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Real Estate newsletter: A billionaire buyer revealed

Welcome back to the Real Estate newsletter, which arrives on the heels of a mystery being solved.

Reporters and readers alike have been trying to figure out who paid $25 million for San Marino’s famed USC presidential mansion, and records finally revealed that the buyer was Chinese billionaire Tianqiao Chen. It makes a lot of sense, as the philanthropist recently donated $115 million to Caltech for neuroscience research, and the university dedicated a new 150,000-square-foot facility to him that opened earlier this year just a mile away from the home.

It’s still a great time to sell, and this week saw a few celebrities test their luck in the high-risk, high-reward real estate market. “Charlie’s Angels” star Shelley Hack did about as well as one can do, selling her Santa Monica Craftsman for $11.43 million — or $2.58 million more than her asking price.

Actress Helen Mirren and director Taylor Hackford are hoping for similar success in Hollywood Hills, where their colossal compound on 6.5 acres is on the market for $18.5 million. If the power couple get their price, it’ll be one of the priciest sales the ritzy neighborhood has seen so far this year.

If you don’t believe me regarding the seller’s market, believe the data. The numbers are in for June, and Southern California’s median home price soared to $680,000 last month. That’s an all-time high, shattering a record that stood for all of … 31 days.

Some news on what may come ahead: UC Berkeley researchers published a new report on a California Legislature bill that would allow denser home building in single-family zones. The study says the bill, which passed the state Senate, would produce an uptick in the state’s housing supply, but it likely wouldn’t cause the mass redevelopment that skeptics fear.

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

Billionaire buys USC house

The seven-acre grounds center on a 14,000-square-foot American Colonial-style mansion surrounded by sprawling lawns and English rose gardens.

(Compass)

When USC’s presidential mansion set a San Marino record by selling for $25 million in early July, it was initially unclear who the buyer was. Real estate records now show it was purchased by Tianqiao Chen, a Chinese billionaire with deep philanthropic ties to the community.

It was pure circumstance how he first came to the area. While watching the news, he and his wife, Chrissy, saw a story of a Caltech scientist helping a quadriplegic man use his thoughts to control a robotic arm and grab a beer.

Shortly after, the couple flew to Pasadena to meet the scientist — a trip that led Chen to give Caltech $115 million for neuroscience research, one of the largest gifts the university had ever received. In 2016, he founded the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech complete with a three-story, 150,000-square-foot facility on campus that was dedicated to the couple earlier this year.

He’ll have a short commute if he ever visits it, because his home sits about a mile away from the facility.

Actress gets way over asking

The half-acre estate includes a 99-year-old Craftsman, one-bedroom guesthouse and rustic barn surrounded by gardens.

The half-acre estate includes a 99-year-old Craftsman, one-bedroom guesthouse and rustic barn surrounded by gardens and fruit trees.

(Noel Kleinman)

In the latest example of Southern California’s seller’s market, “Charlie’s Angels” actress Shelley Hack sold her Santa Monica Craftsman for $11.43 million — or $2.58 million more than she was asking.

Hack and her husband, director Harry Winer, are walking away with a huge profit. Not only did they haul in significantly more than their original asking price of $8.5 million, but they also paid just $1.6 million for the property in 1988.

The secluded compound sits about a mile from the ocean in Santa Monica’s North of Montana neighborhood. Across half an acre, there’s a 99-year-old main home, one-bedroom guesthouse, rustic barn and manicured backyard with a deck and pool surrounded by gardens and fruit trees.

Power couple will either sell or lease

The 6.5-acre spread includes a main home, guesthouse and apartment that combine for nine bedrooms across 10,200 square feet.

The 6.5-acre spread includes a main home, guesthouse and apartment that combine for nine bedrooms across 10,200 square feet.

(Marc Angeles)

Space is at a premium in Hollywood Hills, but not on the sprawling hillside compound of actress Helen Mirren and director Taylor Hackford. The power couple’s longtime property, which spans 6.5 acres at the foot of Runyon Canyon Park, listed for sale at $18.5 million.

If you’re eyeing a shorter stay, it’s also available to be leased at $45,000 per month.

At 6.5 acres, it’s the second-largest property currently available in Hollywood Hills. To put its relative size into perspective, only three estates on the market in the star-studded neighborhood claim more than 3 acres.

According to the listing, there have only been four owners — all famous — since the home was built more than a century ago: “The Squaw Man” actor Dustin Farnum, writer Mark Hellinger, “Perry Mason” producer Gail Patrick, and Mirren and Hackford, who acquired the estate in the 1980s.

SoCal home prices break another record

A for sale sign starts the bidding on a house in this cartoon

Southern California’s median home price surged to $680,000 in June.

(San Diego Union-Tribune)

Southern California’s real estate market hit another historic peak in June, with home prices soaring to yet another all-time high, though analysts see the extreme bidding wars of the last year beginning to ease.

June’s median home price of $680,000 tops the previous record of $667,000, set in May, according to data released Tuesday by data firm DQNews. It represents a 22.5% increase from June 2020, when the market in the six-county region slowed significantly as sellers pulled homes off the market because of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

Since then, a dramatic rebound has seen 11 straight months of double-digit median home price rises.

Experts credit multiple factors: the fast-expanding buyer market of millennials, more demand for space as more people work from home, and ultra-low mortgage rates, which are attracting wealthy investors who compete with the middle class for limited housing stock.

Housing bill put in perspective

A new bill would allow most lots now zoned for only one house to have up to four units.

A new bill would allow most lots now zoned for only one house to have up to four units.

(Willis Allen Real Estate)

A bill advancing through the California Legislature to allow for denser home building in single-family zones would be likely to produce an uptick in the state’s housing supply, but the so-called upzoning probably won’t cause mass redevelopment, according to a report published Wednesday.

Andrew Khouri and Ari Plachta write that the study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley offers the most detailed analysis yet of the potential effect of Senate Bill 9, designed to allow up to four homes on most single-family lots and spur the construction of badly needed new housing.

Because of the way unit development would pencil out, the study found that “the vast amount of single-family parcels across the state would not see any new development,” said David Garcia, policy director at the Terner Center, which supports the bill written by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego).

SB 9 passed the state Senate and is expected to be taken up in the Assembly Appropriations Committee by Aug. 27. If approved, it would go to a final vote in the Assembly and then to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. The Terner Center study found that under the bill, a total of 714,000 new homes would make financial sense to build, and it would take years to build them — if they ever are, since not all homeowners would want to sell or develop their own property.

What we’re reading

USC is on a selling spree. After unloading its presidential mansion, the school is offering up another home it owns in the Hollywood Hills for $4.25 million, according to House Beautiful. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the stunning abode is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you’re bidding for a home, there’s an increasing chance that the other contenders aren’t trying to live there. They could be an investor, a house flipper, or even a hedge fund, according to NBC News, who reported that investment groups are scooping up homes across the country thanks to their unmatchable financial firepower.