It’s hard to be a good dinner guest when the tableside conversation turns to the matter of real estate. I try to hold my tongue, and try not to offer advice–no matter what.

So as I squirmed to sit still, with my husband glaring at me across the table with that “don’t get involved” look, I couldn’t believe the story I was hearing.

“It took us 18 months to get our permits for this damn remodel,” said the friend of a friend who was our host. “Just when we thought it was a slam dunk–after going through the whole process of listing and looking and not selling, we’ve just decided that it’s easier to remodel.”

Eighteen months? I can’t believe that anyone in Los Angeles wouldn’t give up on a project like this even before it began. Is it that complicated? Are they tearing down the house?

And so the story unfolded. The host–fired up by the real estate boom in Los Angeles–decided to put his house on the market during the spring of 2003. His wife, who was expecting their second child, was discouraged by what they could buy and how much work needed to be done on the houses they’d seen. So they decided that they would remodel here instead. 

Here, however, happens to be a house on a corner lot surrounded by red curbs and “Do Not Park” signs high in the Hollywood Hills. “The house will have everything anyone might want when we’re done,” the host bragged. Does this mean they are selling when they are done?

After engaging an architect and structural engineer, the dilemma they faced was not the nine pylons that they’d have to put into their existing garage in order to expand their master bedroom. Nor was it the daunting prospect of having to move out for a year with two small children. No, it was the fact that they were short the required 6-foot setback from the appurtenant neighbor’s house above them to do the project at all. Six lousy feet and uphill too–completely non-useable land.

So they began the dance and scoped out the neighbors. The neighbor in question has a small child, so after our hosts had their new baby the wives started taking neighborly walks up and down the hills, stroller-pushing, bonding. After several months, an overture was made for drinks at their house. They were so boring. They couldn’t get them to leave. But after plying them with alcohol, the neighbors finally agreed to the sale of the needed 6 feet. Our hosts couldn’t believe that was what they had to do to get their remodeling project started.

And then came the shocking news. One day, the neighbors of our hosts could see two men engaged in what they believed to be illicit sexual acts through their bedroom window on the adjacent hillside. They were appalled. They could see right in without binoculars. Appalling!

Suddenly, our host’s neighbors decided to move.

The neighbors’ real estate agent advised them that if they wanted their home sale to move quickly and for top dollar, it wouldn’t be wise to explain to their prospective buyer that they’ve agreed to sell the lower 6 feet of their property – much less divulge that they know the neighbor is going to embark on a major renovation project. (So much for full disclosure.) So off they went.

Friend of a friend, our host, was completely dismayed. “Now I have to get to know these new people who have just moved in and god only knows how long it’s going to take me to get them in a position where I can suggest the sale of the 6 feet…” I listened as dessert was served.

A week later, I heard that the friend of a friend–in pursuit of the 6 feet–decided to take up surfing with his new neighbor.

Only in Los Angeles.

Julie Brosterman is a consultant to the real estate technology, mortgage and servicing industries. After she spent 15 years in the title insurance industry, the Internet “spoke” to her and she has never looked back. She lives in Los Angeles and can be contacted at


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