Market Update - Stephanie Witt's Blog on Marin County Real Estate

Some Great Home Maintenance Advice from Home Advisor

Stephanie Witt - Saturday, September 20, 2014

Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Contractor

Bay Area Home Inventory Inches Up in August

Stephanie Witt - Thursday, September 18, 2014
September 17, 2014 by Pacific Union

The amount of homes on the market increased modestly across the Bay Area as summer came to a close, while prices and sales volume headed in the opposite direction.rowofhouses

According to the California Association of Realtors’ August home sales and price report, the months’ supply of inventory (MSI) for single-family homes across the nine-county Bay Area rose to 2.6 in August, up from 2.4 in July and 2.3 from one year ago.

Across California, the MSI increased to from 3.8 in July to 4.0 in August, indicating that the statewide real estate market is beginning to reach a more balanced condition. Generally speaking, an MSI below 4 is considered favorable to sellers. It begins to skew toward buyers once it rises above 6.

Inventory expanded in every Bay Area county from July to August, although gains in most regions were slight. Napa County saw the largest month-over-month inventory spike, with the MSI moving from 4.8 to 6.7. In most counties, inventory was also up year over year, excluding Marin and San Mateo Counties, where the MSI declined.

Despite the trickle of extra homes for sale, five Bay Area counties still have the lowest supply in California. San Mateo County had the fewest available homes for sale in the state in August, with an MSI of 1.9. Alameda and Santa Clara counties tied for the second smallest MSI in California – 2.2 – followed by Contra Costa (2.4), Marin (2.8), and San Francisco (2.9) counties.

A few more homes on the market in August didn’t translate into more sales, with sales volume down 10.6 percent from July across the nine-county region. Homes sales decreased in every Bay Area county from July to August, ranging from 27.7 percent in Napa County to 1.4 percent in Marin County. With the exception of Contra Costa County, sales volume is also down in all local counties from August 2013.

The median home sales price dipped 2.3 percent in the Bay Area from July to August, landing at $742,900. Seven counties saw the median sales price slip from July to August, with only Alameda and Santa Clara reporting slight appreciation.

But the modest month-over-month price declines were not enough to dethrone our local counties as the most expensive in California for homebuyers. San Mateo County had the highest median sales price in the state in August, at exactly $1,000,000. Marin County ranked No. 2, with a median sales price of $977,460, followed by San Francisco ($900,910) and Santa Clara ($865,000) counties.

(Photo: Flickr/Woodleywonderworks)

Low Mortgage Rates Linger Longer Than Expected

Stephanie Witt - Wednesday, September 17, 2014
September 16, 2014 by Pacific Union

Good news for homebuyers: Interest rates for home loans continue to linger at historically low levels, extending a rare opportunity to get a mortgage at rates that can shave hundreds of thousands of dollars off payments over the life of the loan.Illustration of a house made of hundred-dollar bills

Bankers and economists last year had forecast mortgage rates to climb higher in 2014 and top 5 percent by the end of the year. But the reverse happened, and rates today on a 30-year mortgage are nearly one-half of a percentage point lower than where they stood a year earlier.

Today’s low rates give another chance at homeownership to Bay Area residents who were outbid on properties during the frenzied real estate scene of 2013 and early 2014.

Since then, the number of all-cash investors has dropped significantly and the supply of homes on the market has gradually expanded — both signaling new opportunities, especially for first-time buyers.

Freddie Mac reported late last week that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.12 percent, down from 4.57 percent last year at this time, and 15-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.26 percent, down from 3.59 percent one year ago.

Surprisingly, mortgage rates aren’t too much higher than when they fell to a record low of 3.31 percent in November 2012. By comparison, mortgage rates averaged 7 to 9 percent in the 1990s and 10 percent in the ’80s.

Last year, Pacific Union explained how rising mortgage rates can add hundreds of thousands of dollarsto total house payments over the life of a loan.

