Monday, September 24, 2007

Paradise Restored

The restoration work on Codornices Creek at my north Berkeley listing (1718 Beverly Place)is substantially finished and we are ready to sell the property. Turn on your speakers and enjoy this little video tour and the sound of the stream rushing toward San Francisco Bay

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Breaking up is hard to do

I recently addressed two questions with a similar theme on Yahoo! Answers. The common theme was about what happens when joint owners of real estate have to go their separate ways? It could be a divorce, a move, a death, a business dispute, any number of reasons. The answer is going to depend on highly variable circumstances. There is no single answer, even for what might appear to be similar circumstances, but there are two common guidelines.
Don’t start anything unless you know how you are going to end it. Have an agreement and put it in writing. Now, this does not apply to most marriages, although many people contemplating marriage take the trouble to have a pre-nuptial agreement drawn. Mostly this has to do with business arrangements. What happens if one party wants to sell, and the other wants to stay? What happens if one of the owners dies? Are there buy out rights? How do you value the property for the purpose of a buy out? How do you handle expenses? The list goes on. You cannot decide all the issues in advance, but you can decide on and commit to a process.
The other bit of advice, and this applies to what I already mentioned above, is to obtain competent professional advice. Simple acts can have complex consequences like: incurring a tax liability, clouding a title, or even forcing a sale.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Can you hear the market conditions?

You can always tell when conditions are shifting by the noise of the freeway. In a seller’s market the noise is insignificant; in a buyer’s market it’s a major nuisance and possibly a deal killer. Yes, you might get a better price due to the freeway noise, but don’t be surprised if the next buyer wants to offer you a very low price when it’s your turn to sell. Best practice: evaluate your prospective purchase by comparing it to closed sales, current offerings, and recently expired/withdrawn properties that are similarly affected by the same freeway noise. Right now I have a listing on a very busy street, close to a freeway. My clients bought it in the fever of a seller’s market. Now, with the tide turning in favor of the buyers, there are 3 properties sitting unsold on that block even though the prices have been repeatedly reduced. When buyers are able to find similar properties at affordable prices without the impediment of freeway noise, why wouldn’t they choose the other property . . . unless, of course, the noisy property was price lower, much lower.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Price, price down, price up again? Huh?

Yes, well that does bear some explaining. The price of my listing at 4021 Edwards Ave. just went up. Let me explain why. Our original price of $449,000 was simply not working. Market conditions are such that it was not attracting buyers. We lowered it to $389,000, with the disclosed caution that this would be subject to the approval of a "short sale". Please see my earlier article "A Short Sale In Not Discounted Beachwear". We did get some interest at that price, but the lenders, particularly the holder of the 2nd deed of trust, did not co-operate. We now have worked out a plan that will allow us to avoid the uncertainty of a "short sale", avoid foreclosure, and to offer the property at a reasonable price to the buyer. $417,000 is a special number. It is the upper limit of conforming loans. Loans that are most available and affordable. Loans that can still be made in "zero down" or "100% financing" situations. The seller has taken a bold step, at considerable expense, to create an environment that is both friendly to the buyer and offers himself some relief as well.

Price change on Edwards Ave.

Art White | Windermere Real Estate Bay Area | (510) 809-1714

4021 Edwards Ave., Oakland, CA
Sweet 1940's house with sunny garden.
2 Bdrm Single Family House
offered at $417,000
Year Built 1941
Sq Footage 1,017
Bedrooms 2
Bathrooms 1 full, 0 partial
Floors 1
Parking Unspecified
Lot Size 5,336 sqft
HOA/Maint $0 per month


In the 1940's formality continued to yield to modern sensibility: let in the light! Here, the living room offers the formality of a brick fireplace, but flows into the dining room in mid-century style. The 2 bedrooms are separated by the bath, bungalow style. The kitchen has a liberating garden view, and the bright laundry room marks an era when homemaking was gaining more respect as a vocation. Progress marches on with the addition of 21st century windows and an on-demand water heater.

