UPDATE: As I wrote a couple of weeks back, this new construction home in the area of Los Altos known as Old Los Altos sold immediately after its completion in June of 2013 for $3,500,000. Back on the market less than a year later with no improvements (a true apples-to-apples comparison), it closed escrow on June 6th for $4,500,000. That's a 29% increase in one year.
UPDATE: This property closed escrow on June 5th for $1,650,000. Only 4% over the asking price, but 57% over the last sale price in 2009. Not a bad return for a 5 year hold.
Original Post: One To Watch: Classics at Miramonte
Build in 2013, this New England style 4 BR, 4.5 BA, almost 3700 sq ft home, on a 1/3 acre lot in Old Los Altos, originally sold for $3,500,000. Back on the market less than 1 year later with seemingly no modifications or improvements (a true apples to apples comparison), it is now listed for $4,150,000. The first open house is Memorial Day weekend. Stay tuned for the closing price...
Just listed last week at $1,598,000, this 4 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom single-family home in the 5-year-new Classics at Miramonte development, boasts a great floor plan, fine finishes, great schools and easy access to downtown Mountain View.
This property last changed hands in a very different market in 2009 with a sale price of $1,050,000. Given the limited inventory and strong seller's market conditions, this property will likely attract multiple offers. With a list price already 52% over the last purchase price and promising to set a new neighborhood record (for the smaller lot models), this is certainly "one to watch" in our book. Stay tuned for the final closing price.
There is a very old saying, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” And if you are a Buyer in the Silicon Valley housing market right about now, you just might qualify as desperate. Which is probably why those of us in the real estate industry are hearing more and more about Buyers who don’t want an agent to represent them exclusively in a transaction (a Buyer’s Agent). Instead they will only deal directly with the Listing Agent to write an offer, which is known in the industry as a double-ended deal for the agent. In a balanced market, this is almost unheard of. The listing agent is representing the seller’s best interests, so how can he or she also represent the buyer and ensure that their best interests are also represented? But apparently these buyers have convinced themselves that working with the listing agent will give them a distinct advantage in this highly competitive market. They are willing to overlook the obvious conflict of interest for a chance at getting into contract on a home. Which fits perfectly with the definition of the aforementioned old saying:
“In adverse circumstances actions that might have been rejected under normal circumstances may become the best choice.”
Now I’m not saying that all double-ended deals are shady. There are circumstances when they legitimately come up and with the proper checks and balances in place, they can be executed in a manner that is fair and equitable for all involved.
But when a buyer approaches a listing agent with the intention of bending the odds in their favor, one can only imagine that the agent who takes them up on it is lacking scruples. Most honest and reputable listing agents don’t want to risk even the appearance of impropriety so when they are approached by buyers who want them to double-end a deal, they will instead refer them to a colleague to help write their offer. And THAT, my dear friends who are looking for an edge in this crazy market, is what you should do.
Now don’t get me wrong. Researching and hiring (per my previous post) your own agent who understands your needs and wants and having that established relationship is, of course, ideal. But if you do find yourself falling for a house and you don’t already have a fabulous agent to represent you, take the referral from the listing agent. Chances are, the two agents will know each other very well and are even perhaps good friends, which means there will be a certain familiarity and comfort level that can work to your advantage. And a scrupulous advantage, at that.
There are many good reasons why people opt to live in major cities. Most commonly, people are drawn to the hustle and bustle, appreciate the variety of nearby and diverse culinary and cultural activities, value a walk-able community and cherish the short commute that city-life affords them.
I counted these (and many others) among the reasons why I chose to live in San Francisco. But ultimately, my husband’s career drew him South and he began commuting a great distance to work each day. And after the birth of our two children we were faced with the toughest question that all urban parents will face: Where will they go to school? And finally there was the combination of having a relatively small home (no storage or play room) and the cold weather (makes park-going less pleasant) that finally pushed us out of the city.
