Gap Between Most, Least Expensive Housing Markets Still Wide

By: CONOR DOUGHERTY It’s a familiar conversation among couples on the nation’s coasts: Can you imagine what kind of house we could get if we could keep our jobs and move somewhere cheaper? That idea hangs over Wednesday’s Journal article about how some of the nation’s frothiest housing markets are easing back a bit. As the story notes, there’s a fear among many realtors — especially those on the coasts — that the real estate market has come back so swiftly that homes are suddenly unaffordable again.

The idea of a widening price gap was even more evident in the National Association of Realtors’ annual affordability survey, which it published Tuesday as part of its fourth quarter release on Metropolitan home prices. For most of the nation, homes are extremely affordable, even among those in the struggling middle class. But the coasts — and in particular California — have reverted to an old pattern of having too many people, not enough homes and price growth that outstrip income growth. Renters have it even worse.

After Honolulu, the nation’s least affordable markets were Orange County, San Jose, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and San Diego, according to NAR. All had an affordability index lower than 100, which is the level at which a median-income household has exactly enough income to qualify for a purchase of a median-priced existing single family home. Not everyone loves NAR’s affordability index — by that metric, there was only one month during the housing bubble when homes were considered unaffordable — but it gives a sense of how things have changed and where they’re going.

Discovering that California is 1) beautiful and 2) expensive is a generational rite that happens over and over again. But the affordability data beg the question: Did it always cost an insane amount of money to live in California? And is the city to city disparity in home prices growing? To answer this question we looked at some data provided by Jed Kolko, chief economist of Trulia. As a proxy for geographical price disparities, he used FHFA regional home price data to calculate a contemporaneous ratio of the nation’s 10th most expensive home market to the nation’s 90th expensive home market. “In 2013, for instance, the 10th most expensive metro (which was Boston in 2013) cost 2.86 times per foot as much as the 90th most expensive metro (which was Cincinnati in 2013),” Mr. Kolko wrote in an e-mail. As the graph shows, the nation’s geographical home price gap was widest in 2007, the peak of the housing bubble. It narrowed during the housing bust — in part because prices cratered so much in expensive markets like California — and has now stabilized.

The gap grew a tiny bit wider last year, and many of the most expensive markets in 2013 saw outsized increases, as measured by Trulia’s home price monitor. So, yes, it’s always been more expensive to buy a home in the nation’s priciest home markets. But after a brief respite during the housing bust, the cost of not living somewhere else appears to be widening once again.

Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2014/02/13/gap-between-most-least-expensive-housing-markets-still-wide/

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Luxury Homes That Are Better, Not Bigger

When Joanne and Bruce Montgomery built a vacation home on Washington’s Whidbey Island, they thought big: sweeping views of the Puget Sound, mahogany-framed windows, heated Brazilian teak floors and other high-end amenities. Their budget was an ample $875,000.

Little Houses

The only thing they skimped on was size. The house measures 1,888 square feet—downright tiny in the luxury real-estate market.

“I think smaller has many more advantages than larger,” said Ms. Montgomery. “You want to have a place that is beautiful but not overbearing on your life, especially if you have multiple homes.” The couple—he is a pulmonologist and pharmaceutical entrepreneur and she is a retired nurse—also are finishing construction on a 4,000-square-foot primary residence in Medina, Wash., perhaps best known as the site of Microsoft MSFT +1.05% founder Bill Gates’s 66,000-square-foot mansion. The Montgomerys’ $800-per-square-foot budget, including landscaping, could buy a house at least 50% larger in the neighborhood, said Lisa Whittaker, a local broker for Coldwell Banker Bain.

Nothing but the size was skimped on by the owners and architect for this 1,888-square-foot luxury home on Whidbey Island in Washington. Wiqan Ang for The Wall Street Journal

Luxury in American homes has long been defined by size—a newly built home grew from an average of 1,660 square feet in 1973 to over 2,500 square feet today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now, top-end real-estate brokers say more clients want to shave off square footage and give priority to luxe finishes, green building and smart design. Of course, some high-end homeowners define “scaling back” as going from 14,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet. But others, like the Montgomerys, find that 2,000 square feet, well designed, can feel like an indulgence of space.

Last year, Heidi Brunet, a mortgage banker in the Peninsula area of Dallas, built a 2,085-square-foot home with soy-based, energy-efficient insulation, stained concrete floors and a $48,000 LED lighting system. Though she economized on size, Ms. Brunet said her dream house wasn’t cheap: It has an $8,000 Miele refrigerator, a $57,000 plunge pool and $35,000 in landscaping.