There have been many upgrades of recent date making the house more modern and energy efficient. The dual-paned windows provide shelter from the busy traffic.

The kitchen still needs upgrading, but has a nice view to the garden, includes a double-door stainless refrigerator and a vintage Wedgewood stove.

see additional photos below

Central heatFireplaceHardwood floor
Living roomDining roomStove/Oven
WasherDryerLaundry area - inside


Dual paned windows -- energy efficient
Automated sprinklers (front)
Long driveway for extra parking (tandem)
Remodeled bath
Large lot with sunny garden
Tankless on-demand water heater -- energy efficient
Copper pipes recently installed
Upgraded furnace -- energy efficient


Seller contact info:

Art White
Windermere Real Estate Bay Area
(510) 809-1714
For sale by agent/broker

powered by postlets Equal Opportunity Housing
Posted: Aug 25, 2007, 3:18pm PDT

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Market conditions: Oakland, 94619 a modest decline

Oakland's 94619 zip code takes in a wide swath of the eastern portion of Oakland: from the modest bungalows of the Allendale, below MacArthur, starting around Brookdale Ave., extending eastward across 580 ,and up-hill through the Laurel, across highway 13, and then ending in the dizzying heights and prices of luxury hillside homes around Skyline Blvd.

The average sales price can jump or slide depending on the particular mix during a short period of time. On a monthly basis, for instance, a comparison between 2006 and 2007 closed sales for the area can show an upward spike 24% in March or a plummeting -22% slide the following month.

We get a more temperate, and accurate, picture when we expand our view over the entire calendar year. Comparing 2006 with 2007 through July, the average listing price dropped by 1% for the year, but the average sold price dropped by 3%. That 2% gap seems to indicate that some of the sellers are just not getting the message.

Does this mean that buyers can low-ball anything by 3%? Not at all. There are still multiple offer and overbid situations in the area. A modest home in Oakland's Montclair district just closed for $91,000 over the asking price. Then should a buyer offer more than the asking price in a declining market? Not necessarily; it all depends on the particular property. Value is always the key concept. Price is an amalgam of free opinions: what the agent thinks, what the seller thinks, sometimes what the agent thinks will get the listing signed, and sometimes what the seller thinks is needed in order to "have room to come down". Value is established only when the buyer pays and the seller accepts. There is no substitute for a detailed and thoughtful comparative market analysis of your property. Would you like one for your property? Call or e-mail me and let's talk.

Coming soon: similar reports on other key East Bay areas like Oakland 94602, North Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond North & East, and Pinole.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What's a neighbor to do?

Today I participated in an exchange with a frustrated neighbor regarding the amount of effort it seems to take to get public resources directed to particular traffic and safety issues. I thought it was worth re-posting here.

My neighbor P____'s posting:
At the risk of offending others, I want to say that Not every street can easily be organized. Maybe [the street in question] as a whole can be organized, but this block is populated by very nice people who 1. don't speak English, 2. don't like meetings, 3. think things are fine. Believe me, I've tried.

My response:
Unfortunately what P_____ says is true. We have similar issues here. I have worked as a volunteer cat behaviorist in the locked ward of the SPCA and I would rather "herd cats" than try to organize my neighbors. But when I say "organized" I am referring to approximately 10% of the households. There are only 6 out of over 60 households on my large block who regularly participate in our block group efforts. Our one project has been dragging on for over two years. There was some opposition, plenty of apathy, a bit of suspicion, quite a few non-English speakers, and some very discouraging comments. Yet, it is a start, and we less-than 10% managed to get over 70% to agree to our speed bump petition. We hope to see the result of our labors before the end of the summer. I have also made a couple of new friends among my neighbors and deepened my friendship with others.

