San Francisco Market update

I ran into one of my favorite San Francisco real estate agents at Rulli’s in Larkspur this morning.  He said the homes that came on the market in the early spring that were ‘show ready’, priced right and had few, if any downsides flew out the door to buyers who had been waiting for more inventory.   Sounds familiar….

Newspaper Story (‘old media’) Brings in Viewers and Buyers!

When my listing at www.40Steven.com was featured in the Friday Chronicle “Walk Through” section, the hits on the website went through the roof!   Well, to be fair, the home was also featured on SFGate.com, but most buyers who came through over the next couple of weeks had seen the old-fashioned paper article.  We may have an offer coming in from Denver buyers who did see the SFGate photos, and put the home at the top of their ‘must see’ list on their next trip out.   There is still some room for good press!

Davidson Middle School: Impressive, a Surprise

Davidson Middle has an image problem.  In part due to perceptions that have been cemented over the last decade or so…in part due to low scores on standardized tests.   As a real estate agent in Marin County, I have provided test scores to my clients as an important part of the buying process…and even as an element in pricing homes for sellers.    In every transaction in central San Rafael, the topic of Davidson Middle School came up.   When I was invited to tour the campus, I felt I had to take a look for myself.  I heard there were dramatic changes, so I visited the campus last week, skepticism in tow.

Wow!   The campus was pristine — frankly in better shape than the ‘good’ schools in Marin County.  No litter, no graffiti, and some beautifully remodeled buildings and classrooms.    The teachers I saw had wonderful command of the classroom.  Students who were not behaving had their names go on board for staying in the class during lunch.  The kids were as respectful as any I’d seen in other schools…and frankly, more respectfully dressed (although in the winter it’s a little easier to achieve that)   The curriculum seemed rigorous.   As to the scores, if the non-English speaking students were separated out, the principal says the school would be one of the top scoring middle schools in the county.

Mortgage Rate Bottom?

Marin buyers who were waiting for bottoms may have seen one low point pass in the last few weeks: mortgage rates…..

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/26/realestate/26mort.html?_r=1&ref=interestrates

The good news is the rates are still lower than they were earlier in the year, and, of course, many points lower than they have been in the past.  

Buyers who are waiting for the bottom of the prices will know only when that milestone has passed, as well….and unfortunately those who need mortgages may be paying the different with a higher monthly payment.

Top 10 Mistakes Buyers and Sellers Make

Buyers

  • Using an out-of-town agent or relative who is not active, informed or connected in the area…or worse, expecting good advice from the agent representing the seller (who is paying the commission)
  • Starting to shop without first being pre-approved and having funds in place
  • Saving money by asking a friend or acquaintance to do inspections, rather than a qualified, thorough  inspector
  • Finally finding just the right home, fortunately it’s listed at a great price, and deciding it’s not a deal unless the sellers will take a random, fill-in-the-blank huge amount less.
  • Being reluctant to be the first one to move forward, then being put off if there are other offers

Sellers

  • Not spending the money to make their home look inviting and chic from day one on the market
  • Neglecting to review agents’ marketing materials, ad plans, property websites and tech know-how prior to committing
  • Not strategically planning the debut date for maximum impact
  • ‘Trying out’ a price that will strike most buyers as too high, leaving a negative  impression of the home
  • Becoming offended about the price the home is actually bringing in — and counting on the fact that it will change in the near future

Why Buyers Need Their OWN Agent (and a local one)

It’s a Sunday open that usually prompts a blog post like this.   It’s usually lost-looking potential buyers that come through after viewing homes that are completely wrong for them.   Inevitably, the buyers are ‘flying blind’, figuring they will find an agent later, or they feel loyal to an out-of-area agent, or they will use Aunt Millie from Manteca whose mouth is watering at the thought of a Marin-sized real estate commission.    Here are just a few reasons why, when you are ready to buy, it is a really good idea to have an honest, hard-working, local expert on your side.

– You save a lot of time because your agent can suggest itineraries for open homes based on your criteria

– Your agent will take you on a tour of the area if it is unfamiliar territory.   The good ones will include schools, pros and cons of various neighborhoods, micro-climate summaries, and the highlights of each town.

