Bay Area boasts top counties in California

The “best county” in California is Marin, according to real-estate site Movoto. Of course “best” is a very subjective term, but Movoto used 2010 Census data on unemployment rankings, percent of families below the poverty line, average commute time (the lower the better for all of the above), as well as the median household income, median rent, median home price and high school graduation rate (the higher the better for all of these).

Marin County Estate

Unsurprisingly, the “best” counties ended up being some of the wealthiest, with tony Marin at the top of the heap:

1. Marin County
2. San Mateo County
3. Santa Clara County
4. San Luis Obispo County
5. Ventura County
6. Placer County
7. Napa County (tie)
7. Orange County (tie)
9. Santa Barbara County
10. San Francisco County

San Francisco, just making the top 10, received high points for low unemployment, high median household income and very few families below the poverty line. But an average 53-minute commute time brought down the overall score enough that San Francisco just barely beat out Mono County in the Eastern Sierra, which came in the middle of the pack in terms of home prices and unemployment, but boasts only a 3-minute average commute!

Back in number-one Marin, the commute time was a much heftier 41 minutes, but the county ranked first in unemployment (or lack thereof), median household income, median rent and median home prices. Just like San Francisco, Marin’s median home price hovers just above $1 million. The photos above show what you can get for that price in California’s “best” county.

According to Movoto, it wasn’t just numbers that put Marin over the top. “The Marin Museum Of Contemporary Art, Muir Woods, one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Center (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) all make this a hub of culture, natural beauty and just plain awesome,” its editors wrote.

Emily Landes is a writer and editor who is obsessed with all things real estate. She also has a DIY problem that she blogs about at


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16 hikes you must do in Marin County


While we’re pretty much convinced you can’t go wrong with when it comes to hiking in Marin, there are some areas you undoubtedly must visit at least once.

Considering Marin’s seemingly endless selection of open space and trails, creating a list of the best hikes the county has to offer was no easy feat. But we gave it a shot, selecting a mix of cardio-pumping routes and easy flat trails that are kid friendly.

In the above slideshow we’ve highlighted what we consider the best hikes in Marin.

These hikes range from more intense all-day treks to little half-day loops. We also included a range of scenery, including well-forested parts of Mount Tamalapais, the shores of Point Reyes National Seashore or a sunny spot in central Marin that’s the perfect escape during a cold and foggy day in San Francisco.

Take a look through the above slideshow (captions include links to Google Maps of the hikes) and tell us in the comments if you agree with our top picks.

One caveat: We skipped some other superior hikes that already have nightmarish parking or trailheads that are locals-only secrets we promised not to spill (don’t worry, most of these also fell in the category of not being able to handle a large influx of visitors).

Hiking safety tips you probably already know but should still read:

We recommend always carrying plenty of water, extra layers, some snacks (trail mix or protein-loaded bars) and being extra mindful of your surroundings and how much daylight you have left. Trailheads in some of these featured areas can reach very remote areas and it’s not uncommon for hikers to get lost. Also, keep in mind that you may not always have cell phone service.

And, remember, even though you aren’t far from San Francisco, you are hiking in the wild. We don’t want to deter you, but there’s rattlesnakes, powerful sneaker waves on the Pacific Coast, poison oak and lots of wild animals. (In the very unlikely chance you see a mountain lion, make yourself as big and loud as possible. Do not run away!) But, seriously, don’t worry. Keep in mind that there are very few serious hiking incidents.

Want more hikes?

If you really want to familiarize yourself with Marin County hiking, there’s a book by Don and Kay Martin called “Hiking Marin.” We have the third edition and it includes 141 hikes. Many of the hikes in this slideshow were discovered via this book. It’s a great resource.

Here’s a map showing the general location of each of the featured hikes.

Hiking Map


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Real Estate Report Ranks Marin as No. 1 – Called best place to live; leaders seek improvements

By: Janis Mara

Marin leaders rejoiced at the news that the county was judged California’s best to live in, while remaining mindful that there is still room for improvement.

Marin #1 Ranking

Movoto, a real estate website, Friday released a report naming Marin No. 1 based on its high median household income, median home price and median rent, low unemployment and second-lowest number of families below the poverty line. With San Mateo second and Santa Clara third, it was something of a Bay Area sweep.

