Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Blog after my Own Heart-- gets my eyeballs every week or two.  And today, just after I ordered a new gasket for my 25 year old blender on Amazon, I see the post on fixing things.  It's here.  Here's to fixing things rather than throwing them out.  Gotta go pick up the wool blanket with new binding tape at the dry cleaner's........

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Sell Now?

You may have lots of reasons to wait a year or two to sell. But if you've been thinking about it for a couple of years and are still on the fence, here's some bullet points discussed at my staff meeting this morning:

Reasons to Sell Now Rather Than Wait Til Next Year

*We don't know what next year will bring (9/11?); we do know that right now prices are up, competition for the few listings is fierce, and nearly three-quarters of listings are selling in multiple offers, which typically means fewer post-contract demands and negotiations for sellers.

*Interest rates remain low. As they rise--and they will, sometime--affordability and purchasing power will decline. A buyer with a $600,000 mortgage pays $2000 a month (at 4%) in interest today and can afford a home costing $750,000. When rates rise to 6%, than same buyer can afford a house costing only $500,000. their $2000 a month will cover only a $400,0000 loan. As interest rates rise, buyers can afford less, leaving fewer buyers competing for your home.

*In accelerating markets, the less expensive homes tend to appreciate in value more quickly (see above). Thus, a move down buyer may or may not garner more if they wait til next year, but it's likely your move down house will be disproportionately more expensive later.

*Waiting until next year is not cost-free: If you're ready to move now but choose to wait, you'll pay additional interest, taxes and insurance in the meanwhile (principal will reduce your outstanding loan amount). Sell now and those funds go into your new home; if you are downsizing, your "PITI" may well be lower during the coming year.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

183 Somerset--Private, Versatile, Level-In w Killer Bay Views!

Five bedrooms, four and a half baths arranged artfully around the big patio and pool, split between a 3-suite mid-century by Ostwald and a 2/1 cottage, all on nearly a half-acre property.  All renovated.  See for all the details.  Open Sat & Sun afternoons.  Piedmont!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Piedmont Upward Trend Endures

Piedmont’s real estate market continued its strengthening trend through the end of the year, and year-over-year compared to 2011.
The average sale price for a Piedmont home in 2012 (per the Multiple Listing Service) was $1.457 million, about 2.4% over the asking price, on average.  The typical home sold in 21 days on the market.  Prices ranged from a high of $6.5 million to a low of $510,000.  In contrast to other parts of the regional market, more homes sold this year than last:   131 homes sold compared to 121 in 2011.  On a price per square foot basis, prices in 2012 are up 9.5% compared to 2011.  Because the range of home prices is relatively consistent over these two years, this is probably a good indicator of pricing trends—in other areas the trend is affected by a sudden influx of higher-end homes going to market, dragging the average price up.
The fourth quarter of 2012 say a firing of these trends, despite the usual slowness of the holiday market:  The average price of a Piedmont home sold was $1.48 million, or $544/sf.  The typical home sold in 27 days, and prices ranged from $4 million to $800,000. 
We’re increasingly seeing homes selling off market, and those prices are not necessarily included here (realtors can report prices to the MLS “for comparable purposes only” after the fact, but some sellers prefer to maintain confidentiality, for an array of reasons).  These sales often see a number of bumps on the road to the final sale, as sellers think they might have gotten a better price if the house were more widely marketed, and buyers feel they should get a discount for bringing a “good” price to the seller with what they perceive to be little effort. There are certainly good reasons for some sellers to close without a more public sale, but agents in the field typically understand that this approach does not bring the highest and best offer, and often leaves sellers wondering what they missed out on.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nest Installation--Check

Yep, we did it today.

I'm busy, so Yelped for assistance, and found recommended local contractor Tom Wright ((510) 710-3310).  He and his colleague installed the second generation Nest, bought at Amazon for $249.  It took about 10 minutes of actual work, but several additional minutes waiting for the system to connect to the house's WiFi, to upload updates, and to accept my minor input.  It's insanely elegant and insanely simple to orient.  In fact it feels way too simple for a programmable thermostat.  I'm casting about for the way to input the full week's schedule and engage, but the eye is essentially saying back "no Maureen; you just live your life and punch me a couple times in the coming week or two, and I'll figure it all out. Really.  Go to yoga class."   

Tom charged $75, which we should make back in energy savings in about a month or so, based on various Nest info out there.  The Amazon review site has lots and lots of user feedback and insight ("does it think dogs are people?" "what if I have this kind of furnace?" "can thermostats on different floors talk to each other?") and the Nest site at and the blog at are choc a bloc with info.  The second generation even has a wall plate that covers up the schmutz left by your old  '90s thermostat (the original "eye" is the same shape as the old non-programmable round one we all grew up with, and clearly the Nest folks heard back from non-professionals saying "you said it was deeply perfect, but I had to hire a painter to come and patch and paint the 1962 paint color newly revealed when we reverted from '90s thermostat to Gen1 Nest..."  So they quietly added a nice piece of optional 3x6 plastic to the kit.)

For more on the Nest vs. Honeywell mudbath, see  

Anyone want a very nice 2008 programmable thermostat for free?  Let me know and I'll drop it off--you just need to figure out how to hook up the wires.

