Friday, December 24, 2010

Now that We Live Here, Here's Why We Like Piedmont--

Was visiting a couple of days ago with clients who moved to Piedmont in 2007. Out of the blue, he said,

"You know, all this [renovation] stuff with the house has been fine, but we had no idea how great this move would be for our lifestyle. Compared to [living in Oakland and our kids going to private school with friends all over the area], it's all so easy. They walk to school. They walk to friends' houses. I catch the bus a couple blocks away to the Financial District. Our friends elsewhere have to have logistics meetings every night to organize for the next day."

That's essentially what you said, right?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

And If You Don't Want to Rent Out but Want a Housesitter---

A mature client has a friend who does longer term housesitting (1 month to 8 months) in the East Bay Hills in high-end homes. She knows the ropes, from security systems to feeding complicated pets to touching base with neighbors. Email me if you'd like her contact info---

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thinking about Renting?

Friends who sold their beautifully maintained home in town a year or so ago are looking for a Piedmont rental--let me know if you have what they'd love to rent sometime in the spring:

-About 2500sf
-About 4 bedrooms/2+ baths
-$4500 max.
-They'd love a long-term arrangement with a young one about to start school.

Trying to Make It Real Compared to What---

Like my family, you all probably decided to move to Piedmont after looking at Berkeley, Montclair, Lafayette/Moraga/Orinda, and Mill Valley/Marin County. I hear it all the time with my new buyer clients: "I should let you know that we're also looking in ....." or better yet, "do you know a great agent who could help us take a look in .....?" (I have tried and true agent contacts in each of these areas.)

But the Piedmont pride nevertheless shines through. I while ago I pulled together a factsheet comparing 2000 census and API schools data on Piedmont and the Lamorinda towns, and over the years I've expanded it to discuss proximity to Chronicle 100 restaurants, and so on.

Over the break, I took a moment to check on updated info from the American Community Survey ('05-'09 data) and to take a detailed look at the Mill Valley vs. Piedmont choice--Konrad grew up in Mill Valley, went to Tam High, and still has lots of friends there, so particularly given the Inverness house, I probably spend four times as much time in Mill Valley as I do through the tunnel these days.

Let me know if you'd like either of the factsheets to pass on to friends and family. If you're looking for what we've got, it's a pretty clear choice!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cost Vs. Value Report Again Available

Once again, the Realtor magazine/Remodeling magazine annual report is available. If you want to know how much added value (at resale) you can expect from that new deck, added bedroom, or remodeled bathroom, the report can give you some insight.

Eleven of the improvements generate a greater than 100% return when compared to the cost (though the returns don't reflect ongoing comfort improvements or efficiency savings, such as fewer drafts and lower utility bills from window replacements). Last year's review, with a slightly different project mix, included only seven with ratios over 100%, though back in the mid-00s, the ratios were consistently above 100% in the Bay Area. Throughout the decade, the Bay Area's cost vs. value ratios have been consistently higher than those across the Pacific region, and across the nation.

"Best" investments (meaning ratios over 100%) include: attic bedroom, basement, bathroom, minor (not major) kitchen remodels; garage door, entry door and window replacements; and deck additions (wood better than composite, though I've got to say that with most of Montclair's 30- and 40-year old decks carrying high dry rot inspection price tags, a composite deck is sounding awfully good to me....). Least effective investments include master suite additions, sun room remodels and backup generator installations.

Which leads me to say, all real estate is local. There's no question in my mind that the sale value of a Piedmont home with a master suite will be much higher than a home of comparable size without a master suite (and I ran the numbers not long ago for a client). Our buyers "expect" a master suite and are willing to pay for it (or conversely, some will skip past a home without one, and of course value buyers willing to live without a master suite will be pleased with their cost savings). Likewise, a bedroom addition in Piedmont often comes with a new foundation and second garage space expense attached--it may make little sense without also considering the needs of your family, tax bill considerations, and emotional attachments to neighborhoods. In that case, you might get exactly the arrangement you want for your remaining years in your home, at, say, 60 cents to the dollar of cost paid, after resale is reflected.

So don't hesitate to invite me over to look at plans or add my two cents to your discussions. And don't forget, you need a remodel without a permit like you need a hole in the head.

A Useful Guide to Small Claims Court

I've only considered going to small claims court once in my real estate career: Nice young clients were in contract to sell their 600 sf condo in 2005 to a young man who apparently was trying to buy the home with pretty much no money down. At the closing table, he was short--he and his agent assumed he could use part of a credit from the seller against his first month of mortgage interest and the our side knew that wasn't legal. Given that another unit had just gone into contract at a figure a few thousand less than ours, I knew that we'd be up a creek if the transaction failed. So I covered the shortfall out of my paycheck (small condo--small paycheck), and figured it would be a slam dunk in small claims court. Well, that was more than five years ago and I've missed my chance.

This month's CA Assoc. of Realtors magazine has a nice primer on small claims court, however; you can find it on the web, or email me and I'll send you the PDF of the issue. The article starts on p. 18.

Lots of Home Care and Maintenance Tips--JMC Inspections

If you're on Facebook, link up with JMC Building Inspections, owned by John McComas--he just sent me a link and his Facebook page is a nice walking encyclopedia of tips, videos (how to check your deck for safety), and upcoming events. When John does my client's home inspections, I pay for him to also do an energy audit of the home as he's one of the few inspectors who is also a state-certified auditor.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Another View on Window Replacements

The National Trust's e-newsletter reports today on the downsides of increasing energy efficiency. Sometimes it's tough to balance the eco agenda with the preservation agenda.

The eco-ists often talk about the annual utility bill savings as the argument for replacement; the remodeling crowd will talk about the high "cost vs. value" ratio (meaning forget miniscule utility savings--the big bucks are in the higher price you'll garner when you go to sell your home).

The preservationists argue that original is beautiful, and it's a shame to lose all that great aesthetic and historic value just for a few dollars. Don't forget--those aluminum windows that the Piedmont building inspector will cite you on were once the New New Thing.

Let me know your thoughts!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Time to Get Apples

A Piedmont friend who I helped make a purchase in Inverness last year made the questionable decision to let me pick apples and pears from her trees out there. So I've been making applesauce cake, and apple-rhubarb crumble, with rhubarb from our Inverness garden these last few weekends (while closing some of the more complex transactions I've had the honor of handling these last few years). If you too love apples, Sunset had a story this month about day tripping (no pun intended) to apple-centric Sebastopol--see the story here and don't forget to call me if you have an interest in West Marin real estate--I have very insightful and deeply experienced realtor contacts out there to help you with a purchase.