But even though I knew our move to the suburbs would have many wonderful advantages (great public schools, no commute, warmer weather, and more space inside and out!), I still had major reservations. So if you’re considering a move to the Peninsula but you still have reservations, here is my honest take on reservations vs. reality:
Even if you don’t care to label yourself as a foodie, chances are after living in San Francisco for any period of time, you’ve become a little spoiled by easy access to the seemingly endless supply of creative, high quality food. And walking away from that can prove very challenging. Well, I do consider myself a foodie so I’m not going to sugarcoat this: the food on the Peninsula is not as good as the food in San Francisco. This assertion will likely make me about as popular with my neighbors as restaurant critic Michael Bauer, but I'm sorry - it’s true. Yet I also contend that it’s not as bad as you fear. There are, what I like to call “adequate substitutes.” Which is to say, they may not be quite as good as the SF original, but they’ll certainly do. Such as:
Little Star Pizza
Thick Crust Pizza
These substitutes, plus the undeniable trend of San Francisco restaurants opening more and more Peninsula outposts (Delfina, Pacific Catch, Blue Bottle, to name but a few), should alleviate most of your “culinary wasteland” concerns.
Having spent most of my childhood and the last 10 years of adulthood in San Francisco, this was a big hurdle for me. I was very attached to the idea of limited car dependence, for both environmental and quality of life reasons. I loved being able to walk just about anywhere I needed to go: post office, café, park, grocery store – you name it. I feared that moving to the suburbs would mean putting an end to all of that glorious convenience and communing with neighbors and nature. And I was right (exceptions noted in next section).
But there is some hope. There are fundamental cultural shifts in the US that will ultimately make suburbs more pedestrian/bike-friendly and less car-centric. These shifts are being led by Millennials (Gen-Y) and Gen-Xers, and they are described as the end of car culture and the urbanization of the suburbs. So the good news is, even though we will likely remain tethered to our cars for the foreseeable future, at least there is hope that our children won’t have to be.
Plus, if moving to the ‘burbs means at least one member of your family will no longer be commuting 2+hours/day, total household time spent in the car per day will absolutely decrease. Because even though you will get in your car to go just about everywhere, it will never add up to 2 hours/day, I promise.
Whether you’re concerned about a dominance of chain stores, the prevalence of strip malls, or just a general lack of cultural diversity, this can be one of the most daunting reservations city-dwellers have about leaving. And yes, there is some truth to this concern.
There are certainly more chain restaurants/stores than there are in notoriously anti-chain San Francisco, but that can be quite convenient at times. For example, I left The City before Target had a presence there and frequently had to drive to Colma after having children. Let’s face it – for families with young children, access to certain chain stores is rather helpful if not altogether necessary.
And yes, strip malls still dominate the landscape along El Camino (for the uninitiated, that's the main drag that runs the length of the Peninsula), but there are many charming “Main Streets” in Peninsula towns that provide the same Mom & Pop-owned stores, restaurants and services as your SF neighborhood. My favorite Peninsula “Main Streets” are: Burlingame Ave in Burlingame, Laurel Street in San Carlos, Broadway in Redwood City, Santa Cruz Ave in Menlo Park, University Ave in Palo Alto, Main & State Streets in Los Altos, and Castro Street in Mountain View. And a major bonus: if you can get a house walking distance to one of these streets, you can absolutely maintain your pedestrian-friendly lifestyle.
Last but not least, I have been pleasantly surprised with the cultural diversity that exists on the Peninsula. Many of the children that my kids go to preschool with speak another language at home and their families regularly share their cultural history and traditions at school. The fact that there is only one Liam (my son's name, which was the US’s 3rd most searched boy's name in 2013) and two Armaans in the pre-K class, tickles me. This is not the whitewashed suburbs I feared.
