Bay Area Buyers Paying a Premium for High-Scoring Schools

Bacich school

Bacich Elementary School in Kentfield is one of the most sought-after schools in Marin, in part thanks to its high test scores.

It’s no secret that schools play a starring role in Bay Area home purchasing, with many buyers willing to fork out a sizable premium for properties that feed into top districts.

A recent San Francisco Chronicle article found that Peninsula buyers regularly pay more than $200,000 extra for homes in neighborhoods with high-performing schools. Meanwhile, nearby properties in good but lower-scoring districts garner fewer offers.

Surprisingly, some of these buyers don’t even have children yet. “People will come to an open house in Rockridge and ask if it feeds into Chabot (Elementary School),” said one of Pacific Union’s top East Bay real estate professionals. “If it doesn’t go to Chabot, sometimes they’ll walk away.”

Of course, in many cities, including Oakland where Chabot is located, living in a specific neighborhood doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a spot at the local school. If the school is full, your child may receive a different assignment. In San Francisco the school enrollment lottery is even more complicated and less tied to street address, leading many families who don’t land their top choices to leave for the suburbs or choose private schools.

A big chunk of those families move north to Marin, where they’re eager to find homes in Tiburon, Mill Valley, Kentfield, and Ross – cities with high-scoring school districts, said Brent Thomson, a senior vice president and branch executive for our Marin offices.

“Bidding wars will break out because those are desirable areas, and if buyers have kids, they’re even more desirable to them,” Thomson said.

She noted that San Rafael’s Dixie School District is also very strong but tends to receive less attention than better-known districts in southern Marin.

The problem of “over-hyped” schools – whose reputations often stem from high test scores available online — is one that Peninsula school officials are trying to tackle head on, partly with educational workshops for real estate professionals.

Carrie Du Bois, a Sequoia Union High School District board member and real estate professional, told the Chronicle that buyers will often eschew high-ranking schools just because schools nearby scored slightly better on state tests.

She recalled one buyer who pulled an offer on a home in San Carlos because it fed into the city’s lowest-scoring school — a school that had earned a very solid 880 out of 1,000 on state Academic Performance Index tests. The kicker? The buyer was a single man with no children.

In Contra Costa County, many buyers come from San Francisco or Oakland for the high-scoring schools in Lamorinda (the Lafayette-Moraga-Orinda communities) and the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, said Ellen Anderson, senior vice president and regional manager for our Contra Costa County offices.

Of course, commute length also remains a major factor for buyers. “If you’re coming from San Francisco or Oakland, you’re going to pay 10 to 15 percent more for the Acalanes school district in Lamorinda,” Anderson said. “If you’re coming from Silicon Valley, you’re going to pay that much more to be in the San Ramon Valley school district.”

But for buyers with very young children – and those who haven’t yet had a baby – guessing which schools will be strong in several years can be challenging, our East Bay real estate professional said.

“Often I don’t know how good the schools are going to be in five years when your child’s ready to attend,” our real estate professional said. “Glenview Elementary School in Oakland used to not be a good school, but people have moved in, sent their kids there, and they’ve spent their time and energy there. Now it’s a good school.

“I try not to make a lot of claims about schools because I think it’s such a personal decision,” she added.

(Photo by Peter Giordano, via Flickr.)

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America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids

Kids Running, Children, Health, Healthy Children, Healthy Communities, Healthiest Counties, American, United States Health

New rankings highlight communities that are safe and child-friendly.

America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids, a new set of rankings by U.S. News, highlights counties that feature, among other child-friendly data, fewer infant deaths, fewer low-birth-weight babies, fewer deaths from injuries, fewer teen births and fewer children in poverty.

Experts say the analysis, released as part of U.S. News Best Children’s Hospitals 2013-2014, represents the first national, county-level assessment of how health and environmental factors affect the well-being of children younger than 18. Perhaps the most striking finding is that what it takes to make a county healthy for kids can’t be reduced to one or two numbers. As shown in the table below, even the highest-ranking counties grapple with such challenges as large numbers of children in poverty and high teen birth rates. Top-ranked Marin County, a northern suburb of San Francisco, struggles with rates of teen births and children in poverty almost twice as high as 5th-ranked metro Milwaukee’s Ozaukee County.

