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!