Add to Technorati Favorites Roof Magazine: 2008

Monday, June 2, 2008

Our Far-Flung Correspondents: A Report From Sycamore Park

You might think that we could pull ourselves away from Scrabulous long enough to walk a few blocks to see Mill Valley's newest "green house," a mid-century modern redo (asking price $2.2 million, previously sold for $973,500 in 2006) that recently went on the market in a trendy walk-to-town neighborhood. Especially after we made such a fuss about Marin's growing obsession with sustainable living, bamboo flooring, tankless water heaters, etc. But our friends at the ultra-hip design blog beat us there. Their verdict:

"One of the greener homes we’ve seen in a while"

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Danielle Steele's Stinson Beach House For Sale

Add Danielle Steele's name to the growing list of homeowners who are trying to sell their beach houses in Stinson Beach's gated Seadrift community. The best-selling author's 3BR, 3B "personal play house on the beautiful Seadrift Lagoon" went on the market today, with an asking price of $2.65 million. Not everyone thinks it's worth that much, however. Meanwhile Steele, who paid $1.55 million for the house in 2003, still has another personal playhouse in Pacific Heights.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The House Down The Block Sold For How Much Again?

April sales figures for Marin are in, showing that the local market is still weaker than last year. In other words, there were fewer sales (147 vs. 212 in April 2007) at slightly lower prices ($1.02 million was the median vs. $1.08 million) after houses sat on the market for more days (75 vs. 56).

That said, 31 houses in Marin sold above their asking prices. What did those houses have in common? Some were well-priced, others were brand-new, some had one-of-a-kind locations. A lot of them you read about here first, because they caught our eye for one of the above reasons. Here's a comprehensive list:

Corte Madera
390 Prince Royal: asked 1,495,000 and sold for $1,515,000
5 Alta: asked $1,225,000 and sold for $1,275,000
14 Portola: asked $799,000 and sold for $820,000
18 Via Cheparro: asked $2,495,000 and sold for $2,550,000
23 Gretchen: asked $1,550,000 and sold for $1,600,000
421 Woodland: asked $2,895,000 and sold for $3,325,000
23 Bridge: asked $1,495,000 and sold for $1,500,000
3 Crystal Creek: asked $1,399,900 and sold for $1,437,580
39 Cornell: asked $1,095,000 and sold for $1,136,000
Mill Valley
111 Locust: asked $3,395,000 and sold for $3,750,000
6 Tartan: asked $2,395,000 and sold for $2,520,000
890 Chamberlain: asked $1,350,000 and sold for $1,400,000
30 Juanita: asked $1,050,000 and sold for $1,095,000
156 Montego: asked $534,900 and sold for $571,000
318 Grandview: asked $489,000 and sold for $500,000
1103 Simmons: asked $469,900 and sold for $495,000
2418 Center: asked $459,900 and sold for $476,000
1430 Elm: asked $264,900 and sold for $315,000
409 Fernbridge: asked $299,000 and sold for $305,000
San Anselmo
190 San Francisco: asked $759,000 and sold for $850,000
9 Kenrick: asked $799,000 and sold for $819,000
180 Creek: asked $729,000 and sold for $800,000
San Rafael
21 Santa Margarita: asked $1,125,000 and sold for $1,200,000
31 Bonnie Brae: asked $959,000 and sold for $1,000,000 2518
Las Gallinas: asked $599,900 and sold for $638,000
33 Jefferson: asked $475,000 and sold for $495,000
20 Miraflores: asked $405,000 and sold for $481,000
85 Spring: asked $3,649,000 and sold for $3,890,000
334 Blackfield: asked $2,625,000 and sold for $2,675,000
1496 Vistazo: asked $1,595,000 and sold for $1,680,000
104 Howard: asked $1,425,000 and sold for $1,471,420

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why Is This Man Smiling If His Company Just Lost $1.8 Million On A Tiburon Mansion?

Maybe because it was his mansion?

The Italian-style villa at 3650 Paradise Drive cost Edward Mueller $8.3 million a few years back, and it came with bay views, beach access, a wine cellar, a bar and a large limestone veranda.

But then the former Williams-Sonoma exec got hired in August to be Qwest Communications' CEO and moved from Marin to Denver; Qwest bought the house for $8.9 million in September.

Qwest listed it for $9.95 million—but ended up selling it for $7.5 million in December. According to today's Wall Street Journal:

Qwest ... reaped only $7.1 million after closing costs and commissions when it sold in December, the latest proxy statement says.