Healthiest Counties for Kids
Rank County Score(0-100) Low Birthweight(under 5.5 lbs) Infant Death Rate
(per 100,000)
Teen Birth Rate
(per 1,000)
Children in Poverty Injury Death Rate
Ages 1-19
(per 100,000)
U.S. Median 7.9% 697.2 44.0 24.0% 21.7
1 Marin County, Calif. 100.0 6.3% 319.2 13.6 10.8% 8.7
2 San Francisco County, Calif. 94.0 7.0% 446.6 16.9 16.0% 13.0
3 Chittenden County, Vt. 93.6 6.7% 337.6 10.9 10.7% 7.9
4 Norfolk County, Mass. 93.4 7.2% 354.4 7.1 6.7% 8.8
5 Ozaukee County, Wis. 91.8 5.4% 372.3 7.3 6.0% 14.5
6 Middlesex County, Mass. 90.8 7.5% 426.8 12.2 9.3% 6.5
7 Boulder County, Colo. 90.7 7.7% 571.0 18.2 13.0% 10.3
8 Douglas County, Colo. 90.5 8.9% 401.7 10.5 4.9% 10.3
9 Montgomery County, Md. 90.1 8.1% 563.8 20.6 8.8% 9.9
9 San Mateo County, Calif. 90.1 6.7% 385.3 22.4 10.0% 10.0
11 Placer County, Calif. 89.6 5.7% 399.2 16.5 9.9% 10.2
12 Johnson County, Iowa 88.5 6.6% 554.2 11.4 15.9% 11.8
13 Hunterdon County, N.J. 87.9 6.7% 267.0 4.3 4.5% 8.5
14 Bergen County, N.J. 87.6 7.7% 337.0 5.6  8.2% 7.3
14 Hampshire County, Mass. 87.6 6.7% 425.2 6.8  12.3% 5.8
16 Waukesha County, Wis. 87.5 6.4% 546.0 10.2  6.6% 10.1
16 Westchester County, N.Y. 87.5 8.4% 524.9 13.6 6.8% 17.7
18 Nassau County, N.Y. 87.4 8.0% 504.6 8.6  9.3% 11.8
19 Santa Clara County, Calif. 87.3 6.7% 376.3 8.0  12.6% 25.7
20 DuPage County, Ill. 87.2 7.2% 612.6 8.0  11.0% 15.8
21 Dane County, Wis. 86.7 6.2% 507.3 10.8  14.5% 18.7
22 Cass County, N.D. 86.4 6.5% 589.3 7.9  12.1% 18.7
23 Olmsted County, Minn. 86.1 6.4% 663.9 12.4  10.8% 25.1
24 Morris County, N.J. 85.5 7.5% 367.8 6.9 5.5% 6.8
24 Yolo County, Calif. 85.5 5.3% 393.2 20.2 20.5% 13.0
26 Howard County, Md. 85.4 7.8% 517.3 12.8 7.5% 12.0
27 Johnson County, Kan. 85.2 6.3% 621.5 19.3 8.4% 11.8
28 Fairfax County, Va. 85.1 6.9% 515.4 16.5 9.0% 8.7
28 La Crosse County, Wis. 85.1 6.0% 461.1 17.5 15.4% 14.9
28 Somerset County, N.J. 85.1 8.0% 281.7 12.0 6.2% 8.4
31 Santa Cruz County, Calif. 84.8 5.8% 404.5 27.2 18.5% 11.3
32 King County, Wash. 84.3 6.6% 420.3 19.8 14.5% 11.8
33 Washington County, Minn. 84.0 6.1% 505.6 14.4 7.1% 11.2
34 Grand Forks County, N.D. 83.9 6.5% 418.6 20.9 14.6% 14.5
35 Montgomery County, Pa. 83.4 7.2% 526.8 14.9 7.2% 9.6
36 Orange County, Calif. 83.2 6.4% 474.7 28.0 17.9% 10.2
37 Alameda County, Calif. 83.1 7.1% 469.8 26.6 16.8% 16.1
38 Delaware County, Ohio 83.0 7.2% 383.8 15.1 5.8% 7.3
38 Grafton County, N.H. 83.0 6.4% 530.6 14.5 14.3% 9.9
38 New York County, N.Y. 83.0 8.7% 458.2 26.1 26.7% 7.6
41 Dakota County, Minn. 82.8 6.2% 350.2 18.6 9.2% 8.1
42 Cumberland County, Maine 82.5 6.6% 618.9 16.0 15.1% 13.2
43 Fairfield County, Conn. 82.3 7.6% 504.2 18.9 12.4% 9.2
44 Carver County, Minn. 82.0 5.7% 443.9 11.3 6.2% 12.3
45 Gallatin County, Mont. 81.7 6.5% 629.1 16.4 13.1% 10.5
45 San Luis Obispo County, Calif. 81.7 6.0% 383.0 19.1 17.5% 16.5
47 Monmouth County, N.J. 81.5 7.6% 417.9 14.4 9.3% 10.9
48 Larimer County, Colo. 81.3 7.8% 475.7 21.3 14.0% 10.9
49 Sonoma County, Calif. 81.0 5.8% 435.8 25.4 15.9% 9.6
50 Williamson County, Tenn. 80.9 6.9% 263.9 13.0 7.3% 8.4
James Perrin, president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says the new analysis offers a “really useful” tool for assessing the health status of children in communities across the U.S. “If I’m a mayor of a small town in Iowa, this analysis gives me a guide to what we should be thinking about,” says Perrin, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

