Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Heart of Piedmont, with All the Modern Conveniences

If friends or colleagues have been searching for a home with all the modern conveniences that typical Piedmont homes just can’t offer, see 221 Highland Avenue! Situated in the center of town, 221 Highland Avenue offers gorgeous space, architectural integrity, convenience and eco-friendly systems and features:


Unassuming from the street, the home opens up with light and space as you move from formal rooms to informal rooms to the rear terrace and big fenced backyard.

Including its major 1999 expansion, the home encompasses 2744 square feet, including a master suite with two spacious walk-in closets and a home office area, a master bath with separate steam shower, a second master suite, and two additional bedrooms on the upper floor. The 4-bedroom/3-bath arrangement on the upper floor is a rare find in Piedmont.

On the main level, enjoy tranquil views of the park-like lot next door through the home’s signature banks of south-facing windows. The East Bay’s famous sunshine floods into the open kitchen, dining area with banquette seating, and family room. Entertain indoors and out, with easy access through French-door sliders to the rear terrace and big, flat, and extraordinarily private backyard beyond.

And then there’s the garage--constructed at the time of the 1999 expansion, it provides room for all the camping equipment, kayaks, bicycles, and woodworking equipment you might have in mind. Currently set up with a wall-mounted television, it does triple duty as an indoor gym, or play area protected from rain.

Architectural Integrity:

Originally built in 1924, 221 Highland Avenue seamlessly blends the woodwork, hardwood floors, gracious bannisters, and crown molding you might expect, with up-to-date fixtures and contemporary layout.

The owners have carefully extended these architectural elements throughout the Christopherson/Graff-designed addition. Built-ins abound. And one of Piedmont’s oldest Victorians offers additional architectural interest toward the rear of the home.


A more convenient location would be hard to find! Just a block to rebuilt Havens Elementary School and two more to the middle and high schools, your mornings should be a breeze. With plenty of staffed cross walks and child-friendly drivers, playdates and games of catch or Frisbee are easy to organize!

Grab a latte at Mulberry Market and take casual carpool to the Financial District; take the internet-equipped express bus back, pick up kids at Schoolmates after-school care, and stop by Mulberry’s again for a gallon of milk.

San Francisco, Berkeley, Emeryville and the Lamorinda/Tri-Valley area are all a convenient commute on Rt. 580/80 or Rt. 24, as are SFO and OAK. And Piedmont is a perfect jumping off point for weekend cyclists heading for the East Bay Hills!


Older homes too often sport drafty windows, soft foundations, and roofs in need of replacement. Not this house! The rear of the home, from foundation to roof, from kitchen to master bath, was newly built in 1999, and the original baths have all been beautifully updated.

The owners relied on trusted vendors such as Kohler, Grohe, Thermador, Dacor and Amana to source their fixtures and appliances. Whether it’s energy-efficient lighting, double-paned windows, efficient radiant heat, water-efficient fixtures, seismic upgrades from bolting to shearwalling, drainage systems or insulation, this home has it.

These improvements translate into lower utility bills and greater comfort--a winning combination.

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 73rd in the nation according to US News and World Report), and locally controlled emergency services and police are based a few blocks from the home. Restaurants, movies and shopping in Rockridge, Piedmont Avenue, Montclair and the Elmwood are just a short distance away.

For more info and thirty photos: Click here.
For a Google mashup,click here.

Four bedrooms, three and a half baths. Open Friday and Saturday during the Children's Support League Tour (10 am-4 pm; tickets available at Better Homes in downtown Piedmont) and Sunday 2-5 pm.

Offered at $1.595 million.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Risk Management Covers the Waterfront----

Was at our semi-annual risk management seminar in San Francisco today; this is when our fabulous in-house counsel walks us through a range of new laws and regs, and tells us cautionary tales his latest travails--the non-refundable deposit that was refunded, eventually; the short sale situation that went awry, and so on.

A few quick notes:

--Before a home sale can close, the home must have appropriate smoke detectors and double strapping on the water heater. These rules have been in effect for years. New this July is a requirement for carbon monoxide detectors. Unfortunately, there's currently no clarity on how/where to install them, and how many a home should have. That should get worked out by the time you go to sell your home, but meanwhile, consider buying at least one when you're next at Piedmont's Ace Hardware--they cost about $25 each and plug into a standard outlet. Note that your garage (if any--hey, this is Piedmont after all) and your hot water heater are the classic sources of CO.

--Also new this year is EPA training for painting professionals in lead paint safety, and requirement that whenever a professional paints more than six square feet (etc. etc.) a trained professional be used (homeowners are to some degree exempt). As a corollary, then, is the agent's disclosure as to whether any painting was done, and if so, if it met the extent standard, was done by the owner, and was done by a professional.

--I didn't realize that there are 2007 rules regarding kid-safety features for pools at private homes (I just knew about the community pool requirement regarding a "fix" to counter the suction effects at typical pool drains). If you have a pool in your backyard, ask your pool servicer for an update.

--Finally, as noted in an earlier post, the CA Energy Commission is trying to effect change in one of the more wasteful parts of California living--your home. The Commission developed the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), and has issued an informative booklet for buyers and sellers at http://www.energy.ca.gov/HERS/booklet.html.

The Energy Commission created this booklet, so I immediately thought, "even though it's not required by the Dept. of Real Estate, must we all provide this to our buyers? Has the standard of care just changed?" And sure enough, my firm(unlike others in the area) now requires that buyers and sellers receive the booklet with their earthquake and lead booklets, and maybe in a few years, sellers might hear "we want to reduce our offer by $25,000 because the HERS rating is only 120 (out of 250)."