The moral of the story:

If you want to sell your house above market value, get hired by Qwest, which "promises to buy the residence of any transferred employee at the vice-president level and above if the home remains unsold for 60 days," the Journal noted.

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Google vs. MLS: Guess Who We're Betting On?

Google has a cool new addition to its always evolving Maps site. You can now search for real state listings in any area, by price, number of bedrooms or bathrooms. The "Google Operating System" blog has the lowdown here.

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Here's What Marin's $116,626 Median Income Will Buy

Median incomes in Marin are among the highest in the state—OK, in any state. Among married couples who file joint tax returns, the median adjusted gross household income is $116,626. If they're first-time homebuyers, how much house can they afford these days? One that costs $462,126.15, but only if they have saved up a 20 percent down payment:

Here's how the numbers would work out with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 5.82 percent, according to Money Magazine:
House price: $
Loan amount: $385,105.15
Down payment: $77,021
Monthly mortgage payment: $2,264.52
Monthly taxes/homeowner insurance: $456.75
Total monthly payment: $ 2,721.27

So what's on the market in that price range?
746 Diablo, Novato: 3BR, 1 B, $450,000. Amenities include a rope swing in the front yard and a skylight in the dining room.

Other possibilities include a 1BR, 1B condo in Mill Valley for $455,000, a 2BR, 1 B condo in Greenbrae for $469,000 and a 2 BR, 1 B condo in Corte Madera for $459,000.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Where The Brokers Hang Out Online To Get The Inside Scoop

Think of it like a Facebook for real estate brokers. About two years ago, two Seattle-area entrepreneurs launched a blog-hosting site for brokers, called ActiveRain, which has grown into a social network where nearly 90,000 members post and bid for each others' referrals.

We recently conducted an interview via email with co-founder Jonathan Washburn, who noted that the referral service has helped ActiveRain set itself apart from the herd of Web 2.0 real estate sites competing for agents' attention. "Our members receive a great deal of value from the site. Both in terms of income earned and knowledge gained," Mr. Washburn wrote.

But what lures the average real estate junkie to the site? The same thing that keeps us coming back: gossip.

If you search the ActiveRain site for local news (like we did), you'll see that 107 Marin real estate professionals—including agents, mortgage brokers and real estate attorneys—are members (and bloggers). For the real estate enthusiast, there's no end to the interesting tidbits you can pick up from such posts as broker Kelley Eling's monthly market conditions update. Average number of days on the market in April varied widely throughout Marin, Eling notes, ranging from 13 in Greenbrae to 150 in Kentfield.

Other ActiveRain blogs we follow religiously:,

The following is an edited transcript of our interview:
ROOF: Can you tell me a little about how you got the idea for the site,
how old it is, did you launch it with venture investment money or was
it a by-the-bootstraps project, etc.?

JONATHAN: We initially started ActiveRain with the idea to create a real estate social network around transaction management but after we built
out the entire network we had lots of trouble gaining traction on the
network. It just didn't spread virally like we had initially
imagined. In 2006 Matt Heaton, an ActiveRain co-founder thought of a
way to scale down our initial idea and add a competitive element to
it. After about a month of development we launched and
that has evolved to what you see today. We bootstrapped the company
ourselves for the first couple of years, then we received a few
hundred thousand dollars from some very supportive angel investors,
and recently we announced an investment for a couple million dollars
from HouseValues.
ROOF: Your own background. I saw on the site that you have extensive
experience in real estate and wondered how that helped you come up
with the idea for Active Rain.

JONATHAN: I started as a real estate agent when I was 18 years old. After a
couple years I created my first real estate website, which after years
of hard work eventually led to the creation of my first real estate
brokerage WhyNotOwn Real Estate. I would say that my on the ground
real estate sales experience has played a huge roll in the development
of ActiveRain. It has allowed us to see things from our members
perspective and keep our company very real estate professional

ROOF: Why do you think Active Rain is taking off so quickly? Is the
secret to the site's success the referral forum?

JONATHAN: I think ActiveRain has achieved fast and significant success
because our members receive a great deal of value from the site. Both
in terms of income earned and knowledge gained.

ROOF: How does the referral feature work? Can anybody post a referral or
respond to one?

JONATHAN: Yes, any member can post or bid for a referral.

ROOF: Are there other social networks for realtors and, if so, how is
Active Rain different (better!)?