Even with increasing home prices, buyers who take advantage of today’s low mortgage rates can still find a bargain. But it’s a wise move to act fast. How long these low rates will linger is a question that even bankers and economists cannot reliably answer.

(Image: Flickr/401(K) 2012)

Real Estate Roundup: Inventory, Affordability Stifle Bay Area Home Sales in August

Stephanie Witt - Tuesday, September 16, 2014
September 15, 2014 by Pacific Union

Here’s a look at recent news of interest to homebuyers, home sellers, and the home-curious:

A slim supply of available homes, high prices, and abnormalities in the mortgage market combined to constrict sales volume in August across the nine-county Bay Area, according to a recent CoreLogic DataQuick report.down_arrow

The company’s data shows that 7,578 Bay Area homes and condominiums sold in August, a year-over-year decline of 12 percent. Sales volume was down in every Bay Area county last month, ranging from 20.3 percent in San Francisco to 1.3 percent in San Mateo.

On an annual basis, the Bay Area median sales price rose just about as much as volume decreased: 12.4 percent, according to CoreLogic DataQuick. All local counties showed year-over-year price increases, from 19.1 percent in Alamedato 1.6 percent in Napa.

The median sales price across the nine-county region reached $607,000 in August, about $60,000 shy of its summer 2007 peak as measured by the company.

recent study by online real estate portal Movoto underscores what we here in the Bay Area have always believed: Our region is the best place to live in California.

Using a combination of statistics – including low unemployment and poverty levels and high income and median home sales price – Movoto ranked Marin County as the state’s best. Beyond the numbers, the company pointed to Marin’s lifestyle perks, including its spectacular scenery and varied cultural offerings.

San Mateo County was rated the No. 2 best county in California, followed by Santa Clara County. Napa County tied for the state’s seventh finest, while San Francisco County came in at No. 10.

Food enthusiasts are changing the way homes are built, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, with one Healdsburg home exemplifying the trend.

The article provides a glimpse into the residence of Sonoma County couple Bruce Aidells and Nancy Oakes, both Bay Area culinary professionals. Built in 2007, their 4,200-square foot Healdsburg home features a large commercial-grade kitchen, an outdoor pizza oven, a dedicated sausage-making kitchen, and a thriving vegetable garden.

While the couple wouldn’t divulge how much it cost to build their home, a local real estate professional told the Journal that a comparable property in the area would list in the $5-million-to-$7-million range.

A Southern California-based MLS has been signing data-sharing agreements with others throughout the state, with the hopes of creating a unified MLS.

According to an Inman News report, California Regional MLS, headquartered in San Dimas, agreed to share data with Sunnyvale-based MLSListings in April. The agreement allows each MLS to access the other’s data and display the listings on their respective websites.

Since then, California Regional MLS has inked similar deals with four other MLSs based in the southern part of the state. Inman News says that California Regional MLS will roll out a marketing program in October in hopes of persuading other MLSs to join its data-sharing program.

 (Photo: Flickr/Judy_and_ed)

Pacific Union’s August 2014 Real Estate Update

Stephanie Witt - Friday, September 12, 2014

The median home sales price was up in almost every one of Pacific Union’s Bay Area regions year over year in August, as well as in the Tahoe/Truckee area. The sole exception was our Mid-Peninsula subregion, where prices inched down from August 2013. Still, at $1.3 million, the median price for a Mid-Peninsula single-family home is the second highest of any of the regions in which our firm operates.

The Wine Country saw the number of homes on the market expand from July to August, most notably in Napa County, where the months’ supply of inventory (MSI) rose to a yearly high. Elsewhere, inventory remained constrained and either dropped or held static from the preceding month.

Click on the image accompanying each of our regions below for an expanded look at real estate activity in August.


The median single-family home price in our Contra Costa County region has been steadily climbing all summer and reached a yearly high in August: $1,072,500. At 1.4, the MSI was unchanged from the previous month and tied a yearly low.MonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_ContraCosta

Homes left the market in 24 days, on average, consistent with levels observed in June and July. Sellers received 99 percent of original price, the first time since January that they haven’t enjoyed slight premiums.

