Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Who's Going to Buy the Rare Edwardian with Killer View?

If It Were My Listing I'd Add "Oh-So-Rare"
I very rarely do this--plug someone else's listing--but my colleague Fritz Hochfellner has 157 Hagar Ave. on the market right now and it didn't get an offer this week. Here's why you should mention it (or forward this! See below) to friends and colleagues thinking about getting into Piedmont, because someone will smartly purchase this home during the holiday lull (I'm in town and working, by the way.....):

1. An arts-and-crafts home with a "killer" Bay view is really really hard to find in Piedmont. Think about it--many of the Edwardian homes downtown had relatively low Bay views when they were built, but the view was encroached upon as homes downhill were built out. And further up the hill were cow fields back in 1910. Just a few homes--my own included--are Edwardian and sport truly exceptional views. 157 Hagar is another such home. 

2. Also relatively rare for homes of this age are two items: recently updated kitchen and baths (in this case, period-appropriate!), and inclusion of a family room--not may homes back in the day had family rooms! 

3. As you know, Piedmont is a great place to live, and this home has all the wonderful lifestyle benefits of a central Piedmont home--from walkability to school, play dates and casual carpool to SF; to after-school care across the playground; to easy access the town pool, TaiKwonDo and ceramics classes at The Rec; to quick rides to OAK and SFO; to great meals on Piedmont Ave., College Ave., and Oakland's Uptown; to easy access to freeways in all directions.

You see from the photos at that this home includes all the period details you might expect. It's three bedrooms/two baths on the main level, and has a gorgeously updated suite on the entry level as well. 

About that main level--this home was artfully organized to take full advantage of the view. As a result, the main level, with all the public rooms and three of the four bedrooms, is upstairs--what we call a reverse floor plan. At the street are the spacious entry area, the family room and that great guest suite, office, or master suite.

Easy peasy--when guests arrive at the house, you let them in and "take them up" to the main level, including the enclosed room-sized space jutting out over the entry porch, where you can offer them drinks and a seat. The public rooms enjoy what is probably a four-bridge view with the master suite facing the South Bay and probably the fifth bridge (I admit I haven't counted). Needless to say, there is East Bay light drenching the entire home.

And finally--so you know I'm covering the pluses and the minuses--portions of the home are not currently bolted to the foundation, and it has an attractive asbestos-shingle exterior. I'd advocate bolting asap (as would your insurance company) but that's a very straightforward task. A Jamie Pearl estimate for seismic retrofit is pending, and I understand it's under $10,000. You could also remove the existing shingles and revert back to a traditional brown shingle exterior, or stay with the currently well-encapsulated shingles for several more years. In either case, the tasks and charges are straightforward, and do not involve cooking in the basement for three months! Note you're trading a large flat backyard for a killer Bay view--but there's just nothing like the view and there are plenty of places for kids to play downtown.

Given these items, I think the nearly 3500 sf house was well-priced to start with at $1.695M (a tad less than $500/sf, when the average for Piedmont was $550/sf this summer, without the killer view!). If one could get it for a bit less, any bolting and shingle costs could be covered, and you have a central Piedmont classic with the oh-so-rare "killer" view for well under the average price (/sf) for a Piedmont home. The smartest buyers buy during the holidays.....

How's that for a great holiday present?

And speaking of holidays, enjoy yours! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Not So Open Kitchen After All....

I guess it had to happen eventually. Hemlines go up and down, brass goes "in" and "out," and the Wall Street Journal reports that designers are increasingly enclosing kitchens again.

Not one to be at the cutting edge of fashion (she says in her holiday red-and-green thrift store turtleneck, black poly vest and pants others would use while horseback riding--the dog and I are anxiously awaiting the end of the downpour), I was struck by a town home up in Hiller Highlands that had a recent complete kitchen renovation, yet the owner did not take down the upper wall between kitchen and living room.  I guess she was the smart one!  Maybe to come are moveable kitchen islands with "blank" walls attached; position it in the classic island location demarcating the shift from kitchen to living area in your downtown loft, and it blocks the view of dirty dishes and such.

The illustration in the story that makes no sense to me is the wall of glass between kitchen and dining.  You get the same dirty-dishes view as before, plus a large piece of glass to clean that's forever marred by atomized grease.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Move-Down Graciously

I was talking to a colleague yesterday about a household planning to move-down while kids were still in public schools, and today's New York Times had a story about exactly that--a family with two tween boys moved from their 3,000 sf home into a spacious mid-century comprised of only 1,300 sf.  Yes, the new house has many built-ins freeing up floor space and sight lines.  But fundamentally they realized that they "lived" in the kitchen and family room of their old house, and really needed half of the square footage of the old house.  (Dad points out that they had a five-bedroom house:  One bedroom was a playroom, one a home office, and the formal living room?  "[T]hat was where the dog lay on the couch, that was his room.”)

They sold the old house, bought a mid-century around the corner for half the price, then put a not-trivial $300,000 into the new house.  Maybe $100,000 went into the bank for college, but dad points out that the savings in cleaning time (they do their own), taxes, and utilities are sizable.  