At the end of my work day, and some days it never really ends, I would rather not go to a meeting, circulate, a petition, or distribute fliers. And I really do very little of it. Especially compared to some of the real organizers and like Daniel, Edward, Carolyn, Hoang, and Ruth. Sometimes it's more than enough to just feed the screaming cat, throw away the mail, and get some dinner on the table. Cynicism, lethargy, the lure of electronic devices, and just plain fatigue work against participation. But if, every once in a while, just a few of us would aspire to emulate Adlai Stevenson's homage to Eleanor Roosevelt*, I believe that we will see some change for the good. What is the alternative making some effort to improving our civic suffering? Do we make some small effort in hope of reaching a tipping point of success, or do we just take the advice of Job's wife to "Curse God and die"?
*"She would rather light candles than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world."

Monday, May 14, 2007

8 Important Issues About Condos

After talking to thousands of people about buying condominiums, co-ops,(see more about co-ops in my earlier post),and town homes in the Bay Area I have developed a list of the top features that they are looking for, or should look for, when considering their purchase. It’s time to put it all in one place where it’s easy to see and convenient to use as a checklist. Perhaps, if I have overlooked something, one of my readers can add a missing essential.

1. I don’t need no stinkin’ laundry room: Private laundry is the single most important feature that buyers don’t want to give up if they are choosing a condo over a single family home. Convenience, privacy, sanitary issues, and security all figure in to the decision. They are all valid reasons on an individual basis, but I can add another from a professional point of view. As a broker I am seeing that most new construction and conversions now include washer/dryer hook-ups. Sometimes, in the case of small units, a European washer/dryer single machine is offered. This trend has effectively created two classes of condos: with and without laundry. Resale value will be better in those with their own appliances in the unit.

2. Home, home on the range: for the late part of the 20th century electric ranges and ovens were typical of many multi-unit buildings whether built as condos or apartments. In our area where cuisine is highly prized and a the lack of a nice kitchen is sometimes a deal breaker, a gas stove increases desirability for a significant portion of the buyer market.

3. Where do I put my stuff: storage, both long term and every day is often an issue. Space in most condos is allocated efficiently and sparingly to maximize profitability in an environment where land costs are very high. Having that extra closet, or a near by storage locker, can make a big difference.

4. Love me, love my dog: Pets are a wonderful part of life for many of us. In fact the ability to have a pet, without a landlord’s approval, is one of the major satisfactions of moving from renting to owning. Just be sure that your pet(s) fit within the community’s rules. Typically you are allowed to have one pet less than 25 pounds. Sometimes two cats are allowed, or any combination of cats and dogs as long as they are each within the size limits. Check the rules carefully before wrting an offer and certainly before removing your inspection contingency.

5. Parking: cars are a major fact of California life and households with two or more cars are common. A second reserved space, even if it’s tandem, is a welcome feature. Even the ability to park in a non-reserved guest space is a real plus. Check into this carefully if you need extra parking. In some communities the guest spaces are just that, for the temporary use of guests. While visiting a friend in Honolulu I assumed that I could keep my rental car in a guest space in his garage overnight. It turns out that guests must vacate by midnight or get towed. After many hours of holo-holo (Hawaiian for driving around)looking for parking, I decided to do without a car on my next visit.
Also of high value to homeowners are larger and individual private garages as opposed to a space or spaces in a shared garage. Sometimes it’s about doing some work on your car, but more often the issue is storage and convenience.

6. The great outdoors: having a private space, whether it’s a deck, patio, balcony, or yard is a wonderful addition. Sometimes it becomes adjunct storage space for bikes or strollers. Sometimes it’s your alternative kitchen when the weather permits. Again, make sure that the community standards allow your intended use. For instance, one community in Castro Valley community has a fire safety rule restricting the type of barbeque grill you can use.

7. La la la la I can’t hear you: Noise is a major issue and it’s not always someone else’s noise. It could be your own sound system presenting an aggravation to other owners. That’s one of the reasons why stand alone units and any units that have minimal shared walls command a premium.