JONATHAN: here are a ton of web 2.0 websites or products for real estate
agents. Integrating web 2.0 marketing tactics into a real estate
agents marketing repitoure is extremely important in this day and age.
Investing the time to learn about web 2.0 businesses and how to
utilize them in your business is something that every forward thinking
real estate agent should be doing; ActiveRain is a good place to do

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How the Real Estate Bubble Differs from the Dotcom Bubble

At the turn of the century, day trading—tech stocks in particular—was the great American past time. Everyone was investing in fly-by-night companies that had little more than a .com bolted onto their idiotic business plan. That, needless to say, didn't end well. Too many people saw their savings wiped out when the companies they invested in crashed and burned.

But as bad as it is now? For people living in Northern California, unless you bought a home within the past few years, your real-estate investment is still looking smart. Check out this chart: the median price of a home in Marin County, while down 26% from its historic peak last June, is still up 56% since 2000.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Got $1.1 million? Buy a Starter House in Mill Valley

You can get get "vintage charm" and "character" and 1,094 square feet of living space if you buy this brand-new $1.099 million Mill Valley listing. No, that's not a typo and yes, it does work out to $1,004.57 per square foot. Nice-looking kitchen, no?

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A Flipper Horror Story

Starting four years ago, a guy buys nine homes in Northern California as investment properties. One by one, they slip into default. Now, he's looking at likely foreclosure—and the bank's coming after his own home and assorted assets, which could force him into bankruptcy. Is he freaked out? Nope: "Everyone stumbles. I'm not going to hide or run or live in denial, or with regrets,"he tells Reuters.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

In Escrow: A Flurry Of Pending Sales In Marin

Conventional wisdom is that April and May are the best months to put a house up for sale. Based on what's been going on in southern and central Marin in the past couple of weeks, it looks like conventional wisdom is right, for once. Here's a look at nine recent listings—including one $5.995 million San Anselmo house—that have gone into escrow after being on the market for fewer than 14 days:

322 Beach Rd.: This seller had a deal before listing this "vintage" waterfront house
for $2.69 million (3,781 sq ft, 5BR, 4 BA, no interior photos available).

35 Corte Alegre: This four-bedroom house within walking distance to Bacich School, asking price $1.395 million (2,152 sq ft and it's on a cul de sac).

17 Acacia Ave: Level lot, has a pool, asking price was $1.55 million (2,079 sq ft, 4BR, 3 BA).

123 Ricardo Rd.: Strawberry Point 3BR, 3BA, described as "executive home," asking price $1.595 million (1978 sq ft).

100 Holstein Rd.: 5BR, 3.5BA on an oversized lot (28,265 sq ft), asking price was $1.05 million (2,477 sq ft).

11 Idalia Ct.: Remodeled 3BR, 2.5 BA descrived as "the epitome of San Anselmo Seminary lifestyle, asking price $1.485 million (1,962 sq ft).

109 Fawn Dr.: Tennis, anyone? Dip in the pool? This 5 BR, 6.5BA house (7,363 sq ft), asking price $5.995 million, also has a spa and yoga room.

6 Dogwood Ct.: Almost new 4BR, 3BA w/cherry cabinets and granite countertops in the kitchen, asking price $1.195 million (2,856 sq ft).

11 I St.: Vintage brown shingle with 4 BR, 3BA, asking price was $1.45 million (2,194 sq ft).

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Breaking: Houses Selling Above Asking

Remember that house at 111 Locust Street, Mill Valley (see here)? The asking price was $3.395 million. Our sources say it closed yesterday after getting three offers. Price: $3.75 million.

Meanwhile, 55 Buena Vista Avenue, a remolded three-BR stucco house in a flat, sunny walk-to-town location, got at least two offers in under a week. The house, which was listed for $1.749 million (1,800 square feet), is already in escrow. Let us know if it also sold above asking.

Mill Valley: Bizarro World.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Same House, Lower Price

Back on the market in Mill Valley is a recently renovated house at 45 Laverne ($2.35 million for 2,753 sq ft, 4BR plus office, 3.5BA). Last fall, when we first heard this modern house located behind Whole Foods in Homestead Valley was for sale, the owner was asking $2.5 million. More of the scoop:

According to Zillow, where the owners posted more details about the 1951 house, a major remodel was completed three years ago. Improvements include: a new roof, new siding, four newly renovated bathrooms, a kitchen remodel and a two-story addition. Oh, and also a sauna and steam room.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lots of Foreclosures In California; Not So Many In Marin