There is however, one form of cultural homogenization that I did not anticipate. And that is, regardless of our ethnic, national, religious, etc. backgrounds, or even our age, we are all (what my child-free friends would affectionately refer to as) breeders. That is to say, we are all unified by parenthood, whether we are new parents, have school-aged children, are recent empty-nesters or are looking forward to the birth of our great-grandchildren. Which is both bad and good. On the one hand, I’d prefer my children to be exposed to other ways of life. Not everyone decides to have children. Not everyone decides to get married. Not everyone has a 9-5 job. And I want them to see that first-hand and know that it’s OK. But on the other hand, when I’m in public and my children are acting up, I’m far more likely to get a look of “oh yeah, I’ve been there” than the “good lord, woman – you have children – what are you doing in public?” look I’d get in SF (even in family-oriented Noe Valley). So in general I find myself much more relaxed because I'm constantly surrounded by fellow parents and there’s this sense that we’re all in this together. Which is pretty nice.
That's it in a (pretty big) nutshell. I could also go on and on about all of the benefits of suburban life (have you seen my vegetable garden?), but you've already heard those arguments from your suburban dwelling friends and I don't want this to be a hard-sell. This is the unvarnished truth as I see it and I hope it helps you make the best decision for you and your family.
"Although the difference in monthly payment between a 4.5 percent interest rate and a 5.5 percent interest is not dramatic, your savings in interest paid over the life of the loan is significant," said Erin Lantz, director of Zillow Mortgage Marketplace. "Mortgage rates will likely rise to 5 percent by the end of 2014 due to an improving economy and policy changes by the Federal Reserve. By buying a house while interest rates are still incredibly low, you could end up saving more than $52,000 over the course of 30 years."
There are two key factors that will dictate the direction of the real estate market in the coming year: interest rates and inventory.
Countless economists have weighed in on where interest rates will go in 2014, and while they vary on the subtleties of their predictions, the vast majority agrees that interest rates will go up. The good news is, that even though interest rates will continue to inch higher, historically speaking, they will still remain relatively and remarkably low.
So how will rising interest rates impact our local market? Given that prices are so high (historically speaking and relative to the rest of the country), even modest increases in interest rates will impact the affordability equation for many buyers. But not all buyers. Many in this area are able to pay cash or finance only a small portion of the purchase price of their home. For this segment of the population, the impact of modest interest rate increases will be negligible. I anticipate we will see slightly diminished demand as interest rates rise in 2014, but we certainly aren’t going to see demand dry up altogether.
On the supply side of the equation, there is the question of whether or not we will see housing inventory return to normal levels in 2014. The biggest challenge facing buyers in 2013 was low inventory. Essentially, demand greatly outpaced supply. With prices in this area steadily increasing over the past several years, the question is: Are prices now high enough to push would-be sellers off the fence?
These “would-be sellers” are staying put for many reasons. For one, many homeowners re-financed at incredibly low rates, and now that interest rates are on the rise again, it’s difficult to walk away from those rates. Another reason is low property taxes. Many of these folks have owned their homes a long time and are not paying property taxes on the current market value, which would certainly change if they were to purchase a new home. And of course, capital gains tax is an oft cited reason for staying put. These are all economic deterrents for sellers, especially those who are looking to retire in the near future.
So the big question for the coming year is:
Are home prices finally high enough to balance supply and demand? Or are we in for yet another year of tight inventory, bidding wars and frustrated buyers?
Demand will be tempered by slightly higher interest rates and supply will loosen up as record prices knock more would-be sellers off of the fence. Though this will not be enough to tip the balance of power to a buyers market, especially in this economically thriving and highly desirable community we call Silicon Valley. Sellers will remain firmly in control though we will likely see more modest price gains in 2014 vs. 2013.
Before the holidays, I wrote about a new listing in Mountain View that caught my eye as "One to Watch". The 4 bedroom, 3.5 bathroom house on a quarter acre lot had last sold in 2005 for $1.335 million and was brought to the market last month with an asking price of $2.195 million. As I acknowledged in my earlier post, this is not an apples to apples comparison due to the minor improvements that had been made to the home, but I was still curious to see what this listing would tell us about the current state of the market. Here's what it had to say:
The property was listed on December 5th, went into contract on December 12th and closed on December 18th for (likely all-cash given the short closing) $2.408 million. That's $1,073,000 or an 80% jump in value. Not bad for an 8 year hold, especially considering the original purchase was very near the housing bubble peak.
