Friday, February 29, 2008

We Are What We Eat

You gotta love a University town! Two days ago at UC Berkeley, The co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey delivered a multimedia presentation of the Past, Present, and Future of Food.
The presentation did a fabulous job of outlining our cultural trends in regard to food production. I love mapping trends. We can try to predict the economic growth potential of real estate investments based on such social influences. Property values tend to follow the ripple effects of basic city growth patterns. City growth patterns follow predictable trends. John Mackey outlined food production trends by mapping a time line of six different eras. What resonated in the lecture for me was the sixth era, Ecological. The ecological era is certainly upon us. In real estate this trend includes green architecture and building practices (both the construction and renovations of homes, see my post on historic renovations.) In the larger community, buyers are looking to shop locally and the availability of local ammenities has become more important than ever. (click here to read, A Hop Skip and a Jump in Property Values.)

The strength of the Bay Area economy can be measured by the luxury of choice when it comes to local food. Renowned restaurants and specialty markets not withstanding, choice is a privilege that can lead directly the better health of the population; specifically, through the availability of good local produce and quality packaged foods. In the Bay Area we have many resources beyond Whole Foods including; local farmer's markets, The Berkeley Bowl, Farmer Joe's Market (in the Laurel and Dimond Districts of Oakland), the The Food Mill (two locations on MacArthur Blvd. in Oakland), Lakeshore Natural Foods, plus Berkeley and El Cerrito Natural.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rainy Days, Thursdays and a Trip Back in Time

Thursday is Brokers' Tour in El Cerrito, Kensington, Berkeley and North Oakland (Rockridge, Temescal and Montclair.) Realtors tour newly listed homes on Thursdays for a number of different reasons. For some, it is a way to keep in touch with the market. For others, it's an opportunity to socialize with colleagues. Most importantly, it is also a way for agents to preview homes that match the search criteria of their current buyers.

This Thursday it rained-- a lot. Rain is often good enough reason for self-employed Realtors who fit the socialite\market watchers category to stay home. No use getting wet for a casual outing. Therefore, rainy tour days often mean reduced agent traffic. This Thursday was an exception. Thursday's tour was popular. Some streets were so crowded with Realtors they became difficult to negotiate (Keith at Euclid in Berkeley for example.) I casually remarked to a an agent with whom I rubbed shoulders, "Boy there must be a lot of buyers in the market." "Thousands," she said, "and they all have at least 20% down." For those that thought the loss of the sub prime market would deplete the buyer pool (eliminating those with less than 20% down), apparently the void has been filled. Then, I started paying more attention to the social quality of the conversations. The grapevine was flooded with new multiple offer stories. The home on 60th street in Temescal that had eight offers was just one example.

Then I saw a house which I knew would appeal to one of my buyers. No one had access to the house before Brokers' Tour, so this was my first chance to see it. I enthusiastically told my buyers about the home when I returned to the office after tour. We made an appointment to see it first thing Friday morning. By Friday afternoon, one preemptive offer had already been submitted and the sellers were inclined to take it. Upon hearing from five other interested parties, the sellers decided to delay their acceptance of the offer in hand and give the other buyers until 7:30 p.m. to submit their offers. All I could think was welcome to 2005.

UPDATE: This home received four offers before 7:30 and is in contract. The chosen buyer was not the same buyer that instigated the preemptive hustle.

For anyone who wasn't in the market in 2005, or for those with selective amnesia:
Click here for an SFGate article on Bidding Wars from Friday, April 15, 2005.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Off the Hook and Chain

We just unveiled our new website at Let us know what you think. We hope you like it.

Our latest newsletter about city retrofit programs in Oakland and Berkeley is also available online. (click here.)