Appraisal and Inspection at Divorce---

Did you see this short story in the New York Times this week? The key take away is that if you need to estimate value for any reason (including the passing of a relative, etc.), it's good to hire an inspector in addition to your appraiser--

I'll let you in on a secret: I know that there is dry rot at the junction of our rear deck and a shingled pony wall near our property line. It will cost money to fix (and will be fixed before we sell!). It will not be cheap. But if I needed a good estimate of value on this classic 1907 shingle home with its share of quirks, I'd want to reflect that anticipated expense. A mere $600-750 for an inspection (and I have great referrals for you) might save a bundle of heartache and recriminations later!

Note that Nina Johnson, a great networking colleague whom I've written about before for her personal organizing expertise ( put me in touch with a wonderful advocate for a seriously ill neighbor (What in-home care does Kaiser cover? What should I ask my case worker for? Whom do I call for in-home nursing care? How is that different from care from an aid?), along with an architect who specializes in ADA and other accommodation ideas. Let me know if you're facing some off these issues locally and I can pass on these contacts.

Scouting for Food Pickup Nov. 20th

Piedmont's progressive Boy Scout Council provides a key administrative umbrella for a wide range of Piedmont youth activities--Oakland Strokes, Piedmont Language School, the High School's Community Service Crew, and the Boy Scout programs all operate under its purview.

But maybe the way the Council touches the most lives across the region is during the Scouting for Food Drive.

On Saturday November 20th, yours truly and a number of other adult and scout volunteers will fan out across Piedmont to pick up your donations of canned goods and staples.

If you'd rather join me and go electronic this year, consider a contribution to the Virtual Food Drive: go to this link, read and click on the ''more info'' link, and choose ''Piedmont Council, BSA'' from the Alameda County Food Bank's drop down menu. You can shop for needed staples virtually, or cut to the chase and just donate. This year perhaps more than ever!

And if you forget or know you'll be out of town, just email me and I'll swing over to pick up your canned goods.

Will You Be in Town on Thanksgiving?

Then you have two choices: Run/walk the 5K race, a course monitor! It's a very limited time commitment. You get your corner assignment, show up with your chair and coffee mug in hand, watch all your friends and neighbors pass by, and then head home for breakfast! Email Susan Freeman ( if you have the time, and enjoy!

A great way to support lifetime exercise among Piedmont youth--the funds underwrite the PHS Track and Cross Country teams.

Wrapping Up a Renovation

Stopped in at the sleek mid-century home of clients who bought a couple of years ago and are getting close to wrapped up on their renovation, with the help of Piedmont architect Ahmad Mohazab ( What a gorgeous architectural update and what wonderful surfaces!

When I got home, I remembered I'd pulled The Punch List out of Consumer Report's latest Kitchen Planning and Buying Guide (why do I read this stuff given we finally wrapped up our kitchen and bath remodels over a year ago?--For you.....). I'll scan it; just email me for an e-copy. Included are such easy-to-miss items as ''Contractor has provided countertop care instructions'' and ''All light fixtures have working bulbs in them.'' Perhaps most important in Piedmont is ''inspections completed and permit finaled?''

By the way, one of the most satisfying hours I've had in years (what does that mean about me?) was when I picked up adhesive silicon and felt ''buttons'' at the hardware store and walked around the house installing them everywhere a cabinet or window seat lid bumped up against a wall, or a shower door could hit a door jamb, or the microwave door intersected with a shelf edge. It's those final little touches that make all the difference.

At What Price?

So I just said, “homes that sell, sell promptly, while those that aren’t meeting serious buyer interest just sit.” How do you make sure your home is priced in a manner that attracts buyer interest?

Careful and thoughtful positioning in the market is key! I work hard to ensure that we get it right on two fronts: price, and positioning compared to the real competition.


We need to get the price right. Let’s talk about “last listing price” vs. “original listing price” focusing on Oakland’s 94611 zip code for a moment: 64 homes sold in Montclair during the third quarter. The average ratio of sales price to original asking price among the homes that found a serious buyer was 97%. About a third of these sold promptly for over the asking price, while the balance sold for as little as 70% of the original asking price, usually after one or more interim price reductions and quite a bit of anxiety-producing time on the market.

Today, 138 homes are on the market in Oakland 94611, and most of these were on the market when the 64 homes above went into contract. (The average days on market for those that did not attract a real buyer is 72 days; twice as long as those that met market expectations.)

Serious buyers were purchasing other homes, and leaving these to sit. In many cases, the sellers of these homes can’t sell for much lower--in fact 49 of the 138 are either bank-owned (in which case the owner presumably couldn’t find a buyer so the bank foreclosed) or short-sale distress situations.

And it’s a mistake to think “well, 64 homes out of roughly 200 sold this quarter, so if I just leave my home on the market for 3 quarters, it too will sell. I’m willing to wait to get the price I want.” If only that were how it works! During those 270 days, dozens of new listings will hit the market, and the real buyers will continue to buy the pick of the litter, and leave the rest to sit. In fact 183 homes--that is, 183 hopeful but unrealistic sellers--have come off the market since the beginning of the year in Montclair (admittedly some came back on and their homes finally sold).

Homes are definitely selling in our neighborhoods, but only serious sellers who are willing to meet the market are successful; serious buyers are not wasting time with sellers who want or need more than the market is willing to pay (to say nothing of those pesky appraisers, who need to see value before they’ll give the thumbs up for the buyers’ loan).

Positioning for the Real Competition

Sellers in our market need to know what their real competition is. A nicely located home in central Piedmont is competing against other homes of similar size, condition, and location in Piedmont. But serious buyers looking at it are also looking to other communities with good public schools--most typically Lamorinda and Marin County.

Just last week I received a call from a buyer with an interest in Piedmont, who respectfully wanted to make sure I knew that they were also looking in Mill Valley. Buyers from earlier in the year found they could meet their schooling needs best by focusing on renting in Lafayette. It’s true that particularly at the higher end, many of our buyers are cross-town move-up buyers. But you need a good sense of the market in communities your buyers consider interchangeable (even though we, together with San Francisco magazine, know Piedmont is the place to settle down with its short commute to the financial district, better schools (Gold vs. Silver according to US News), greater diversity, and higher incomes and education levels than these competing communities).

