estate agent.
Los Angeles is a haven for foreign nationals to purchase property and is particularly popular with Chinese buyers, either as a safe way to park their money or for their children who they've sent to school here. Overall, billions of dollars coming from overseas buyers are spent on property in LA.
HELPFUL REAL ESTATE RESOURCES
Westside Rentals - This popular website is one of the best resources in LA to find rental properties. In order to view the contact details for any properties that interest you, you'll need to purchase a membership. Membership starts at $50 for 30 days. (Insider tip: Westside Rentals inventory can be searched for free using Apartments.com)
Padmapper.com - Padmapper pulls in rental properties from over 100 sources and displays them in a map view. You can easily filter the results based on home size, cost, and whether pets are allowed.
Zillow or Trulia - Similar in functionality (and owned by the same company) both sites can be searched for properties for rent or for sale. They generally have the exact same listings; the main difference is how they display the results based on your search criteria.
Craigslist - This is not just a place to find a home: you can find pretty much anything you can think of on Craigslist. But it can be a great place to find a rental or a roommate. Just be more careful with the properties you see here since there is not a lot of quality control.