Defining Contra Costa County: Our real estate markets in Contra Costa County include the cities of Alamo, Blackhawk, Danville, Diablo, Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, Pleasant Hill, San Ramon, and Walnut Creek. Sales data in the adjoining chart includes single-family homes in these communities.


The East Bay remains a challenging market for buyers, with the MSI registering 0.9 for the second straight month. Because of the slim supply of available homes, buyers continued to pay almost 10 percent above list price, in line with what we’ve observed this summer.MonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_EastBay

At $835,000, the median sales price increased from July but fell just short of its yearly peak. Homes sold in an average of 23 days, just a bit slower than in the previous four months.

Defining the East Bay: Our real estate markets in the East Bay region include Oakland ZIP codes 94602, 94609, 94610, 94611, 94618, 94619, and 94705; Alameda; Albany; Berkeley; El Cerrito; Kensington; and Piedmont. Sales data in the adjoining chart includes single-family homes in these communities.


For the first time in six months, the median sales price in Marin County dipped below $1 million, to finish August at $950,000. Buyers have been getting increasingly larger discounts each month since the spring, and in August they paid an average of 97 percent of original price.MonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_Marin

At 1.7, the MSI was identical to levels recorded in July. Homes also sold in the same amount of time as in the previous month: 51 days.

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 adjoining chart includes single-family homes in these communities.


Napa County saw the MSI spike to 5.0 in August, the highest level of inventory recorded in the past year. Perhaps partially due to the increase in supply, the median sales price softened a bit from July, coming in at $529,500.MonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_Napa

Sellers received 93.5 percent of asking price, about 5 percent more than they did the previous month. Homes left the market in an average of 73 days, about a week faster than in July.

Defining Napa County: Our real estate markets in Napa County include the cities of American Canyon, Angwin, Calistoga, Napa, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and Yountville. Sales data in the adjoining chart includes all single-family homes in Napa County.


After hovering around $1.1 million since the spring, the median price for a San Francisco single-family home dipped to $982,000 in August. Even so, the average buyer in the city still forked over about 10 percent more than asking price, just as they did in June and July.

Homes sold in an average of 29 days, in line with the pace of sales seen in the past few months. At 1.4, the MSI remained unchanged from July.

SAN FRANCISCO – CONDOMINIUMSMonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_SFCondos

Having gradually increased each month since April, the MSI for condominiums in San Francisco dropped in August, landing at 1.3. At $963,000, the median sales price was up a few thousand dollars from July.

Just as in the previous month, San Francisco condominiums sold in an average of 33 days. Sellers took in about 5 more than original price, the smallest premium since February.


Homes in Pacific Union’s Silicon Valley region continue to command the highest prices of any our regions, with the median clocking in at $2.4 million for the past five months. Still, buyers are getting a small break on another front: In August they paid an average of 1 percent more than original price, compared with 5 percent earlier in the spring.MonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_SiliconValley

The average days on market in Silicon Valley has increased each month since May, and homes took an average of 37 days to sell in August. At 1.3, the MSI dipped just a bit from the preceding month.

Defining Silicon Valley: Our real estate markets in the Silicon Valley region include the cities and towns of Atherton, Los Altos (excluding county area), Los Altos Hills, Menlo Park (excluding east of U.S. 101), Palo Alto, Portola Valley, and Woodside. Sales data in the adjoining chart includes all single-family homes in these communities.

Mid-Peninsula Subregion

After topping out in May, the median sales price in our Mid-Peninsula subregion has been gradually slowing down and finished August at $1.3 million. At 1.1, the MSI was down from the previous month and matched its 2014 low.MonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_MidPeninsula

Homes sold in an average of 27 days, about a week faster than in July. Sellers took home about 1 percent more than original price, nearly identical to the previous month’s premiums.

