Legend has it that a youthful Steven Spielberg was cresting the 405 freeway one evening driving north out of Los Angeles. Suddenly, there it was: his vision of the dazzling Mother Ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, inspired by the vertiginous view of the San Fernando Valley’s vast, twinkling expanse.
Many smug Angelenos living south of Mulholland Drive do tend to regard the Valley and its inhabitants as alien as ET. These hipsters denigrate it for its suburban sprawl, its monotonous architecture, its blistering summers and chilly winters (compared with the more moderate climate of the L.A. basin) and they dismiss its residents as provincial and culturally deprived.
But the nearly two million people whose homes are spread across the Valley’s 345 square miles take most of this upmanship in stride (or are blithely unaware of it). Second-class citizens to some, the majority live within the political limits of Los Angeles, enjoy the blessings of the city, and take pride in where they live.
I’ve been an on-again/off-again Valley resident for years, and admit that some of the stereotypes may contain a kernel of truth; museums here are as rare as check-cashing stores are common. And it’s no longer a guilty secret that the Valley is the seat of the huge porn industry.
But the Valley has been building on its reputation as Los Angeles’ bedroom (that is, where commuters sleep, rather than where adult film stars perform) since the first returning G.I.’s began buying post-war homes here, gradually replacing the orange groves that once flourished throughout the Valley.
And the Valley housing market moves in close rhythm with the broader L.A. real estate market. Prices and sheer sales volume soared early in the decade, then peaked and began to plunge in recent months as the mortgage crisis took its toll. This severely distressed market, riddled with growing numbers of foreclosures and short sales, appears to have a long way to go before recovery is likely to begin.
In this blog I’ll be watching residential real estate closely for Sweet Digs readers in select Valley communities like Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood and Van Nuys, and reporting three days a week on affordability, market trends and where the bargains are.