Because I'm an EcoBroker, I've been paying for the HERS evaluations for clients using a home inspector who is also HERS-certified--they get a standard home inspection, plus an energy evaluation of the home and advice on where the next most cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements might reside.

I give my sellers an EcoBroker checklist of "green" features so we can highlight them in our marketing, as appropriate, but I'd note that with our older homes and single pane windows, my sellers' homes rarely would rate high up there on the HERS rating--so I best represent my seller (after all, that's my job) by staying mum.

(Back in 2007 when John McComas did a HERS evaluation of my 1908 home, we ranked 72 out of 100 points on the then-standard scale. The real disappointment was the suggestion that our rating could go up to seventy-six points out of 100 if we implemented all recommendations.)

But the effort will be powerful. Did you hear today that EBMUD has to change its cost structure because East Bay'ers have been installing too many water-saving devices and thus EBMUD isn't distributing enough water priced at a point that covers its costs? That's the effect of one-toilet change-out every 20 minutes!

I'll be collecting contact info for HERS-certified inspectors (there are very few this early in the game)--let me know if you want a referral!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Open This Sunday and Next--7180 Buckingham Blvd., Berkeley

Rare Two-Level Living in the Claremont Hills--7180 Buckingham Blvd., Berkeley

Live comfortably on two levels in an open floor plan. The kitchen, with nearly new appliances, opens up to the family room, with the dining and living rooms beyond. The cathedral ceilings add to the feeling of spaciousness while the hardwood floors convey warmth. A bedroom and full bath on this level are perfect for guests or as an office.

The home's large master suite and additional bedrooms and bath are on the lower level. Enjoy a sauna after a weekend of skiing. Or a nice long soak in the master bath Jacuzzi. An en-suite fireplace keeps things nice and cozy! Walk-in closet--of course!

Great Indoor-Outdoor Feel

Sizeable decks adjacent to the living, dining and family rooms, and each bedroom, create a wonderful indoor-outdoor flow, expand the functionality of the home, and create spaces in which to enjoy the privacy, peace and quiet and canyon views. The protected banana-belt location mean you can really put those decks to use!

With its south-facing orientation, this home's big windows and numerous skylights bring in the famous East Bay light.

A No-Worries Home

Carefully maintained by its current owners (see the List of Improvements), the home has been seismically improved. Air conditioning, so rare in the East Bay, reduces allergens. With towering redwood trees rather than a lawn, there's no grass to mow!

The big two-car garage can handle your sports toys, and there is additional storage below the home. A security system provides peace of mind, and the neighborhood offers a real sense of community.

Homes in this area of Oakland bear Berkeley mailing addresses (though owners pay lower Oakland taxes, and can attend the highly rated neighborhood elementary school rather than participate in Berkeley's school lottery).

Convenient Location

Hear birds, not traffic! Just a block off the classic cycling route to Skyline Boulevard and Grizzly Peak, the home is just a short distance to the mountaintop’s many parks and preserves. The current owners have walked out the front door and enjoyed a long day of hiking! Imagine returning to the master-suite sauna and dinner on the deck.

Commutes are a breeze, whether to San Francisco (via Rt. 24 or Rockridge BART), the South Bay (via Rt. 13) or Berkeley/Oakland/ Emeryville. Avoid the Caldecott Tunnel entirely and commute to Lamorinda and the Tri-Valley area up and over Fish Ranch Road--the secret "back way." Perfect for households with split commutes.

The home is in the catchment area of highly ranked Kaiser Elementary School, and is near Bentley and the Hiller Highland Country Club's pool, putting green, gym and facilities (monthly fees). Domingo Avenue, College Avenue, and Orinda shopping and restaurants are surprisingly closeby.

For photos and more, see this link.

Piedmont Market Update

After a very slow start, the quarter is ending with a bang. Only one home sold (that is, the transaction ''closed'') in January--a two-bedroom/one-bath home for $699,000. Five homes sold in February, some of which were homes that had been on the market through the slower portion of last year. These sold in an average 89 days, and for $1.117 million.

In March, ten homes sold across the price spectrum for an average $1.502 million ($479/sf), at just a bit over the original price, in an average 21 days. Two of these sold for cash.

Turning to the 18 homes that are pending right now, and excluding the two distressed sales that have been awaiting final closing instructions for months, the average days-on- market has been only 19 (typically, homes that sell within the first 15 days sell at or above the asking price, and we have a number of pending homes that went into contract in less than a week--including 301 Pala in my own Golden Rectangle neighborhood which I understand garnered 16 offers). Some of these homes have sold promptly, after having been on the market during last years prime selling season--without an offer then.

As you know, I'm not one to throw these words around, but most of us in the business would say that Piedmont homes are selling like hotcakes this spring. If you're on the fence about a sale, don't forget that our low-interest-rate government guaranteed loans up to $729,750 will be a thing of the past for homes closing after September 30th (meaning those that go into contract sometime in August). The conforming limit is scheduled to drop to $625K, and policies around broader interest rates and the future of Fannie and Freddie are all in flux now. We think that buyers are seeing those shifts on the horizon too, and have decided that now is the time to literally make a move.

See this quarter's data by transaction below (click on the image to enlarge).

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Way to Age Gracefully in Place

Margie Bowman dropped off material on North Oakland Village--a membership organization based on Beacon Hill Village in Boston. The group offers and organizes around transit to shopping and appointments, home repairs for elders, home health care providers and more. Sounds like a great idea! See www.northoaklandvillage.org for more info.