– A good local agent is up on all the latest news and regulations surrounding towns and transactions.  (Sewer line requirements, flood history, permit practices)

– If you make an offer, the last person you want writing the offer is the agent representing the seller.   Remember, the seller is paying the commission and has known the listing agent for much longer.   If you go into contract, will you have confidence in the agent’s recommendation against a fireplace or structural inspection?   Remember, the agent who does two sides of a deal has a lot at stake.   He or she will be doubly-motivated to make sure the deal goes through, possibly at your expense.

Take your time finding a knowledgeable, tough, straight-shooter to work with.   And make sure he or she is a likeable sort.   Why does ‘nice’ matter?  Because the listing agent is well aware of who may be more likely to act unethically during a transaction.    Buyer’s agents should be tough negotiators.   Walking away from the deal is your best weapon.  But as a buyer, you want to make sure that your agent doesn’t have the other side leaning away from you and toward another buyer before the negotiations even begin.

A Win at the Probate Window

I always enjoy a new experience of any kind, and presenting a sealed offer for a probate sale at Marin County’s Public Administrator’s Office turned out to be a good one.  My clients and I had monitored the competition on this sale for weeks, strategically planned inspections just prior to the offer, and submitted a very carefully thought out bid.   With no competition, and a strong pre-approval letter, they walked away with an acceptance on an incredible price.

It was a very strange place to get such great news… we were on one side of the plastic barrier at the counter — the official reviewing the offer on the other.  No matter… great news is great news… and even probates suddenly don’t seem as difficult a process as I expected.   Another interesting piece of information:  the county will sometimes do light remodeling on a home in order to bring in a higher price.   In some cases, like in any sale, it’s necessary to do some work for the home to sell at all.

April Brought Us More Marin Home Sales

The chart below shows a couple of interesting things.    First, the number of homes going into contract (the line with triangles) is up in April.  Second, even though it seems that a lot of homes are on the market, the number is less than last year.  Note the light green ‘for sale’ bars.  There was a big dip in the number of homes available over the holidays, many sellers waiting for better weather….and finally there was a big spike in available homes.

Mortgage Rates Inch Higher, Marin Buyers are Cautiously Stepping Up

I heard Carole Rodoni speak last week.   Carole is a very sharp real estate and economic expert,  a dynamic speaker, and has an uncanny ability to summarize where we are, how we got here, and where we are likely going from here in the real estate market. 

She summarized several new federal and state programs in the works that may temporarily provide a boost to the market, and will make short sales easier and probably more numerous.  There will also be programs that will provide relief to homeowners in trouble.   I will be sending a summary of these with links to my clients.

When the government stopped purchasing mortgage-backed securities last month, interest rates began edging up and buyers have started to scramble to go into contract.   Rodoni predicts that interest rates will inch up slowly, and they will not go over 6 percent for awhile.   Her big picture reminder to buyers is this:   we will continue to be in a favorable mortgage rate environment for a while.    M0rtgage interest is still dedictible, so a small increase will  provide a little more tax relief too.   In Carole Rodoni style, her message to buyers who start to back off because of an uptick in rates:   “Oh paleeez!  I bought my first home with an 18% interest rate!”

I’ve met many people waiting  for the absolute ‘bottom’ as far as real estate prices go.  Of course, they will  have to know it is the bottom before the numbers come out, so they’ll need to choose just the right moment to go into contract, and the extraordinarily low-priced home that is just perfect for them will be available, right then, too I guess!   During their incredibly timed escrow, that’s when the number of  sales increases, multiple offers become more common, everyone else’s prices start to go up.  It’s only then that the rest of the world realizes they’ve just missed the bottom ; )    Yes, we have seen an increase in the number of listings going into contract.   And yet there are still a lot of homes coming on the market with amazing prices.

My advice to my clients who are concerned about the market and whether it’s a good time to buy or sell is the same that it’s always been:  Focus on your own ‘big picture.’    Where will you be happy living?    Where can you live without financial stress?   Have you identified a home that is a good value?   Are you looking at locations that historically have increased in value?    Let go of the all-too-common need to feel that you gamed or ‘outsmarted’ the market.   The market trades where it is.   Marin real estate is like Apple stock.   It’s pricey, but it has real value — and in my opinion, the lifestyle here makes it worth paying higher prices.   Is Marin still over-priced?   Perhaps.  One could argue that Apple stock is too.  You can try going to Steve Jobs to explain to him why his stock should be trading at $100 per share rather than $200…but the stock market trades where it trades….and so does the real estate market.  Particularly here in Marin, where there are few buyers who ‘have’ to sell.