So move-down moves are not just for boomers!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Price/Commute Relationship

My buddy Scott Bernstein in Chicago has long been an advocate of location-sensitive mortgages--won't your overall costs go down if instead of paying the monthly fees associated with a car, you took public transit (or even cheaper, our casual carpool)?  And if so, can't you afford a more expensive mortgage payment?  Fannie Mae did a pilot several years ago in which borrowers could borrow more than the ratios might have suggested, if they lived in public-transit land.   [I didn't realized they dropped the program, but back in those days, everyone could borrow more than the ratios suggested.....].

So why raise this now?

First, the NYT did a story on the idea, and second, I'm always intrigued about how households intuitively adjust home prices based on these factors.  Our schools are a bit better (according to US News) than the public schools through the tunnel, but our home prices are stronger in part because of our demonstrably shorter commutes to the City.  People are willing to pay more to enjoy that second latte in the morning with kids, or to get home to the soccer game more conveniently on those spring evenings.

And when you can save over $12,000 on average over 15 years by using casual carpool in the a.m.--I just did the math--moving to Piedmont seems like a really smart idea!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Piedmont Real Estate Update--3Q12

For the first time in a few years, we saw not only an increase in velocity in this year's spring market, but also an increase in prices.  That trend endured through the third quarter, where the average sales price of a Piedmont home was $1.663 million or $537/sf.  The average price was pulled up by some high-priced sales, though the median too rose from $1.257M to $1.357M between 2Q12 and 3Q12.

The typical home sold for 2.5% over the asking price in an average 23 days, with a median days on market of only 13 days--reinforcing the velocity of the quarter's market activity.  In contrast to other parts of the East Bay, where volume has dropped significantly, the number of Piedmont sales has been quite steady these last few third quarters, and surprisingly, activity remained steady after school started.

Prices ranged from $580,000 to $6.55 million; two of these were distressed sales.

The California Association of Realtors reports that home prices are up about 15% year over year through September, 2012; those in Alameda County are up 7.5% and San Mateo is pushing the region-wide average up at 21.7%.  Median times on market and the proportion of inventory that remains unsold both are declining as the market enters the recovery phase. Multiple offers continue to be the norm in Piedmont up to about $2.2 million.

If you're planning to make that move in the spring, give me a call now to begin the process.  I can link you up with a great realtor wherever you might be heading, I can pass on a collection of material about streamlining the moving process, and of course can provide advice about cost-efficient steps to prep your home for market.

If you're thinking about buying in Piedmont, don't forget to ask me for my list of offer strategies--beyond price--that make your offer more attractive than the competition.

Blinds, Anyone?

Just got a 20% off coupon for 3 Day Blinds; Mindy, our San Ramon specialist, handled our blind needs at the old and new houses with aplomb.   Let me know if you'd like it--they are happy to have me pass it on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's That Time of Year Again---

It's that time of year again--Looking for the location for your holiday cocktail party, staff event or awards dinner?  Consider the Julia Morgan-designed Berkeley City Club, with its brand new chef!  Gorgeous architecture and fabulous food:  a great combination.  Call 848-7800 to discuss your needs.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rain Barrel, Anyone?

Did you read that flyer in today's Chronicle about free rainbarrel distributions to allay water flows and erosion?  The Urban Farm Store in Richmond sells a range of sizes and is managing the program.   Turns out that it's only available to Oakland residents.  But I've got one on order now that we have an Oakland property.  First respondent to ask gets this 60 gallon barrel, which is the only one that will fit in a car--

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Register to Vote or Change your Address NOW!

The deadline for registering for the upcoming election is nearing.

The state just yesterday set up a new, totally on-line registration process (rather than the old one in which you could fill in the forms online, but still needed to print, sign and mail the form).  

Here's the link:

Here's a link to a Contra Costa Times story on the new process:

Here's the link to the "old" site for Alameda County:

Contra Costa is driving everyone to the statewide site already.

Fall Plant Sale Schedule

It's that time again--fall plant sales abound, many specializing in native plants that help lower your water bills.  See this article from yesterday's Chronicle for all the details.  My favorite, the Merritt College horticulture department's sale, is coming up October 7th.  I got a great olallieberry plant for Inverness in the spring there.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's Going on in the Unit Block of Highland?

Is it the water?  One by one so many homes between Moraga and Blair have been spruced up--starting on the west side and now spreading to the east side.  Bravo!  New owners over the last 15 years or so have poured money into homes that hadn't seen a dime of investment in decades.  And the City is benefiting too, through higher transfer taxes and assessments.

Many of those wonderful large and central homes have huge flat lots and nice Bay views.  Congrats on a never-ending job well done!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bathrooms in a Box

I was at an inspection today with Sal D'Onofrio, who's a contractor when he's not doing inspections (state law creates a bright line between the two businesses).  He, who I'd trust with my life, is now an authorized installer for BathSimple.  I think I wrote a blurb on this ''bathroom in a box'' concept a year or so ago--  He said he loves doing these baths because absolutely all the pieces are in the box, clients prefer not to have to pick out every single cabinet pull (I remember when I didn't know the difference between a pull and a knob), the quality is very high (Grohe, Duravit, etc.), and the process is very clean (meaning no changing of minds, miscommunication among architect/contractor/client, etc.).  Check it out--they are Bay Area based, and Sal says they work well with older homes with non-plumb walls.

