April 26, 2009

Room(s) With a View

Yesterday Paul and I went to take a look at the condos at West Ocean Two in Long Beach. They are, ostensibly, oceanfront and are being offered at auction for some pretty reasonable prices. Why not, we thought.

I'll admit I was a bit afraid to take a look -- what if I liked it? I'd heard good things about the building -- nice views and a wine cellar for residents! We played with the scenario: If we liked it, we could sell our inland place and rent out the loft and get a little more space in the bargain. After all, it was the same distance from my office as our current place.

We were able to see several floor plans, some fully decorated models and some still waiting for flooring and appliances. The models were well-decorated in that clever way -- a small table makes a space look larger, a double bed makes a bedroom look bigger. The models also had nice upgrades in the floors and in the bathrooms and some of them included the furnishings.

As it turns out, I needn't have worried. Yes, the places are nice and yes, if you get up high enough -- and pay enough -- the views are lovely. But when you get high up enough for the lovely view, you're left with a very expensive apartment and a poorly laid out floor plan that wastes the space.

Most of the units available have a west-facing orientation, which means views of the port. And the cranes. And the ships. And the freeway. Not so lovely. There are a few east-facing places, but they get pricey above the 6th floor, and that's when you actually get a view past the next-door apartment building and the parking garage in front.

I did like the ground floor apartment that is used as the sales office -- it has a huge wraparound patio and is right next to the pool. But Paul thought: "What if people don't realize that the porch is private space?"

And once we got back to our place (which we do prefer, thank you very much) we started to talk about some of the oddities: Lots of windows is great on first glance, but between the sea breeze (and it's very very windy in this spot) and the port grime -- ugh. Who cleans them? We get plenty of port grime and we have a. screens and b. an east-facing orientation.

And whose idea was it to put in luxury apartments with non-luxury amenities? Cheesy little tubs and plastic tile in the non-model units. The bathrooms were overly large -- but the space wasn't wisely used. And who would pay more than half a million dollars (the discounted price) for a place without a jacuzzi tub? Every new suburban home in the country comes with a jacuzzi tub these days -- haven't the builders been watching house hunters?

And after living in a loft-style apartment, I'm afraid a regular apartment felt a little tight, space-wise.

So we think that if someone was looking for a retirement place, or a downsized beach area place, it would be a good idea. After all, we're talking waterfront, if not beachfront, for 195K for a one-bedroom and 235K for a two-bedroom. A nice little second-home apartment. It's cool, it's close to downtown, it's not far from an actual beach. But for everyday living, we'll stay in our 1920s, art-deco hotel two blocks behind it.

We did ask them why they were selling the condos at auction. Were they in trouble, financially? The agent told us it was a sales ploy -- that in this market, they thought they'd try something to catch people's eyes. That if they offered a few apartments at 40 percent off, then people would notice.

What we noticed is that if we'd bought one of the full-price units and they were selling identical ones at 40 percent off, we'd be pretty ticked.