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

Real Estate Roundup: Bay Area Homes Selling Fast This Spring

Stephanie Witt - Monday, April 13, 2015

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



For-sale signs are coming down just as quickly as they go up across the Bay Area this spring, with homes in three local metro areas selling at the fastest clip in the U.S.



Data from the National Association of Realtors shows that homes in San Jose stayed on the market a median 22 days in March, making it the fastest-moving market in the country. Homes in San Francisco sold in 26 days, second speediest in the U.S., followed by Santa Rosa, where properties left the market in 32 days. Across the U.S., homes sold in 89 days, 13 percent faster than one year ago.

According to NAR Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke, buyers in coveted housing markets like the Bay Area “should expect substantial competition,” especially for homes that are fairly priced.

Home prices in the San Francisco metro area have cooled substantially on an annual basis but are up big since the bottom of the market, a recent RealtyTrac report says.

Home prices in the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont region increased by 10 percent year over year in February compared with the 30 percent annual appreciation recorded one year ago, according to the company. Still, prices in the region have grown by 115 percent since the market’s trough, the third largest such gains in the U.S.

Residential real estate prices in San Jose have also made big strides, increasing 90 percent since the bottom of the market. RealtyTrac says that San Jose was one of 17 U.S. metro areas where the median home sales price peaked in 2014, reaching $714,750.

California’s four-year drought is forcing residents to cut back on water consumption, but it may also cause housing construction activity in inventory-starved areas of the state to slacken.

In early April, Governor Jerry Brown ordered all Golden State residents to reduce water usage by 25 percent, the first time that California has ever imposed such a restriction. Richard White, a history professor at Stanford University, told The New York Times that he believes the lack of precipitation could impede construction in the state’s major urban centers.

“It’s going to be harder and harder to build new housing without an adequate water supply,” White told the publication. “How many developments can you afford if you don’t have water?”

Still, the drought shouldn’t impact the state’s booming economy, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who pointed out that desert cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas have thrived despite their perpetually dry climates. Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

“The rest of the economy is managing it, learning how to deal with it,” he said.

A bone-chilling winter and sluggish economic activity have prompted economists at Freddie Mac to downgrade their 2015 forecast, though the company still predicts that the year will see the most homes sales since 2007.

In its April 2015 U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook, Freddie Mac says that the U.S. economy should grow by 2.6 percent this year, revised from a previously projected 2.8 percent. The cold winter in much of the country caused housing starts to slow a bit, though it didn’t change Freddie Mac’s forecast of 5.6 million home sales in 2015.

Despite the weather and the economic slowdown, Freddie Mac Chief Economist Len Kiefer said the company remains upbeat about the housing market, thanks to low mortgage rates and a rise in purchase applications and pending home sales.

(Image: Flickr/Carlos Newsome)

Don't rely on bad advice on skipping earthquake insurance

Stephanie Witt - Sunday, April 12, 2015

Question: I'm on the board at our common interest development with about twelve townhouse units. We're built on bedrock, so the management company says the attorney said we don't need homeowner association earthquake insurance. And if something ever did happen...



Federal Flood Insurance Premiums for Homeowners Rise

Stephanie Witt - Saturday, April 11, 2015

Homeowners with federal flood insurance will get some unwelcome news when they receive their next policy renewal notice...



Quiet, Scenic Dillon Beach Gaining Popularity With Bay Area Homebuyers

Stephanie Witt - Thursday, April 09, 2015

Whether you’re shopping for a weekend vacation home not terribly far from the Bay Area’s urban core or a permanent place to get away from it all, the tiny coastal hamlet of Dillon Beach should be on your list of places to check out.


Located in extreme northwestern Marin County, Dillon Beach isn’t very big, and if you’re not paying close attention, you might miss it. The off-the-beaten-path community of about 300 residents lies about five miles west of Highway 1 and the equally small community of Tomales, approximately 55 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Like other communities along the California coast, Dillon Beach is a place of great natural beauty, and many homes in the community offer spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Highway 1 provides access to Bodega Bay and the rugged Sonoma County coastline to the north and Tomales Bay and Point Reyes National Seashore to the south.