“For what I spent, I could have bought a McMansion for sure,” said Ms. Brunet, who declined to specify the total budget for her house. “I wanted the house to be everything I needed it to be and nothing more.” She splurged—in terms of both space and dollars—on a 1,000-square-foot deck, the pool and the yard because, she said, “the outdoor space is really where I spend my time.”

Ms. Brunet’s instinct to design her house around the way she lives is the cornerstone of a design movement perhaps best summed up in “The Not So Big House,” a series of best-selling books by Raleigh, N.C.-based architect Sarah Susanka.

After more than a decade of writing about thoughtful use of space, in 2012 Ms. Susanka built her ideas into a “Not So Big Showhouse” in Libertyville, Ill. During the six months when the 2,450-square-foot house was open to the public, it attracted 8,000 visitors. It sold for $750,000. Ms. Susanka also recently released a “Not So Big Bungalow” kit with basic building components for a 1,600-square-foot bungalow. Another key player in size-consciousness is the Montgomerys’ architect, Ross Chapin, who typically designs homes between 1,000 and 2,400 square feet, but has built houses as small as 350 square feet.

“I jettison the formal dining room, formal living room and hallways that don’t need to be there,” said Mr. Chapin, who is based in Langley, Wash.

From 1997 to 2007, Mr. Chapin designed six Puget Sound, Wash., neighborhoods in which houses ranged from 700 to 2,500 square feet, and sold for between $200,000 and $890,000, said Linda Pruitt, owner of the Cottage Co., which built the projects. His site plans for 15 similar neighborhoods have also been built or are under construction in Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana and elsewhere, he said.

Smaller luxury homes are gaining traction even in big-house country, such as Atlanta and Dallas. Real-estate broker Mikel Muffley, of Muffley & Assoc., custom builds small homes in Atlanta designed by some top local architects. Most of the houses range from 2,200 to 3,200 square feet, and cost between $450,000 to $1.8 million, Mr. Muffley said.

“I’ve sold a lot of massive houses in my 20 years. My clients typically tell me when they go to sell, ‘We will never need that much space again,’ ” Mr. Muffley said. In Dallas, Robbie Briggs, chief executive of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, did a brisk business a decade ago selling 12,000-square-foot houses, he said.

“Today, someone who wants a big family house is probably happy at 7,500 square feet,” Mr. Briggs said. Current buyers value outdoor amenities, such as fountains and kitchens, rather former status symbols like cavernous media rooms, he said.

Some regions are attempting to regulate home size with new ordinances. In 2006, city planners in Austin, Texas, created what is known as “McMansion ordinance,” which limits floor area to 40% of lot size. As of 2010 in Marin County, Calif., any plans to double an existing home size to more than 3,000 square feet have to undergo a design review. To avoid this step, some architects are designing smaller homes, the planning division said.

In Los Angeles, a 2005 ordinance allowed a number of home lots in the city to be subdivided. Kevin and Hardy Wronske of Heyday Partnership have built, or are in the process of building, 58 homes in Los Angeles designed for these smaller lots. In December, they went into contract at $1.635 million for a 2,000-square-foot home they built on a 6,000-square-foot lot in Venice, Calif.—one of three similarly sized homes being built on same lot.

The houses have no yards, but do have roof decks with views—on a clear day—of the ocean and mountains. Twelve-foot ceilings, Bosch kitchen appliances and Caesarstone quartz countertops will provide luxury. Solar power and LEED platinum certification, a top green-building standard, burnish the properties’ environment-friendly credentials, said Kevin Wronske.

Jason and Monica Schroeder of Libertyville, Ill., both school administrators, went house hunting two years ago, and stumbled on a property they considered an upgrade from their previous 3,000-square-foot home in a nearby town. The new house: a 1,680-square-footer with an unfinished basement, which they bought for $551,000, a budget that could have gotten them nearly twice the size in the area.

“Our new home doesn’t feel smaller,” said Mr. Schroeder, 39. “There’s no wasted space. All the spaces are usable and you live in all of them.” The Schroeders’ house is on School Street, where Ms. Susanka built her show house.