Lenders moved to foreclose on 110,392 homes in California during the first three months of 2008, according to DataQuick. The high number of foreclosures was a record for every county in the state except Los Angeles (which was hard hit during the recession of the early 1990s and which, as a result, had even more homes in foreclosure eight years ago than today). What about the local picture? A 166-percent increase in foreclosures in Marin sounds scary, until you look closer at the real year-to-year numbers:

San Francisco 216 420 94.4%
Alameda 1,578 3,194 102.4%
Contra Costa 1,969 4,718 139.6%
Santa Clara 1,058 3,074 190.5%
San Mateo 382 911 138.5%
Marin 118 314 166.1%
Solano 914 2,091 128.8%
Sonoma 407 1,392 242.0%
Napa 88 284 222.7%
Bay Area 6,730 16,398 143.7%

Lenders moved to foreclose on 314 houses in Marin in the first quarter (up from 118 during the same period last year). More than half of the 314 are located in Novato. What the numbers show, overall, is that Marin is one of the three counties in the state (along with San Francisco and San Mateo) where mortgages are least likely to be delinquent. The most likely are Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New Listings: $1.7 Million In Southern Marin

Somebody took a finger out of the dike. More than 60 new southern Marin listings have come on the market in the past week, and here's a sampling of the kind of kitchen you can get for $1.7-$1.75 million:

279 Riviera Dr., San Rafael: $1.749 m, 4 BR, 3BA, 3,347 sq ft ($523 per sq ft)

314 Kent Ave., Kentfield: $1.7 m, 5BR, 4BA, 2,200 sq ft ($773 per sq ft)

2 Overhill Rd., Mill Valley: $1.749 m, 4BR, 3.5B, 2,515 sq ft ($695 per sq ft)

55 Buena Vista Ave., Mill Valley: $1.7495 m, 3BR, 2B, 1,800 sq ft ($972 per sq ft)

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California Scene: Inventory Up, Asking Prices Not

HousingTracker looks at asking prices and inventory in more than 50 metro areas around the country. So, how are things in San Francisco? Um, bad:

Last week, the supply of listings increased in San Francisco, Santa Cruz and San Jose but down (bright spot!) in Riverside and Sacramento. Inventory stayed the same in L.A. As for asking prices, they dropped or stayed the same in all those markets.

In San Francisco, the market closest to Marin, the 12-month trend looks like this:

Trend04/21/20081 month3 month6 month12 month
Median Price$521,000+0.2%-0.8%-10.9%-13.5%

The takeaway message remains the same: It's not a good time to sell, so don't put your house on the market if you don't have to.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Weekend Reading: Buying a green home in Marin

Lots of things start in Northern California, then spread, trend-like, to the rest of the country. Williams Sonoma, for instance, was born in Sonoma way back in 1956 when the rest of the U.S. had yet to find frozen peas. Banana Republic (Mill Valley, 1978); Smith & Hawken (Mill Valley, 1979); and Restoration Hardware (Eureka, 1980) all debuted here. Mountain biking was invented on Mt. Tam, and the American love affairs with hot tubbing and biscotti originated here, then rolled out like hula hoops to the nation.

So it's a little surprising that the green homes movement actually started in... well, probably Colorado or Washington State. Not to worry, though: Northern California is playing catch up with a vengeance. The whole sustainable-homes thing—as exemplified in Dwell Magazine (brain child of a Mill Valley resident!)—is sweeping across Marin County like a brush fire.

Recently, we visited a pretty amazing, green, luxury home (of all things) high above San Rafael. The 5100-square-foot residence is the first of six units for sale at Live Oak Estates, an eco-friendly enclave with protected (and spectacular) views of Tam. We drove up there with Stacey Stephenson, the first Mill Valley-based real estate agent to be certified as an "EcoBroker," who filled us in on the burgeoning green real-estate scene.

"My mission is to make Marin County real estate a green industry," she said, while driving her Prius (what else?) up the 101 (we qualified for the carpool lane) to San Rafael.

An "EcoBroker" is a graduate of the Built Green course, a Colorado-based program that "encourages homebuilders to use technologies, products, and practices that provide greater energy efficiency and reduce pollution, provide healthier indoor air, reduce water usage, preserve natural resources, and improve durability and reduce maintenance."

Stacey is the first of five brokers certi
fied and practicing in Marin. Business is brisk as increasingly, home buyers are starting to think about sustainability and protecting the environment. "More and more, clients are finding me on Google after they do a keyword search on 'healthy homes,'" she said.