Dillon Beach Resort, owned by Sonoma Valley wine magnates Fred and Nancy Cline, is the only privately owned and maintained beach in Northern California. The beach is open to the public year-round and is dog-friendly, a major draw for locals, one of Pacific Union’s top Dillon Beach real estate professionals says.

If you’re looking to take a break from the hubbub of the Bay Area and unwind, Dillon Beach is a fine place to do it. The resort has a small general store for basic necessities, a restaurant, and a surf shop, but that’s the extent of commerce in this laid-back community. When it comes time for major shopping trips, most residents head to Petaluma, about 30 minutes away.

Despite its small size, Dillon Beach has three distinct neighborhoods. Oceana Marin features more modern, custom-built homes, while properties constructed in the 1920s through the 1940s are commonplace in the Village. The Landing neighborhood is popular with boat owners thanks to its proximity to Tomales Bay.

Although Dillon Beach flies under the radar of many tourists, homebuyers from places like San Francisco and the East Bay have been catching on. Our real estate professional says that many Bay Area residents who buy homes in the community plan to use the property as a combination weekend getaway spot and vacation rental.

Compared with other Northern California coastal communities, homes in Dillon Beach remain relatively affordable. According to MLS data, the median sales price for a single-family home was $500,000 in March, though prices have ranged from $468,000 to $852,000 over the past year.

(Image: Flickr/Momboleum)

Why is Housing Inventory So Low?

Stephanie Witt - Monday, April 06, 2015

There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the consistently low housing inventory levels throughout the nation. Very little, however, has been written about the reasons why inventory levels are so low, especially following the economic disruption of 2008-2011...



Pacific Union Now Ranks in the Top 10 U.S. Brokerages for Sales Volume

Stephanie Witt - Saturday, April 04, 2015

Pacific Union is proud to announce that our firm has moved up the ranks of RISMedia’s 2014 Power Broker list and the latest REAL Trends 500 list. We are now one of the 10 largest brokerages in the U.S. as measured by sales volume.Pacific Union logo

Pacific Union’s 2014 sales volume was $6.75 billion, ranking us No. 9 on both lists, which track the largest 500 brokerages in the nation. We ranked No. 14 on the 2013 Power Broker list, No. 18 in 2012, and No. 23 in 2011. On last year’s REAL Trends 500 list, we ranked No. 13.

Our firm continues to experience in excess of 20 percent annual growth for the fifth consecutive year since the acquisition from GMAC Homes Services in 2009. We have accomplished these results organically, without acquiring other companies.

Perhaps more importantly, Pacific Union has achieved this growth with substantially fewer real estate professionals than our competitors. We were the only brokerage on both top 10 lists with less than 1,000 real estate professionals – 637 as of 2014. By way of comparison, the No. 8 ranked brokerage had roughly six times the number of real estate professionals as Pacific Union.

According to Pacific Union CEO Mark A. McLaughlin, the company’s business model of attracting and retaining only the San Francisco Bay Area’s most talented and efficient real estate professionals is the primary reason for our firm’s consistent sales volume growth over the past few years.

“This is an outstanding accomplishment that Pacific Union achieved organically without acquiring a single competitor,” McLaughlin says. “I am honored and inspired daily to play on this special team of the finest real estate professionals — the people who make this kind of amazing yearly growth possible.”

Pacific Union’s relationship with the industry’s finest professionals is a direct result of our culture and commitment to their success. “Our culture is 100 percent our most significant asset,” Pacific Union President Patrick Barber says. “It’s in our DNA, and it’s what makes us tick, perform, and provide a level of elite service to our professionals and their clients.”

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Rates Barely Move

Stephanie Witt - Friday, April 03, 2015

Mortgage rates barely moved for the week ended April 2, 2015 amid mixed economic and housing data and ahead of Friday’s employment report, the latest Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Survey said... 