Defining the Mid-Peninsula: Our real estate markets in the Mid-Peninsula subregion include the cities of Burlingame (excluding Ingold Millsdale Industrial Center), Hillsborough, and San Mateo (excluding the North Shoreview/Dore Cavanaugh area). Sales data in the adjoining chart includes all single-family homes in these communities.


After breaking the half-million dollar mark in July, the median sales price for a property in our Sonoma County region fell to $470,000 in August. At 2.2, the MSI was up a touch from the previous month but didn’t vary greatly from what we’ve observed in the rest of 2014.MonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_SonomaCounty

As in July, properties took an average of about two months to leave the market. Buyers paid nearly 98 percent of asking price, a bit more than they did the preceding month.

Defining Sonoma County: Our real estate markets in Sonoma County include the cities of Cotati, Healdsburg, Penngrove, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, and Windsor. Sales data in the adjoining chart includes all single-family homes and farms and ranches in Sonoma County.


The median Sonoma Valley property price rocketed up more than 30 percent from June to July, and from July to August it declined by about the same amount, falling to $525,000.MonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_SonomaValley

After reaching a yearly low in July, the MSI expanded to 2.6 in August. Properties sold in an average of 56 days, about three weeks longer than in the preceding month. Sellers received 97.5 percent of original price, slightly more than in July.

Defining Sonoma Valley: Our real estate markets in Sonoma Valley include the cities of Glen Ellen, Kenwood, and Sonoma. Sales data in the adjoining chart refers to all residential properties – including single-family homes, condominiums, and farms and ranches – in these communities.


The MSI for single-family homes in our Tahoe/Truckee region plummeted from 10.4 in July to 6.9 in August, as buyers began searching for properties well in advance of the upcoming ski season. The median sales price in the region has seen substantial gains over the past few months and closed out August at $665,000.MonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_TahoeSFH

The length of time a Tahoe/Truckee single-family home takes to sell has been dropping each month since March, and in August houses left the market in 54 days, a yearly low. Sellers got 95 percent of asking prices, in line with figures recorded since spring.

Defining Tahoe/Truckee: Our real estate markets in Tahoe/Truckee include the communities of Alpine Meadows, Donner Lake, Donner Summit, Lahontan, Martis Valley, North Shore Lake Tahoe, Northstar, Squaw Valley, Tahoe City, Tahoe Donner, Truckee, and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. Sales data in the adjoining chart includes single-family homes in these communities.


After reaching a yearly peak in July, the median sales price for condominiums in our Tahoe/Truckee region settled back down to $345,000 in August, with buyers paying 96 percent of original price.MonthlyMarketUpdate_Aug14_TahoeCondos

The MSI for condominiums in the region has been declining throughout the summer and reached 6.8 in August. Condominiums sold in an average of 51 days, the quickest we’ve seen in the past year.

Defining Tahoe/Truckee: Our real estate markets in Tahoe/Truckee include the communities of Alpine Meadows, Donner Lake, Donner Summit, Lahontan, Martis Valley, North Shore Lake Tahoe, Northstar, Squaw Valley, Tahoe City, Tahoe Donner, Truckee, and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. Sales data in the adjoining chart includes condominiums in these communities.

Real Estate Roundup: Fall Season Strong for Bay Area Home Shopping

Stephanie Witt - Tuesday, September 09, 2014

September 8, 2014 by Pacific Union

Here’s a look at recent news of interest to homebuyers, home sellers, and the home-curious:


An autumn scene from the University of California, Berkeley, campus.

House hunters in many parts of the U.S. typically back off from the market after Labor Day, but according to a recent Trulia blog post, that isn’t the case in the Bay Area’s largest metropolitan regions.

Trulia says that home searches on its website decline 6 percent in September and October when compared with the annual average. But in San Francisco they don’t decrease at all, making it the third strongest autumn housing market of the 100 U.S. metro areas included in the study. Oakland followed, with just a 1 percent decline, while San Jose usually sees a 2 percent seasonal slip, making it the country’s sixth busiest market in September and October.