Every now and then I come across a listing that tests and even potentially defines the market, and I'd like to start sharing those with you, Dear Reader.
First up: There's a new listing on Brookdale Avenue in Mountain View that has captured my attention. It's a 4 BR, 3.5 BA, 3385 sq ft home on a large 10,560 sq ft lot with excellent Mountain View Schools, listed at $2,195,000.
The main reason I find this listing so intriguing is because the last time it changed hands in 2005 it sold for $1,335,000. Now 2005 was not the absolute peak of the market, but I think we can all agree that it certainly was the heyday of the Housing Bubble.
Granted, some improvements have been made since then, including new roof and gutter system according to the listing. There is also new exterior paint/shutters, new flooring throughout the main level, painted cabinets, new countertops/backsplash and all new appliances in the kitchen and new french doors out to the backyard. And you may be wondering: how do I know this? Because even though only a facade photo was used in the MLS in 2005, the virtual tour is still live. Here are some side by sides:
So while this is not an apples to apples comparison by any means, appreciation of $860,000 (64%) from the near top of the housing boom to today, even with the (mostly cosmetic) improvements made, would be quite something. That's why this listing is One to Watch! Offers are due on Tuesday, 12/12, and I will have an update shortly after that.
Side note: If they do get near the asking price, let this also be a case for staging and professional photography. This property is very nicely presented this time around.
In a previous post, I mentioned that we were in the throes of a facade make-over for our recently purchased home in Mountain View, CA. When we broke ground on this project, many of our wonderful neighbors would stop by to chat and manage a very polite, "what's wrong with the way it is now?"
It's a fair comment because our house was flipped right before we purchased it. It had just been outfitted with new windows, doors, paint, roof and landscaping. So yes, everything was new, but unfortunately, the flippers made some cost-saving design decisions and aesthetic choices that made it challenging for us to feel "at home" in our new house. For example, from a distance the garage door appeared to be a Craftsman style wood door with rustic wrought iron hardware. Cute, right? But a closer look revealed it was actually a metal garage door painted to look like wood with cheap faux hardware and plastic dividers making the 4 window panes look like 12 smaller panes. And note the window above the garage door - which is actually not a window at all but a black piece of plastic outfitted with faux shutters to make it look like a window. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Basically, good from far but far from good.
The goal of our project was to give the home a more modern look and to improve the quality of the finishes. Our designer, the amazingly talented Regan Baker, came up with a beautiful concept that included new paint, windows, front door, garage door and lighting:
Gorgeous, right? But my desire to scrap everything and start over was at odds with the obvious waste involved in doing so. Ultimately we decided to keep the existing windows and garage door to keep waste and happily, costs down. We donated the existing front door and replaced it with a laminated glass panel door to provide some much needed light to the entryway. And everything else, well - you just have to see for yourself:
We absolutely love the transformation and feel like this house is finally our home. And the neighbors have been so complimentary and appreciative of our efforts. It was a worthwhile investment as I'm sure we would see an ROI if we were to sell, but I'm much happier being able to come home to this beautiful house every single day and we will enjoy it for any years to come.
And FYI - here's what the house looked like before the flip. A dramatic transformation indeed!
A while back, I was approached by some buyers for an interview. They told me that they would be talking to approximately 6 agents before choosing one to work with. Now the average person may not know this, but it is very rare for a client to take up a formal interview process when looking for a real estate agent, so I was a bit surprised but happy to do so. Actually, I commended them for taking the time and effort to find an agent who would be a good fit for them. Upon meeting with them, they told me that not everyone had been so thrilled with having to be interviewed and, as a matter of fact, a couple of agents even bowed out. Surprised? I certainly was. That is, until I did some research.
According to a study by National Association of Realtors®, 66% of buyers and 65% of sellers speak to just one agent before selecting one to work with. ONE AGENT. That means that two-thirds of the time, people hire the first real estate agent they speak with. Shocked? Yeah, me too.
