Tuesday, April 30, 2013

And Now for the Quarterly Report--

Piedmont real estate was back in the game this quarter, if you can rely on insights from 15 completed sales reported by the Multiple Listing Service.  The average price per square foot across all sales, well in the low $500s for the past few years, stood at $614/sf, just a tad higher than the $612/sf we saw during all of 2006.  And the sales price averaged $1.576 million, a bit less than the $1.685 million average from 2006 (the two metrics can diverge if, for instance, the average sold home size were larger back then).    While about one-third fewer in number than at the top of the market, this quarter's sales cover the waterfront from a low of $635,000 to a high of $3.45 million.  The typical home sold for about 10% over the asking price and in 20 days (though if you pull out three sales that took much longer to find a willing buyer, the average drops down to just eight days--only one open house weekend before offers were considered).

Comparing 1Q13 to 1Q12, the difference is striking:  Last April I reported an average sales price of $1.275 million on 19 sales, one of which was over $2.5 million.  The average price per square foot was $517/sf, even though the houses, in the main, tended to be a bit smaller than this quarter's crop (a small three-bedroom home will typically sell for more on a price-per-square-foot basis than will a roomy three-bedroom home, because both have the same basic functionality (adjusting for condition, etc.)).

Looking at currently pending homes--that is, those that went into contract during the quarter but have not yet closed--the trends appear to continue:  Excluding one home on the market for nearly six months, the other pending homes in Piedmont sold promptly in an average nine days, suggesting multiple offers and over asking-price sales.

In fact across the East Bay's six cities and since the beginning of the year, homes in which my office was involved (on the buyer or seller side) sold for an average 13% over the asking price, in an average 13 days.  Twenty percent of the transactions sold for all-cash. (I'd love to say that Pacific Union's stellar market acumen accounts for those stats, and we certainly have been representing a disproportionate number of successful buyers this quarter, but I presume that each of the East Bay's major offices are seeing similar results.)

Clearly low interest rates and a broadening sense that the crash has passed are bringing buyers into the market <I>en masse.</I>  Other neighborhoods are seeing this same strength, including Glenview, Crocker Highlands, El Cerrito, Kensington and Berkeley.  Montclair and Piedmont Avenue, together with the condo market and homes south of Fruitvale Avenue have not made up their losses, in part because of the low down payments that predominated in those neighborhoods at the top of the market, and the correspondingly large proportion of homes that remain “under water.”

So sellers:  Now may be an excellent time to put your home on the market.  It appears that, except perhaps at the highest end, Piedmont homes have regained their pre-crash value.  When interest rates begin their climb, and at some point they will climb, prices will inevitably see downward pressure (as higher interest rates bring higher and marginally less affordable mortgage payments).  The question is whether pent up demand from the no-longer-underwater folks and from new entrants into the housing market will keep demand strong enough in the face of higher monthly costs to keep prices stable.

Buyers:  Link up with a local agent and be prepared to move fast, and with confidence.  In this market, sellers and sellers' agents will go with the offer that appears most buttoned up and from professionals they trust, even if it's not the absolute highest.  (I heard this week about an offer that was out of the ballpark, but from buyers who had not even been in the house and clearly had not processed the typically voluminous disclosure package--a great offer is not a great offer if it won't close.)

A look at other local markets:

Across all of Oakland, the average sales price increased between 1Q12 and 1Q13 from $301,000 to $320,000, an increase of nearly 7%, though still well below the 2006 average of $515,000.  Crocker Highlands (94610 single family homes) saw sales price increases of 28% from 1Q12 to 1Q13, from  $647,000 to $832,000 (which in turn was an average 8% over the asking price this quarter).

For more details about other areas in the East Bay, and in the Bay Area more broadly, see Pacific Union's report.

By the way, the PacUnion blog is a great resource.  And while I'm at it, here  is the link to the Christie's magazine this month, including stories on polo, Ottawa, and living near a national park, among others.