Did you know that Piedmont is within biking distance (2 miles) of seven of the Chronicle’s Top 100 restaurants in the entire five-county Bay Area while all of Lamorinda has only three restaurants on the list? Or that Yelp says there are 53 burrito outlets within 2 miles of Piedmont while Orinda has four? I know these factoids as well as other objective demographic data because they are in my “Comparing Piedmont to Lamorinda” factsheet I prepare for buyers trying to get a better handle on their choices.

You want a broker representing you who understands the underlying market dynamics facing your real buyers, and spends the time to make sure interested buyers get the ammunition they need to decide that Piedmont, and your home, is where they will get good value and a great lifestyle.

Prices Firm through Ups and Downs in Broader Market

The third quarter of 2010 in the East Bay saw a continuation of the strong and stable spring market (as agreements struck in the spring closed 30-45 days later) in combination with signs of slowing at the end of the quarter.

Across Oakland, 810 homes closed (compared to 1051 in 3Q09 and 961 in 2Q10). The median price for these was $257,000 while the average was substantially higher at $359,000. This differential suggests a large number of homes selling at the lower end of the market, likely distressed properties (in fact, 30 percent of all Oakland sales were for all-cash, and of the all-cash sales, the average price was $276,000). Prices ranged between $2 million and $38,000, with about two dozen selling for over $1 million.

Average “days on market” was a brisk 37 days, (34 days for single family homes excluding condos, etc.). Thirty-three homes sold in 94610 (roughly Crocker Highlands) and 39 in 94611 (roughly Montclair) with roughly the same days on market as the city-wide average, and with sold prices just a tad below the last listing price.

Berkeley, meanwhile, saw 143 sales (compared to 146 in 3Q09 and 177 in 2Q10). Prices ranged between $1.8 million and $220,000 (for a single-family home rather than a condo, by the way), and typical days on market was 27 days. Twenty homes sold for over $1 million, and about 20% of all sales were all-cash.

The California Association of Realtors reports that across California, as of September, that sales (# of purchases) are off 12% and prices are up 4.5% compared to a year ago, while median time on market and inventory levels (and the time it will take to put a home into a new household’s hands) are both up substantially. Also less-than-comforting are the county data: Alameda County saw a 10% drop in median prices from August to September, though a 5% drop in prices since September, 2009. The number of overall sales throughout the county is down by 25% compared to a year ago, though up by nearly 10% between August and September of 2010.

Zeroing in on Piedmont, we saw a total of 39 homes close in the third quarter (compared to 30 in 3Q09, and 37 closings in the second quarter), and they closed after an average 30 days on market. Prices ranged from $593,000 to $2.3 million. The average price was $1.435 million ($508/sf) compared to $1.495 million last quarter, and $1.433 million a year ago. the final sales price was typically about 3% below the original asking price, though that final vs. asking ratio varied from 115% to 80%. Median prices were consistent across the periods and at a somewhat lower number.

Sales seemed to slow quite a bit in the late summer (very few homes went into contract after July 15--usually we see the slowdown kick in a few weeks later) but activity has picked up again since Labor Day.

Thirty homes are currently on the market. When you look only at these homes for which buyers have not yet made a successful offer, the average days on market is 92 days. Two homes have been sitting on the market for about two years, while four are coming up on 6 months to a year on market, which drags up the average--homes that sell, sell promptly, while those that aren’t meeting serious buyer interest sit.

Thirty-four homes have left the market during the entire year, though in a few cases they return to market or have sold privately.

Low interest rates continue to be an extraordinarily significant factor in buttressing the pace of sales--I did a quick exercise last week to compare the ''how much house'' a household with $100,000 in income could purchase at today's low rates compared to 6%, which we were happy to see about 18 months ago. Ignoring things like car payments and student loans, etc., that buyer's monthly take-home pay can accommodate a $600,000 home today following standard underwriting guidelines, but could ''reach'' only to about a $500,000 price point at 6%. The flip side of the equation is that a seller can interest that buyer to pay $600,000 today, but would have to drop the price down to $500,000 to entice that same buyer if rates were at 6% (because the lender would not sign a pre-approval letter for that same buyer in a higher interest rate environment. Of course there will always be buyers able to pay $600,000, but there will be many fewer of them.)

Bottom line--home prices in Piedmont have stayed strong this quarter; saw an early slow down in demand at the end of the summer, but appear to have recovered for a good fall season. One home formally closed in October (reflecting that slow market in the late summer) while nine are currently pending.

Call me if you’d like the detailed Market Metrics report on the Piedmont market over the past two years; I’ve developed reports city-wide, and for the higher-end price band. (You know that when looking at value, you need to consider the price ''band'' or sub-market, in which you sit, right?)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Well, No Need to Worry about Fire Now--

Or maybe now's the best time to worry about fire?

See this nest of stories from the September issue of Sunset magazine , and this resource list for more about how to get ahead of the danger for next year. Many of us lived through the East Bay Hills fire, but too many did not, and just don't remember.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Someone's Going to Get a Good Deal!

My corporate client is relocating back to Milan, and you might know someone interested in a spacious and open, low-maintenance townhome above the Claremont Hotel. Because it won't be staged and the garden wasn't planted this year, it's priced at an attractive $679,000!

This sunny and gracious 1995 Hiller Highlands end-unit townhome offers an effortless lifestyle high above the bustle of the East Bay and San Francisco. Relax in the living room with its fireplace, hardwood floors, open feel, canyon views and cathedral ceilings, or on the rear patio with its unusually large garden and spa. The elegant master retreat and large spa-like bath are just a half-flight above the main level. The home's three bedrooms and two and a half baths are spacious and sport the large closets you don't typically find in older East Bay homes. There's even more storage in the two-car garage (with workshop).

Just a bit above the Claremont shopping area, enjoy easy access to commute routes to Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco or Contra Costa county. Enjoy a picnic and stay in shape at the nearby Hiller Highlands Country Club's pool, tennis courts, and gym room (at an affordable additional fee). Get energized by the spectacular Bay view as you descend the hill. Leave cutting the grass to the homeowner's association, yet enjoy gardening in the patio's planting bed!