“It is no surprise that Marin is the most desirable place to live,” Supervisor Judy Arnold said in an email. “It has so much going for it: open space, ranch land, good schools and healthy foods.”

However, she added, “As supervisors, we also deal with the not-so-desirable aspects of living in such beauty: high rent, lack of housing, traffic congestion and health problems. It is important to celebrate the good things of our county while realizing the problems that are not celebrated and try to make Marin even better for everyone.”

Rob Eyler, head of the Marin Economic Forum, offered a note of analysis in his response.

“I think it shows that Marin is not only attractive, but also a by-product of its location. There is likely wealth migrating in from San Francisco and the greater Bay Area looking for a more suburban existence,” Eyler said.

“This is where Marin’s housing market is very much related to the greater Bay Area as the most desirable place (weather, proximity to SF, amenities, schools) in a very desirable regional globally,” Eyler said.

In a somewhat similar vein, Blaine Morris, the head of the Marin Association of Realtors, said, “We have all the amenities of big city living available within a half hour but when we come back to Marin we could be in any small town in America. You can earn a big city living while having a semi-rural life here.

“When my wife and I lived in Los Angeles 20 years ago, we were always trying to figure out where to go to get out of Los Angeles for the weekend. We finally decided to move somewhere we would like to spend the weekend,” Morris said. Even when he got a job at Oracle in Silicon Valley, Morris refused to move out of the county, he said.

In addition to the county’s economic indicators, the blog mentioned several other factors. “Marin County loved education, with establishments like the College of Marin and Dominican University of California.”

The good words were apparently appreciated. “As the community’s college, we are honored to be cited as one of the reasons that Marin is the Number One county in the state to live in,” David Wain Coon, superintendent/president of the College of Marin, said in an email. “College of Marin is committed to providing all residents of Marin County outstanding educational opportunities.”

As for Dominican, “As a relatively new resident of Marin, I can attest that this is a great place to live, and education is central to Marin’s high quality of life,” said the university’s president, Mary Marcy.

“When we invest in new facilities and programs, we consider how our investments will impact both our students and our greater community,” Marcy said, noting that the university is opening a health sciences facility next year and its business school “is forming global partnerships that will result in new opportunities for students and local businesses.”

The report also mentioned the Marin County Free Library.

“I’m not surprised. It really is a great library system with tremendous community support and a very literate community that loves its libraries and uses them,” said Sara Jones, director of county library services.

Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s Public Health Officer, offered a nuanced view.

“This is an interesting set of indicators, because it really is almost directly related to affluence,” Willis said. “You really could call this the wealthiest counties ranking.

“So what’s seen as a strength here might be seen as a liability by someone with a low or middle income. For our middle-income community — our police, our teachers — when they can’t afford to live here, and yet they make up the fabric of our community, this is potentially a vulnerability for us and an important piece here,” Willis said.

Willis referred to Marin’s March ranking as the healthiest county in California by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “It’s because we have opportunities for recreation, 600-something miles for trails, small farms and produce. Healthy eating and active behavior are normal to Marin.”

On the other side of the equation of the Movoto blog, Willis said, “is the experience of people of limited means” who may be working two jobs and too busy to work out.

“What I would love to see is a ranking that reflects a balanced community and a community that allows for diversity, culturally, ethnically and economically,” Willis said. “These rankings don’t reflect the fact that we lack that diversity.”


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Asia’s most expensive home on sale in Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) is offering a super-deluxe house on The Peak for HK$175,735 per square foot according to SCMP.

If it fetches that amount, it will be the world’s most expensive home in terms of price per square foot.

SHKP released the price list of the 12 houses at Twelve Peaks in 12 Mount Kellett Road on Wednesday night, with the priciest, No 1, going for HK$819.1 million.

Hong Kong 2

The house has a saleable area of 4,661 sq ft, a 4,478 sq ft garden, a private pool, a 273 sq ft terrace, a 813 sq ft rooftop and 917 sq ft of car parking space. It also comes with a 220 sq ft air-conditioning plant room.

SHKP bought the site at 12 Mount Kellett Road in 2006 for a record HK$1.8 billion, or HK$42,196 per square foot.

