Ten homes sold in the first three months of 2009 in Piedmont in an average 65 days, compared to 16 last quarter and 11 in the first quarter of 2008 (see details at the page bottom). The average price of a home was $1.867 million ($570/sf), a dramatic rise from last quarter's figure of just over a million. In contrast to then, nearly half of this quarter's homes sold for over $2 million. Two of the sales were REO or bank-owned properties, and most of the high-end homes had been on the market for several months.
Let's get real, though--it's folly to base conclusions on so few sales in such a small town. These homes included some that offered much more square footage than the tax record reflected, one whose buyers paid nearly $100,000 of the sellers' costs (I've adjusted that effective sales price in the attached spreadsheet), and several with fabulous grounds or major structural issues. What does average mean in that context?
Of more interest to me have been new developments on the appraisal front. A number of you have received notes from your home equity line lender reducing, freezing or even eliminating your line of credit. Our neighbors in the surrounding communities have been seeing these notes for the last several months.
In some cases, lenders are trying to get out of this market. In others, lenders happily go back to thestatus quo ante when you push back a bit with thoughtful comparables from your deeply experienced local realtor. In others, your current lender, or perhaps a new lender you choose, wants an appraisal before they'll up your limit again (and if you're right and the value is there, ask in advance that the lender pay for the appraisal).
On the appraisal front, beginning around April 1st, new rules went into effect strengthening the arms-length relationship among lenders, mortgage brokers, and appraisers. Among the myriad effects and implications is that appraisals for Piedmont homes are increasingly done by out-of-area appraisers.
I saw an appraisal last week that included a Piedmont-Side-of-Montclair (i.e. Oakland) home among the comps. A deeply experienced local appraiser says that with so few homes closing in Piedmont, and with lenders understandably super-sensitive about value, they are willing to trade off ''true'' comparability for recency. Thus, a '20s stucco home with lots of traditional detail in a great central location was compared exclusively with recently closed homes that all happened to be ranch style, and most were located up in the Montclair-Side-of-Piedmont area (i.e. Piedmont). One recently closed home in a great location across from a park in town did not ''appraise'' for its contract price, even though the highest of the three offers garnered with just one open house was (drumroll please....) at asking price.
Maybe the differentials among prices for older homes vs. newer homes, and homes on wide streets vs. homes on narrow windy streets, and homes with Bay views vs. homes without Bay views, and homes with easy walks to all schools vs. homes that require a carpool are just over the top. Maybe it is more about square footage. But these factors have formed the warp and weft of the Piedmont real estate market for generations. We may be at a flexion point in property valuation and things may go back to a new normal shortly, but for those purchasing now, refinancing to today's great rates, or trying to protect a home equity line, the situation is clearly driving many crazy.
I'll never forget talking to the mother of a parent at our child care center in Washington DC a dozen years ago. She'd grown up in Piedmont and raised here children here. We mentioned where we lived and she said, ''ah, that's a good street'' and went on to clarify why she thought that was the case, with remarkable specificity. She was thinking back to 1979.
One final note--our MLS has signed on for detailed market analysis from Clarus Market Metrics--email me if you'd like the Piedmont-wide trend graphics over the past two years and I'll send you the multi-page pdf document. If you get ready to buy or sell, we'll narrow down the analysis to your portion of the market to help in pricing or development of the offer.