1995 construction, and a very well-positioned homeowner's association. Note that photos are from the 2006 sale.

See for all the details; open Labor Day Sunday and 9/12 from 2-4:30 pm.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

33 Sotelo Coming to Market this Weekend!

Set among Mature Oaks and Surrounding a Sunny Courtyard….

See for more photos.

If you appreciate cohesive mid-century design, pay attention to interior light, enjoy your privacy, require great indoor-outdoor flow for entertaining, and value one of the best locations in all of Piedmont, then don’t miss 33 Sotelo Avenue!

This beautifully updated, artfully situated and carefully maintained four-bedroom, four-bath level-in home faces some of the most impressive estates in the entire Bay Area; the rear courtyard, perfect for gathering, overlooks a gorgeous grove of trees and a peek-of-the-City view.

Located near the Hampton playing fields, tennis courts and pre-school, the home is just over a mile to Piedmont’s highly rated schools and to Montclair shopping.

With a light-filled and high-ceiling living room, dining room, family room, recently updated kitchen all opening onto the courtyard patio, the home is a rare mid-century gem, and a perfect setting for the coming years!

The site

33 Sotelo sits like the prow of a ship at the top of the prestigious Sotelo Avenue/Glen Alpine Road loop. Fanned out across the street are some of the most impressive estates in town. One of only a few properties that flow through from Sotelo to Glen Alpine, the long sightlines are remarkable: the San Francisco city lights, a distant redwood grove, oaks and bay laurels at the rear, and private entry drives at the front. Sitting on an outcropping of rock and surrounding an ancient live oak, the home is private yet close to recreation and shopping. The fenced rear yard is pet-ready and in a few months, those utility poles and wires will all disappear underground!

The home

33 Sotelo is one of a limited number of true mid-century homes in Piedmont with four full bedrooms and a lot big enough to accommodate a classic central courtyard.

The expansive living room (with newer gas fireplace that can be turned on with the push of a button) and adjacent west-facing courtyard are perfect for entertaining. Garden-style glass doors offer wonderful flow between the courtyard and the living, dining, family and master bedroom suite, and the several skylights bring in even more light. Each bedroom offers a bath en-suite or adjacent; the guest bedroom on the lower level provides an exterior entrance.

Much of the house has been updated in the last decade, including the creation of a gorgeous chef’s kitchen (with a GE Monogram six-burner gas range and two-drawer Fisher & Paykel dishwasher), and addition of a family room and breakfast area adjacent to the kitchen. The master suite feels like a high-end hotel room, with its clean lines, and sleek stone bath, complete with relaxing tub and spacious shower stall. Plantation shutters in many rooms manage light in keeping with the design’s integrity. See the Improvements List at 33SoteloAvenue.Com for more details.

The systems

33 Sotelo has been very carefully maintained; the owners rely on contractors with excellent reputations. Given electrical and plumbing upgrades, installation of two 50-gallon hot water heaters, fire-proofed cedar roof shakes, newer insulation in the crawlspace, a two-furnace heating arrangement, and triple pane windows (all permitted, of course), ownership should be worry free. The driveway was recently replaced, and service contracts on kitchen appliances run through 2011!

The community

Piedmont is one of the East Bay’s most sought-after communities. Offering wonderful views of the Bay and San Francisco beyond, San Francisco magazine declared the town the “best place for kids” in a 2005 article. Its school district offers excellent public schools (the high school is currently 64th in the nation according to US News and World Report), locally controlled emergency services and police based about a mile from the home, and short and convenient commutes to San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and destinations through the Caldecott Tunnel. Restaurants, movies and shopping in Rockridge, Piedmont Avenue, Monclair and the Elmwood are just a short distance away.


-Sleek, classic mid-century design with level-in access on a nearly quarter- acre lot;
-Secluded location at the top of the prestigious Glen Alpine-Sotelo loop;
-Close to neighborhood park, tennis courts, ball fields and pre-school;
-About a mile to downtown Piedmont’s services and schools;
-Four bedrooms, four baths (guest suite with exterior access on the lower level);
-3252 square feet, 9030 square foot lot (per public records);
-Interior access to two-car garage with storage;
-Expansive living room, adjacent dining room and large courtyard;
-Recently updated chef’s kitchen with wonderful stone counters and stainless steel appliances;
-Family room, breakfast nook and full pantry adjacent to kitchen;
-Second slate patio for added privacy;
-Many recent updates and systems improvements! (see Improvements List under Documents).

Click here for a Google mashup of this prime location! Zoom in to see the boomerang shape of the home as it wraps around the central courtyard.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Put September 15th on your Calendar----

Put September 15th on Your Calendar Today!

That's the deadline for submitting an application for a downward adjustment in your property assessment (resulting in a reduction in property taxes). Your current-year assessment will be arriving in the next couple of weeks. If you see a problem, two great resources are:

--The county assessor's site , which includes all the forms and deadlines, and

--This video from the state Board of Equalization, which walks through the process piece by piece.

Remember that only your ''Prop 13'' property tax will be affected by a reassessment; the other charges on your bill (for instance, city and school parcel taxes; and 911, East Bay parks, library bond payments) won't decline. And if you, like we, bought your home a dozen years ago, your assessment is unlikely to have increased in the intervening years to current market value, much less to higher-than-current value.

I'm happy to run comparables for you to build your case, or to see if an appeal is worth it; just ask.

Case-Shiller: It's a Turnaround----

Their words, not mine: “A year ago, San Francisco had among the steepest price declines in the country. The market has now completely turned around, with the strongest price increases of any city.” See the graphic (with data through April) at this link.

Piedmont's Market Firms; Prices Are Up a Bit

The second quarter’s data suggests lots of energy in the Piedmont market: 25 homes sold at an average price of $1.413 million or $532/sf (compared to an average asking price of $1.394 million or $523/sfabout 1½% over the asking price). About half the homes sold over the asking priceas much as 18% over the asking pricetypically in fewer than two weeks (the average “days on market” was 18). This usually suggests that there were multiple offers for the home. The balance of homes sold for about 10 percent below the original asking price, after as long as 20 months on the market. None were identified as short sales or bank-owned properties (and the MLS now requires that, where appropriate).

The inventory sold varied from homes in the $700 thousands to homes over $3 million (and a wonderful home priced at over $5 million just went into contract, with both the seller and buyer represented by Pacific Union agents).