The rankings were developed with the help of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which evaluates health data for the U.S. population as part of its County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program, a collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Besides the data displayed here, the percentage of uninsured children, air quality (except for Alaska and Hawaii); rates of adult smoking and adult obesity, and access to physicians and parks also were considered. All of the variables were equally weighted.

Other than Williamson County, Tenn., a relatively high-income community in metro Nashville that ranked No. 50 on the list, no high-ranking county is in the South. The other 49 ranked counties are fairly evenly distributed around the country — with clusters in the Northeast and California — and vary in population size, from about 66,000 in Grand Forks County, N.D., to more than 3 million in Orange County, a Los Angeles suburb. All of the top-ranked counties had lower percentages of low-birth-weight babies and lower rates of infant deaths and teen pregnancies than the U.S. median. Access to primary care physicians, however, ranged widely even within a single state. For instance, in Olmstead County, Minn., home of the Mayo Clinic, there is one physician for every 420 people, compared with just one for every 1,495 in Dakota County, just a few counties to the north. Even in the top-ranking counties, such variations were the rule rather than the exception.

Some of the variables that went into the rankings, such as low birth weight, infant mortality and teen pregnancy, directly relate to health outcomes. Others, such as access to primary care physicians, air quality and parks, are more indirect. “Everybody lives in an environment that helps them to be healthy or is detrimental to health,” says the University of Wisconsin’s Bridget Catlin, director of the county health rankings program. “It starts with a mother’s health, her health behaviors during pregnancy, the care she gets during pregnancy and what environment a child lives in after birth. A parent can’t feed a child healthy food if there’s no healthy food to be found.” And Perrin observes that “communities where it’s not safe to be outside, where there aren’t good parks, are really not good for kids.”

About 1,200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties (a total that takes in county equivalents such as Louisiana’s parishes) were evaluated for the rankings. Many states don’t collect county-level information on residents’ health, whereas populous states, such as California, Florida and New York, tend to gather and report more data. In some counties, the population is so small that the numbers are unreliable, or the few events fall below state or federal reporting thresholds. And because states don’t collect county-level information on childhood smoking and obesity, the rankings incorporated percentages for adults. Catlin says this is justified because more adult smokers mean more children are exposed to secondhand smoke, a demonstrated health risk. Studies have also shown a moderately strong correlation between adult and childhood obesity, she says.

The experts who study community health yearn for more and better data. “We don’t have county-level data on kids with diabetes, controlled or uncontrolled, or on childhood obesity rates,” says Ali Mokdad of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. “Almost every kid in this country goes to school. We could measure height and weight, but nobody’s connecting the dots.”

