Pasadena has again proved itself a prime target for multifamily developers. A 1.27-acre site on South Lake Avenue near Caltech sold last month for $16.55 million, said listing broker Laurie Lustig-Bower, an executive vice president at CBRE, who fielded offers from nearly 20 prospective buyers over just a couple of months.

Public records show the buyer is James Li, through a limited liability company based in San Gabriel. He was represented by Roobik Ovanesian of Cranbrook Realty Corp.

The site encompasses a 22,500-square-foot retail and office building, which is about 94 percent leased, and a surface parking lot. That empty lot is what made the site particularly attractive.

Under Pasadena’s planning codes, it is possible to build 92 residential units over retail space in the area. However, the city is in the midst of updating its local planning codes, according to Lustig-Bower, and seems poised to possibly allow up to 146 units, in line with its general plan for the whole city.

That potential for greater density - along with the unusually fierce competition from highly qualified buyers - drove the asking price up from the low teens, Lustig-Bower said. The bidders came from various backgrounds, but the strongest competition in the final group came from Asian investors, mostly from China.

Pasadena was a big part of the pull, Lustig-Bower said, given that its apartment occupancy rate is at 98 percent. The rents in the city are also among the highest in greater Los Angeles, according to, with the median rate for a one-bedroom unit at $2100. That reflected a 4.2 percent growth over the past year.

“What is interesting to see firsthand is when you’ve got a desirable location, the demand is night and day, from when something is in a just-okay location,” said Lustig-Bower. “You can see it exponentially in the number of offers that you get.”