8. HOA Dues: The more services you have, the more you will pay in HOA dues. The typical elements of community dues are: insurance for the overall structure, water, trash, utilities for the common area, management fees, and reserves. Beware of low dues, yes I said low dues. Dues are supposed to accumulate enough savings to replace or repair major components. It’s the equivalent of a house owner figuring out that the house needs painting in five years, that it will cost $6,000 to do the job, and then putting $10 a month in a savings account to accumulate the cash. In a shared housing community, the owners could face an assessment, a demand for an additional financial contribution, to pay for repairs when a community has insufficient reserves to do the work.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"As Is"

It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.
--President Bill Clinton testifying at the
grand jury investigating the Lewinsky affair.

"As is" does not mean much in and of itself. Sellers still have to tell buyers what "is" is. There are a variety of laws regulating what must be disclosed in a residential real estate transaction. In California sellers are specifically required to disclose any knowledge of un-permitted work, the existence of lead based paint, a death on the property during the past three years, and a host of other things. Agents involved in the transaction are also required to make disclosures. Once the sellers and the agents have done their statutory and fiduciary duties, they can then negotiate for buyers to take the property "as is", meaning really "as disclosed". Even so, buyers can expand the definition of "is" by having inspections. Sometimes buyers will waive inspections, relying on their own knowledge and the existing documentation. There is nothing wrong with that. It can be a good tactic to make an otherwise unacceptable offer attractive to a seller. But any seller who insists that a buyer cannot have inspections is begging for a lawsuit for fraud. It's one thing to shorten the inspection period. The seller does not want to waste time or lose other offers. It's something else entirely to preclude any inspection. If a seller wants a buyer to purchase a property "as is" then the seller should give the buyer an opportunity to determine for themselves exactly what the meaning of "is" is.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tiny bubbles

I'm sure you have heard about the rumble in the "sub-prime" lending market. The effect of this upset has been to cut off a number of potential buyers with 100% financing. There are still "nothing down" loans available but, unlike the wild and crazy days, the borrowers have to prove that they have enough income to pay the loan every month, and that the income they claim to have is really there. One of my preferred lenders sent me an e-mail pointing out that the very low quality borrowers, people who basically inflated or even lied about their income, accounted for 12% of the home loans last year but they are also turning out to make up 77% of the people defaulting on their mortgages. Its a garbage in = garbage out equation. There is no monolithic bubble, but instead a wide range of personal little bubbles of people who get over-extended with the encouragement sometimes of loan brokers and lenders who just want to get their origination fees from the bank and get out.
That's why I have a select group of ethical lenders I work with. I am not primarily interested in the sales hype of "I can get your client a loan", but rather in the professionals who will counsel my client about their best loan options given their financial situation.

Monday, March 19, 2007

First time landlord?

Investment is an important aspect of real estate that sometimes stands alone or can be combined with home ownership. The idea of having a multi-unit building to help with the payments is a common goal and one that can work well in the right circumstances. But be sure you know what you are getting in to. It's important to have reliable resources, especially when entering a new venture.

One very important recommendation is that you contact the Rental Housing Association of Northern Alameda County. For a fairly small membership fee you will have access to lots of resources including the necessary forms and disclosures. This is particlarly important to avoid running afoul of local rent control ordinances. Tenants have rights that must be respected. A good tenant is an important asset to you if you have rental property. But remember, this is a business relationship. Treat it that way by knowing the relative rights and responsibilities of both parties. Failing to maintain your property and good relations with your tenants is like not changing your oil or letting your tires go bald. But it's worse because it seriously affects other people and their day to day living.

To get my income property clients off to a good start I give them their first year's membership as a closing gift from me. Treating this like a business will help you just in case things go wrong. Their web site is . I have a client who joined so that she could rent out her little condo while in Europe. It has been a big help to her.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Color me sold!

A client of mine needs to sell her studio condo. She is disabled with limited resources and the place shows a lot of the usual wear and tear of every day living. She had only a few hundred dollars to spend and wanted to know whether to make some repairs or paint the interior. Here is how I advised her:

Despite the fact that paint is one of the easiest things to change, it always makes an immediate impression. I have been working with a buyer for several weeks trying to figure out what he likes and what he does not. Color, I realized is very important to him even though he never mentioned it. The house has one strike against it if he does not like the color when he drives up and another when he enters the house and does not like the interior color. Even when I find a house that's well suited to most of his needs, he just can't seem to get past the pastels.