Update--I went out with CEO John Crowley this week to see three baths they've installed--one up in a traditional home in Kensington, and two in a mid-century modern home in Berkeley.  Owners were there in both cases and raved about the process.  And Paul Cerami and Canyon Builders, two other contractors I know and love, are also certified installers for BathSimple.  I'm ready to invest, actually.

Green Insurance

I had no idea there was such a thing.  My insurer, Adrianne at ProInsurance, sent me an email noting that owners of hybrids can save 10% on their insurance (we just bought our third Prius in the household).  Some homeowner coverage is now allowing for eco-friendly upgrades when covering a loss--your kitchen fire (god forbid) may result in an upgrade to an Energy Star appliance.  So check yours out.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Holiday Weekend Update

Three things:

--Catch Carolyn Said's insightful piece in the Chron today.   In addition to the nuanced insights in her story, I'd add one that came up in our recent successful sale of 225 Hillside:  We had several very serious buyers right off the bat, at the original price.  But each family had bought their current house in their 30s at the top of the market, and then made requisite improvements.  They had plenty of equity and income--buying the house was not the issue.  They were now in their mid-40s and ready to buy the "big" house.  But leaving $500-$700,000 (x% of a big # is a big #) on the table when they sold their old home was an issue. 

--If you're thinking about a move to something in the $650,000 range, take a peek at my colleague Carla Buffington's listing on  Colton in Montclair.  Perfect for boomers--a level-in mid-century classic with the master and a second bedroom or office on the main level, the Golden Gate view you've always secretly wanted, and a nicely renovated private space for guests with a full bath outside and down below.  Close to Sibley so great for dog-owners; in a quiet and park-like area of Montclair yet 2 minutes from latte, groceries and casual carpool.  Definitely displays that classic mid-century space efficiency ("a place for everything and everything in its place"), but what a great price! Open Sunday afternoon.

--The Camp Augusta fundraiser is coming up in a couple of weeks (9/15)--this year the focus is replacing the kitchen.  (Read Randy's cogent case for your donation at that link--man, he's a great camp director!) The Voorhis family is kicking in $150,000 (wow!) if we match it.  So many of our kids got their cherished camp experiences up at Lake Vera.  Take a moment, read Randy's short piece and go ahead and push that donate button.  And if you'd like to attend the event at the Claremont, contact my colleague Julie Gardner, a board member, at  Bid for a long weekend at our Inverness house--it's on the auction list.  In fact, if you win, I'll extend the stay for a whole week!

Enjoy the long holiday weekend!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Sunset Home--I'm BLU

I headed up to the Sunset Idea Home in Healdsburg last Friday with work calming down and some free time creeping into the schedule.  We're lucky to have Sunset magazine down in the South Bay--the Idea Homes are all within easy range.  Is it the depressed housing market or was it just a missed opportunity?

The house is a 3500 sf BLU home on a nice half acre lot with great valley views from the second floor.  If you aren't a Dwell reader, the East Coast's BLU homes bought out Michelle Kaufmann's West Coast upscale modular home designs in '09.  One good insight:  The mid-century-ish floating stairs in the house met code with a half inch metal rod inserted in the open-air gap.  (In our market, many homebuyers with young children have second thoughts about homes with these stairs.)

In any event, I wasn't impressed by the construction details in this home (you'd think the contractor would be working hard not to cut corners when much of the Northern California housing leaders will be cycling through the house in the next few weeks).  Lots of exposed nail heads in exterior trim, warping Hardie board (fiber cement) siding, and so on.  (We housing professionals can be a bit obsessive on details--when I used to run the country's rural housing program, our Vermont state director told me to always focus on the fascia boards--if the paint were peeling, you'd question the attention to maintenance.)

But bigger for me, there seemed to be few ideas in the Idea House--other than the Big Idea that modular homes have come into their own.  The plumbing fixtures, surfaces, lighting and garage build-out were all great, but nothing you can't see in a three-year old copy of House Beautiful.  The Idea House was the first place I saw Lutron Maestro dimmers and switches, motion sensitive switches, "smart" windows that darken for privacy (say in a bathroom), and NanaWalls.  The Nest thermostat was last year's big idea as readers of this blog know, but the BLU house forewent coolness for boring Honeywell.  What's that about?

With the housing supply business on hold and marketing budgets super-tight, I understand.  But let's hope that lots of entrepreneurs have spent the past five years developing lots of cool new technologies for the home, and that firms will be rolling them out in the coming few years!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Multi-format Market Data--Now!

PacUnion has developed videos to outline in an easy-to-digest way recent market trends in many of our neighborhoods.  See this link for a sample treatment for Montclair--the video link is at the lower right of the frame (no flash however).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dog Walks Anyone?

We're back to dog walking with our new lab-golden mix, Gus. And Maureen's getting into decent shape again. Mostly at Sibley, the local off-leash dog heaven. In organizing the library (see above) I realized I'm kind of overwhelmed with copies of the Dog Lover's Companion to the SF Bay Area--I usually pick copies of it and various editions of the Sunset Garden Book up for future clients at thrift shops. I need to stop, or to give a few away. Let me know if you're looking for copies of either!

About the Library--

We're all smart (or smarter.... or better educated--ask me for my side-by-side census roundup comparing Piedmont to Lamorinda and to Mill Valley), but do we have room for libraries? Or just a coffee table for the iPad? Check out this story about the resurgence of libraries in upscale homes from the WSJ-- Ignore the part about the firm that will buy your books (by the yard!) and style them.....