Stacey carries a checklist so she can keep track of the healthy home attributes of her listings. Included: energy-efficient appliances and windows, zoned heating, natural carpets, low-flush toilets and cabinetry constructed "forest-stewardship council certified" wood, which is harvested in an environmentally conscious way. The house at 15 Live Oak Way boasts all of those attributes and more.

The $3.85 million, 4 bedroom, six bath (dual-flush toilets!) home is built in an old chert quarry and feels more like something you'd see nestled in the red rocks of Sedona than NorCal. Much of the 30-acre communities property is set aside as perpetual open space, making it possible to hike from your back door 20 miles to Inverness on protected trails. The horse-shoe-shaped design of the house is ingenious because all the rooms overlook the swimming pool, which is solar heated via a thousand feet of water tubing buried beneath the concrete patio slabs. It features 100% wool carpet with recycled natural padding (no offgassing!); recycled, hand-painted tile and Saltillo Mexican clay tile; and all wall and ceiling paint emits zero or low Volatile Organic Compounds (protects the ozone layer!) Solar panels help power the place, of course.

"Every material that was chosen for this house was looked at from a green perspective," said Michael LeValley, the principal who materminded the project. With listing broker Abby Kagan, Michael and Stacey showed us around the place. "What we're really doing is returning to classical architectural principles," Michael said, as we entered the kitchen, where a recyling station is built into the island cabinets. "It was only post World War II when we got away from paying attention to those principles because of the rush to create mass housing for returning GIs."

We said we loved the house, but noted the paradox of building a giant, sprawling house that's supposed to use fewer of the world's resources. Michael said: "Remember that the first adopters of any new technology are those who can afford. Some people are always going to want big houses, so why
not give them environmentally conscious big houses? Don't you want to convert the biggest consumers first?" He added: "If I told you I could get every Hummer driver to drive a hybrid SUV, wouldn't you feel like we were making progress?" It was a good argument. If only only we could afford the house.

15 Live Oak Way will be shown from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m during an open house on Sunday, April 20.

Last week's weekend reading: The Flipper tries to buy a foreclosure at an auction on the courthouse steps

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Back On The Market

Among this week's "new" southern Marin listings are two houses that were on the market last fall. Trying again (one at a reduced asking price, one not) are:

18 MIRABEL: This $3.85 million house, perched on a ridge above downtown Mill Valley, is exquisitely sited. Not only does it have dead-on Mt. Tam views, it also offers a good-enough-for-a-spy perch to keep track of what's happening below you in town. Why didn't it sell last fall? Well, with only three bedrooms, the dramatic '70s modern style of the house may not appeal to everyone (although we'd move into it in a heartbeat). Also, upkeep. All those miles and miles and miles (it seemed) of boxwood hedges won't clip themselves twice a year.

77 MARGUERITE: This vintage Klyce house (COMING NEXT WEEK: What Exactly Is A Klyce House?) situated in Mill Valley's Middle Ridge neighborhood is back on the market with a price chop, reduced from $2.195 million to $2.075 million. Nice floorplan, sweet yard (we were particularly fond of the well-established rose garden and the blowsy lilac at the bottom of the hill), but no master bath. Laundry is in the garage.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

But on the other hand, Bay Area is the strongest market in the state

A silver lining of sorts. Never mind that the Bay Area has also seen the median home price drop to its lowest levels on record (Note: records started in 1988.) See San Francisco Chronicle story here. The take-away message: Just like elsewhere in the U.S., the closer you are to the action (jobs), the better.

As has consistently been the case, several counties - notably those close to job centers and in affluent areas - were in better shape. In San Francisco, the median price inched up to $755,000, up 0.3 percent from last year - the only county where the median grew. Sales in San Francisco were down 20.6 percent versus last year, a modest drop compared to the 47.2 percent decline in Alameda County, for example. San Mateo and Marin counties saw their medians slip about 4 percent, compared with the double-digit declines of the six other counties.

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Pew: 1 in 33 homeowners will be in foreclosure within 2 years

More fallout from the subprime lending crisis. See here. California, to no one's surprise, is actually doing worse than 1 in 33:

Some states with severe problems have lagged behind. California, where one in 20 homeowners is projected to experience foreclosure, primarily over the next two years, issued a notice to loan servicers encouraging them to agree to wholesale loan adjustments, but as of the end of 2007, had provided little additional help to financially distressed homeowners. California has a task force and is exploring other relief, however, and has proposed expanding the types of loans regulated and strengthening the state’s underwriting standards for high-cost mortgages to prevent future challenges.