A word about painting. Choose neutral colors, a little on the warm side. Don't just get a frosty white. Prep the walls by dusting, washing, and patching all the little holes. Use plastic tarps and proper masking tape to keep the paint off the places where you don't want it. It's easier to keep it off than to get it off. And now here is the good part: ask for help and have some fun. Tell all your friends that you need a couple of hours of their time to get this done. Ask them to help with any of the tasks, including moving the furniture away from the walls, even choosing the color if they have good taste in those matters. Call it a painting party. There are probably lots of articles on the net about "how to paint your home". Approach this systematically and with some extra hands.

Paint, clean, de-clutter, and wash the windows are the best cheap fixes anyone can do to make a home more presentable. After painting, you can address the other issues. You can just disclose them or make selective repairs if you still have some money.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Fence sitter: buy, sell, or rent?

Fence sitter Fairmount near Harrison.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cat du jour: waiting or sunning?

Or just taking a rest? This old cat was leaning against the front door a colorful San Francisco apartment today. There wasn't much sun on the north facing wall so I assume it was waiting for someone to show up with a key.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Average sales price comparison January 2006 vs. 2007 (94619)

Smaller samples create less reliable results, so let's look to the next group of 580/13 neighborhoods in zip code 94619. Average sales price for single family homes in Oakland’s 94619 zip code including parts of the following neighborhoods: Laurel, Redwood Heights, Maxwell Park, Leona Heights, and Allendale.

The most consistent result is the reduction in the number of closed transactions:24 in Jan. 2006, but only 14 in 2007. Average marketing time also reflects what we see in 940602: 28 days in 2006, but 53 days in Jan. 2007. Interestingly, however, the number of home sales as just reported nationally seems to be headed up.
Existing Home Sales Improve in January
Not all commentators agree that these figures represent a real improvement in the housing market.
This is an improvement?
In a reversal of the results we saw in 94602 the average sold price increased slightly in 2007. Closed prices, which slightly exceeded list prices in 2006, were slightly less than more than list prices in 2007. Click on the picture for a larger view of the report.
2006 Report

2007 Report

This information is based on reported sales in the local MLS database.
It is believed to be generally reliable, but there are no guarantees. Please contact me directly for a report on a more narrowly defined area or a specific evaluation of your home’s market value

Average Sales Price Comparison January 2006 vs. 2007 (94602)

Yes, I know it's hard to believe, but the average sales price appears to be rising, not falling. Also suprising is the fact that the average closed price was higher than list for Jan. 2007, but lower in Jan. 2006. Sales volume is drastically down compared to a year ago: 22 homes sold in Jan. 2006, but less than half that amount sold in Jan. 2007. The average marketing time (DOM) for properties also lengthened significantly from 38 days of the market to 56 days; a 47% increase. What's going on? I have some ideas and will explore them in other articles, but I welcome your insight as well.

Average sales price for single family homes in Oakland’s 94602 zip code including parts of the following neighborhoods: Dimond (sometimes mistakenly called Diamond), Laurel, Glen View, Oakmore, Temple Hill, Lincoln Heights, and Redwood Heights.


2006 Report

2007 Report:

This information is based on reported sales in the local MLS database. It is believed to be generally reliable, but there are no guarantees. Please contact me directly for a report on a more narrowly defined area or a specific evaluation of your home’s market value.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Fasten your virtual seatbelt . . .