Recall that last quarter was extraordinarily quiet, with only 8 sales, averaging $1.2 million ($541/sf). At the time I suggested you not draw any conclusions from that snapshot. But a year ago, in the middle of that market’s financing, appraisal and economic turmoil, we saw average home prices of $1.4 million ($509/sf).

While the national media have been reporting a slowdown in pending sales (and attributing it to the end of the homebuyer tax credit), we’re not seeing a slowdown in the over-$500,000 market in the “inner” East Bay. In fact pending home sales have, in the main, increased about 16% in the last three months compared to the first three months of the year (though there was a lag the first week of May: buyers who might have bought that week likely pushed their decisionmaking forward to 4/30 so they could take advantage of the credit where eligible).

In Piedmont, this issue is mostly irrelevant as the tax credit applied only to homes under $800,000. In fact, there are 19 homes pending right now (none distressed), most selling in very short order and all along the price spectrum.

The wider East Bay seems strong as well: About 40% of offers accepted in my office are in multiple offer situations. The average price in Berkeley over the past quarter is right at $775,000 over 169 transactions, with a typical 27 days on market (the average price was $665,000 last quarter in 74 transactions). Nearly 900 properties in Oakland changed hands last quarter (compared to 620 in 1Q10), with an average sales price of $367,000 ($312,000 in Q1) and 42 days on market. About a third of these transactions involved all cash; prices on those homes averaged about half of the city-wide average. The Oakland portions of 94610, 94611, and 94618 saw 171 sales and average prices of $711,000 (compared to 107 sales at an average $617,000 the previous quarter).

Case-Shiller reports that prices across its 20-city index are up 3.8% this April compared to a year earlier (see more below).

I came across an example of the ways in which data on the housing crisis can be misleading in a Ca. Assoc. of Realtors analysis from a few days ago (ask me for a copy; the report overall is very insightful; it’s just this data point that’s less-than-helpful): Prices in the SF Bay area, from the “trough” or bottom of the market (which for us was Feb., 2009) to May, 2010 were up over 48 percent. Of course the value of your home isn’t 48 percent higher than in February, 2009; it’s just that the mix of homes sold has changed dramatically as distressed homes have moved through the system.

Email me for a Clarus MarketMetrics analysis of the past two years of this or any other market (by geography, price point, size, etc.) in the East Bay. I have one for the Piedmont market all ready to go!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The "Normal" Bathroom

Well, I've been clearing off my desk and finally got down to a nice story from the New York Times of 4/19/09: How Consumer Expectations about the Home Have Changed, and How They Might Change Again.

We all know that today's consumer wants a family room adjacent to a kitchen, wants two baths upstairs, and wants a master of a certain size--few of these amenities were typically available when our homes were originally built. We know the average home size has increased substantially.

The story talks about the exit of Home Depot from the Expo experiment,about the eco-renovators who focus more on green stuff than green performance (I think I'll go crazy if I hear about another $1200 side table cum polished ancient forest wood chunk). They also discuss, in a nutshell, the notion that "No one ever said, 'I want one sink instead of two.'"

But I am noticing more modest renovations, and outside of Piedmont, a tremendous amount of cornere-cutting in the slap-dash house flips these days. Three years ago, homeowners felt like their investments

Freebies---Sue Johnson Lamp Wiring and Lowe's in Concord

Because I did something very nice for Sue Johnson Lamps on Solano Avenue, they gave me a $40 gift certificate for lamp wiring/rewiring services. So if that antique lamp with the cloth wiring has been making you nervous, contact me and I'll drop off the certificate.

And if you're willing to drive to Concord for home improvement projects, I have a $25 off ($250 min purchase) coupon and a $10 off ($50 min purchase) coupon. Both expire at the end of the month. Just let me know!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Good News for Refinancing!

A year ago, I was helping a number of you review appraisals: rates were very attractive, but because of the new appraisal rules and the declining market, appraisals were coming in very low. I saw appraisers working here who were from Discovery Bay; I saw appraisals that included the data from very high-end fixers in Wildwood Gardens, but had the photo from a (truly comparable) house on Wildwood Avenue; I saw appraisals that used as comps Oakland properties that had closed recently; I saw homes that should have appraised for x appraise for much less. Together with the higher equity requirements the lenders had imposed, some of us were stuck with paying high rates!

It's a different world now. The appraisal practices have adjusted (and at least for a new home, realtors can refuse an appraiser assignment if the appraiser is not experienced in the area), there are many more sales so no one is comparing Piedmont to Montclair, and prices have definitely stabilized.

Particularly if you bought your home or refinanced between January and November of 2008, you may want to contact a lender about refinancing into a 30-year loan--rates are under 5% in many cases. And especially if you "gave up" in the last year or so, take a few minutes to make a phone call. Email me for a list of five local mortgage brokers and in-bank lenders who do excellent work. (And be prepared for a long slog if you're thinking about using Bank of America.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rebuilding Together Oakland Rebuilds

The Piedmont Community Service Crew, comprised of Piedmont High students, finished their spring project about a month ago. See this link for a Mercury News story about their project. For more about RTO, joining the Crew,or joining me to financially support the Crew, email me at Kennedy@MaureenKennedy.Net.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

520 Cragmont Hits the Market: "Killer" Bay View and Sun-Drenched Garden.

If you crave a “killer” Bay view, and want to live in a Gardener’s Eden, take a look at 520 Cragmont Avenue!

While the 1935 Monterey Colonial home is easy to miss from the street, you’ll realize it is uniquely sited as soon as you step inside: The Golden Gate and City view is unobstructed by neighbors’ trees and buildings. Moreover, surrounding neighbors have gorgeous gardens soaking up the abundant southwestern light—the lot feels truly massive in size, and private. Enjoy your morning coffee looking out over it all, every day!

The home’s interior offers fabulous architectural details—ceiling beams, gracious wrought iron banisters, and wide plank peg floors. Plan to entertain—with an open floor plan among the large living room with stone surround fireplace, central dining room and the spacious viewing deck. You can organize dinner for 12 or cocktails for 40. The owners have hosted Thanksgiving dinners and a wedding on the deck!

Just as important are the four large view-laden bedrooms upstairs--the master with its en-suite bath--and their spacious closets so unusual in a home of this age. Together with the largest hallway bath this agent has ever seen, the upstairs spaces can be used very flexibly to meet your needs.