The developer, John McLinden of StreetScape Development in Libertyville, is in the early stages of developing 27 customizable homes in Skokie, Ill., and 24 houses in Steamboat Springs, Colo., which will start at $700,000. Most homes will be around 1,800 to 3,500 square feet, and lots will be no bigger than 30 feet across, he said.

Mr. Schroeder loves the craftsmanship and layout of his new house, he said. But he also values certain intangibles, such as being close enough to neighbors that they can chat from porch-to-porch and watching local kids play in their front yards. “It makes you feel like you’re connected to something bigger than yourself,” Mr. Schroeder said.

Write to Katy McLaughlin at katy.mclaughlin@wsj.com

Source: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303973704579353263994062996?mod=Real_Estate_newsreel_1

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Real Estate Update: House of the Year 2013: Lake Tahoe Condo Wins

I loved seeing the Wall Street Journal House of the Year in the Friday Mansion section. This year’s winner is a 4,100 square-foot condo at Fleur du Lac Estates on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. This part of the world is near and dear to me as it is where I have always spent my summers. My grandparents had a home down the road and my family does as well. Henry Kaiser built a fabulous lake front estate on this 15 acre prized location. It was legendary and his original boat house still stands. I remember when they filmed The Godfather, Part II at Mr. Kaiser’s property as my grandmother intended to be an extra in the movie.

House of the Year

READ ARTICLE: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303595404579321044006860298

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Love Letters: Marin County

Karin Swanson is a UCLA alum and the current Ignite Good Fellow for the Huffington Post. She was born and raised in downtown Mill Valley where she treated Mt. Tam as her personal backyard playground. She now lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where she wears her Joe’s Taco’s tee-shirt to bed and dreams of garlic plantains.

Love Letter to Marin

Dear Marin,

Each day for the past 8,487 days I have fallen in love with you all over again.

I love you for being so damn authentic. True, you have your flaws — some roll their eyes at your plethora of yoginis and scold your affluence as excessive — but you never try to be someone you’re not (unlike that Southern California city).

To me, you are the perfect love child of an outdoorsy philanthropist and a progressive hippy — a lovely contradiction. A land built on the dreams of true hippies who (partially) retired their peace signs and swapped Berkeley for Fairfax and hot tubs for BMWs. A cultural mecca where Tupac grew up and The Grateful Dead lives on. Where San Quentin and Skywalker Ranch both share roots. Where the fog meets the Purple Haze.

I love that “compost” was part of my kindergarten vocabulary. I love that the teenager blasting Mac Dre in his car waves at the senior citizen from the Redwoods protesting the war on the street corner. I love that In-N-Out’s lack of drive thru means you’ll likely run into your old volleyball coach or your middle school crush. I love that 101 is your main artery, where Priuses outnumber SUVs and it’s nearly impossible to drive without spotting a “Keep Tahoe Blue” or “Free Tibet” bumper sticker.

Sometimes I get nostalgic for the old days — when going to the Village meant a slice at Sbarro’s with friends and Mill Valley’s Sake’s Alive was the go-to source for cheap party favors. But a core part of your admirable character lies in your ability to adapt. You evolve as the world does, incorporating change without sacrificing too much of your genuine identity. Your steadfast loyalty to the Peso and the Deuce amidst the burgeoning likes of Blue Barn and Beerworks attest to this admirable attribute.

You offer so much and ask for very little in return. You nurture me, providing me with so many opportunities to explore your vast geography. In one day, I can bodysurf the modest waves of Stinson Beach, hike beneath the lofty canopies of Redwoods, bike past the iconic Sausalito houseboats, picnic in the Headlands’ barracks that Jack Kerouac once called home, and kayak beside Great Whites on Tomales Bay.

Being in love with you might have made me overweight, Marin, if you weren’t so damn health conscious. Only you could overwhelm the foodies of San Francisco with so many options. From the lime green facade on 3rd Street that signifies a slice of Puerto Rican flavor to the familiar faces behind the magic of Stefano’s — and all the organic goodness in between.

Regardless of the season, you appeal to me. I love you in summer, when you greet me with brunch at Parkside and leave me with Headlands’ sunsets. I love you in fall, when Blue Angels decorate the sky and the lingering heat is abated by an afternoon dip at Three Wells. I love you in spring, when Samuel P. Taylor comes alive and you seduce me with Lavender Honey Vanilla ice cream. I even love you in winter, when rain glitters on Phoenix Lake and Ghiradelli hot chocolate is just a bridge away.