As a real estate agent striving every day to be exceptional at what I do, I must ask: Why is the bar so low for hiring a real estate agent? It would seem people are willing to put more effort into finding a good hair stylist than they are in finding a good real estate agent. Realizing this, it dawns on me that even the language we use to describe the process of working with an agent reflects this. "How did you find your agent?", is what we say. No one says, "How did you hire your agent?". But I think it's about time we did.
So whether you're in the market for your first-ever agent or even a new agent, here are some tips for hiring the best real estate agent for you:
1 ) Ask around. Just because your best friend's neighbor's sister had a great experience with her agent, doesn't necessarily mean they'll be the right fit for you, but it's a good place to start. Gather referrals from family, friends, and even neighbors and colleagues and after some quick online research, add the ones that rise to the top to your short list.
2) Visit open houses. In some areas, the agent hosting the open house isn't necessarily the listing agent. Those agents are there to work with buyers, which means they are actively engaged in the market and eager to work with you. You also have the added bonus of a brief in-person encounter to see if you click. And if you don't, certainly be polite, but you have every right to move on and keep looking.
3) Find a local expert. There is so much information available these days thanks to the internet and I say, use it! Keep an eye on listings and closings in your immediate search area and see if there are one or two stand-out agents representing buyers and/or sellers in that area. And if you can do a little further digging and find an agent that lives in your search area, definitely add them to your short list.
4) Don't use the I-word. Now that you have a short list, it's time to interview the candidates. But here's the thing: don't actually use the word, "interview". Given that only 1 in 3 real estate agents hired are actually subjected to an interview process, the word "interview" might put some agents off (as demonstrated above). So instead, ask them to meet to "discuss their process".
5) Key questions.
- Ask how they prefer to work with buyers/sellers. Technology and therefore access to information have blurred the line as far as how and who keeps an eye on new listings. Whether you prefer to do that legwork or you expect your agent to do it all, it's critical to set that expectation upfront.
- Ask how they communicate with clients. Again, technology has proliferated our communication options, so if you're fond of a certain means of communication, it's critical that you ensure your real estate agent is willing and able to utilize it.
- Ask about the extent of their knowledge of the area you're looking in.
- Ask how many clients they work with at any given time. This will give you some insight into their availability. It's a difficult balance - you want an experienced agent, but not one that is so busy that you'll be talking to their assistant more than them.
- Finally, use the time to get to know them personally. You don't have to be BFF's with your real estate agent, but finding someone who shares your values and who you like spending time with can only help in what can be a complicated and sometimes tense process.
If you had an experience with finding or working with an agent that others can learn from, please share in the comments below. Thanks in advance!
It has been entirely too long since I posted, but I have been very busy with two exciting projects: redesigning my personal brand and remodeling the facade of my house.
If you are reading this blog post and you have been to my website before, you will notice many new changes, including a new page design, new headshot and my very own personal logo:
My website design, headshot and logo design are all the brilliant work of Melanie Barti over at Likewise Brand Co.. She is also designing some ads and collateral pieces for me that I can't wait to roll out!
As for remodeling the facade of my home, Regan Baker of Regan Baker Design has once again astounded me with her creativity and amazing style. It is still a work in process and I'm wont to share any pictures before the big reveal, but here's the before picture:
And here's the concept we decided to move forward with:
Next, we will be planting our Fall/Winter garden, which I'm very happy to say will include brussels sprouts! And sometime in the very near future we will be adding some citrus trees to our backyard farm. I'll update again when everything is in. Until then, happy farming!
Silicon Valley is a pretty savvy real estate market and most sellers are well aware of the advantages of staging a property before sale. But for those few of you who are not completely convinced (or for those of you who just love a good before and after), here are some before and after pictures from a recent listing of mine that might knock you off that fence.
(Staging credit: Shiri Weinstein, owner of Shirful Designs)
When I first started this blog, I anticipated there would be many posts about being a parent, since it is such a huge and wonderful part of my life. But six months into this endeavor and nary a single word on the subject has crossed this keyboard. And I've come to realize the reason: There are many things in life that I naturally excel at. That I've developed some sense of mastery or expertise in and even feel that I can provide guidance or advice to others. Parenting is not one of them.