Perhaps the most tragic statistic is the rate at which children die from injuries of all kinds; it is more than three times higher in counties in the bottom 10 percent of all of those evaluated than those at the top. “How can this be happening in a country like ours, with our resources?” says Mokdad.

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To Buy or Sell First in Today’s Hot Bay Area Real Estate Market?

The age-old real estate quandary of whether to buy a new home or sell your existing property first can prove tricky in any market.

But in the Bay Area’s current highly competitive seller’s market, some buyers may worry about their prospects of landing a new house — or even finding a temporary place to rent — once they’ve sold their current home.

“What we’re finding is inventory is staying level because sellers don’t see where they’re going to go,” said Ellen Anderson, senior vice president and regional manager for Pacific Union’s Contra Costa County offices. “They’re holding their homes off the market because they just don’t see enough to choose from.”

In Contra Costa County, rentals are costly and scarce these days — and usually require a one-year commitment, making them unappealing as a temporary solution for move-up buyers, Anderson said. Move-up buyers already own a home and are looking for a new higher-priced property, typically thanks to a growing family or greater personal wealth.

And given the competitive nature of the current real estate market, “no one is going to want to accept an offer from a buyer who has a house to sell because that’s a huge contingency,” said Jill Silvas, vice president of Pacific Union’s relocation services and branch executive for our Sonoma Valley offices.

“There’s always an option for a seller to put into the contract that the closing of their house is contingent upon them finding a replacement property, but a buyer might be a little leery about making an offer on a house like that,” Silvas said.

However, some buyers will agree to let the seller stay put beyond the close of escrow if they really love the property, Silvas noted.

“Rent-Backs” Growing in Popularity
Indeed, we’ve seen rent-backs — in which a buyer lets the seller rent back the home for a fixed period after the closing — becoming more common in inventory-constrained San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area. With numerous buyers vying against each other for few available properties, it’s increasingly possible for sellers to negotiate such deals.

“In an inventory-constrained market, there certainly are buyers who are bending over backwards,” said Patrick Barber, president of our San Francisco region. Nonetheless, sellers should be careful about demanding too much since “every offer is price and terms, and the better the terms, the more enticing it is for a buyer,” he said.

And even when the buyer is amenable to a lengthy rent-back, such a deal may not be possible under the terms of the loan.

Selling First, “Most Conservative Approach”
While some move-up homeowners are banking on their ability to sell fast in the current market, it’s always less financially risky to unload your existing home before buying a new one, Barber said.

“You’ve got people who are trying to be tricky – they’re finding a place and going into contract and then they’re trying to get their own property sold fast,” he said. “The most conservative approach is always to sell your property first unless you’re in the enviable position of being a person who can afford two homes and money is not an object.”

Financing Options for Move-Up Buyers 
Still, for those intent on buying a new home before selling their existing property, there are some options, said Gordon Friedman, a San Francisco mortgage advisor.

In many cases, move-up buyers who have enough income to cover two mortgages but lack the cash for a down payment can take out a line of credit on their existing home, providing they have sufficient equity, Friedman said.

The homeowner should apply for the line of credit at least 30 to 60 days in advance of making an offer on a new home to ensure sure the money is available when needed, Friedman said.

“Bridge loans” specifically designed to help move-up buyers afford a down payment on a new home before selling their old property are somewhat less common in the Bay Area.

Pacific Union partner RPM Mortgage offers bridge loans to buyers who have at least 30 percent equity in their existing home, including the current mortgage and the amount of the proposed bridge loan.

Payments on the bridge loan don’t begin until the buyer closes on the new home.

Buyers who lack sufficient income to cover payments on two properties – and haven’t taken out a bridge loan — also may choose to rent out their current home to tenants after finding a new house.

Lenders will generally exempt such homeowners from the usual requirement for a two-year landlord history and let them use a portion of rental income from their “departing residence” to qualify for a new mortgage, Friedman said.

Such an exemption requires that the applicant have 30 percent equity in the rental home, an executed lease, and proof of a deposit from the tenants, he noted.

Time is Right for Move-Up Buyers
Even though the prospect of finding a new home can seem daunting in a competitive market, we believe sellers looking to trade up to higher-priced homes are in an enviable position today.