If you’d like a private home office (or separate room for an in-law), the space downstairs is ideal. On one side is a large family room (called the “Social Hall” in the original blueprints) with original fireplace, and adjacent full kitchen; on the other is a bedroom and full bath, all with exterior access—to that fabulous garden!

Both the private front garden (gorgeous from an east-facing living room window) and the carefully curated rear garden have been tended for years by the current owners. Filled with a weeping birch, dogwoods in bloom, calla lilies, fruit trees, and a calliope of roses, the rear garden can easily include vegetables, and more!

When your body needs a break from tending the garden, head over to Tilden Park just a couple blocks away. The world-class photographer Galen Rowell said in Bay Area Wild, “we bought our Berkeley home a block from [Tilden] so we could run, hike, ride, and bike the extensive trail system through this section of a thirty-mile greenbelt that rims the back of the East Bay hills from Richmond to almost Hayward….No other major metropolitan center in the world boasts such an extensive system of wild greenbelts…. For years we surprised out-of-town guests by taking them on wildland walks along our favorite trail, frequently seeing deer, foxes, and coyotes at dawn or dusk.”

The original owner, a sea captain, erected a flagpole in the yard so that he could see his home as he entered the Golden Gate.

Owned and loved by the same family for 30 years.

Join us for open houses:

Saturday May 22nd, 2-4:30 pm: Renovator’s Open House, featuring designer Jacquelyn McCormick and contractor Bruce PaoliSunday May 23rd, 2-4:30 pm: Open House
Thursday May 27th, 10-1 pm: Broker’s Tour (open to the public)
Sunday May 29th, 2-4:30 pm: Open House


--A spectacular Golden Gate and City view
--2702 square feet of living space (per public record), and a sun-drenched 6750 sf lot that feels three times as big
--Beamed-ceiling living room with stone surround fireplace
--four bedrooms and two baths upstairs, plus a 1/1 in-law downstairs
--spacious eat-in kitchen with a four-burner range and a double JennAir grill
--family room
--just installed high-efficiency furnace and ductwork, newer roof insulation
--washer and dryer
--roof replaced in 2007
--freshly painted
--a couple blocks from a public playground and the 67 bus to Berkeley BART, and around the corner from Step One preschool.

All less than a mile from Kensington shopping and less than 1.5 miles to the top of Solano Avenue.

For more information:

Maureen Kennedy, DRE#01446878
Pacific Union
MLS #: 40467529

For more photos:


For a Google mashup:

click here.

Increasing Capital Gains Rates? Sell Now or Sell Later--

A client pointed out that if the tax law does not change, long term capital gains taxes are likely to go UP after the first of next year.

That means that if you sell your long-held home this year, you may pay 15% in federal capital gains taxes (after your $250K or $500K exclusion, and after subtracting your ''basis'' from the sales price), while if you sell next year, you might pay 20% in federal capital gains taxes. (See this link for good information about this issue, and of course check with your accountant and legal advisor before making any decisions....). Depending on your circumstances, this could make a big difference in your taxes, or just a small difference.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What's Her Name?

My business is grounded in you and the people you refer to me. When I look back at my business these last few years, the vast majority of it started with an "oh, you should talk with Maureen Kennedy" conversation. Thank you!

I appreciate your confidence, and when I know about the source of a recommendation, I try to say thank you with a bottle of great wine, a stay out in Inverness, or a contribution to a local organization I know you support. And the strength of my business, along with my family's commitment to our town, allows me to contribute dollars and leadership to this community we all love--to our schools, to our arts programs, to Camp Augusta, to the Oakland Museum's school programs, to the food bank and Rubicon, Inc., to the cross country and track teams, and to our inclusive Boy Scout program (celebrating 100 years of Piedmont scouting this year!).

But you have to remember my name.

It's ok. My dad seems to have some issues with this too. When my grandfather passed, he listed me on the memorial service program as Maureen Kennedy-Alt. Around here, I'll respond to anything, but with Dad, it's a bit different. I said to him, "this is really easy: Think 'what's my last name?' And then say, 'oh, yeah, that's Maureen's last name too!'"

If you're not my dad and if you find yourself on a chairlift in Tahoe and need to retrieve my name from your mental rolodex, just think about President Kennedy. Maureen Kennedy's the name. Google "Kennedy Realtor Piedmont" and your friend's good to go!

Scientific American's Take on Eco-Improving Older Homes

My buddies at the National Trust offered this piece from Scientific American on our LinkedIn page this morning--a nice summary not of the top ten things you can do to reduce energy bills and carbon emissions.

Instead, the author sits back for a moment and thinks about all the drafty, energy-inefficient older homes that are hard-wired into the American landscape (the New Scientist article he references mentions the fact that in the UK, 85% of existing homes will still be in use in 2050 at current rates of rebuilding--and today, there are more homes built before WWI than homes built since 1980. I did a quick check of census data for 94611--38% of homes were built before 1939; less than 10% were built since 1980).

He's frustrated that his careful insulation work has generated relatively little in the way of reduced energy (although he does mention greater comfort, reduced drafts and so on that are often the unsung benefits of our retrofit efforts). He points out that tearing down the old home and rebuilding it using cutting edge strategies is very energy-consumptive in itself, though I'd be interested in a life cycle analysis on this.

Meanwhile, see this draft of the state's first-in-the-nation green building code, scheduled for implementation 2011. I imagine it adopts much of the analysis and approach of the Build It Green community--two immediate take-aways were the focus on water conservation and construction material recycling.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What I've Done this Month---


--Spoken at a roundtable on financial issues in San Francisco;
--Brought coffee to the Piedmont High School parents club meeting (which I do monthly) and committed to bring coffee to the Piedmont Community Service high school crew managing a house renovation as part of Rebuilding Together Oakland;
--Conferred with a client on renovation plans;
--Provided background resources to a client whose tenant is departing early;
--Advised a client in Japan and a client living in San Francisco about dynamics within different "price bands" in the Piedmont market, and sales strategies for their homes;
--Helped buyers and sellers buy and sell homes in the East Bay.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

2009 and 2010 Tax Credits---

Well, I've been tracking down receipts for the energy-efficient double-paned low-e windows we installed during our remodel last year. And I came across a nice list of home-related tax credits available for doing the right thing, courtesy of the National Association of Realtors. See the list below:

Visit for more articles like this.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ready to Renovate?