Above all, I love that your iconic symbol is a mountain. To the sleeping lady who protects us all with her comforting presence, Mt. Tam, I owe you my heart. Your endless hiking trails crisscross the mountain in a poetic maze of natural wonderment. Under a cloudless canopy, you rise like a celestial beacon, tit for tat with your eastern rival, Mt. Diablo — two sentinels beside the Bay.

I remember the time it snowed on your peak my junior year of high school, meager but majestic flakes. We clambered into our cars and raced to the top, blasting “Electric Feel” with that unique Marin smell wafting through the open sunroof.

Throughout all, I love that you remain you — one of the most forward thinking and naturally beautiful places I’ve had the privilege of knowing. Your authenticity never ceases to amaze me.

Marin, if I could, I would keep you for myself — blot out Bolinas from the map, barricade the Dipsea steps, smother any whispers of the Lava House, and stop telling hopelessly lost tourists on Blazing Saddles bikes where “the tall trees” are.

But, alas, I am far from being the only one that loves you. And damn, if that doesn’t make me love you even more.

Peace and love,
Karin

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/love-letters/love-letters-marin-county_b_4461840.html

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Pacific Union Q4 2013 Newsletter

Marin County: Q4 Results
The supply of available homes tightened noticeably in the fourth quarter, but sales activity in our Marin County region remained strong until the last weeks of December, when holiday plans typically crowd out homebuying considerations. Sales were particularly strong in Corte Madera, followed by San Rafael, Novato, Mill Valley, and Kentfield. Activity was slower in Sausalito, Belvedere, and Tiburon.

Most sales were for homes priced less than $500,000, while most listings were for homes in the $500,000-to-$1 million range. Homes in the $2 million-to-$5 million bracket sold well but gave buyers more of an advantage in negotiations. Sales prices cooled somewhat from the heated rise seen earlier in the year, in part because of a dip in the number of multiple offers.

Looking Forward: We expect that the coming of spring will bring an influx of homes back on the market, driving sales activity even higher. The market will be influenced by outside factors such as the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy and possible changes to loan regulations, but Marin County will remain a popular destination. Bright prospects for the Bay Area economy, meanwhile, will keep buyers and sellers busy throughout the first quarter and beyond.

Defining Marin County: Our real estate markets in Marin County include the cities of Belvedere, Corte Madera, Fairfax, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Larkspur, Mill Valley, Novato, Ross, San Anselmo, San Rafael, Sausalito, and Tiburon. Sales data in the charts below includes single-family homes in these communities.

Median Sales Price
The median sales price represents the midpoint in the range of all prices paid. It indicates that half the prices paid were higher than this number, and half were lower. It is not the same measure as “average” sales price.
Q4_marin_chart1_mediansalesprice

Months’ Supply of Inventory
The months’ supply of inventory is a measure of how quickly the current supply of homes would be sold at the current sales rate, assuming no more homes came on the market. In general, an MSI below 4 is considered a seller’s market; between 4 and 6 is a balanced market; and above 6 is a buyer’s market.
Q4_marin_chart2_msi

Average Days on the Market
Average days on the market is a measure that indicates the pace of sales activity. It tracks, on average, the number of days a listing is active until it reaches “pending” status, meaning all contingencies have been removed and both parties are just waiting to close.
Q4_marin_chart3_avgdom

Percentage of Properties Under Contract
Percentage of properties under contract is a forward-looking indicator of sales activity. It tracks expected home sales before the paperwork is completed and the sale actually closes.
Q4_marin_chart4_percentundercontract

Sales Price as a Percentage of Original Price
Measuring the sales price as a percentage of the final list price, which may include price reductions from the original list price, determines the success of a seller in receiving the hoped-for sales amount. It also indicates the level of sales activity in a region.
Q4_marin_chart5_salesprice_originalprice

A Closer Look at Marin County
Q4_marin_chart6_sect2_cities

Bay Area Real Estate Markets to Enjoy
Continued Vibrancy and Velocity in 2014
Fasten your seat belts, because 2014 will outpace 2013 in the San Francisco Bay Area residential housing market. The calm of the past 60 days, when we saw multiple-offer situations dissipate, will ramp up toward the end of the first quarter to robustly outperform Q1 2013 in units sold.

In 2013, units sold experienced double-digit-percent increases in all Bay Area markets. References to “lack of inventory” need to be shaped in the context of exceptionally high buyer demand. While inventory seems scarce, vibrant demand and limited days on the market are creating these intense conditions.