But what I have become quite the expert at is simplifying other parts of my life in order to make the challenging task of parenting easier. For example: Cooking. Before I became a Mom, I looooved to cook. And the longer the recipe, the more complicated the technique, the more obscure the ingredients, the better! I scoffed at people who shied away from complex cooking, who purchased convenience items like pre-chopped vegetables, and who referred to cookbooks with the words "30-minutes" and "easy" in the titles. And just like most judgements I made before I was myself a parent, boy was I wrong.
Since becoming a Mom I have purchased almost every cookbook promising "easy", "30-minute", "weeknight", "simple", "5-ingredient" meals, with varying degrees of disappointment. One book clearly never timed the recipes, because they always took me well over an hour to make. One book made the assumption that if you want to cook quickly, you must also not like food very much because everything in it was bland and boring. Another book obviously never tested their recipes because they always came out just wrong. But thankfully, there was one bright spot in the bunch:
This book provides a variety of recipes using a wide range of ingredients. You will not be bored! Also, the recipes are simplified with a high standard for the quality of the food. In other words, instead of throwing in cans of condensed soup into a recipe (with all due respect to the 1950's, gag!), you're buying a pre-roasted chicken from the grocery store to save time. And the recipes really do take only 30-45 mins, depending on your organization and knife skills. The well worn pages of my copy clearly speak to my love for this book, and I think any fellow lapsed foodie with young children will agree.
2013 may go down as one of the hottest years on record - and I'm not talking about climate change. Of course, I'm talking about the real estate market. Even if you haven't been in the game this year, I'm sure you've heard it in the news. Just last night, ABC 7 News ran a story predicting another housing bubble (*gasp* The B-word!).
Another news story out yesterday from Bloomberg Business has a less sensational outlook on the housing market, predicting continued double-digit price gains through the remainder of 2013, with more modest single-digit gains in 2014.
From what I'm observing here in Silicon Valley, I tend to agree with the Bloomberg story that the second half of 2013 will likely be as hot as the first half, even during these normally "cool" summer months. And I also agree with the ABC 7 story, in that the price increases of the past 18 months are unsustainable long-term. But as the Bloomberg story points out, rising interest rates will serve to temper buyer enthusiasm. And I believe that sellers who have been waiting for the peak will rush their homes to market, which will *finally* bring inventory levels up and reduce competition.
And as for the B-word? The only thing that will be bursting in 2014 is the media's housing market hype bubble. This normalizing of supply and demand will simply bring us back to sustainable home value increases. You read it here first.
In today's competitive seller's market, it can be very challenging to be a buyer. So I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and congratulate my very sweet and happy clients, the Kavanaughs, on their new home in Burlingame!
Just got back from a very fun and far-too-short visit to NYC, and perhaps it was just because I had just written my blog post Brass is Back, but I feel like I saw brass everywhere I looked! So what do you naysayers think - still skeptical?
As a real estate agent, I have the pleasure of regularly touring beautifully decorated and/or freshly staged homes. And as a fanatic and student of interior design, I regularly peruse design magazines, blogs and websites. While I always enjoy and am occasionally impressed by the creative things I see, very few things stop me in my tracks like this picture on Houzz did:
Here is this elegant, modern design using brass fixtures. And even more surprising to me: I really like it. I really, really like it. After years of dominance of brushed stainless steel in modern and contemporary design, here is something totally unexpected and refreshing. It was a difficult pill for me to swallow, because for almost as long as I can remember, brass fixtures have been synonymous with painfully dated design.
But this new generation of brass fixtures and design elements are not overly polished or plastic-y in appearance. They are more subdued and warm and bring a sense of history even to a newly created space. Here are some more wonderful examples I found on Houzz:
It will be interesting to see how long and how far this trend will go. Many in the design world have been predicting the decline in popularity of stainless steel appliances in the kitchen. Will brass make it all the way to appliance status? Only time will tell.