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Soon It May Be Easier (And Cheaper) To Find A Rental In Manhattan Than In Marin

Move over, New York City. The famously low apartment vacancy rate in Manhattan—about 1 percent—is not that much lower than the rate in Marin County these days. According to data collector Real Facts, the vacancy rate here in the first quarter of 2008 dipped below 3 percent, making it one of the lowest nationwide. And, according to the Marin Independent Journal, some apartment complex managers here aren't even bothering to advertise vacancies anymore; wait a few days and an empty unit miraculously fills itself:

Josephine Agnew, resident manager at Strawberry Shores in Mill Valley, credited the housing market with boosting the demand for two-bedroom, two-bathroom units. The 202-unit complex on Seminary Drive has been completely occupied for the past year, she said.

Agnew said she gets calls and e-mails from people who don't understand the tight apartment rental market.

"Some of them call and want an apartment in weeks or months and that just doesn't happen in Marin anymore," she said.

No wonder Marin rents have been risking steadily; the average is $1,669 a month.

Photo credit: [Whyfiles]

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"X" Out The Ex-Urb: Shorten Your Commute

Here's an interesting piece from BusinessWeek that correlates rising gas prices with declining home values. If everybody in your town is commuting an hour to work, you may have experienced a steep drop in home prices:

Take Murrieta, Calif., incorporated in 1991. The population of Murrieta more the doubled to 100,000 over the past eight years, as residents traded hour-long commutes to San Diego or Orange County, Calif. for newly built mini-mansions at lower prices. In the past year though home prices in Murrieta fell 31% to a median $329,000.

[Photo credit: Sfgate]

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How To Get Multiple Offers: Anatomy Of A Successful Sale

When we published a list yesterday of all the sellers in Marin who sold their houses above the asking prices last month, it raised a lot of questions. Well, one question, mainly: How did they manage that?

Easy. They did everything right. Of course, you can too. Here's a blueprint to follow, a case study of how the owners of one Mill Valley house flawlessly played their hand and got $1.835 million for a house they listed at $1.795 million:

1. LOCATION, OF COURSE. The 1,021 sq ft bungalow (built in 1946) that the owners bought in 2005 at 74 Nelson (for $850,000) may have been situated on one of the more modest blocks in Mill Valley's family-trendy Sycamore Park neighborhood, but it had one exceptional plus: the lot is adjacent to a popular vest-pocket neighborhood park. It's also an easy walk to Park El
ementary School, Mill Valley Middle School and Tamalpais High School.

2. GET THE RIGHT ARCHITECT. Barbara Chambers, one of Marin's most versatile architects, designed a new, slightly bigger two-story house (1,200 sq ft) that somehow managed to incorporate an open first-floor floorplan, three bedrooms, 2.5 baths and a second-floor family room into that relatively small amount of space. The result was a house sited ingeniously on the lot, facing the street but with a "front" entry on the side of the building.

The exterior, in fact, greatly resembles Chambers' own, larger house a few blocks away, with a two-car garage topped by window boxes facing the street. (See photo, right)

3. KNOW YOUR MARKET. The new floorplan, with three second-floor bedrooms that opened off a central family room, was ideal for a young family. So was the gate in the backyard fence that leads directly to the park and playground behind the property. The Sunday open house a few days after 74 Nelson went on the market attracted a steady stream of young couples, prospective buyers in SUVs outfitted with infant seats.

3. THE PRICE IS RIGHT. The sellers priced 74 Nelson, in mint condition, at $1.795 million, significantly lower than the recent sale prices of two other slightly larger, and lived in, houses a few blocks away—81 Sycamore (sold for $2.185 million in November 2007) and 95 Sycamore (sold for $2.3 million, also in November 2007). Within days of the Sunday open house, they entertained multiple offers. In the end, the house sold for $40,000 above asking, after a mere 31 days on the market at a time when 74 days on the market is the average in Marin.

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How To Get Negative Information Removed From Your Credit Report

Yesterday, a client called and asked about refinancing, so the first thing I did was run his credit and his wife's credit, because they're co-borrowers. Within seconds, I see the wife has a 730 FICO score, but the husband is lower, at 719. They're both still high enough to qualify for the best rates, but just barely.

"Let's see what's dragging you down," I tell him, and then, as I scan the readout, "Uh oh, you have 10 late payments. On an auto lease. That you paid off in 2006."