Our regionally unique housing demand is driven by a robust job market: California generated over 300,000 new jobs in 2013 and saw unemployment rates settle in at 8.5 percent by the end of November.

The strength of the Northern California job market has consistently been driven by technology, social-media, and professional-service firms and is now joined by the retail sector. This job growth was fueled in 2012 and 2013 by three western Bay Area counties (San Mateo, San Francisco, and Marin), all of which currently enjoy unemployment rates of about 5 percent. Job growth is now taking hold in the northern and eastern counties of Sonoma, Napa, Alameda, and Contra Costa, where unemployment rates range from 6.0 to 6.8 percent, also well below the state average.

Interest rates remain near historical lows, and multiple new lenders are returning to the jumbo-mortgage market. One dynamic we anticipated in 2013 that did not materialize in force was the mobilization of the “move-up buyer.” If this segment of buyers engages the market this spring, we expect to see additional inventory in the form of their sales and significant movement in the high-end and second-home markets.

As we noted back in October, we have a robust outlook for 2014 and 2015. We expect to see records set for units sold and near double-digit-percent price appreciation throughout the Bay Area. Municipal building departments are seeing enormous activity in new-housing and major remodeling permits, an exceptional leading indicator of consumer confidence, buyer demand, and a vibrant real estate market.

Please remember that real estate is hyperlocal. While information is widely available and opinions on real estate markets are plentiful, there is generally only one set of facts. In a market that is experiencing record-setting velocity, it is particularly important to find the best real estate professional to provide you with the keenest insight, knowledge, advice, and decision support.

Thanks for your confidence in Pacific Union.

Sincerely,
Mark A. McLaughlin, CEO, Pacific Union

Bay Area 10-Year Overview
Here’s a look at home sales in the Bay Area’s real estate markets in the fourth quarter of 2013, with a glance back at the 10 preceding fourth quarters.

Q4_10year_monsterchart

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Pacific Union Reaches New Performance Heights in 2013

The year 2013 brought continued prosperity to Pacific Union, and we are extremely proud of our real estate professionals, who helped our company achieve a number of significant milestones.
PUIlogo-300x170
In 2013, Pacific Union posted sales volumes of $5.5 billion, the second consecutive year we’ve increased sales volume by more than 40 percent. The company has doubled its sales volume in two years, growing more than twice as fast as the overall market in 2013. We also increased our revenue to nearly $130 million, up 41 percent from 2012.
Pacific Union enjoyed sales growth at every price point but shined brightest in the high end of the luxury-home market. We lead the market in sales volume in the $1 million-to-$3 million range in the six-county region consisting of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, and Sonoma counties.
And in the final quarter of 2013, Pacific Union moved up to the No. 1 sales-volume slot in the $3 million-plus range, closing out the year with $750 million in total sales above that price point.
Growth also came in the form of market-share gains. The company continued its upward trajectory in the key Marin County region, moving into the top position with an 18.2 percent share of the market. Market share also increased in Contra Costa, San Francisco, and Sonoma counties. In Alameda County we have the second largest market share, and in Napa County, we rank No. 3.
Across those six counties, Pacific Union is now second in sales volume despite working with only about half the number of real estate professionals as the market leader. And there’s a simple reason for that: Our elite real estate professionals are the Bay Area’s most productive.
In 2013 Pacific Union real estate professionals ranked No. 1 in sales volume per capita in the six-county Bay Area region. Our real estate professionals also placed first in the quantity of total transactions closed per professional.
According to Pacific Union CEO Mark A. McLaughlin, the company’s dedication to recruiting only Northern California’s best and brightest real estate professionals has been instrumental in driving its exceptional growth over the past three years.
“Our organization is built on our principle of ‘managing to the top,’” McLaughlin says. “Our recruiting efforts are by invitation, not application. We cater to the finest professionals in the market and invest daily in programs, technology, and resources to enhance their efficiencies and separate them from the ordinary. Our results in the marketplace continue to support our vision.”
The year 2013 also saw the company launch its presence in Silicon Valley via a Menlo Park office. And in November, Pacific Union expanded in Sonoma County by opening an office in Petaluma and recruiting 18 of the region’s top real estate professionals.
The industry has taken note of McLaughlin’s role in leading the company to such robust growth. Recently, he made the Swanepoel SP200, a list that recognizes 200 of the residential real estate industry’s most powerful people. In November 2013, McLaughlin received RISMedia’s Real Estate Leadership Award, which honors the country’s top CEO for extraordinary leadership and innovation.
Pacific Union itself also earned accolades from both the real estate industry and media in 2013. In October we were named one of the 100 fastest-growing companies in the Bay Area, just two months after making the prestigious Inc. 5000 list.
Earlier in the year, the San Francisco Business Times ranked us third largest residential real estate company in Northern California; RISMedia named us to its PowerBroker list; and REAL Trends ranked us third in the U.S. for average home sales price.
The crowning achievement in Pacific Union’s extraordinary year came in December, when McLaughlin received an invitation from the U.S. ambassador to China to attend an exclusive meeting at the ambassador’s residence in Beijing. There, McLaughlin met with 10 of China’s wealthiest individuals about potential investments in U.S. real estate.