104 Pala Avenue on the Market

The Quintessential Piedmont Brown Shingle!

[This blog is not about me, but some may not have heard that we moved from the Pala Avenue house up to 312 Pacific Avenue (still in central Piedmont) about 18 months ago.  Our tenants just bought a home, so now the Pala house is going on the market....]

The British would call it a “heritage” home; the New Zealanders a “character” home.  Under construction at Piedmont's founding, 104 Pala Avenue is a centrally located brown shingle uniting original handcrafted details with modern amenities, great flow, and the oh-so-rare five bedrooms up!

Can a New House Change your Life?

When a Piedmont home is within just a few blocks of:

-a recently rebuilt elementary school in addition to middle/high school,
-after school care,
-the town's emergency services,
-parks and playgrounds,
-casual carpool & WiFi-equipped express buses to downtown SF, and
-Piedmont Avenue shops, restaurants and theater,

your life becomes manageable again.

This house is in the Golden Rectangle, a six-block neighborhood just above Highland Ave. whose streets have no through traffic or parking problems, just sport basketball standards, games of catch, and bikes with training wheels.

Take time for that extra cup of coffee. Marvel at the century-old redwood in the backyard.  Revel in the East Bay's famous sunshine and warmth as it pours through the home's many windows. Invite a neighbor over to discuss the news.

A Unique History

Originally built in 1908 by Judah Magnes's cousin Irving, an East Bay attorney, the house offers unique Edwardian architectural details.  From the dining room's dramatic barrel ceiling to the coffered ceiling and original wainscot in the spacious entry and living room, the fine detail and honest materials are evident and honored.  The home's side garden entrance is a feature common in the neighborhood:  It emphasizes the transition from the hub-bub of public life to the privacy and tranquility of “home.”  Newer french doors, floor-to-ceiling windows, and slider visually and physically link the home's bright interior with the sunny outdoors.

The house more than doubled in size in the late '70s and early '80s.  Today, it offers the hard-to-find five large bedrooms upstairs as well as formal dining and living rooms, butler's pantry, library/office, large rumpus with wet bar, tons of storage, garage with interior access, and a dog-friendly fenced yard.

A Great Entertaining Home

Whether sit-down dinners for 18 or cocktail parties for 100, the well-organized kitchen, butler's pantry, staging area on the rear patio, and circular room flow support your entertaining.  Host anything from the soccer team's end-of-year celebration to fundraisers for your alma mater or favorite charity.  Wow your colleagues with the artisanry and history of the house, and the tree-lined streets for which Piedmont is so famous.  And on-street parking is never an issue--except on the 4th of July as the city's famous parade organizes across the street!

Eco-friendly Improvements

The current owners [that would be The Spouse and me] have carefully updated the home during their tenure--from money-saving dual-pane windows to added insulation to low-flow fixtures to electrical upgrades to occupancy- and vacancy-sensor switches to flash water heater to asbestos remediation and duct replacement to attic furnace installation--it's all been done with design-sense.  Relax in the spa-style Carrara marble master bath--the heated floors make morning routines so much less  routine! Relish the spacious and well-organized master closets.  Prep breakfast in the updated kitchen while the kids stay toasty in the adjacent family room, whose fireplace you can light at the touch of a button.  Manage music or the news from controls in the media closet.  And do it all while appreciating the original architectural details of this 1908 home.

See 104PalaAve.com for photos and more--

958 Kingston Avenue on the Market

Filled with graceful proportions and gorgeous original architectural details, this four bedroom Piedmont home tucked between Beach Elementary and Piedmont Avenue was handcrafted in 1926.  

Architectural Details Abound

Built with yesterday's attention to detail, 958 Kingston Avenue offers the mahogany woodwork, high-style fireplace tilework and classic crown molding you'd expect from the Roaring '20s.  The current owner expanded the size of the living room, carefully matching the original architectural features, while creating a more spacious and expansive feel.  And the rebuilt entry and main floor is now level-in from the street! A gorgeous garden, complete with an unusual catalpa tree and roses blooming on all sides, completes the picture.