Click here for the National Kitchen and Bath Association list of trends for 2010. The highlights seem quite conservative, meaning nothing flashy and new: nickel fixtures, gas ranges, tile flooring, stone countertops. Undercounter drawer-style dishwashers, and undercounter refrigerators make the grade; I've been surprised at how affordable the latter can be!

Meanwhile, Winans Construction announced their selection as National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) regional contractor of the year, based on an Alameda renovation. Congrats!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Where's My Stuff?

Well, after you've been broken into is not the time to ask.

Check out Know Your Stuff from the Insurance Institute. Yes it will take a while to fill out, but if the worst occurs, you'll be all set to file a claim and move on with your life.

Allstate has an iPhone app along the same lines here; I recently saw an ad for an app specifically for auto accidents--photograph the damage, fill in the form, and you're off!

Data--You want Data?

Lots of real estate agents are great at talk, but less great at data (a balance of the two is generally optimal!).

Know that as you begin to organize for a purchase or sale, I'll be forwarding research to you from time to time: Everything from Wells Fargo's synthetic housing market report (email me for a copy) to Clarus Market Metrics reports on trends in your area of interest--by zip, city, size or type of home, etc. (ditto for a copy).

I get this material because of my relationships in the financial and housing policy fields (see more about my background here), and I read this stuff regularly to keep my finger on the pulse of the local market. All that in addition to visiting properties during Monday and Thursday brokers' tours, and touching base with realtors with pending listings--those often are the most up to date indicator of changing demand or pricing.

In fact, know that recent sales of attractive properties (meaning good location, good mix of amenities, not too many steps or too many floors, not too dramatic in style) are very often selling with multiple offers (and therefore often over the asking price).

It's all about getting you the big picture, so you are comfortable and confident as you make your offer!

Selling a Long-Held Home---

You probably remember that Dewey Watson and I have a nice brochure on strategies to save on capital gains taxes as you sell your home (email me for a copy, and see this link for an IRS site on this topic). I was reminded of another strategy when getting together with the local major donor team of my alma mater (at Mt. Holyoke, it really is an alma mater rather than an almo pater).

Alumnae have been donating a portion of the proceeds of the sale of their homes to the College, furthering their charitable goals while reducing capital gains taxes. So if you anticipate $500,000 in capital gains after accounting for your purchase price and transaction costs ("basis"), and after your $500,000 (married) or $250,000 (single) capital gains exclusion, you could donate say 30% of the sale price to a favorite charity and further reduce your capital gains tax bill. Here is an article about donating real estate proceeds from the Boston Globe. As always, you need to consult with your tax advisor on these tax-saving strategies.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Calling All Sellers!

Maybe you're thinking about selling in the next couple of years, but here's why you should consider selling now:

On the selling side, there's very strong demand for well-priced properties. A three-bedroom mid-century home on Requa just garnered 12 offers (the young families are likely battling the move-down buyers looking for level living) and a contemporary home on Maxwelton with four bedrooms upstairs is hearing at least four offers this afternoon. Both homes will sell with fewer than the "standard" 14 days on market. Together with a three-bedroom home on York that went pending late last year with three offers, they demonstrate that as always, buyers are anxious to move to Piedmont. The story is different now though--we have half as many properties as usual hitting the market through the year, and the mid-market $1 million to $1.5 million homes are particularly hard to find these days.

On the buyer side, interest rates remain near historic lows, and many buyers feel we're now past the bottom of the market--they're ready to jump in. Carrying costs are in rough allignment with rents right now, and with a number of school districts facing major budget cuts, and private school tuition escalating as usual, Piedmont's great schools look ever more attractive.

Don't forget that if your junior has attended PHS for the past three years, you can secure "senior privileges." Your child can attend PHS for his/her final year, even if you're living in your move-down location.

Now may be the perfect time to put that house on the market! Call me for more info about the market, and to get a competitive market analysis of your home's value.

And meanwhile, if you've ever thought of retiring to the Benecia area, take a look at this new listing! I'm ready to move right now!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wash Where You Flush

That was Realtor magazine's headline.....

EcoHaus, the EcoHome of Seattle and Portland, is advertising another innovation from water-starved Australia: a combination sink and toilet. Check it out here. Great for cabana and tiny powder room installations--

An Interview with Sarah Susanka

You may know I'm a fan of Susanka's Not So Big House books. The best "green" home renovation maximizes the functionality of the home you already own.

Realtor magazine has a nice interview with Susanka in February's issue. Read it here.

A Visit to EcoHome on San Pablo Ave.

Have you been into EcoHome since they opened a few years ago? This showroom, design studio and paint bar offers eco-friendly advice for renovators. Have a hands-on look at no- or low-VOC paints, flooring, American Clay plasters, custom cabinetry, countertops, tile and more that's easy on the earth.

I popped in last week to pick up material on Marmoleum, the new-wave linoleum, for clients who are in contract to buy an Eichler, and had a great chat with co-founder Taja di Leonardi. She gave me a coldwater catcher she prototyped and manufactures(to catch and re-use the cold water that preceeds the hot water you need), and we talked about a shower timer they sell (won't work in my house because boys won't voluntarily turn the timer on before then step in). They are about to start selling the shower tool we've discussed here before that turns your shower water off as soon as it gets to temperature (if, say, you're off folding laundry or brushing teeth). This post at includes a great video on the Roadrunner (the turn-off valve with shower head, for $39.99);

(By the way, while searching for the Roadrunner, I came across an Australian post for an Aqualim shower head that offers x gallons of shower water, reduces shower flow to signal impending shut off, and then shuts off. A nice way to make sure the showers are reasonable in length! And there's a temperature-sensitive light fitting you can add to your showerhead that lights blue when the water is below 100 degrees, and turns red when the temp goes above 100. Now that might excite the boys.... )

EcoHome sells lots of other handy energy- and water-saving devices, and are a great one-stop shop. Check 'em out!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Finally, 2009 is OVER!

Home prices in Piedmont dropped an average seven percent year-over-year between 2008 and 2009, and a bit less than 12 percent on a price-per-square-foot basis, according to data from the MLS (click on the image above to see a more readable version). The typical home sold in 44 days (compared to 26 days on market across 2008). Seventy-six homes sold during the year, roughly half the figure from several years ago, but essentially the same as last year's 77 sales. Final prices were about four percent less than asking prices, across the board, and ranged from $710,000 to $4 million.