Source: http://blog.pacunion.com/pacific-union-reaches-new-performance-heights-in-2013/

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CALIFORNIA HOME-PRICE APPRECIATION SECOND HIGHEST IN U.S.

Home prices in the Golden State showed the second largest year-over-year gains in the county in November, according to CoreLogic’s recently released Home Price Index.

cali_flag

California home prices, including distressed sales, increased 21.3 percent from November 2012 to November 2013, trailing only Nevada. Not including distressed sales, home prices in the state grew 17.6 percent in that time period, also No. 2 in the country.

Nationally, home price growth was more modest, with year-over-year gains of 11.8 percent including distressed sales and 10.4 percent excluding them. According to CoreLogic, November marked the 21st straight month of yearly home price increases.

The company predicts that 2013 will be the healthiest year for appreciation since 2005.

Source: http://blog.pacunion.com/real-estate-roundup-california-home-price-gains-among-countrys-best/

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Buying or Selling a Home in 2014? There’s Still Time for New Year’s Resolutions

January 3, 2014 – By: Pacific Union

The year 2014 is just a few days old, so homebuyers and sellers still have time to make some practical resolutions for the new year. And remember to stick to them in the weeks and months ahead!

FOR BUYERS:

  • Get your financial house in order. That means paying off credit cards and other debt so that you meet your mortgage lender’s qualifications. Anything you can do to improve your credit history and raise your credit score will help you get a better interest rate.New year's baby
  • Save as much money as you can for a down payment. This may be difficult if you focus all your efforts on the previous resolution, but both strategies are vital to save you money over the life of your home loan.
  • Look at your finances and determine how much you can afford to spend. No matter how gorgeous it may be, you’re not going to enjoy a home you can’t afford.
  • Educate yourself on the real estate market where you hope to live. What neighborhoods and homes can you afford? What parks, retail districts, and other amenities are nearby? If you have children, learn as much as you can about the local schools.
  • Talk with a real estate professional who is familiar with your desired community. Learn the intricacies of buying a home — the paperwork, estimated timelines, making a bid (and multiple bids), and closing a sale.
  • Strategize your moving plans far in advance. Familiarize yourself with moving and storage options. Eliminating household clutter now will save you moving headaches later.

FOR SELLERS:

  • Finish any home-improvement projects you started but haven’t completed. Maybe you can live with bare drywall panels in that extra room upstairs, but it’s a total turnoff to a prospective buyer.
  • Speaking of home-improvement projects, take a look around and determine what quick fixes and changes you can make that will add value to your home. A new stove? Fresh paint in the living room? A landscaping upgrade?
  • Schedule a home inspection to help get your property ready for sale and ensure there will be no surprises.
  • Talk with a real estate professional who is familiar with your community. Learn what your home is worth and what strategies will help it sell quickly. Familiarize yourself with the home-selling process.
  • Learn the basics of home staging. If desired, your real estate professional can refer you to a professional stager.
  • Plan your exit strategy. Are you buying your next home at the same time you’re selling your current one? Familiarize yourself with moving and storage options.

Source: http://blog.pacunion.com/new-years-real-estate-resolutions/

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Marin home prices jump 13 percent in November

By Janis Mara – Marin Independent Journal

Marin’s real estate market neared a strong close for 2014 as the price of a single-family home jumped 13 percent in November, according to the Marin County Assessor’s Office.

The median price for conventional detached dwellings clocked in at $875,000, compared with $775,000 in November 2012, the assessor reported. Sales dipped five percent, with 185 single-family dwellings selling compared with 195 last November.