Staging Can Increase a Home’s Appeal During Bustling Spring Season

Stephanie Witt - Wednesday, April 01, 2015

With the coming of spring, potential Bay Area homebuyers will begin pounding the pavement, and homes that make a good first impression are the most likely to make the biggest impressions on eager buyers in what could be a crowd of open houses.staged_home_2

That’s where home staging can help.

A recent survey by National Association of Realtors’ 2015 Profile of Home Staging showed that 81 percent of homebuyers found professionally decorated properties easier to visualize as a future home. Staged homes typically sell within 30 days, according to research by The International Association of Home Staging Professionals and Additionally, staging usually leads to a higher final sales price.

“Staging isn’t about decorating your home,” says Laney Nelson, Accredited Staging Professional stager for Walnut Creek-based East Bay Staging. “It’s about selling.”


Stagers conduct a home assessment, examining items to be removed and refurbished, neutralizing decor to appeal to a majority of buyers, and maximizing both indoor and outdoor space to generate positive impressions of the home’s features. Replacing carpeting and flooring, painting, cleaning, landscaping, changing furniture, and even simple fixture replacements can help a property connect with buyers.

But mixing conflicting styles and accessories can put off homebuyers, according to Kelly Wood, a buyer’s specialist and a former stager. “The extremes don’t really work,” she says.

Additionally, staging and repairs offers the appearance of home upkeep, both in the real world and online, says Danielle Cirelli, owner of Walnut Creek-based staging company Designed to Sell. “Photos are an essential part of marketing because over 90 percent of the buyers will preview a property online,” she says.

Millennials, who currently make up the largest share of homebuyers, are even more likely to peruse online listings before visiting a home. Pacific Union CEO Mark A. McLaughlin stressed the importance of technology on the real estate industry in his recent Inman Select Live presentation, saying that digital strategies are geared toward users likely to “give you eight seconds.”


Sellers who decide that staging is the way to go will likely want to employ the services of a pro. Many expert real estate professionals offer their clients a list of recommended contacts – including architects, general contractors, and interior designers – who can help enhance a home’s appeal. Some real estate professionals provide staging services as a part of their service package. Sellers can also find a staging company through online resources such as Yelp and Angie’s List or referrals from friends and family.

Though some sellers might fret over staging expenses, it actually costs less — an average of $675, according to NAR’s study — than the first price reduction – typically at least 10 percent of asking price. And a lingering home on the market sans staging can incur additional price cuts, according to Nelson.

“Every month a home is on the market, there is a price reduction of usually 5 percent,” she says.

(Photo: Flickr/boulderite)

Real Estate Roundup: Bay Area Housing Markets Are Among the Nation’s Most Stable

Stephanie Witt - Monday, March 30, 2015

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

The Bay Area’s two largest metro areas are among the most stable housing markets in the country, thanks in part to our region’s prosperous economy.paintedladies

Freddie Mac’s most recent Multi-Indicator Market Index (MiMi), which analyzes data through January, ranks the San Jose region as the nation’s third most stable housing market, with an overalll score of 84.1. San Francisco ranked No. 5 for stability, with a score of 82.2. The MiMi scale ranges from zero to 200 — with 80 to 120 considered to be the stable range – and ranks regions based on purchase applications, payment-to-income-ratio, amount of owners current on their mortgages, and employment.

Both regions scored high marks for job markets: 103.7 in San Jose and 97.8 in San Francisco. Both also scored above 100 for payment-to-income ratios, though Freddie Mac notes that if that metric surpasses 120, prices could be rising too fast for a median-income household to afford a home.

Pending home sales in the Golden State saw the first double-digit annual increase in three years in February and also the largest gains since the housing crisis.

