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Guerrilla House Hunting

After weeks of talking to strangers and cruising the streets, a determined couple find a home they love in the area they want.


When we sold our Silver Lake home late last year in just 30 days, my husband and I were thrilled. We finally had the cash to buy a bigger house for our growing family.

We knew just where we wanted to live, too: a quiet, leafy neighborhood in northwest Glendale. It was close to Brand Park, lined with gracious Spanish houses and within walking distance of a quaint shopping district called Kenneth Village.

Even better, it was eight blocks from my sister, whose two little girls are fast pals with our two boys. And my 78-year-old mother, who lives in nearby North Hollywood and dislikes driving the Silver Lake Hills, would be able to visit more frequently.

But selling one house and finding another within a limited time can be a tricky tango, especially for picky buyers who want a vintage home in a specific area.

Luckily, we had accommodating buyers who agreed to rent back to us for 60 days. We figured that would give us ample time to find our dream house.

We were wrong.

Even in the typically slow months of January and February, northwest Glendale remains a hot real estate market. I soon learned that we weren't the only ones in search of an original Spanish-style home. Indeed, there was a pool of buyers who circled each new listing like bright-eyed vultures. Homes got snapped up as they hit the market. To make matters worse, the turnover and inventory were low.

Our agent, Arlene Lloyd of Prudential California Realty in Glendale, has the patience of a saint, but none of the homes she showed us kindled a spark. They were too small, too expensive, had tiny gardens, were on busy streets or had been thoughtlessly remodeled (which we came to call the "Spanish facade house").

Eventually, we had seen every house on the market. Then it was a matter of waiting for something new to go on sale. But we didn't have that luxury, and as time ticked by, I began to panic. The thought of finding a temporary rental that would accommodate two children under 3 years of age, a home office, a large dog and a cat was abominable. But because aesthetics are important to me, neither did I want to settle for a house I didn't like.

I soon realized that the situation called for more drastic measures than sitting around waiting for something to pop up on the Multiple Listing Service. I would have to catch these houses before they went on the market. But how?

In desperation, I started driving up and down the streets where we wanted to live, hoping to catch brokers as they hammered those "for sale" signs into the sod.

Weeks passed with no luck. I spent every afternoon cruising slowly around the two-square-mile area I was determined to live in, lusting after the lovely old homes I saw and probably scaring neighbors who may have thought I was a burglar casing their houses.

Soon I grew shameless, pulling up alongside people gardening on their front lawns, walking their dogs or jogging. Then I would politely inquire whether they knew any homes going up for sale nearby.

"My husband and I just sold our house in Silver Lake and we love this neighborhood," I would explain, telling them my sob story about the two babies, the big dog and the cousins who lived nearby.

To my never-ending surprise, people were really nice. They would stop and think about it and sometimes I got tips. Even if I didn't, I'd get encouragement.

"Keep doing exactly what you're doing; that's the way I found my house," a young mother chatting with her friend on Cleveland Street told me.

Once I saw two guys in suits holding files and talking to a third man on Ard Eevin Avenue. I pulled up. When I posed my question, two of the men said no and the third said yes. Ramming my car into park, I leaped out.

The "yes" man was a conservator for his elderly father, who was moving into a nursing home. The two suited men were real estate agents with whom he had just started discussing putting the house on the market: a beautiful original Spanish. My husband and I went back that evening for a tour. Unfortunately, the house was too small for us.

But as we chatted, the owner pointed to a hefty Spanish home next door, explaining that it was in trusteeship but that the heirs wouldn't be ready to sell for a year because they had yet to clean the place out.

My ears lifted, and within days, we were touring that house too. Again, it was beautiful, but at 2,800 square feet plus a huge yard with a pool, it was too big and too expensive for us.

Still, I was getting somewhere.

Another day, I was desultorily cruising around when an older woman walked out of a two-story Tudor home on Highland Avenue. Do you by chance know of anyone who is getting ready to sell? I posed my usual question.

Startled, the woman looked up.

"Why, we are," she said. "My husband just got diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and we're going to be moving into a home."

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