Seventy condominiums sold in November 2013, compared with 54 in the same month in 2012, and the median condo price increased from $330,000 in November 2012 to $429,500 in 2013.

The double-digit leap in the median price continued a year-long trend of increases. Real estate agents in Marin predicted a good year in 2014, though not at the same pace as this year.

“In general, the market is healthy. It’s a very positive market,” said Peter Richmond, an agent with Pacific Union International in Mill Valley. “I think prices will continue to rise (in 2014), just not as steeply as happened in the first half of 2013.

“In April, May and June, some homes were up 20 percent or more. I don’t think you are going to see that as a general rule (in 2014),” Richmond said. “It’s going to depend a lot on how quickly interest rates continue to rise and how far they go.”

Richmond and other agents repeatedly referred to the first half of 2013 as a boom period, and seemed to agree that interest rates were the factor that slowed things down somewhat in the second half.

“The rising interest rates are moderating things a bit. Right now they are probably a full percentage point over what they were a year ago today,” said Richmond, who was a banker for 25 years before becoming a real estate agent. “They’re (rates) supposed to continue to go up.”

When interest rates go up, so do a potential buyer’s monthly payments, edging some out of the market who are already stretching to make a purchase.

Just as a matter of perspective, current rates are by no means high in terms of the overall picture.

“These are still historically low interest rates,” said Mary Kay Yamamoto of Re/MAX of Central Marin in San Rafael. “Having been in the business since 1980, I have seen interest rates as high as 16 percent for a first mortgage. Right now they are hovering around 4.25 to 4.50 percent; on any given day, it can shift.”

Yamamoto attributed the five percent November sales drop to what she called “buyer fatigue.”

“For much of 2013, multiple offers on homes and bidding wars were a regular occurrence. Some buyers made so many offers and didn’t have an offer accepted. They had a difficult time competing and they got discouraged,” Yamamoto said.

Jean Mastagni, a broker associate with Coldwell Banker in Mill Valley, attributed the sales drop to the time of year.

“It’s historic. The holidays always slow down the market,” Mastagni said.

The broker associate described the market crash that began around 2009 as unprecedented in Marin.

“I’ve been in the business since the 1970s and have seen every phase. We never had such a long dip in prices as during the five years before 2013,” the broker associate said, adding that 2013 “started with a bang and everything went up. It came back in every price range.”

Bob Ravasio, a Coldwell Banker agent in Greenbrae, elaborated on Mastagni’s comment.

“The annual sales price in Marin increased for some 40 years with just one exception, decreasing around 3 percent in 1990 and 1991, based on numbers from the MLS (multiple listing service),” the agent said. “In the 2009 recession, the annual sales price went down as much as 20-25 percent.

“What’s happening now is as quickly as the bottom fell out in 2009, in 2013 you saw a snap back in the other direction. We’re almost back to where we were in 2006, 2007. We’re getting close to that. I don’t think anyone saw this price recovery happening as fast as it did,” Ravasio said.

One of the principal factors spurring the recovery: The dearth of homes on the market.

“You’re seeing the laws of supply and demand play themselves out. Demand is very strong, and there’s not that much inventory. So what remains continues to get bid up,” the agent said.

Patti Cohn, a broker with Pacific Union, echoed Ravasio’s sentiments.

“Right now around 49 percent of the homes on the market in Marin are in contract, meaning that a buyer has purchased the home and is waiting for the sale to close,” Cohn said.

“If you have 100 homes on the market and 49 of them are in contract, that’s an unusually high number. Anything over 30 percent is considered a seller’s market,” the broker said. “If it’s 25 to 30 percent, it’s a normal, neutral market.”

As more homes come on the market and supply increases, this should temper price increases, Ravasio said.

“What you’re seeing now is fairly characteristic of what you would expect to see coming out of a low period,” Ravasio said. “Buyers are always leading the market; they went away in 2009 and came back strong in 2013, and sellers haven’t caught up yet.

“I think we are going to see more homes on the market in 2014,” Ravasio said. “You will see prices increase, just more modestly.”

Source: http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_24819421/marin-home-prices-jump-13-percent-november

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Marin luxury real estate market rebounds

By Janis Mara – Marin Independent Journal

Hot on the heels of the overall real estate rebound, Marin’s luxury home market is coming back, with sales up 38 percent in 2013 and upbeat predictions for 2014 from market experts.