Move-In Ready

The current owner installed a number of upgrades, from new appliances in the kitchen to a number of dual-paned windows to an energy-efficient flash water heater.  Seismic work was completed by a previous owner.  There's over 300 sf of storage on the lower level, in addition to the garage.  Just move in and begin enjoying the Piedmont lifestyle!

Location, Location

A more convenient location would be hard to find!  Kingston Avenue sees little through traffic, and guest parking is plentiful.  Beach Elementary School (and after-school care at Schoolmates) is just two blocks away, and Piedmont Avenue (along with the Piedmont Avenue Library) is just two blocks in the opposite direction.  Drop off the kids at school, and grab a latte at one of Piedmont Avenue's many coffee shops before hopping on a WiFi-equipped express bus to San Francisco's financial district.  San Francisco, Berkeley, Emeryville and the Lamorinda/Tri-Valley area are all a convenient commute on Rt. 580/80, Rt. 13 or Rt. 24, as are SFO and OAK.    Playdates and games of catch are easy to organize--imagine a streamlined life!

Stroll to Piedmont Avenue for a Michelin-star meal at Commis, followed by an arthouse movie at the Piedmont Theater.  Restaurants and shopping in Rockridge, Montclair and the Elmwood are just a short distance away.

Both 958 Kingston Avenue and 104 Pala Avenue will be open during the hours of the CSL Tour (10-4 pm Friday and Saturday) as well as 2-5 pm on Sunday.

See 958Kingston.com958KingstonAve.com for photos and more--

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Solar Update

We'll, Sungevity came and went.  It was a super-fast interaction.  Most of their analysis is done on the web rather than on our roof.  Here's the deal--

If your electric bill is high, it's likely that you're paying the highest price per kilowatt out there.  PG&E's electric rates are progressive, so the first x kilowatts are priced affordably, and as you go up the "tiers" of tier pricing as your consumption increases (due to larger house and/or less efficient appliances), your price per kilowatt for that electricity reaches nearly three times the unit cost of the baseline rate.  Instead of 13 cents a kWh you're paying 34 cents a kWh if you're a big consumer.

Sungevity makes sense for those who would use solar to offset that highest tier of consumption.  (And who have a place for the panels facing south and/or west--we have a roof slope that no one can see that faces SW.) Let's say that solar panels cost about 20 cents a kWh--if you had a smaller house and consumed only the baseline amount (50-60% of average consumption in the "turf") at 13 cents a kWh, it would not make sense to install solar.  But if you're paying 34 cents/kWh for the second half your usage, then installing solar at 20c/kWh makes a lot of sense.

Read more about tier pricing (oh, that reminds me of my stint representing consumers before the Alaska Public Utilities Commission back in the mid-80s!  PURPA and all that.....) here.

The firm has three basic options to think about:

-They'll install the panels and guarantee electricity production, and will charge you monthly "rent" for the panels.  This rent is more than offset by your guaranteed electric bill savings.

-Or you can pre-pay the lease agreement in a lump sum, and then your bill savings are your bill savings.  We're paying about $8000 upfront for the system in exchange for a guaranteed $105/mo in electric bill savings (at today's current electricity rates; as the rates increase over time, the savings, and thus the return on investment, increase).

-Or you can buy the system outright, fuss with the state and federal rebate processes, take care of repairs yourself, and hope that the electricity generated is what Sungevity estimated.  More risk, and more paperwork.

We went with option 2.

More when they get on the roof--

Au Pair Anyone?

For years we hosted foreign students in the summer (mostly French, since my Spanish is fluent).  But we never had an au pair--and never will as the youngest is as we speak checking out his final college options!  But my organizing maven Nina Johnson is branching out her business.  She's now a consultant for Cultural Care Au Pair.  Check out her firm and site here if you see an au pair in your future.