By Allen Levin
I moved here from Indiana in January of 2000. Since then (nearly 19 years) I have moved only 3 times. I moved from Canoga Park (lived there for 9 months) to Burbank (8.25 years) to Panorama City (4.5 years and first real estate purchase and sale) to Sherwood Forest (so far over 5 years). My guess is we will live here at least another 8 to 10 years. I’m not going to get another mortgage but if we save up enough, we’d like to live in Agoura Hills.
So, I’ve moved 3 times in 19 years. How many times have you moved since you got here? Zero in on a safe place and stay there. All of the places I lived were reasonably safe. Even Panorama City. Yes, we heard gun shots once a month, but we kept our heads down. We didn’t take late night walks. We protected ourselves and we made money on that investment. My goal when I lived there was to live there for 4 to 5 years max. I moved out exactly in the middle at 4.5 years. I decided to sell that condo so that I could put more down on the house and avoid “PMI” which saved me a couple hundred dollars a month. I should have paid the PMI! (Private Mortgage Insurance is owed if you put down less than 20% on a real estate purchase and it’s money that’s completely wasted). I wish I had kept the condo as an investment as since we’ve sold it – it has doubled in value from $200,000 to $400,000 and we’d have made money on the rental. Live and learn.
If you are able to find a reasonably safe place and buy it, do it! Rent out rooms like I did. I ended up marrying a roommate! Financially it’s a great choice to own out here. If you need advice, I’m happy to help. Get out of the rental game if you can. If you can’t, build a house family you trust. Big is fine. Everyone chipping in on the rent. If you can find a good situation with zero or little personal drama (save it for the stage, gang!) where people are paying only $400 or $500 a month – fantastic! Just make sure it’s a bright and warm place in a nice area (even if 8 of you are sharing a 2 bedroom). It’s only temporary.
Only move when you must! If you are spending time and resources moving, using up deposits, energy, etc, it will cost you in energy that should be entirely spent on your career. I know many GREAT actors who have moved as much as 8 times in 2 years. Ridiculous! They think it’s exciting and adventurous. Guess what they haven’t done? Booked a professional acting job. Hmmm… I wonder why? Maybe it’s all the time packing and unpacking boxes. Maybe it’s all the truck rentals, and back injuries. Maybe it’s all the time re-orienting themselves to new neighborhoods.
I understand that moving seems fun and it seems like an improvement in most cases. Only move if you have to do so. Earn improvement within your chosen profession. The actors I know that are killing it stay put, book a bunch, and ultimately go out and get a house they can afford to buy. They have no mortgage! That’s truly awesome! If you are going to have a mortgage, be sure you have a minimum of 12 months mortgage payment in the bank that you don’t need to touch, unless you absolutely must to pay that mortgage. Buying a house is fantastic. Losing it to foreclosure will ruin you financially, ruin your credit, and cost you great opportunities. I remember when I got Lifebook’s first theatre, we were chosen over another who got their first because they had a foreclosure on their record and the landlord refused to rent to them. What a HUGE opportunity that acting coach lost. He is no longer in LA.
Part of being a great money manager, which all actors must do, is creating a situation where the money you are spending on living comes back to you. If you are renting, you won’t get it back. If you are getting a mortgage, be sure you can afford it without the help of renters. Renters should save you money that you could have afforded to spend. ***Don’t get a reverse arm mortgage or anything sneaky or hard to explain. You are only interested in a traditional 30 year fixed mortgage. Don’t trust the banker! If they are trying to sell you on anything, it’s wrong. This should be something you know you can do, or don’t do it. Keep renting until you are sure.
Remember, if at all possible: don’t move. Stay put. Book another film. Create a web-series. Work on your one-actor play. Don’t move! If your situation is toxic, go ahead and get out of there, but learn from your mistakes and don’t get into that situation with another group of people. I’ve been where many of you are, I’ve had to rent (for over my first 9 years living here). I’ve had to rely on roommates, and gotten into some roommate drama I wish I could have avoided, but it all served a purpose. I’ll bet my 9 years is close to an average of sorts. After I’d paid my dues I was able to get my first loan. I knew I could afford the $1200 a month mortgage on my own. The place came with two other rooms. I didn’t pay the mortgage, my roommates did. I got a master bedroom that had cathedral ceilings, a fireplace, a private master bath, a partial view, and all I needed to do was pay about $450 in utilities and HOA a month! My roommates in the other two bedrooms paid the mortgage. What a great deal!
Just so you know I’d started aggressively looking for the right deal 3.5 years earlier. I didn’t strike until I knew I could. I was patient. I became an expert on what I could afford and what was a great opportunity. I found the right place (and I wish I hadn’t sold it!). Study what’s possible for you. Get an amazing deal. Sell it for profit (I made 25% profit on the purchase) and upgrade when you can. Stop moving. If you can’t buy, rent, but don’t move. Settle in. LIVE there. WORK there. Rise up and earn the move. Don’t just keep moving…. or that’s all you will do in LA. You are someone that moves. I’d like you to be a legitimate working actor. You can be. Let’s be smart about all this.
Our friends are going to move…. and that’s on them. Let’s stay put and build this thing! Onward and UP.