In 2012, according to Bay Area Real Estate Information Services, a North Bay multiple listing service, 384 luxury single-family homes and luxury condominiums sold for $1.5 million or more in the county. That number zoomed to 532 in 2013.

“Sales in the luxury market took longer to come back than sales for homes overall, but we saw dramatic gains in 2013,” said Tracy McLaughlin, a luxury property specialist who is a major shareholder in Pacific Union International and did $113 million in sales in 2013. Sales in the general market heated up toward the end of 2012.

High-end homes were by no means immune to the precipitous sales drop that began in 2008. Only 234 such homes sold in Marin in 2009, the year the luxury market reached its nadir.

“The luxury market suffered to an even greater extent,” said Susan Hewitt, principal of SHLuxuryGroup.com, affiliated with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. “People stopped purchasing up. Everybody, no matter what their financial situation — even the high net worth clients — pulled back because of the uncertainty of the economy.”

Starting in the first quarter of 2013, the luxury market began to see gains, and momentum built throughout the year. Now, “just using the MLS, there are multiple buyers on so many properties. Prices have been driven by the demand and the shortage of good inventory,” McLaughlin said.

“What we’re seeing in terms of available inventory is that good new inventory moves very fast because there’s such a demand,” said Patricia Navone, an agent with Pacific Union International and Christie’s International Real Estate. “Inventory” refers to properties up for sale.

“A Tiburon house came on the market Dec. 30 for $3.5 million. It went into escrow on Dec. 31,” Navone said. This means that it took less than 24 hours for an offer to be made and accepted and a contract signed.

At the same time, McLaughlin said, “it’s still a compartmentalized market,” with the lower end of the luxury market seeing more recovery. “The price is still a very important determining factor.”

“The recovery in the luxury market is very active at the lower end of the market, between $1.5 and $3 million,” Hewitt agreed.

More expensive luxury homes constitute “a very unbalanced market — a buyer’s market,” Hewitt said.

“From $4 million to $6 million, there are 48 homes listed on the market now. Only three of them are in escrow. From $6 million up, there are 26 currently listed, and only three are in escrow. Over $10 million, there are nine active listings and zero in escrow,” Hewitt said. “The recovery in the luxury market is working its way up.”

“Even when there’s supply, if something is not priced right, people are not going to buy it. Even if it’s five percent overpriced, they’re not going to buy it,” McLaughlin said. “People are not going to make the same mistakes they made in 2005 or 2006. They are going to make a prudent purchase.”

High-end buyers have become more finicky about what they purchase, just like those buying under $1.5 million, but for different reasons. For many lower-end buyers, a house has to be “turnkey,” meaning that no repairs are needed. For these buyers, it’s because credit is tight and it would be hard to get a loan to do the work, agents said.

“In this area, people always believed real estate would do nothing but increase (in value),” Hewitt said. “But after the recent downturn, people at all ends of the market are more cautious because this (the downturn) went on for five years. Before, you thought if you made a mistake, in three or four years you could turn around and sell it. But now they don’t have that certainty,” the agent said.

“With a discretionary market, the buyers are looking for things to be perfect,” said Marti Grossman of Alain Pinel in Corte Madera. “At the lower end, they are so desperate to buy they are willing to overpay, whereas at the higher end they have the money to pay but they want value as well.

“I had one buyer who said, ‘The family room’s too far from the kitchen, the pool is too far from the house. If I’m going to spend this amount of money I want it to be perfect.’

“They choose perfection. It’s what they expect,” Grossman said.

Just as with the overall market, the agents agreed there is a dearth of homes available for eager buyers.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” Navone said. “I think some people sat on the sidelines for a while. They were watching, and then they started to see investors coming in at the low end of the market last year and the high-end people decided, ‘Now’s the time.'”

“The industry might suffer more this year from lack of supply than pricing issues,” McLaughlin said.

The agents were upbeat in their predictions for 2014, though none believed the jaw-dropping 38 percent sales increase would hold steady.

“I think we’ll see an increase in 2014. Now, how much is still up in the air but there’s a lot of demand for those luxury properties,” Grossman said.

“I think we have had our big lift, and so, with the proviso that we have the inventory, there will be an increase in 2014 over 2013, but probably not that dramatic of an increase,” Navone said.

Source: http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_24842914/marin-luxury-real-estate-market-rebounds

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