Case Shiller Addicts----

I think the New York Times is concluding that the interactive chart has run its course--here is the latest, which covers through Feb. The story covering June 26th's announcement is here.

What Do Buyers Want?

As you think about values for your home, note that typical Piedmont buyers want (in very rough order): --updated kitchen and baths. Buyers today are less imaginative than they were when so many friends were renovating, and the cost-vs-value ratio of a kitchen or bath investment has been declining these last few years (email me for a copy of that annual Cost vs. Value report for various upgrades). In fact they've heard way too much about cost overruns and cooking in the basement for three months. --a master bath. I usually estimate that a house will sell for $50-75,000 less if it has no master bath (older condition is not the issue; just having a master bath is the issue). --a family room. The expectation is that a family or TV room is different from a formal living room, and from a very casual rumpus space. Younger families want the family room close to the kitchen for homework supervision, etc.; older families want noisy teenagers as far from the kitchen as possible! --relatively few steps to the main level. Younger families will imagine babies on the hip and groceries in hand as they look at a long run of front stairs. (Sometimes we can emphasize level-in access from a detached garage to the kitchen, though). --a flat backyard. We may know that the school playground is closeby and so on, but buyers spending $1.x million want a flat grassy backyard, preferably with reasonable privacy (say if rear neighbors are looking over into the yard). --adequate storage. Often buyers will say they need a garage, but what they mean is they need a place for a kayak, or for graduate school book boxes, etc. Garages with dry storage of course count. --easy access to the yard from kitchen and/or family room. It's unusual to find a house with a convoluted path to the backyard, but buyers prefer to bring the pasta bowl directly from the kitchen to the backyard dinner table. --interior access from a garage space. Again, while most of us end up parking on the street and bringing groceries in, buyers think they want an off-street garage space (or two) and interior access up to the main level. There are ''toggle'' items--those where buyers say ''no way''--and there are gradient issues--those where buyers say, ''well, at the right price, we can live with that.'' It's good to consider whether your unique home has toggle issues or just the usual gradient issues--“at the right price, I could live without a family room, as long as there's a rumpus downstairs.”

How Am I Doing?

It's been a busy these last several months. Since last fall, I've sold nearly $21 million in East Bay real estate; nearly $11 million in Piedmont sales alone since January. Key factors to this success have been handcrafted marketing (not the usual ''there are lush gardens and an ubdated kitchen''), thoughtful negotiation, and persistence. Persistence was particularly useful when one seller's original buyers contracted with a home inspector who made an significant and incorrect allegation that led the buyers to walk away. We successfully rebutted the allegation, secured a retraction, and created a detailed and easy-to-absorb cross- walk for the disclosure package. At the end of the day, two buyers stepped up to the plate, including the original buyers, who are now happy Piedmonters. Pacific Union also did very well. We successfully represented more Piedmont sellers in the over-$1.5 million price band than any other firm, and above $2 million, represented twice as many buyers and sellers than the red team. I'm always surprised to hear that some long time Piedmonters assume that Pacific Union is not the top firm in town! I'd love to work with you or your friends and colleagues--just email me at Kennedy@MaureenKennedy.Net.


Am heading up to the Ritz Carleton's residences at Northstar next week for a sleepover. These units include access to all the Ritz's amenities and a great mid-mountain location. I haven't been to Northstar in a while as Corey's been getting himself up to snowboard these last couple of years. And have never been to Tahoe in the summer. Drop me a line after 8/1 if you want the update. Meanwhile, see this link for more about the property.

Housekeeping Issues....

Recently moved and can't remember if you filed the postcard for your $7,000 homeowner's exemption on your assessment? Check here, input your address, and look at the bottom of the page for the exemption status. You can contact the assessor to get a request for the exemption form--it's the one form they don't put on the website. Recently refinanced and need to put your house back into your trust? Don't forget! Call your trust and estates attorney or contact me for a link to a title company that can help with this. Recently moved and your home's tax record doesn't reflect all the space you know was permitted by the City? Go here, click on the bottom form, fill it out and attach a clear memo with backup (for instance, copies of the home's permit history that document the legality of the third bathroom), and then wait. Eventually, the tax record will change and you'll have a right-sized house, and an appraiser will be able to count all your home's attributes in the future. (Our new house is from 1913. But the tax record didn't include the original lower level (original maid's bedroom with nice finishes and bath, both of which were renovated with permits in the '90s) nor the extra space from a '90s kitchen and bath expansion. Our house is now 25% bigger, according to the public record and 25% more valuable (according to sites like Zillow).) Why should you care? Under the new appraisal regs, an appraiser often can't count your rumpus room and bath, even if it were permitted by the City, because it's not in the County's public record. Finally have enough assets to warrant a trust? Call your trusts and estates attorney, or consider Dewey Watson, former Piedmont School Board President, at (415) 357-2087. Wondering what else Dewey has been up to? Check out this article and buy the book here.

What's with the Chairs?