Hong Kong 3

The most expensive home in Hong Kong is House 10 at Skyhigh on Pollock’s Path, which measures 5,989 sq ft and fetched HK$800 million, or HK$133,578 per saleable square foot, in June 2011.

The second-priciest home is a 5,145 sq ft house at 3 Gough Hill Road, which was sold in February this year for HK$650 million, or HK$126,336 per sq ft.

Source: SCMP

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If you’re preparing your home for sale within the coming months, you’d do well to pump a healthy portion of improvement funds into the kitchen, a new survey finds.
According to the poll conducted by homebuilding firm PulteGroup, 29 percent of respondents said the kitchen was the most important room to consider when purchasing a property. Twenty-three percent said an eat-in area was the top kitchen feature, while 22 percent cited the importance of an island.
The survey notes that spice kitchens are becoming particularly en vogue with California buyers. In Silicon Valley high-end kitchen appliances and countertops greatly appeal to home shoppers.
PulteGroup’s study also discovered that more than one-third of buyers say coveted home amenities trump location and even schools.

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Just Listed!! 15 Blueridge Road in Kent Woodlands – Exclusively Offered at $3,495,000

Just Listed!! 15 Blueridge Road in Kent Woodlands
Exclusively Offered at $3,495,000
1. Pool and Mt Tam DSC_8846

This property is to die for!! Drop dead Mount Tam view!! A resort in Kent Woodlands that is not to be missed!

Please join me:
Catered Broker’s Open – Thursday, June 19th from 10:30am-2:00pm
Catered by: Stacy Scott
Open House – Sunday, June 22nd from 12-3pm
2. LivRoom DSC_8955
For more information and photos, please visit:

Perfectly sited on nearly an acre of mostly level land, this clean line contemporary residence offers resort living at its finest and captures some of the most stunning and breathtaking views of Mount Tamalpais and King Mountain in Kent Woodlands. Offering 5 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms, the home’s intimate spaces are well designed for comfortable living. Enjoying high ceilings, spacious main rooms and numerous windows and glass doors, the light filled residence is perfect for entertaining and has an exceptional indoor/outdoor connection. The private grounds feature a large sparkling pool with spa, lush level lawn and patios. Just steps from some of the best hiking and biking trails Marin has to offer and award winning Kentfield School District!

The home is 3,439 sq. ft. (per architectural drawings) on a 0.8976 acre lot (per tax records).
4. Tam View DSC_8908
5. Master Bed DSC_9030
6. DSC00895_1
8. Entry DSC_8939
9. Lawn DSC_8903
11. DSC00850_1

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Bay Area Leads U.S. in 2014 Luxury-Home Sales Growth

June 3, 2014 by Pacific Union

Last month we crunched the numbers and found that luxury-home sales volumes grew by double-digit percentage points in the first quarter across Pacific Union’s nine Northern California regions. Now, a report from Redfin shows that three Bay Area regions are leading the nation in high-end home sales growth this year.
Redfin’s 2014 Luxury Report, which defines luxury homes as those in the most expensive 1 percent of properties, ranks Oakland as the top U.S. market for luxury sales-volume growth through April, with a gain of 96.2 percent. San Jose placed No. 2, with luxury sales increases of 91.2 percent, followed by San Francisco, at 72.2 percent. Across all of the U.S. metro areas included in the study, high-end home sales were up 21.1 percent in the first four months of 2014.
Luxury sales gains in the Bay Area were even more impressive given the flat to negative growth observed in the remaining 99 percent of the market. Nonluxury sales increased by 2.2 percent in Oakland through April, while declining by 1.9 percent in San Francisco and 7.3 percent in San Jose.
Redfin’s study also found that San Francisco had the most expensive luxury-home prices in the country. San Francisco buyers would need to shell out $5.35 million to afford the minimum-priced luxury home — not to mention earn $916,000 per year. That translates to a monthly mortgage payment of more than $21,000, assuming a 30-year, fixed-rate loan.
San Jose ranked fourth in the country for highest minimum luxury-home price: $3.38 million. With a minimum price of $2.1 million, Oakland just missed the top 10 but still bested the national average of $1.66 million.
San Francisco and San Jose also placed among the top 10 markets with the highest percentage of all-cash luxury sales, 55.7 and 48.8 percent respectively.
So in which Bay Area neighborhoods can buyers expect to pay the most for a top-end home? In San Francisco, tony Presidio Heights — where the average luxury home costs $7.5 million – leads the pack. Two other San Francisco neighborhoods also ranked among the 10 priciest luxury enclaves in the U.S.: Pacific Heights ($7.2 million) and Russian Hill ($6.5 million).
In the San Jose region, Old Palo Alto is the most expensive luxury neighborhood, with the average home commanding $4.7 million. Unsurprisingly, real estate classified ads website operator Movoto just named Palo Alto the second wealthiest small city in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the small city of Piedmont boasted the largest luxury prices in the Oakland metro area, at $2.6 million.