Of course, he flips out. He says he has no idea why Bank One reported 10 lates. So I say, "We have to get them off your credit report." Then I tell him how:

The first thing I tell the client to do is to dig out proof that he paid that auto lease bill during every single month that the payment was reported late. Next, I tell him to make copies of the canceled checks—or in his case, all the old monthly checking account statements that list the online payments his bank sent—and to send copies to the creditor along with a letter requesting removal of the delinquents.

I tell him to send a letter with the standard wording I tell all my clients to use:

Dear So-and-So, Recently when my credit report was run, I found you reported this account no. xxxx as delinquent. As you can see, by my attached records, this account has never been late. All payments have been made on time. Please stop reporting this account as delinquent and send me evidence you have done so. Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions. Thank you. Sincerely.

You want to get a letter from them saying they're taking it off. That's the holy grail. The phrase "send me evidence" is key.

By law, the creditor has to respond within two weeks. If they say, "No, it was late," then at least you have something to argue about. But they might just go ahead and correct it, because the payments were made, and you have so much evidence that you made these payments that they'll have a tough time arguing about whether the payments were late.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

A Tale of Two Counties

While there's no denying that the real estate crisis is hurting Marin along with the rest of the country—the county's foreclosure rate doubled in the past year, for instance—there's also evidence that an unusually high percentage of listings still are selling above their asking prices. In March, for instance, 12 percent of the 134 houses and condos sold for prices higher than asking. Those listings also sold much faster—after an average of 21 days on the market—than the typical Marin listing, which was on the market for 74 days. Here's a look at those 16 sales by location:

In Corte Madera, two sales:

4 Wildflower, asking price $1,089,000, sold for $1,112,000 (102.1%)
438 Oakdale asking $850,000, sold for $885,000 (104.1%)

In Fairfax:

43 Bay , asking $939,000, sold for $950,000 (101.2%)

In Mill Valley, four sales:

171 Elinor, asking $2,368,000, sold for $2,430,000 (102.6%)
74 Nelson, asking $1,795,000, sold for $1,835,000 (102.2%)
111 Stanford, asking $1,595,000, sold for $1,600,000 (100.3%)
78 Marguerite, asking $899,000 sold for $975,000 (108.5)

In Novato, two sales:

801 Sutro, asking $470,999, sold for $480,000 (101.9%)
27 Lakeview, asking $279,000, sold for $290,000 (103.9%)

In Ross:

5 Madera, asking $2,595,000, sold for $2,800,000 (107.9%)

In San Rafael, three sales:

14 Westwood, asking $889,000, sold for $905,000 (101.8%)
106 Plymouth, asking $649,000, sold for $659,000 (101.5%)
25 Wharf, asking $336,900, sold for $342,000 (101.5%)

In Sausalito:

1 Willow, asking $889,000, sold for $890,000 (100.1%)

In Tiburon, two sales:

143 Gilmartin, asking $4,795,000, sold for $4,800,000 (100.1%)
1837 Centro West, asking $1,250,000, sold for $1,357,000 (108.6%)

How They Do It: An Inside Look At The Techniques One Marin Seller Used To Get Multiple Offers

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Greenbrae Condo Prices: Then And Now

One of these things is not like the other:

Just sold:

632 Via Casitas
2BR, 954 sq ft
Built in 1974

Sold a year ago:
823 Via Casitas
2BR, 954 sq ft
Built in 1974

[Photo credit: Skovgaard]

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Weekend Reading: How do you know if a deal is a steal?

Here's what I'm looking at now: A bank-owned property in Oakland priced at least 40% below its market value in 2005. And the question is: Can this really be the screaming bargain it appears to be on first glance, or am I the proverbial sucker at the table?

The house was built in '02-'03 and was initially priced about $100K more than it's selling for now. (You'll forgive me for not disclosing its precise location; this is business, after all.) In '05, the house next door-same square footage, same floor plan, built by the same builder-sold for another $100K above that.

I know what they were originally listed for (and when) from MLS data. I know what the house next door sold for in '05, and how much was owed to the bank on this one, from PropertyShark, ironically, Flipper's best friend...

That said, the location is iffy-one block over and you're solidly within a well-kept middle-class neighborhood where home values have been holding steady, but one block the other way it starts to gets kind of dicey. There's a small senior living apartment building across the street, and a good public elementary school at the end of the block. And there's one bit of obvious damage: At some point the upstairs toilet was leaking, and you can see the water damage on the living room ceiling. (Since it's bank-owned, I'd be buying "as-is.") But rental comps in the area suggest that, at 30% down, I can easily cover the mortgage, taxes, and insurance and probably would even eke out some positive cash flow. or no deal? Discuss.