We haven't been in town for the 4th of July for a couple of years (unfortunately for us--I can't believe how many years running we had a dog, or a bike-riding kid, or a cub scout pack, or a neighborhood in the parade, or how many years ago I was rushing back to get the block party set up and organized.....). But the Spouse was shocked when the chairs started going up the Friday before the weekend before the 4th (which you recall was on a Wednesday this year). That is, hundreds of Piedmonters took their chairs from their garages or backyards and left them out on the street for--days on end. New Piedmonters were heading into town and my seller offered to put her chairs out for them, if they'd be in town on the 4th. They weren't, but I thought to myself ''what do they think of a town where someone offers to put her chairs out in a public area days in advance?'' I guess they think it will feel like home.

We Don't Miss SF AT ALL!

Every once in a while a client will walk up to me and say with a great deal of seriousness, ''Maureen, we had no idea how good this move would be for us.'' So I pass their insights on to you. Here's the most recent one-- After about 7 years in Glen Park, San Francisco, we moved to Piedmont in March, primarily for the schools. Since our move, our San Francisco friends keep asking us if we miss the City. We have to try to be diplomatic because the truth is we don't miss the City AT ALL. This has been the best move ever. The weather is consistently 8-12 degrees warmer than in the City (I check every day on my commute), plus we have an actual backyard. We love basking in the sunshine outside and can't believe we allowed ourselves to suffer through the fog in the City as long as we did. Because of the better weather, our energetic 3.5 and 5.5 year old boys can spend much more time outdoors, even in the evenings, burning off that little kid energy! Even our dog is happier. She loves hunting for squirrels in Dracena Park (she doesn't actually catch them). The wide sidewalks and beautiful trees make it a delight to go for walks and jogging, and it feels like the parks are an extension of our backyard. We love that the town is so small and has its own Rec Center with a swimming pool. It creates a real sense of community. Being next to Oakland, Rockridge, Berkeley, Lafayette and Walnut Creek, we have plenty to do without going to San Francisco, although the commute is very manageable when we do. So far, we love it!

Piedmont Prices not Just Firm; They Rise!

The Piedmont market continues to surge in the 2Q12, despite unsettling news from Europe. Forty-four homes sold in Piedmont between 4/1 and 6/30, ranging in price from $650,000 to $2.6 million. (Sales above $2.5 million have been fewer and far between--they typically involve move-up buyers from within Piedmont or perhaps San Francisco, and while a household very well might have more income and purchasing power today than a decade ago, they don't likely have the remarkable appreciation that buttressed high home prices five years ago.) The average price per square foot this quarter was $555, compared to $494/sf in 2Q11, a 10% rise. The pace of sales this 2Q is about the same as last year: Forty-four homes sold, compared to 42 in last year's second quarter. Thus, unlike other parts of the Bay Area, inventory (available homes) is roughly comparable this year compared to last--the strengthening of the market is not due to just a paucity of available homes. In addition to price improvements and rock-bottom interest rates (which increase buying power), the velocity of sales has improved. The homes that do come to market are selling very promptly--typically in an average of just 13 days (two or fewer weekends of open houses)--and for about 7% over asking compared to 2.4% over asking last spring (and 2% under the asking price in 1Q11). Both the days-on-market figure and the ratio of asking-to-sales-price suggest that most of our sales involve multiple bidders, and given our tendency to give detailed disclosures to buyers in advance of offers, they often are contingency-free. The average price of a home is $1.337 million this quarter, compared to $1.275 million last quarter and $1.539 million in 2Q11 (when three homes over $2.5 million sold, dragging up the average). In fact if a home on Sea View and another on Glen Alpine had been included in the MLS-derived figures, our average home price would be over that of a year ago.

Galas Galore!

We're heading into the end-of-year events (read ''kid fundraiser'') season--the Spring Fling on May 5th, PAINTS Gala and Bird House Auction May 25th, Children Support League Kitchen and Home Tour next weekend, and so on. We often donate our Inverness home to the auctions and this year I'm a big-time donor to the Bird House Auction and PAINTS Gala. Pick one or two of these events and have a good time while doing good! The best place for all the details is the Piedmont Portal.

