425 Kilkea Drive in Los Angeles, Calif., designed by Jae Omar and built by LA Build Corp.
Sky Photography LA 425 Kilkea Drive in Los Angeles, Calif., designed by Jae Omar and built by LA Build Corp.

In Los Angeles, small city lots with older, inexpensive homes on them present an opportunity for buyers and developers to create something bigger and better on the available space, as much as city ordinances will allow.

Since these lots can be bought at a lower cost than either a larger house or a larger lot, developers can maximize the return on their investment by literally maximizing the size of the home allowed on a given lot. This trend not only generates a large profit, but creates an attractive opportunity for buyers seeking out a more modern lifestyle in the city.

“The trend for the last few years has been to maximize the allowable square footage and to produce a bigger house with an indoor-outdoor flow that is well suited for people who are working in the city and would like to avoid the traffic associated with living in the suburbs,” says Ami Harari, principal of LA Build Corp., a Los Angeles-based contractor and development firm. “The trend became very popular, prices were driven up by demand and developers seized the opportunity.”

LA Build Corp’s latest development project, a single-family home on Kilkea Drive, is one of many opportunities the contractor has seized in small-lot construction. “We begin by finding the right lot, preferably in the middle of the block and on the most desired street,” says Harari. “Then, we build a house that is just a bit better than the competition, along with focusing on the right market analysis on the desired square footage and the maximum price paid in the particular area we target.”

The home's kitchen and living room flow together into the outdoor living area.
Sky Photography LA The home's kitchen and living room flow together into the outdoor living area.
Decorative wood shutter fixtures scatter light on the floating stairwell.
Sky Photography LA Decorative wood shutter fixtures scatter light on the floating stairwell.

The Kilkea Drive project, designed by SoCal-based architect and interior designer Jae Omar, was created for a client that requested the open look of modern design with the feel of a “family-oriented” home. To this end the home offers open, flexible spaces that extend seamlessly into the outdoors, helped along by natural materials and landscaping in the interior.

Cedar, Ipe, and Kebony wood – a specialty wood from Delta Millworks – are incorporated throughout the home as exterior accents, interior flooring, stairs, cabinetry, porch decking, and decorative shutter features along the floating stairwell. San Quentin black beach pebbles, supplied by Bourget Bros., are used under the stairs alongside pavers as an exterior-style accent.

The stairs open from the middle of the home’s lower level into a kitchen that flows seamlessly into the living room, with Leicht wooden cabinetry, Miele appliances, and a kitchen island capped with a live-edge wooden slab bar table. The room is bordered on either side by floor-to ceiling glass panels, with a small tree in a planter by the front entry and uninterrupted access to the outdoor living space at the back. A glass wall behind the living room fireplace provides another window to the exterior, one of many filling the home with light.

The home's outdoor portion includes a heated two-lane lap pool.
Sky Photography LA The home's outdoor portion includes a heated two-lane lap pool.

As one of the residents is a competitive swimmer, the backyard incorporates a two-lane lap pool, with an attached wading pool and spa area. While LA Build Corp did not pursue any green certification, the project incorporates solar panels to power the home and heat the pool. Its air conditioning system runs at 97% efficiency, and its lighting and landscaping systems are highly energy-efficient. The home also incorporates a full home automation system, allowing the residents to control the home’s lights, music, window shades, TV, and exterior landscaping irrigation from a smartphone.

Last year, the city of Los Angeles laid down a series of guidelines for small lot construction, complicating the design processes for LA Build Corp’s projects. A “mansionization” ordinance reduced the buildable space per lot from 50% to 45%, and ruled that roof decks must have setbacks, as well as a mandatory 45-degree encroachment plane so that they do not cast shadows on neighboring properties.

According to Harari, these new codes have limited the opportunities in this space – and turned away potential developers. “The development opportunities are much less than they were last year with the new code changes,” Harari says. “Additionally, prices have risen, so the profit margin is not as attractive to many developers anymore. This has caused them to move to less regulated areas where there are more lucrative building options.”

Despite this, Harari is confident in the L.A. market’s demand for new development, no matter what form it may take in the future. “The market changes at a very fast pace,” he says, “and developers will continue looking in this highly desirable area for the next opportunity.”

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