Read the Flipper's last adventure here.

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Marin (elementary) Schools of Distinction

Four Marin elementary schools were among those honored as "California Distinguished Schools" this week. They were among 343 elementary schools cited by the state Department of Education across the state—roughly 5% of California's public schools. The program is voluntary, and honors elementary and secondary schools in alternate years:

The criteria for school selection are designed to reflect the consensus of the education community regarding what constitutes a quality education program by incorporating the major themes of state and national policies and research related to effective schools. The criteria focus on all aspects of the school's educational program.

Full list of schools here.
Other, related state stuff here.

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Warning: This house is in a spray zone

Marin County real-estate agents are considering disclosing whether homes are in moth-spray flyover zones, according to the Associated Press. Pesticides, described as "a low dose of a synthetic pheromone mixture approved for use on organically grown crops," are being used to fight the light brown apple moth, which has been feasting on cash crops. Flyovers are scheduled for the Bay Area this summer.

In Marin County, real estate agents are considering amending their disclosure forms to tell future home buyers about the aerial sprays scheduled in the Bay Area this summer and advising them to consult a doctor for more information before closing a deal, said Levi Swift, president of the Marin Association of Realtors.

Though analysts say the spray is unlikely to have any lasting effects on properties in the spray zone or on the real estate market, attorneys said it was wise to notify buyers to ward off potential lawsuits.

"If my real estate agent had knowledge of the spraying activity and didn't tell me, I could certainly sue for misrepresentation," said real estate attorney Lewis Feldman, a senior partner with Goodwin Procter in Los Angeles. "The fact that the government says something isn't harmful doesn't prevent people from filing suit."

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

You don't get many murders in Mill Valley. And at these prices—no wonder.

Case closed: A body found in an unused part of a Mill Valley cemetery in February turns out to be that of a local resident missing since 1964. Her husband, Bruce Jones, an erstwhile San Fransisco longshoreman, appears to be the suspect, but he died nearly 20 years ago.

The killing may have been—what else?—real-estate related. According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

Bruce Jones told authorities that he had an argument with his wife because she refused his request to have his name placed on real estate that she owned separately. He said that she became angry, walked away down the road - and never returned.

[Picture credit: Tam Valley Improvement Club]

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Marin inventory surged 25% last month—biggest jump in Northern California

Marin County saw a 25% increase in the number of homes for sale last month, according to Zip Realty's blog. (Note that this is for single family and condos only.)

The data, which shows 955 homes on the market in March, versus 763 last month, was culled from the MLS. San Francisco is in second place with 1,342 homes on the market—up 11% from 1,210 last month.

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Welcome To The Neighborhood

After barely a week on the market, a $3.395 million Mill Valley house at 111 Locust Ave.—yes, the one with the new two-story garage that some neighbors would have preferred not to see built—is in contract. Will the sale price will set a new record for Sycamore Park? Last year, 50 Walnut (3,850 sq ft) went for $2.936m; an oldie at 35 Sycamore Ave. (3,876 sq ft) went for $3.1 million.

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Robin Williams Does Mill Valley. A lot.

One of the great unkept secrets of living in Mill Valley is Tuesday Night Comedy Night—"Mark Pitta and Friends"—at the 142 Throckmorton Theater. Local comedian Mark Pitta, who looks a lot like a young Charlie Rose, and has a Jon Stewart-like delivery, does a great job hosting the event.

But the main reason Comedy Night tends to be standing room only (like, buy tickets at least a day in advance) is that San Francisco resident Robin Williams and Mill Valley resident Dana Carvey tend to show up, unannounced. Our neighbor, who goes pretty often, says Williams has been performing there about once a month, and bet that Williams would be there last night. He was.

Williams is so prolific, it's easy to take his genius for granted and forget how unusually gifted he is. You can tell that performing for a room this small is what (we bet) he loves most. (Does he even get paid for this? Doubtful. We wouldn't be surprised if he paid to do it.) Supposedly, he and Carvey use the Throckmorton to work out new bits.

Williams tends to look as if he's channeling something—something very funny and chaotic. We assume he's basically taking dictation from himself, noting the good bits and saving them for later.

One thing we especially loved last night was his riff on Mill Valley, which he says closes down at 8 p.m. He launched into the character of an old town crier, swinging a bell: "It's 8 o'clock! It's 8 o'clock! Everyone inside!" So funny! But you probably had to be there.

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