One last thing to share; The weather in the East Bay has been grand, and this has me anxious to share one of my favorite Bay Area outdoor adventures. I am speaking of the Albany Bulb located in Albany off the Buchanan Exit from 580 (just head to the Bay.) The path is an easy stroll on mild terrain (dogs are allowed off-leash) and offers a sandy beach, interesting art made from found objects, and a bird refuge.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Little Peace and Sunshine

Everyone seems to be enjoying the sunny weather lately. I ran across this recent post with some gorgeous shots of Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland:

California dreamin' on such a winter's day

On a drearier note, I saw this Neil Young quote yesterday on Rolling Stone:
"I think that the time when music could change the world is past," he said. "I think it would be very naive to think that in this day and age."
This from Neil Young, the man responsible for Rockin' In The Free World?! Young mentions the age of innovation and the need to look for answers in science, physics and spirituality, not just song. Personally, I worry that this cultural shift may have something to do with the fragmentation of communities throughout the nation (something this blog endeavors to address locally.) It may be hard for much of the country to imagine a local community rallying around the profound words of poetic war songs. But I have hope for the East Bay. We are unique. Sit-ins are not only still a possibility, but an ongoing reality. In Berkeley, for example, a community of activists has been tirelessly (over a year now) dedicated to the protection of old grove of live oak trees. Strong community is not just a way to strengthen existing ties and embrace the status quo. Strong community can also inspire revolution.

Tonight there is a protest over a Marine Corps recruiting station downtown.
The Berkeley City Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Maudelle Shirek City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley. An overflow crowd is expected for discussion of the Marines recruiting center, which is expected to begin about 9 p.m. For those who don't get inside, the city will broadcast audio from the meeting from loudspeakers outside City Hall. See the agenda at

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Conforming Loan Limit to be Raised

From Inman Real Estate News:

Bush administration officials renewed their calls for Congress to pass legislation tightening oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Thursday, as Congress signed off on a plan to allow the companies to guarantee or purchase loans that exceed the $417,000 loan limit.

Senate Democrats on Thursday abandoned an attempt at a broad expansion of a $150 billion economic stimulus bill backed by the Bush administration and approved by the House last month.

In an 81-16 vote, the Senate sent a slightly modified version of the bill back to the House, which promptly voted 380-34 to put the bill on the president's desk.

The White House issued a statement saying President Bush could support the Senate's more limited amendments, which expand the pool of those eligible for tax rebate checks to include $300 payments to Social Security recipients and disabled veterans.

Bush said the bill "would quickly put money into the hands of the American people and provide our economy the boost it needs" and that he will sign it into law.

The economic stimulus package includes a provision that will temporarily raise the conforming loan limit to allow Fannie and Freddie to purchase or guarantee many jumbo mortgages originated between July 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2008.

The increase, to as much as $729,750 in high-cost areas, will also apply to Federal Housing Administration loan guarantee programs. Because the increase will be capped at 125 percent of the median home price for an area, the conforming loan limit will remain at $417,000 in markets where the median home price is $333,600 or less.

Although the increase will expire at the end of the year, industry groups like the National Association of Realtors have urged Congress to mandate a permanent increase in the conforming loan limit in passing legislation to increase oversight of Fannie and Freddie.

Permanent changes to FHA loan limits are being addressed in bills that would also lower minimum down-payment requirements and expand the pool of eligible borrowers by using risk-based pricing. Both the House and Senate have passed FHA modernization bills, but differences between them are being ironed out (see Inman News story).

This is wonderful news for our area, where the $417,000 loan limit didn't reflect our median home price. This will improve Bay Area housing affordability because conforming loans carry less risk to lenders and result in lower interest rates to consumers.

Survey of Bay Area Counties - Median Prices - Fourth Quarter 2007

County Single-Family Detached Homes Single-Family Attached Homes
Q407 Q406 % Change Q407 Q406 % Change

Alameda $638,569 $635,101 +1 $376,901 $415,572 -9
Contra Costa $597,736 $639,396 -7 $305,779 $347,796 -12
Marin $1,045,331 $967,286 +8 $663,934 $546,475 +22
Napa $604,500 $610,000 -1 $399,999 $425,000 -6
San Francisco $1,080,335 $970,548 +11 $799,559 $744,420 +7
San Mateo $1,133,184 $998,199 +14 $499,408 $496,812 +1
Santa Clara $942,782 $853,559 +11 $487,846 $438,207 +11
Solano $384,626 $457,415 -16 $234,778 $293,420 -20
Sonoma $521,441 $563,023 -7 $320,242 $349,248 -8
Bay Area $785,058 $735,295 +7 $527,859 $490,554 +8
source: Reuters