During pandemic East Long Beach homes are selling quickly and above list prices

In the midst of an ever-increasing spread of COVID and at a time when a frail economy has kept interest rates at historic lows, houses are virtually flying off the shelves in the East Long Beach real estate market, according to area Realtors, who are seeing homes sell quickly, and often for more than their listing price.

“My team has had 45 showings in two days,” said Realtor Ben Fisher. “It’s like the Wild West out there in East Long Beach.

“From Los Altos to the Traffic Circle, South of Conant, the Plaza. Everything under $1 million, $1.2 million is being snapped up. There are million-dollar homes in Los Altos now, and in other parts of East Long Beach homes are listed in the $700,000-$800,000 range.”

The eastern part of town is as close to the suburbs as things get in Long Beach. Much of the area still resembles the planned communities that were envisioned for the neighborhoods, most of which popped up virtually simultaneously in the early to mid 1950s. Crime is low, churches are in clusters in various parts of the 90808 and 90815 ZIP codes. Supermarkets abound. Around the intersection of Spring Street and Palo Verde Avenue you’ll find a Stater Brothers, a Grocery Outlet, and soon an Amazon Fresh, and less than a mile away there’s a Pavilions and a Ralphs.

It’s not an area that appeals to everyone. There are few adventurous culinary offerings, virtually no exciting nightlife. If you go for a neighborhood stroll after 10 p.m. you’re going to wind up on Nextdoor.

Nor is it affordable to everyone, but agents like Fisher and Los Altos/Plaza area specialists are struggling to keep inventory to meet the demands.

“It’s crazy,” said Fisher. “My team has had 45 showings in two days; there’s a lot of money out there. I’m closing one this week in Lakewood that’s selling at $66,000 over the asking price.”

The large number of showings that real estate agents are getting aren’t just curious neighbors waltzing through to see what’s been done with the house. Looky-loos have been made extinct by the pandemic. Now, to look at a house, you need to fill out COVID forms, be pre-qualified for a loan and jump through other hoops before you can get in the front door of a home on the market. So lookers are more than mere potential buyers, they’re promising buyers.

Fisher has sold plenty of homes in East Long Beach, though he ranges into the Peninsula and Naples as well. He recently sold a home on the beach at the foot of the Peninsula for $3.5 million. The homes at that end of the market are moving, too, though not as briskly as what Fisher terms the bread-and-butter homes of East Long Beach.

“A home selling for more than $1.2 million in Belmont Shore and the rest of 90803 will be on the market for an average of 49 days,” he said. “If it’s under $1 million, it’s on the market for an average of 13 days. You can’t keep it on the market; it’s gone.”

Joe Sopo and his wife Linda are Realtors who specialize in those bread-and-butter homes and, said Joe, “If it doesn’t sell in a week or two we’re wondering what the hell we’ve done wrong.”

Linda points to the quality of East Long Beach’s public school as a draw to the area. “It’s not just people in Long Beach moving in, we’re also getting a lot of people from LA who are coming in because in LA they’ve put their kids in private schools, and they’re just amazed at how good our public schools are,” she said.

Tuition for private elementary schools in Los Angeles averages $11,546. “So it’s a big savings right there, especially if they have more than one child,” said Linda.

This five-bedroom, three-bath home on Pattiz Avenue in Lakewood Plaza went on sale Friday at $949,000. Listing photo.

East Long Beach has a number of well respected and award-winning public schools, including Minnie Gant, Cubberley, Patrick Henry, Prisk and Bixby.

The COVID pandemic, coupled with low interest rates are both driving the boom, along with, in many cases, rising home values. Homeowners who’ve been living in the same house for 25 years or more can suddenly find themselves with a half-million dollars in equity and they may figure they can afford to move up in class.

And the coronavirus has the sort of hidden consequence of cabin fever, or making people sick of the house that they’ve become imprisoned in, or just needing more room if they’re working from home and are tired of doing their jobs on laptops in the laundry room, and now they want a fourth bedroom for an office, or a pool for a backyard getaway or to keep the kids busy.

Or maybe there’s little reason at all to buy a new house other than just to do it..

“A lot of people who didn’t have any intention of moving,” said Fisher. “But now they’re seeing nicer homes that they didn’t know they could afford, especially with low interest rates. It’s wild to see how cheap money is.”

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.