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Pacific Union Wins Christie’s International Real Estate Affiliate of the Year Award

We’re very excited to announce the news that Christie’s International Real Estate has named Pacific Union its “Affiliate of the Year” for 2013.

Pacific Union, one of 139 global affiliates in the Christie’s network, won the top honor for its creative and effective marketing, superior branding, and innovation. Christie’s presented the award earlier this month at its annual global conference in Barcelona, Spain.

“A true industry leader, Pacific Union has long been known for its innovative programs and quality services, and we are proud to award the company with this prestigious distinction,” Bonnie Stone Sellers, CEO of Christie’s International Real Estate said in a statement.

Pacific Union CEO Mark A. McLaughlin calls the accolade a “deep honor” resulting from collaboration and teamwork.

“We are deeply honored to receive this award and look forward to continuing our fantastic collaboration with Christie’s for many years to come,” McLaughlin said. “Our exclusivity with this prestigious brand undoubtedly helps us deliver the very best in Northern California luxury real estate to clients from around the globe.”

PUI wins Christie's Award

From left to right: Pacific Union President Patrick Barber; CIRE CEO Bonnie Stone Sellers; Pacific Union CEO Mark A. McLaughlin; CIRE Senior Vice President, Western Region Zachary Wright; and Pacific Union Vice President of Marketing Jessica Frushtick at the conference in Barcelona, Spain.

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Marin off-market home sales a hot topic

Susie Gamble looked for a house in Corte Madera for 10 months, but kept losing out in bidding wars. Then, in March, her agent learned of a Craftsman home that was not yet on the market and took her to see it. Gamble made an offer and her offer was accepted.

“It was all really easy. We didn’t have to go through a lot of jumping through hoops and negotiating. It was very quick,” said Gamble, who bought the house five days before she left the country on a trip to Peru.

Sales of homes that haven’t been entered into the Multiple Listing Service, also known as off-market sales or pocket listings, are a hot topic these days in Marin and the Bay Area. Such sales make up an increasing percentage of real estate activity in some parts of the Bay Area, and appear to have edged up slightly in Marin in 2013 compared with 2012.

In 2012, a total of 3,181 single-family homes and condos sold in Marin, according to the Marin County Assessor’s Office. That year, 2,997 homes sold through Bay Area Real Estate Information Services, the MLS serving Marin and the North Bay. Though this is just a rough estimate, the numbers suggest that around 184 homes, or 6 percent, sold off-market.

In contrast, in 2013, the assessor reported 3,452 sales, while 3,148 sold through the MLS. Hence, somewhere in the neighborhood of 304 homes sold off-market, about 9 percent, though this number does not account for factors such as sales between family members or neighbors and the like.

Gamble said she was pleased with the outcome of her off-market purchase.

“I got to stay in Corte Madera, where I have lived for 25 years and raised my daughters,” Gamble said. “They offered the house at a certain price, I countered and then we agreed on a price. It worked out great.”

“Because Susie made an all-cash offer, the sellers didn’t have to worry that the deal would fall through because of problems with the loan,” said Bob Ravasio, Gamble’s agent, who learned about the house in conversation with another agent. “You had a case here where everybody’s needs were met. The seller got the price they wanted without having to go on the MLS.”

The usual procedure in selling a house involves the agent listing the property with the MLS after signing a listing agreement with a client. Agents generally pay an annual fee to the MLS for listing their properties, and must list the home within a few days or else file an exclusion agreement signed by the client granting permission to withhold the listing.

“If you put a home on the MLS, Marin’s 1,400 agents will see it, and it will get maximum exposure,” said Marin agent Patti Cohn.