According to Trulia, weather plays a key role this trend, and the Bay Area’s traditional Indian summer likely helps boost autumn activity in our local markets.

“Markets where search activity is high in autumn tend to have warm and dry Septembers and Octobers relative to their local climate in the rest of the year,” Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko wrote in the post.

In a recent interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Pacific Union CEO Mark A. McLaughlin discussed the primary elements driving vigorous home price growth throughout the Bay Area.

McLaughlin cited three main factors helping to push home prices higher: population growth, a very healthy job market, and the Bay Area’s inherent desirability as a place to live. He noted that while our region’s tech jobs get most of the spotlight, other sectors are also creating jobs.

“Of the 25 largest employers in San Francisco, almost half are infrastructure employees,” McLaughlin told the publication. “They’re in government, health care, education, things like that.”

When asked for reasons that Bay Area housing inventory remains so slim, McLaughlin pointed out that move-up buyers aren’t as active in the market as in years past.

Homebuyers from China have been keen on U.S. real estate for the past few years – particularly here in the Bay Area – and now developers based in that country are getting in the game.

According to a CNBC article, Chinese developers invested about $3 billion in U.S. commercial real estate in 2013 and are on pace to match that total this year. Ben Thypin, director of market analysis at Real Capital Analytics, told CNBC that the spike in activity is due to fears about the instability of investing in China.

Although Chinese developers pumped the majority of their capital into the New York City area last year, they have also targeted the Bay Area. The article says that Chinese development company Landsea plans to build an unspecified number of townhouses in San Francisco.

The number of luxury homeowners underwater declined in the second quarter from the same period last year, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal says.

According to the publication, 2.8 percent of all U.S. homes valued at more than $1 million were underwater in the second quarter, down from 4.2 percent in the second quarter of 2013. Citing data obtained from Zillow, the article said that 17 percent of homes at all price points across the U.S. were underwater in this year’s second quarter.

But even the few luxury homeowners who are still underwater may not be short on money. The article notes that such high-end owners may have plenty of cash but take out additional mortgages in order to diversify their investment portfolios.

(Photo: Flickr/John Morgan)

Now on the Market! 511 Lovell Ave, Mill Valley

Stephanie Witt - Thursday, September 04, 2014

THE PLANS are in place to build an estate-like home of approximately 6300 SF on 2.5 acres with mesmerizing up close and personal views of Mt. Tam, blending stunning contemporary design with natural beauty and stylish sophistication!

One of Mill Valley's exceptional properties! Located on the 500 block of the Lovell Loop, this 2.5 acres of precious land is a street to street parcel which has a level entry pad and slopes gently to Cascade. The up close and personal view of Mt. Tam is mesmerizing. The privacy and sun this property affords, makes it truly a piece of land with no comparison!

Presently there is a modest 2600 square foot Klyce built home (1946) and a small cottage. Large pool, not filled due to drought, an old tennis court area. This idyllic setting has some level land, groves of trees for wandering pathways all the way to Cascade. It is more than a home, it is a destination.


Pacific Union Makes List of Fastest-Growing U.S. Companies for Second Straight Year

Stephanie Witt - Friday, August 29, 2014
August 28, 2014 by Pacific Union

Pacific Union is happy to share the news that our firm has again been named to the Inc. 5000 list, which ranks the 5,000  fastest-growing companies in the U.S. based on revenue growth from 2010 to 2013. This marks the second consecutive year that Pacific Union has been included in the list, and our firm moved up in the overall rankings substantially.Inc5000

Pacific Union closed 2013 with $5.5 billion in sales volume, for a three-year growth rate of 141 percent. And for the second year in a row, Pacific Union was the only full-service Bay Area-based real estate brokerage to make the list.

In terms of overall three-year growth ranking, Pacific Union moved up the Inc. 5000 list nearly 800 spots from last year, to 2,663.

Between 2010 and 2013, we added 179 of Northern California’s top real estate professionals. Pacific Union closed 2013 with 646 real estate professionals, the most of any California-based firm in our sectornamed to the list.