The market was quite active all across the price spectrum. Seven homes sold for $2.5 million or more during the year. Only four of the total were identified as distressed--either bank-owned or short sales. Agents brought homes to market 57 times last year but failed to garner a committed buyer, however. That's a lot of Sunday open houses with no paycheck to show for it! This figure compares with 36 expired or withdrawn listings in 2008 (and only 17 in high-flying 2005).In a number of these cases, undoubtedly, sellers couldn't reduce their prices to market-clearing levels and pay off their outstanding mortgage and closing costs. We're also seeing some situations in which a home is pulled from the market, and a few months later a private sale takes place.

In the fourth quarter of 2009, prices actually increased a bit over fall of last year: 19 sales averaging $1.216 million sold in an average 39 days, compared to 17 sales averaging $1.147 million, typically sold in 18 days in 4Q08 (an increase of six percent, though that's not particularly meaningful with such a small number of sales in each of these quarters).

Surrounding areas fared similarly: 307 single family homes closed in Oakland 94611 and 94610 (roughly Montclair and Crocker Highlands) at an average price of $773,430 in 43 days, with 11 homes selling for more than $1.5 million. Last year, prices of the 340 single family homes averaged about $841,000, about eight percent more. A much larger percentage of these sales were distressed, however.

If we open up to all of Oakland, however, the story is more consistent with the headlines during the crisis: There were just over 3700 sales of all housing types in Oakland in 2009, averaging $297,600, with a median price of only $195,000 (I generally check to see if median prices are dramatically different from the averages, which more people intuitively understand, and they are typically relatively close. But not in Oakland last year!). This means that half of the sales were below $195,000 and half above. I scrolled through all 1000 sales between $200,000 and $400,000, and the vast majority were distressed, and the vast majority of those were bank-owned. In contrast, about 2600 Oakland homes sold in 2008, with an average price of $434,400 (and a median of $324,000). The MLS didn't have a notation for distressed sales until the middle of 2008, but even so, I had to scroll through the first 2/5s of all sales before they weren't very consistently identified as REO.

In Berkeley, 444 single family homes sold across the city in 2008 for an average $803,300, while roughly the same number, 424, sold this year for an average of only $716,000, all in roughly a month on average. This represents about a 10 percent price drop. About half of the lower-priced properties that sold through the MLS in Berkeley were bank-owned.

Across the state, the California Association of Realtors reports that the median price of a home was up nearly six percent in November, compared to a year earlier, that prices have increased in each of the last nine months, after reaching its lowest point in February 2009. Note that in all these markets, the "peak to trough" drops--that is the drop from the highest month a couple of years ago to the lowest month toward the beginning of this year was much larger than these year-over-year figures suggest. For instance, across California, prices dropped 57% peak to trough, and have climbed up 24% since then, largely due to the dramatic changes in the makeup of what's actually selling in the market. We've talked in the past about the massive influx of lower-priced homes that hit the market last fall and winter. Housing affordability (meaning the relationship between the median income and the median home price) has meanwhile improved dramatically across the state and county in the last year.

As I sit at the computer running through these transactions, I can feel the waves of foreclosures, and hear the tough conversations around dinner tables about whether to pay the mortgage this month, or to save the money to cover the possibility of a lost job or a slow period of consulting. And I can feel the pits in the stomachs, the free floating anxiety, about where this is all heading. I'm sure for many under financial stress, it feels like an impending train wreck, though unfortunately in slow motion. For those of us with plenty of equity and peace of mind, let's give thanks. And for those still uncertain about what the future holds, let's cross our fingers and vow to be generous and understanding. This last quarter has been much more stable and active than earlier in the year. While the bargains may no longer abound, the risks are likely lower as well. A good time to buy or sell--

If you'd like more data--a full powerpoint presentation of economic and housing market stats from the CAR; or a copy of the two-year market analysis from Clarus MarketMetrics for Piedmont or another sub-market, just email me at Kennedy@MaureenKennedy.Net.

"My Tax Record Isn't Right-----"

With our older home stock, it's always been the case that the County Assessor's record of our homes is sometimes different from what's on the ground. Sometimes this is because of illegal construction (naughty, naughty! Unfortunately a past owner's illegal construction is now your problem--). But sometimes the inconsistency is more innocuous.

If you know your house has four bedrooms and two baths rather than three and one, and the construction was all permitted, go to this form at the Assessor's Office website. Fill it out, be prepared for the possibility of an Assessor visiting your home, and wait for the record to be corrected. Assuming you purchased the home as a 4/2, there would be no change in your assessment.

In contrast, if you improved the home with permits, and the Assessor's office has not caught up with the changes, you can fill out the form and you'll eventually see a bit of an increase in the assessed value, but not a wholesale gross-up to current market value--Prop 13 still "protects" the assessment of the pre-existing elements of the home.

Why go through this rigamarole? When you go to sell your home, your buyers will expect all permits to be "finalled" and all space to be legal. If your rumpus room was informally drywalled in the '50s, your windows were replaced without permits with aluminum ones in the '60s, or a bathroom was added without permits in the 20s, a smart buyer and agent will notice, and you'll likely have to negotiate the issue through. While maybe 15% of sales were affected by these issues in years past, it seems like 50% are seeing them these days.

Call me if you want to discuss your situation further--better now than a day after you accepted a great offer for your home!

Click here for access to the current assessment record on your home.

Selling a Long-Held Home (with Lots of Capital Gains)

Former school board president, Boy Scout council president, and tax lawyer Dewey Watson and I put together a little brochure on this issue a couple of years ago--if you're lucky enough to have a million dollars or more in appreciation on your long-held home, how might you defer paying the capital gains taxes on the home?

This story, from colleague James Callejas at Fidelity Title's qualified intermediary, IPX, does a really nice job of laying out the tax-saving strategy.

Contact him, me, Dewey, or your tax advisor for more information--

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

All You Want to Know about Joe Montana's Home--

See the latest issue of the Christie's Great Estates e-newsletter here for a bit of background on this Pacific Union-represented estate in Wine Country, along with a link to the property's website. I also loved the NC Wyeth illustrations that Christie's auctioned recently!