“The MLS is the first and best way to market a home, but there are absolutely clear and valid reasons to market the home outside the MLS system,” Ravasio said.

Susie Gamble gets into her car in front of her new house on Tuesday, Apr. 8, 2014, in Corte Madera, Calif. She bought the house off-market. It was never
Susie Gamble gets into her car in front of her new house on Tuesday, Apr. 8, 2014, in Corte Madera, Calif. She bought the house off-market. It was never listed on the Multiple Listing Service, which for decades has been the primary source of information about homes for sale. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal) Frankie Frost
At the moment, Cohn is handling two such sales, one of a $9.75 million duplex in Sausalito and one a $1.2 million Sleepy Hollow home. In the case of the duplex, Cohn said, the sellers wanted to sell off-MLS because there are tenants in both units, and trying to arrange showings would have been onerous.

The Sausalito client was adamant about selling off-market, Cohn said. As for the Sleepy Hollow client, “I put it out to the top 10 percent of agents in Marin via (agent online forum) Top Agent Network, and 14 agents responded,” Cohn said.

“Many times, sellers can get a better price (off-market) by getting a preemptive offer from a buyer who is willing to pay what is asked and grateful for the opportunity, given today’s competitive market,” Cohn said.

“Some clients are concerned about privacy and don’t want a lot of people going through their homes (during open houses),” Ravasio said.

Other owners cringe at the thought of preparing their homes for sale, Ravasio said. The process can easily run $10,000 to $20,000 just for painting and repairs, clutter must be cleared and “the house must look pristine,” Ravasio said.

This may help explain why off-market sales jumped between 2012 and 2013 in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties, the service area of MLSListings Inc.

“Within our five home counties, 2012 was about 15 percent off-market and in 2013 it jumped to about 20 percent. It’s definitely an increasing practice … It’s not going away, but there are definite pitfalls,” said James Harrison, chief executive of MLSListings.

In Marin, “it’s (off-market sales) happening more often,” Cohn said. “It’s easier to sell off-market these days because there is a strong seller’s market and agents are networking with each other more.”

Two online agent networking sites are Top Agent Network and Producers Forum. The former facilitates communication between agents in the top 10 percent of their respective markets, including Marin. Founder David Faudman estimates that about 30 percent of the discussions involve off-market listings.

“Pre- and non-MLS marketing of properties has been going on for decades,” Faudman said. “The MLS is a critically important marketing tool. We’re not in any way, shape or form trying to replace that. We take care of the period before it goes on the MLS, when it used to be whispered to a handful of people and now it’s broadcast to a greater number of clients.”

With Producers Forum, “We aggregate non-MLS data and buyers. We are complementing the MLS,” said founder Eric Trailer. Agents can access the site for free.

“Putting a listing on the MLS gives it maximum exposure,” Trailer said. “Whether it means higher prices has not been proven.”

“This whole off-market and non-MLS or pocket listings (issue) has been a big controversial story all over the country,” Faudman said.

“It’s (off-market sales) a sensitive subject across the industry,” said Blaine Morris, president of the Marin Association of Realtors.

“I had a listing, showed it to buyers who made an offer and were ultimately willing to pay $12,500 over asking price before it went on the MLS. The seller wanted a little more. The buyers tired of the negotiation and backed away, so the seller put the property on the MLS, got five offers, and got $67,500 more than the first buyer’s best offer, and it was a cash offer,” Morris said.

The California Association of Realtors’ position is that off-market sales negatively affect sellers’ chances of getting the best price. The association last year added a section to its residential listing agreement promoting the benefits of the MLS and warning against opting out. Sellers and brokers must initial the warning. The agreement is not required for California agents, but is widely used.

Ravasio said, “Our (agents’) job is to represent our clients’ best interests and goals.”

Off-market buyer Gamble said, “I think it’s a nice way for everybody to do it if you can. I was really happy to relax and go on my trip, knowing I had a home to return to.”

Smiling, Gamble added, “Now I have to get moved.”

Contact Janis Mara via email at Follow her at


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Phenomenal Article! Barbara Chambers at Home in Mill Valley

I loved this article featuring the personal garden of one of my favorite architects Barbara Chambers. She is simply amazing and creates beautiful homes.

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