The industry accolade is one of several that Pacific Union has earned thus far in 2014. In June, The Wall Street Journal and REAL Trends ranked seven of our real estate professionals among the top 250 in the U.S. for closed 2013 sales volume. And this past spring, REAL Trends 500 Report named our firm No. 3 in the country by average home sales price.

Survey: Investors Losing Interest in Bay Area, Opening the Door for First-Time Buyers

Stephanie Witt - Saturday, August 23, 2014
August 21, 2014 by Pacific Union

Good news for Bay Area buyers: A recent survey found that investors today are far less active in the region’s real estate markets than in years past, helping to ease some of the fierce competition for homes.

Toy housesThe news is especially welcome for first-time buyers, who have struggled to compete against well-heeled investors paying all cash for starter homes and then turning them into rental properties or waiting a few months and flipping them at even higher price points.

The California Association of Realtors’ 2014 Investor Survey, conducted in May and released to the public on Wednesday, found that  investors are changing their strategies and moving away from buying homes in more popular, urban areas in favor of rural locations of the state where better deals can be found.

In 2014, nearly half (45 percent) of California investors said they purchased properties in rural counties such as Kern, Fresno, Merced, San Joaquin, and Tulare, up from 27 percent in 2013, according to the survey.

Meanwhile, 15 percent of investors purchased properties in Northern California in 2014, down significantly from 27 percent in 2013.

The organization gave an early look at some of the survey data two weeks ago, and Pacific Union reported at the time that rising home prices have curtailed investment activity in high-dollar Bay Area markets like Silicon Valley.

The survey also found that 67 percent of investors paid cash, and one-third were residents of foreign countries, with China, Mexico, Taiwan, and India being the top countries of origin. Investors owned an average of 8.3 properties in 2014, up from 6.5 properties last year.

Reflecting the recovering housing market, the majority of investment properties purchased in the last year (70 percent) were equity sales, while 18 percent were short sales and 12 percent were foreclosures.

Most investors said they made minor or no repairs to the properties, and 55 percent said they intend to sell them within six years.

(Image: Flickr/Woodleywonderworks)

Bay Area Home Prices Take Midsummer Dip

Stephanie Witt - Friday, August 22, 2014
August 20, 2014 by Pacific Union

Home prices fell from June to July across the nine-county Bay Area, the first time since January that our region has experienced a month-over-month decline.down_arrow_road

According to a just-released report from the California Association of Realtors, the median price for a single-family home in the Bay Area dropped to $760,430 in July, down 1.4 percent from June. Month-over-month appreciation across the region reached a 2014 high of 7.3 percent in March and has since been declining.

Home prices softened on a monthly basis in five of nine Bay Area counties. San Francisco saw the largest month-over-month drops of 4.7 percent, followed by Santa Clara (-4.4 percent), Marin (-2.9 percent), Alameda (-2.8 percent), and San Mateo (-1.1 percent) counties.

On the other side of the spectrum, Napa County put up the highest month-over-month gains in the state in July: 16.9 percent.

Even with the slowdown, Bay Area home prices are still far higher than July’s statewide median of about $465,000. San Mateo and Marin counties were the only in California to post median sales prices above $1 million, followed by San Francisco ($940,620), Santa Clara ($860,500), and Contra Costa ($792,240) counties.

Tight supply conditions persisted throughout the region in July, with the months’ supply of inventory unchanged from the previous month. At 2.4, the Bay Area’s MSI still strongly skews toward sellers, just as it did last July. Meanwhile, the California MSI expanded from 2.9 to 3.8 year over year, a sign that the state’s overall market is headed toward a more balanced condition.

Silicon Valley remains the Golden State’s toughest market for buyers, with San Mateo and Santa Clara counties being the only in California where the MSI was below 2.0 in July. Those two counties were also the state’s fastest moving, with homes leaving the market in about 19 days.

(Image: Flickr/ andrew j. cosgriff)

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