First Quarter Piedmont Update

The market has been very robust this quarter--one easy indicator is the price per square foot. You'll recall we were at about $600/sf for a number of quarters back in late '05, '06, and '07. Since then we'd settled into a $500/sf plateau over the past several quarters (I keep saying ''we're flat flat flat''). I checked the market through earlier this week for clients, and found that for the first 3.5 months of the year (meaning properties going into contract roughly from January though March, and closing by mid-April) the average price per square foot had trended up to $535/sf. (The average through 3/31 was $511/sf.) Moreover, we're seeing that same increase in velocity we saw last spring, in which homes are hitting the market and going into contract in the formerly standard two-week window (and typically for somewhat over the asking price). If we pull out one transaction with a technical glitch (nearly 250 days on market were counted even though it was ''withdrawn'' from the market and for all intents and purposes was an off-market sale), the average days on market for all 19 properties closing by 3/31 was 14 days (which means that these homes were typically selling in competition, which means they would typically be selling for something over the asking price). In fact, the average sale price was about 3% over the asking price, ranging from 74% of asking to 116%, excluding an effective REO auction situation. Eight of the sales closed at 5% or more over the original asking price, and six (of the eight) closed 10% or more over that asking price. About 70% of the transactions in my office this last quarter were in competition, compared to about 40% for the last year or more. Shifting back to our traditional discussion of pricing trends, the average sales price in 1Q12 in Piedmont was $1.275 million, ranging from $510K (for the one REO property--we also had one short sale) to $2.76 million. This compares with 16 sales averaging $1.331 million ($480/sf) selling in a leisurely average 42 days in 1Q11. Because of a difference in the size and condition of homes selling in the two quarters, the average price is down by 4%, but up by 6.6% on a price-per-square-foot basis. Taking a look at sales in the traditionally slow last quarter of the year, prices are again down by 7% this quarter compared to last (when the average home sold at $1.382 million), but up 9.5% on a price-per-square-foot basis. Unlike past years, when only a few homes sold, explaining this kind of volatility, we have another phenomenon now: ''All'' the homes coming to market are getting snapped up very quickly, yet prices aren't trending up consistently. Broadening the view to Oakland, Berkeley and the surrounding region, the number of willing buyers and willing sellers out there making deals they can live with is trending back up to the numbers we saw a decade ago--422 homes sold in the ''inner'' East Bay this quarter, compared to about 450 or so each quarter in '02, '03, and '04. Oakland saw an increase in the number of homes sold of 8% this last quarter over 1Q11, and an increase in average prices of 3%. Berkeley on the other hand saw a 15% drop in the number of homes sold, and prices were flat. It's as if the market is trying to take off, and just isn't quite getting the traction for liftoff yet--the wheels are still sliding around under the market. We'll have a better handle on what's going on in the next couple of quarters. Prices in our classic ''move down'' neighborhoods, for instance Crocker Highlands and Rockridge, are up between 3% and 15% this quarter over a year ago. Are many of us conserving our resources for retirement, bidding up prices in those neighborhoods we feel very comfortable and confident about?

Finally, a Well Priced Five Bedroom Home!

Near the landmark “tree swing circle” at Alta and Scenic Avenues, 407 Scenic Avenue offers the newer construction so rare in Piedmont! With five bedrooms upstairs and a plus room and adjacent bath on the lower level of this traditional layout, there's plenty of room for everyone. The Traditional Layout Works Overtime Enter through the handcrafted gates past olive trees to the private enclosed patio and grassy area at the front--there's also a big oak-studded slope perfect for games of hide-and-seek at the rear of this unusually large lot. On the main level are the living, family, dining, powder rooms and kitchen, as well as interior access to the large garage. Upstairs find a master suite with large walk-in closet (of course!), and gorgeously updated spa-style bath. Four additional bedrooms and another recently renovated bath are upstairs--along with a sauna and a large office nook or library! Downstairs are a large rumpus room (pool table and foosball will convey!), and adjacent TV area, and a bath and plus room. All offer long canyon views. Children may be intrigued by the parallelogram footprint of the house! Newer Construction Means Peace of Mind Older homes in Piedmont often have lead-based paint, asbestos, soft and shallow unreinforced foundations, and old style plumbing systems. In contrast, 407 Scenic Avenue was built after lead paint was outlawed and asbestos no longer used, and on a modern and deeply set steel-reinforced pier-and-grade-beam foundation (with a very positive report from engineer Dan Szumski). Many windows are double-paned, the pest report is very low, a 50-year roof has many years of service left, and a home warranty rounds out the comforting features. Location, Location A more convenient location would be hard to find! Enjoy wonderful Bay views as you stroll through the neighborhood. From the bottom of the public staircase just a few doors away, it's just a short block and a long block to Havens Elementary, and two more to casual carpool to the Financial District in San Francisco. If you'd rather drive, commutes to SF, Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville and through the tunnel are all convenient via Rts. 580, 80 and 24--OAK and SFO are both an easy run as well. Piedmont Park and its dog run, the middle and high school playing fields, Mulberry's Market and the pool are just beyond Havens Elementary in the civic center area. On the market for $1.595 million, the home will be open Saturday and Sunday from 2-4:30 pm, and Monday 10-1 for broker's open (public welcome--organize your morning walk now and save room for morning buns....). Photos and more info at!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Enough about You; Now about Me--

I have a number of listings--including 145 Caperton Ave. and 33 Pacific Ave. in Piedmont--hitting the market this month and next. More on those very soon. Meanwhile, I advised clients as they bought or sold nearly $15 million in real estate last year (excluding our own purchase), and have advised clients on nearly $7 million in purchases in the past three months, including one that the managing broker at Highland Partners called ''by far, the most complex of my 25-year career.'' (And buyers, sellers, and brokers are all still talking to each other!)

Your confidence and referrals have been a huge part of that market expansion.

I'm still doing all my own award-winning marketing work and transaction negotiations. Mary Parise continues to make sure my clients and I stay on top of our paperwork, as she has for a few years. My trusted colleagues--staging professionals, painters, and handypersons--will continue to compete for my sellers' business as we prep for market. And I'm still bringing coffee to the high school parent club meetings, and supporting our community's strong schools, excellent arts venues, and safety net.

Energy Upgrade California

I think I've written about Energy Upgrade California before. Now that we've moved into our new house (312 Pacific Avenue in Piedmont--yes, Konrad now has a view....), I'm scheduled for a whole-house analysis next week. Will report on it shortly afterward.

My colleague from the Clinton Administration, Lori Bamberger, ran a roundtable at Berkeley recently on strategies to increase the uptake of energy efficiency around the home purchase and sale moment, and I rep'ed the realtor community. My big issue has been the cost of these ''whole house'' blower analyses. How do I convince a buyer to pay more for an energy analysis than for a conventional home inspection?