According to a recent report from the California Association of Realtors, pending home sales rose by 15.6 percent year over year in February, the largest annual increase since April 2009, which suggests that the pace of sales will pick up across the state in the coming months. Pending home sales in the Bay Area also saw double-digit-percentage upticks, increasing by 13.1 percent from one year ago.

The report also shows that distressed sales decreased from February 2014 in every Bay Area county but San Francisco, where they were unchanged at 4 percent. Eight of the nine Bay Area counties had a lower rate of distressed sales than the statewide average of 11 percent, with the exception of Solano County.

Inventory-starved Silicon Valley is facing another housing supply blow, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may put the biggest waterfront development in the Bay Area since the 1960s on the chopping block.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the EPA has stepped in and taken control of a 1,478-acre site in Redwood City, where Arizona-based developer DMB is planning to build 12,000 homes. Located east of Highway 101, the parcel is situated in a prime location along the San Francisco Bay between the headquarters of tech giants Oracle and Facebook.

At issue is whether the acreage is bound by the Clean Water Act or whether it is dry land that can indeed be developed. The article notes that the EPA is expected to enact more limits that would greatly hinder development on the parcel and will make a final decision by early 2016 at the latest.

With the busy spring real estate season in full swing, buyers are hitting the streets, but with inventory shortages persisting in regions such as the Bay Area, they are sure to face a swarm of competitors. To that end, the National Association of Realtors has offered some high-level insight into what buyers can do to increase their chances of success.

Citing an article at Learnvest, NAR’s blog post says that buyers should have all their ducks in a row before they hit the market, including having their financing preapproved. And although most home shoppers begin their search online, actually getting out and exploring neighborhoods can help them spot properties that have just come on the market.

Finally, a trusted real estate professional can offer buyers expert knowledge on individual communities and market conditions and help them navigate bidding wars, an inevitable fact of life in regions with limited home supplies.

(Photo: Flickr/Phil Gibbs)

Do You Want a Bigger Home? It Depends on Your Age.

Stephanie Witt - Saturday, March 14, 2015

Would you like your home to be bigger? Maybe another bedroom or bathroom, a larger kitchen or family room? You’re not alone.A hillside of homes in San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood.

Fully 43 percent of Americans said they would prefer to be living in a bigger home than their current residence, according to a recent poll, while 16 percent would rather downsize and 40 percent are happy with the amount of space they currently have.

Those preferences change markedly, however, depending on age, according to a recent survey of 2,000 Americans by analysts at Trulia.

The poll results reflect a dynamic we’re seeing in the Bay Area.

Sixty percent of millennials — those ages 18 to 34 — said their ideal residence would be larger than where they live today, which makes sense considering that many millennials start their careers, and families, while living in cramped urban apartments. Only 13 percent said they’d rather have a smaller home than their existing one.

Baby boomers think differently, though the poll showed surprising results for this generation. Current talk suggests that boomers — ages 55 and higher — are fleeing their big, empty-nest homes, but the poll tells a more nuanced tale: 21 percent preferred a smaller home, but 26 percent were still looking for something bigger. Fifty-three percent, meanwhile, said they wouldn’t change a thing.

In between, both in age and preference, is Generation X. Among those aged 35 to 54, nearly a majority, 48 percent, said they would prefer a bigger home, with only 14 percent looking for something smaller.

Trulia analysts said that the Gen X results reflect that fact that homeowners in this age group bore the brunt of the recent housing crisis, and many were forced into smaller homes. Then again, Gen X households are also crowded with teenage children.

In the Bay Area, poll results are reflected in millennials living in urban rental units and condominiums in San Francisco and Oakland, with more families and older, more established residents in larger homes in suburban regions.

“Households must make tradeoffs between things like accessibility, amenities, and affordability when choosing what size homes to get,” Trulia noted in a summary of its poll results. “The ‘ideal’ sized home for most Americans may be larger than where they’re living now. But that spacious dream home may not practical.  As result, the mismatch between what Americans say they want and what best suits their circumstances may persist.”

(Photo: Flickr/James Gaither)

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