. . . the next few decades are going to be a high speed ride.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cat du jour

It was a cold afternoon with a chilly wind coming off the bay. The cats were wisely tucked in somewhere and this was all I could find.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Mortgage rates dip a bit

The average 30 year mortgage rate dipped this week from 6.30% to 6.22%. This is good news for everyone, particularly those among us who are looking to purchase. Owners with variable mortgages, however, are unlikely to see any immediate respite in their monthly payments. Indexed ARMs march to the tune of different drummers, but the news is good for them as well if this means that interest rates will either decline or at least stabilize. Personally I don't see rates going down much more and I still think that this is a great opportunity to switch to the stability of a fixed rate mortgage. Will interest rate decline this bring the buyers back? Not in great numbers I think.
Mortgage rate drop
When I was out on tour a few weeks ago I stopped at a typical Oakland bungalow that had been on the market for a while. It was nothing special, but nice enough and had just been reduced in price enought that it looked like an attractive buy. The listing agent and I chatted about price reductions and the dearth of buyers compared to a year ago. "How low do prices have to go to attract a higher level of buyers", she wondered aloud. As I walked off to the rest of the house I wondered myself. It certainly was a question that I had been holding somewhere in my own mind, but I had never articulated it as directly as my colleague had. I had my answer by the time I returned to the living room after seeing the rest of the house.

"We'll see a lot of buyers back in the market when prices go up."

Here's my logic. The buyers drove the prices up for several years because of a sense of scarcity and a belief that they might miss the opportunity to own a home. As long as interest rates stay low and prices seem to be stagnant, or declining, there is likely to be a general feeling that it might be better to wait. That's understandable, but wait until what? What triggering event will signal that it's time to buy? I think the buyers will be back if they perceive that prices and interest rates are rising. It takes a while for that message to get out and to be repeated enough to be beleived. By that time much of the appreciation could have already happened as others use the lull as an opportunity to acquire good properties as bargain prices. For more on this "value buying proposition" see my colleague's analysis at:
Value Buying by Liz Stevens

2276 MacArthur: 9 Vacant Units in the Dimond

This could be a fantastic opportunity for a group wanting to create a shared housing situation right in the heart of the Dimond on MacArthur just off Lincoln. There are 9 units, all vacant, some are remodeled. Probably it would be best to start out as a TIC (tenancy in common) and then convert to condos. Some conversion rights have already been secured. Sorting this all out will take some legal and administrative sweat equity. The future of this building, bringing 9 new households, will have a substantial effect on our Dimond shopping district.

See details of the listing 2276 MacArthur
Listing Detail

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Help for bloggers.

With thanks to Peter Chen, I finally managed to get this blog off the ground by posting my picture. Peter offers free help to aspiring bloggers on his own blog.

Tricks for bloggers

It's a good opportunity to remember that much of what we have, perhaps even our lives, depends on the goodness and generosity of others.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Chat du jour: please slow down folks

This friendly feline in the Dimond was later the unfortunate victim of a speeding vehicle.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A short sale is not discounted beach wear

. . . it is no day at the beach at all. I recently completed one and it was more like riding the roller coaster on the boardwalk.

A "short sale" or a "short pay sale" occurs when the proceeds from the sale of the property are insufficient to pay the seller's related indebtedness (mortgage or secured note). Selling the property results in a shortage of funds to pay the seller's obligations and costs of sale.

As a result, one of three things usually happens:

1. the seller has to make up the difference by using depositing cash from other assets in to the escrow account, or
2. the sale fails to go through and foreclosure may follow, or
3. the lender agrees to take less than the full value of their note.

In my client's case the short sale aspect came as a surprise . . . to me. One day I drove up to check on the house (it was vacant and unsold at the time) where I found a foreclosure notice taped to the front door. I knew that my clients were in some considerable financial distress due to huge medical bills, but I did not know how far they had fallen behind or that their adjustable loan was structured with negative amortization. Although their payment stayed the same, the principal amount due on their interest only loan increased each month as interest rates increased. The rising principal, delinquent payments, a variety of late fees and penalties, and decreasing values in the neighborhood made it impossible to sell the home at a profit. There will be more about this situation and similar problems in another post.

Don't get caught in a spiral of increasing debt if you are unable to make your mortgage payment. Sell the house while you can still either get something out of it or at least leave without the burden of a foreclosure, bad credit, and a legal judgment against you for the balance.