Solar City intuited my concern, and appropriately knocked the price for the evaluation down from the $800 everyone else charges to $295. At the end of the day, we'll make more thoughtful and strategic energy efficiency investments based on the insights, and will get some state rebates as well (you need the blower evaluation in order to get the rebates, which are not income-eligible).

Meanwhile, we've been installing occupancy- and vacancy-sensors around the house and a dusk-to-9pm switch on the front door lights.

Stop by anytime to check it out--

The Go-To Site on Piedmont

Check out and then bookmark the Piedmont Portal! Developed by the schools and school-support community (with specific thanks to my neighbors Holly Hanke and departing school board member and former president June Monach, together with new school board member Andrea Swenson and high school parent club prez Mary Ireland). June says:

The goal of the site is multifold:

*Raise awareness of important district funding issues, especially parcel tax information and how state funding works
*Educate parents and community members about our collective purpose -- how we all work together to support our schools and sense of community
*Highlight events and activities related to fundraising efforts in town via a shared calendar
*Share news items related to schools that are of interest to all
*Streamline fundraising across all groups by making online donations easy
*Feature photos of students and community members supporting our collective purpose
*Eventually host a secure, online version of the Student Directory

But the content is juicy--everything from discussions of capping AP classes to thoughts on the future of the transitional kindergarten class to tickets for the high school's production of Bye Bye Birdie, to links to the Center for the Arts. And that's just in the first week!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Case-Shiller Index

While the press releases today on the Case-Shiller update (for November) were generally negative, San Francisco's data were more complex--those homes costing over $585,000 at acquisition (the top 1/3 of the regional market) dropped 1% between October and November, and only 1.9% year over year according to Socket Site's quick and deep analysis. The New York Times's wonderful interactive graph was just updated; see it here. Note that I was doing a bit of research on a Berkeley and a Piedmont home today, and Zillow reports that home prices in both areas have seen a tick upward.

Relatedly, Decluttering

If you're vaguely thinking about selling your home but haven't yet picked up the phone to call me, it's OK--you can take a few first steps by looking at my colleague Nina Johnson's newest blog posts on decluttering. This home organizing whiz can also work by your side to power through 20 years of accumulated belongings, as I know from personal experience. Get her regular postings by subscribing.

Market Ready

Have you seen the Market Ready series in the Times? (That missing adjectival hyphen drives me nuts.) I find the advice to be spot on, whether discussing installing appliances or repainting in advance of a sale.

Making Sense of the Euro Crisis

I'm at a get-together of former banking regulators this weekend, and saw a great PP deck providing insight on the euro crisis, and potential impacts in the US. Email me if you'd like a copy. One thing that crossed my mind while here was potentially adverse effects of low low mortgage rates over the long term.

The S&L crisis was caused, in part, by the squeeze faced by S&Ls when they had 30-year mortgages at 5%, but interest rates spiked to the 20s in the early '80s. I remember hearing about the resulting ''disintermediation'' in my housing finance class at Harvard in the mid-'80s.

Since then, the market has gotten by through a combination of adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs radically reduce interest rate risk) and the hedging effects of securitization. I haven't seen an ARM loan in a couple of years, and the mortgage securitization business is still seized up. But we're blazing forward with 3.75% 30-year loans. What happens when broad interest rates go up to a moderate 7-8%?

Our securitization system will probably be back in shape by then, but I imagine a number of owners will say, ''should I take that job in LA if doing so means leaving my 3.75% mortgage behind and shifting to a new 8% loan on a replacement home down south? That's $20,000 more in post-tax income going to housing costs! Maybe not.''

I hear about this labor market ''stickiness'' already, either because of low Prop 13-protected taxes, or because potential sellers are underwater. Moving to LA means finally taking the hit on a home that's currently underwater.

So let's re-fi into those low low rates while we can, but hope that the economy firms up so we don't get too dependent on them--

Pesky Trusts and Estates

Just bought a house and realizing that the estate taxes won't stay at zero forever? Thinking about wills, a trust, guardianship and such? Forgot to put the new house in an existing trust? Let me know and I'll pass on a few names for you.

Meanwhile, take a peek at a story from Schwab's most recent On Investing issue. (You'll have to leaf through the issue--it's called ''Estate Planning is a Family Affair.'')

Your title company is likely willing to write up the documents needed to put a house into an existing trust, as long as you go down to the recorder's office to record the document. Your estates and trusts attorney can take care of it as well.

And just today, the Wall Street Journal had this story about clearing out a parent's home.

Turning to Sewers

You've probably seen references in the local papers to the new sewer lateral ordinance in town. Beginning in August in Piedmont, and now this month in Oakland, sellers (generally) are responsible for ensuring that the connecting sewer line (or ''lateral'') from the house to the City main is intact, with no offsets or root intrusions. The city main may be in the street in front of your home, or perhaps in a right of way at the rear of your yard.

Berkeley has had such an ordinance since 2005, so agents and sewer specialists are quite familiar with the process and timelines. By the time most Piedmont transactions have closed in the last few years, buyers have been inspecting, and then insisting that sellers either address a sewer lateral problem, or give a credit so the buyer can do so. The typical culprit is clay pipe which in our moving landscape tends to crack and ''offset'' over time, allowing fluids to leak in and out. Some older homes might even have storm drain or sump pump water going into the sewer line, which as you can imagine can overwhelm the treatment plant further ''downstream.''

