In February, when an acting gig brought him to Los Angeles for the umpteenth time, Timothy Britten Parker went on the Web and found himself a home. Searching the find-everything-and-anything site Craigslist, Parker -- who plays the goat schoolteacher Dr. Dillamond in the sit-down company of the musical Wicked -- located a two-bedroom house in Silverlake not far down the 101 freeway from Wicked's home at the Pantages Theatre.
He is paying $1,850 per month for a 1905 home that was once owned by Anthony Quinn. What started out as a nine-month lease was extended six months by the owners -- who are, Parker reports, artistic as well.
"I've worked out here a lot over the last 30 years, and my expectation is always to pay less here than I do in New York, or at least to expect more square footage for the same price as I would pay in New York," says Parker, who has sublet his New York apartment for the duration of his stay. "When I was younger, the jobs were lower-paying, and I wound up staying on people's couches." Couching it is always an option for actors looking to save the cash -- or the per diem, if it's provided -- that they would otherwise spend on room and board.
But whether the source is a rental service, a local paper such as the Recycler, or the Internet, renters and property managers alike insist short-term housing can easily be found in an abundance of areas and price ranges. You too can pay less than what you would pay in the Big Apple. Or, if the gig is cushy and you're so inclined, you can pay more.
With Friends Like These
Actors like Parker, who have done the "few months in L.A." dance more than once, tout the value of legwork. Send out those email blasts, giving your dates and inquiring if anyone knows someone who has a room, a house that needs watching during a vacation, or, yes, a comfy couch. If you're doing a play, reach out to your fellow cast members and find out where they're staying and if any of them want to go in on a place jointly.
"In a company like ours, many people are living together, two and three to an apartment," says Parker. "It's quite comfortable, it make things affordable, and it makes transportation easier also."
In a city as vast and sprawling as L.A., the more time a performer takes to look for housing, the more varied his or her options are. The decline in the local real estate market has made renting an increasingly popular option, but the operators of rental-listings services say this doesn't necessarily translate to a spike in rental prices.
"Some rental properties that are currently on the market, houses for rent, might be coming off the market because of foreclosure," says Jamie Insalaco, senior marketing official for Sublet.com. "It doesn't sound like it affects inventory on the apartment-complex level. More like private homes turned into rentals."
Entities such as Sublet.com and Apartments.com position themselves as a middlemen agencies between landlord and renter. Basically, the would-be renter plugs in his or her area of preference and housing needs -- apartment or house, number of bedrooms, length of lease -- and then gets to peruse listings. Some of these organizations charge clients a monthly fee to look at listings but can serve as one-stop shopping by taking care of related items such as credit applications.
Because these agencies often work directly with landlords or operate properties themselves, finding a rental this way can often eliminate the hit-and-miss you would deal with in chasing that intriguing but unfruitful "For Rent" sign you saw posted in someone's front lawn. And a rare steal or unique situation may be buried amid apartment-complex listings on an agency website.
Westside Rentals (www.westsiderentals.com) offers more than 17,000 listings -- long- and short-term -- throughout the Southland. Rates will vary by area, but Mark Verge, owner of Westside Rentals, says one-bedroom apartments generally fall in the $1,150-per-month range, two-bedrooms around $1,500. December is often a good time to be looking for an apartment. Once the holidays are over, people's thoughts turn to relocating, and the rental market floods anew. And whatever the season, bargaining and negotiating -- particularly where short-term rentals are concerned -- is acceptable.
A recent scan of the listings offered by Apartments.com turned up 1,196 choices in the Los Angeles area. Most users of the website were looking for two-bedrooms -- top amenity choices being air conditioning, an in-unit washer and dryer, and a dishwasher. "We get everything from 200-unit complexes to single-unit complexes," says Maureen Boyle, Apartments.com director of marketing. "We also get classified listings from 140 newspapers throughout the country." The apartment-living section of Apartments.com contains articles on topics ranging from bargain hunting to reviewing your lease before you sign.
To Serve You All Your Days
Sometimes whoever brings an actor to town has already done much of the legwork in housing that actor. Production companies and regional theatres, such as downtown's Center Theatre Group, often have deals with apartment or corporate housing, which can cut down on a search considerably.
Alex Brightman, one of the titular History Boys, which played at the Ahmanson Theatre in late 2007, chose the Oakwood apartments' popular Toluca Woods complex. Not only was he in the same site as fellow cast member Adam Armstrong but Brightman also found himself sharing the pool and grounds with tons of child actors and their parents who routinely come from out of town and take up residence at the Oakwood during pilot season.
Brightman, on hiatus from New York University during the History Boys run, knew he would have the use of a car during his stay. The CTG list of available places included a few hotels in downtown L.A., closer to the Ahmanson, but Brightman liked the idea of driving home after his performance as a way to help him decompress. In addition, Toluca Woods' proximity to studios would be useful should auditions crop up during his stay. Furthermore, he says, word of mouth and the Oakwood's amenities hooked him.
His one gripe: parking. If you're not a permanent resident there, your parking isn't assigned; when he'd arrive home after 11 p.m., spaces were not always easy to find. Otherwise, Brightman declared himself happy with the Oakwood and says he would choose it again. "I'm in a studio, and for my situation, it's perfect," he says. "I sleep there, and I leave, and that's it. There's a Murphy bed, which is totally awesome. Desk, couch, coffee table, and there are plenty of restaurants that deliver directly to it. The Oakwood has it down to a science."
Indeed it does, agrees Oakwood director of marketing Janet Plant, ticking off amenities such as high-speed Internet capability, fully stocked kitchens, and ease of move-in. "That's why actors love us," she says. "We really do provide temporary housing. People don't have to sign a long-term lease. We're a lot more homey and comfortable than a hotel and a lot less expensive."
For the short-term renter -- as for those looking to put down roots -- work proximity is often a key variable. Verge, whose Westside Rentals has offices throughout Southern California, counsels renters to carefully map their home-to-work commute and also to check out the neighborhood by day and by night.
If the bulk of your work is going to be in Santa Monica, you might want to rethink settling down in Northridge. "Get a place for a week, like a hotel, learn the area, and figure out what you can afford," offers Verge. "I try to tell people not to go overboard. Don't get a two-bedroom. Get a one-bedroom or a single."
Whatever you decide, best of luck to you in finding a homey place to stay -- and in getting that great gig that allows you to take up permanent residency here.
Evan Henerson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.