Food Bank Says Thanks!

Thanks for all your contributions to the Alameda County Food Bank over the holiday season.  Whether you gave through the Scouts, or through Pacific Union's site, it makes a huge difference.  Our firm outdid itself--we raised 134% of our goal, or nearly $11,500!  Thank you!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Nice Summary of the Tax Changes Last Week

From Citibank:

On January 2, 2013, President Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (“the Act”) into law.  The Act gives clarity, for the present, to the Federal tax system.  Outlined below are some of the key changes for 2013. 

Transfer Taxes

·         Under the Act, the gift, estate, and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemptions are permanently set at $5,000,000 (indexed for inflation since 2010).  The inflation-adjusted exemption amount in 2012 was $5,120,000. The inflation-adjusted exemption for 2013 has yet to be announced. 

·         The highest marginal gift, estate, and GST tax rates were increased from 35% to 40%. 

·         The Act makes “portability” a permanent part of the estate tax regime.  Portability allows a surviving spouse to use any unused portion of the first spouse to die’s exemption for transfers during the surviving spouse’s lifetime and at death. 

·         All other transfer tax provisions of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 are permanently enacted.

·         In addition, although not related to the Act, the annual gift tax exclusion amount was increased to $14,000 per donee for 2013.  The amount that can be gifted transfer tax free to a non-citizen spouse was also adjusted for inflation and increased to $143,000 for 2013.

Income Taxes

·         The maximum marginal income tax rate was increased to 39.6% for individuals earning $400,000 or more and married couples filing jointly with combined incomes of $450,000 or more in 2013.  For all other taxpayers, the previous maximum rate of 35% remains in place.

·         The tax rate on long term capital gains and qualified dividends was also increased to 20% for individuals with incomes of $400,000 or more ($450,000 for married couples filing jointly).  For all other taxpayers, the previous maximum rate of 15% remains in place.

·         The Pease limitation on itemized deductions was reinstated for individuals earning over $250,000 ($300,000 for married couples filing jointly).  The Pease limitation reduces the amount of allowable itemized deductions by 3% of the amount by which the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income exceeds a specified threshold, up to a maximum reduction of 80% of itemized deductions.

Medicare Tax

·         Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, taxpayers earning more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) are subject to a 3.8% additional tax on Net Investment Income. 

·         There is also an additional Medicare tax of 0.9% for all taxpayers earning wages and compensation more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly).

Social Security Payroll Tax

·         The payroll tax cut that had been in place for the past two years expired, raising the rate from 4.2% to 6.2% on the first $113,700 of wages. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

The SF Market--2012 Summary Here

A colleague in San Francisco was first to produce a year-end report and get it out, so if you're interested in the SF market, click here.

Relatedly, Michael Krasny's first hour today (of which I missed much) was on the Bay Area housing market.  If you'd like to hear it, click here to start the audio.

My market summary will be out shortly!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Heat Going Up and Out the Attic?

Recently read about PG&E's new incentives to reduce gas consumption (yay Russ).  Our problem is that the prior owners of our home went overboard with lighting.  So we need serious incentives to pull out energy-hog kitchen lights and replace them with the now-mandatory energy-sippers.  But lots of us are losing large amounts of heat through poorly insulated attics (or in our case, original 1913 single pane glass skylights....).

This Old House comes to the rescue with a nice piece,,20645175,00.html on home insulation.  Don't forget, it makes your house warmer in the winter AND cooler in the summer.  Insulation also regularly comes out at the top of the list for bang-for-the-buck energy efficiency improvements.

Dwell's Six Ways to Keep Costs Down

I always tell my renovating clients "the best way to stay on budget is to resist the urge to change the plan."

Change orders often involve returning items, paying restocking fees, paying contractors to take out what's there and then put in something new, new architectural or engineering drawings (because the change is not as straightforward as you think, and unless you make it clear that you're concerned about the all-in costs, no one is particularly anxious to let you know that),  added permit costs or even new requirements for design review or public hearings.  It all requires more time, which means more personal disruption, and of course more money.

And "money" includes labor, materials and carrying costs (your mortgage (PITI) for those extra couple of months you're unexpectedly not getting full use of the house).  In fact, I had a brief chat with a plumber recently and he threw out an nice example--snazzy wall-hung toilets (vs. the usual kind that sit on the floor)--"yeah, the price for the toilet is not much more than the usual, but they'll pay me three times as much to install it, with all the added wall bracing and repatching it requires."

Dwell's February issue focuses on budget renovations, but in a very thoughtful way--not just "buy Ikea," but rather "be smart from the get-go."  Their six meta-suggestions:

"--Haste makes waste--Getting your design just right isn't a race against the clock, and taking your time just might save you a few bucks along the way.

--Rein it in--Building small means building less.  And building less means saving more.

--Expert moves--Whether designing affordability into the structure or driving a hard bargain for those countertops, budget-conscious architects and builders know what it takes to minimize costs.

--High-impact splurge--Inexpensive needn't mean uninspiring:  These are the bold, big-ticket flourishes that really make the space.

--Sweat equity--A little DIY ingenuity and some deftly applied elbow grease keep costs low.

--Material intelligence--From a well-placed pop of color to a cleverly installed wall of curtains, these moves make the most of the materials at hand."