For one, price appreciation generally starts at the bottom and moves up in a recovering market. That means sellers often can get a higher price for their home while locking in savings as they trade up to a more expensive property.

And even when price appreciation remains flat across the market, trade-up buyers stand to make significant gains.

So what’s the solution if your property sells before you can find a new home?

“It could be short-term rentals; it could be moving in with parents; it could be summertime, and, ‘Gee, this is a great opportunity for us to have a place up in Sonoma while we scour the market in San Francisco,’” Barber said. “I’ve literally seen people move into hotels and just wait.

“You’ve got the money in the bank and now when you go shopping, you don’t have any trepidations.”

(Photo by Woodleywonderworks, via Flickr.)

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Pending Sales – Trends in Marin Home Sales

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Confidence in Rising Home Prices Tops 50%

Image of arrows pointing up

Confidence in the housing industry passed a milestone recently, with more than half of all Americans now expecting home prices to rise within the next year.

An April housing survey by the mortgage agency Fannie Mae found that 51 percent expect home prices to climb at least 3 percent. A year earlier, only 32 percent of those surveyed were optimistic prices would rise.

“Crossing the 50 percent threshold marks a significant milestone as most Americans believe a housing recovery is truly occurring throughout the country,” said Fannie Mae chief economist Doug Duncan, in a statement accompanying the survey.

That optimism is borne out in the Bay Area, where double-digit increases in home values have become the norm and economists say the region’s strong economy will support further increases for years to come.

Pacific Union’s April Real Estate Update noted that the median price for single-family homes reached $1 million in San Francisco for the first time in more than five years and the median price in our Sonoma Valley region jumped 65 percent over the past year.

In another encouraging sign from Fannie Mae’s survey, the share of respondents who said now is a good time to sell has doubled over the past year, climbing to 30 percent last month.

Americans’ increasing optimism toward the selling market may bode well for continued improvement in housing activity, Fannie Mae said, as recent market data suggest that five out of eight people who buy a home first have to sell one.

“Many homeowners who have been underwater are gradually returning to positive equity, and selling is now becoming an available and attractive option again,” Duncan said.

Other highlights from Fannie Mae’s survey:

  • Those who believe home prices will go down over the next year held steady at a record low of 10 percent for the fourth month in a row.
  • The share of respondents who said mortgage rates will go up fell 3 percentage points to 43 percent, while those who say they will go down increased slightly to 7 percent.
  • Those who said they would buy if they were going to move increased slightly to 65 percent.
  • At 39 percent, the share of respondents who say the economy is on the right track increased 4 percentage points over March.
  • Those who said their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago held steady at 20 percent.

(Illustration courtesy of FutUndBeidl, via Flickr.)

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San Francisco is America’s happiest city (but seventh in the world)

San Francisco is America’s #1 happiest city and the 7th happiest city in the world according to a new global survey.  Those of us who are lucky enough to live in or near San Francisco ie Marin County are not surprised with these findings.  With world class food and wine, unparalleled scenic beauty, the World Champion SF Giants,  the almost Super Bowl Champion SF 49ers, the upcoming America’s Cup, Cal and Stanford and a booming economy, it is simply the place to be.

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America’s Cup Real Estate Boom Underway

There’s a new real estate boom under way in San Francisco, with a select group of properties commanding top prices among buyers frantic to make a deal. What, you haven’t heard about it? Apparently your life isn’t consumed by the prospect of the America’s Cup races coming this year to San Francisco Bay!

Among sailing fans, the America’s Cup is the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Masters, and Wimbledon all rolled into one. And the chance to see it live, from the comfort of one’s own home, is driving frenzied interest in properties with prime views of the regatta, coming here in September 2013.

recent article in the Wall Street Journal told of one couple, Peter and Gwendolyn Jacobsen of Yountville, who paid $158,000 for a fractional interest in a one-bedroom unit with a Bay view in a condominium development near the waterfront. Never mind that the couple already owned a share in another unit in the same building – that other unit doesn’t look out on San Francisco Bay.

“It was an opportunity to lock in the perfect view,” Peter Jacobsen told the Journal.