Replacement is typically taking a couple of weeks these days, and costs can range from $1200 to maybe an absolute high of $16,000, depending on how far your house is from the City main, and how complicated the journey might be. Typical charges total about $5,500, I would say, and include a video inspection in the $100 range and about $350 for EBMUD's testing. If you know your line is clay pipe, many would argue that you should save the video inspection fee and just jump to replacement as 99% of the laterals from the clay-pipe era have failed.

Buyers clarify in their standard purchase offer who will pay for replacement (if necessary), so it's good to get testing and replacement out of the way early as you plan to go to market. Once replaced, the EBMUD inspection certificate is ''good'' for 10 years, so you could even do it this fall and use the certificate when you sell in three years.

Of course just because a buyer wants a seller to replace the sewer doesn't mean it must be that way. Everything is negotiable. But EBMUD has a very detailed process, including a $4500 performance bond and an 180-day completion deadline, should the buyer take on that responsibility. I even heard this morning of a case where the lender wouldn't allow the transaction to close, even though the buyer had agreed to jump through the hoops and take care of the sewer after the closing. At this stage, the ''default'' is definitely for the seller to do the work.

Call me for sewer replacement recommendations--

Fuzzy Logic Hits Thermostats

You'd have to have been in Tahiti for the past three months to have missed all the press on's high-tech thermostat.

Programable thermostats are great if you have someone else install them just after painting your walls. Otherwise, they can be complicated to program, and nothing is more frustrating than taking the '60s thermostat off and putting a new on in, and then realizing you have a halo of newly exposed paint gracing your living room wall….

Nest's shape is eerily like the '60s thermostat--no halo!--and best of all, it takes the ''programmable'' out of ''programmable thermostat'' and does the programming for you. Fuzzy logic runs our rice cooker, and it apparently runs the brain of this thermostat too.

It can tell if you're in the house, adjusts for your early-to-bed-on-Thursdays-before-Friday's-dawn-bike ride routine, and can be adjusted remotely over the web. Stuck in Chicago for another 3 days? No problem. Just tell your machine to drop down to 55.

They'll be doing over-the-net system improvements through time. I gather Best Buy sells and installs them. Will try it out and report on that next quarter., $249.

Piedmont Market Firms Up in 2011

While the number of homes sold in 2011 surged a strong 22% over 2010's 99 sales, prices inched up three percent to an average $1.446 million from last year's $1.401 million. The homes sold in an average 29 days, a sales window that remains the shortest in the East Bay market.

Prices ranged from $550,000 to $4.5 million, and while the average price per square foot remained right around $500, the top price was $727 per square foot. Through the year, the typical home sold for one percent below the asking price, though that ratio ranged from a low of 74% of the asking price (typical of “problem” or distressed properties) to a bidding-war high of 33% over the asking price (an occasional outcome with fixers).

Buyers brought all cash to the closing table for 11 sales, while eight homes sales were “distressed.”

Turning to the 4th quarter of 2011, prices softened, as is typical after the spring and summer flurry. We saw 22 sales close (compared to 25 last year) averaging $1.383 million (compared to $1.413 million in 4Q10). The average days on market was flat at 30, and only one home sold was distressed.

Thusfar in 2012, however, the market seems to be heating up again: In the first ten days of the year, two homes I know of are pending off-market, and one end-of-the-year special slipped into contract and closed in ten days.

The Fed's low interest rates mean that, to buyers, homes feel like they are on sale: A million dollar mortgage (translating into a $1.3 million home with 25% down) can be had for well under $5,000/month. When interest rates were in the 6s, that same home would have required $6,300 a month, and the jobs to generate it.

I anticipate another firm market in the coming year, and perhaps even a bump up in prices. Typical slowdowns in the housing market (in the early '80s and early '90s) last about six years. If that pattern is reliable--a big question of course--we should see slow increases this year as the top of the market in Piedmont was November, 2005.

Across Oakland, the number of homes sold last year bumped up 8% over 2010, though the average price dropped 9%, reflecting distressed sales. Similarly, the number of Berkeley sales increased 8% while average prices dropped 6%. Looking at all six East Bay cities, prices were flat at all price ranges, while the number of homes sold under $1 million slumped about 5%, but was flat above $1 million.

Be sure to let me know if you'd like more detailed information on a neighborhood, and/or price band. With today's tools, it's easy to give you a clear snapshot of our submarkets. And take a look at Pacific Union's hot-off-the-press regional update here.

Moving to the state level, California expects about a 3% decline in average prices across 2011 among all home sales. Just over 520,000 homes traded hands last year. The California Association of Realtors anticipates a 1% increase in the number of homes sold, and 2% increase in the price of homes sold through 2012. The amount of unsold inventory (that is, the number of homes on the market) declined 16% during the course of 2011, meaning that the supply of homes has dropped while demand (based on the number of closed transactions) has remained rather steady compared to last year.

Alameda County remains the most affordable county in the ''inner'' Bay Area--a household income of $58,000 is required to purchase the typical entry level home here.

Click here for home-by-home information on this quarter's Piedmont sales, and for a Clarus Market Metrics analysis of 2011.