Some homeowners are opting to rent their Bay-view homes during the regatta. One such property is on the market for $35,000 a month for a long-term lease that covers the America’s Cup race. Another home, in Pacific Heights, with panoramic views of San Francisco Bay, is going for $60,000 a month.

Some real estate agents say prices could reach $100,000 a week during the racing finals, though no such deals have been signed yet.

There are less-costly options, of course. If you get there early enough, a seat in the city’s Marina Green park is free.

Source: Pacific Union

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Hot Hot Hot!

Hot off the press. This week 24 Council Crest, Corte Madera (list price $650,000) received 20 offers and 23 Monte Vista Avenue, Larkspur (list price $995,000) received 12 offers and the scoop is that the winning bid was over $1,200,000.  It’s going to be a smoking hot year for real estate in Marin County!


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Luxury Home Buyers Changing Ways

Goodbye bling, hello quality and value.

That’s the new approach luxury home buyers are adopting in the San Francisco Bay Area, according to Alf Nucifora, chairman and founder of the Luxury Marketing Council of San Francisco.He says lessons learned from the recession, baby-boom buyers eyeing legacy purchases, and young tech turks who value function over form are fueling the trend.

“The recession taught us that we can live without unnecessary extravagances,” says Nucifora. “And that has led to a systematic shift in the way people buy. We are less concerned with showing it on the outside but more concerned with enjoying it on the inside.”In addition, so-called baby boomers (born 1946 through 1964) now make up a significant portion of the luxury-buyer market, and they are shifting from making to preserving wealth.“We (boomers) played and we made and we splurged, but we don’t need the fancy cars, the watches, or the showplace home anymore,” he says. “Now it’s the notion of bespoke, of things crafted with an eye to enduring value. We have kids and grandkids and want a legacy to be handed off to them.”The young dot-com and IPO millionaires might not be thinking about their future family bequests, but many also eschew frippery for functionality. They choose jeans and T-shirts over Brioni suits and sink their money instead into elite experiences and artisanal comfort. They may not have the biggest house on the block, but there’s a La Cornue range in the kitchen and a custom Jacuzzi in the backyard.What this all translates to is a shift away from showy excess and toward a search for quality, value, and connoisseurship, especially in the $2 to $10 million range, says Nucifora. It’s the consumption of wealth on a quiet, introspective basis, as opposed to ostentatious display.

“Buyers are now more focused on the view, the privacy, how good the kitchen really is — things that go into the enjoyment of the family experience as opposed to letting me show my neighbors how big and wealthy I am,” he says.While luxury buyers still spend plenty of money, it’s now more often on things like interior remodels, home theaters, expensive custom cabinetry, or top-of-the-line appliances – items that create a high-end quality of life experience but are invisible to anyone on the outside.

And even the most well-heeled buyers are looking for bargains.“They can easily afford to pay above listing price, but they want to get a deal because it affirms their sense of self, their smartness,” says Nucifora.

What does this mean for 2013? Expect to see these trends continue, he says. Sellers in these price ranges would be smart to invest in staging, because today’s value-savvy luxury buyers are willing to shell out for the right experience – and a luxury residence with empty rooms or dated furnishings doesn’t fit that bill.“In buying real estate, it’s that visceral reaction when I walk in,” Nucifora says. And, he adds, bad presentation is obvious: “When you walk into some of them it’s like entering an abattoir.”Pie-in-the-sky pricing schemes will also be a thing of the past, even as home values rebound; buyers in the high-end market will continue to look for deals and choose substance over show-off style. The cachet of spending piles of money on a pile of bricks has worn somewhat thin, he says.

“The recession taught us all that we can live without unnecessary extravagances, that we should look for quality, and really ask ourselves whether that purchase is absolutely necessary,” he says. “And most of us found out we can live without it.”

Source: Pacific Union

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Happy New Year and Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog! I am kicking off the new year with a blog devoted to some of my favorite real estate related topics: what’s going on in the market, local and national trends, lifestyle and home and garden design. It’s a new way for me to stay in touch with you and share what I am seeing and reading about on a regular basis.

I also launched my new site with features that include: a new property search feature, in-depth neighborhood information and up-to-the minute market conditions.

Check back later this week for my first post or feel free to sign up and subscribe to receive updates from blog!

Happy New Year!

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