Friday, September 25, 2009

How my Coffee Shop Increased the Value of my Home

Fifteen years ago, Buyers looking for the Bay Area "dream house" were likely to tout a bay view as a must-have. In today's market a view is nice, but more and more buyers are willing to sacrifice a fleeting glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge for the more practical ability to walk to a local coffee shop.

A new study, Walking the Walk, came out in August 2009 with a subtitle; "How Walkability Raises Home Values in U.S. Cities." The research shows that homes in walkable neighborhoods are worth more money in nearly all metropolitan areas. And yes, coffee shops count. The Walk Score algorithm used in the study looks at 13 categories; coffee shop, grocery store, movie theater, park, bookstore, drug store, clothing/music store, restaurant, bar, school, library, fitness and hardware store. The study author, Joe Cortright, states, "An additional one point improvement in average Walk Scores adds between $700 and $3,000 to the value of a typical house, holding all other factors constant" (Remind me to tip my barista.) Berkeley Hills Realty Agents know from anecdotal experience that this is true, and now we are happy to have direct data to point towards.

Local amenities not only support the value of our housing stock, but also add to the joy of our daily lives. It just feels good to live and work in a vibrant community with diverse offerings. Not so good, however, is watching this marathon recession take its toll on our local treasures.

Noticing too many vacant tables at our favorite restaurants, impassioned Bay Area Realtors have recently taken up the cause. Via twitter and facebook a couple of Berkeley agents with the handles @berkhills and @serkes have started a proactive campaign. The first Realtor Feedup happened last night in support of our local restaurants. Realtors met at a local British style pub, the Kensington Circus, to start a weekly movement in direct support of our local eateries. The intent is to support a new local restaurant each week-- by arriving in mass and paying by cash.

Support your favorite walkable businesses and protect the value of your own home while you're at it. Better yet, form your own dinner club and pay in cash. It doesn't cost you any more to pay cash, but it does save the restaurant on bank charges.

To find out your homes walkability rating via the algorithms used in the "Walking the Walk" study, go to If you wish to participate in the next East Bay Realtor Feedup, we are headed to Bistro 1491 this next Thursday at 6:00. To get breaking Realtor Feedup updates, follow @berkhills and @serkes on Twitter.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tracy Sichterman and Bill McDowell take over Berkeley Hills Realt

BERKELEY, CA – September 2009 – After joining the Berkeley Hills Realty ownership team in 2005, longtime agents Tracy Sichterman and Bill McDowell have taken full ownership of the prestigious real estate firm. Former co-owners Peter Damm and Nancy Mueller will stay on as active brokers and mentors, serving East Bay buyers and sellers of residential real estate.

Sichterman, who is married and has two children, says she is excited by the idea of heading the firm with McDowell, her longtime business partner. And Damm says there is no one he and Mueller would rather turn the company over to.

“Bill and Tracy are a highly experienced, dynamic team," he says. "Bill is rock solid, smart, and diligent. Tracy has great energy, imagination, and tech savvy. Both are terrific with people and devoted to protecting their clients’ interests."

For Damm and Mueller – who have no plans to retire – the sale means starting a new phase of their active work life. "When we took over the firm in 1996, we agreed that we would do this for ten years," he says. "Well, thirteen years have passed, so it's time to step down as owners-managers, but continue working with clients and helping mentor younger agents.” The two are now what Mueller jokingly calls “brokers emeriti.”

Tracy Sichterman grew up around real estate, as her mother owned a firm in Wisconsin. "One of the great things Mom taught us was how to be good to people and take care of their interests as a first priority," she says.

Though trained as a painter and sculptor, Sichterman found she loved the family business. Among other things, she was surprised to find how creative real estate work can be. She enjoys every step of the process, she says, from getting a house ready to sell and publicizing the sale to helping buyers deal with inspections and financing.

Whereas Sichterman came to real estate from art, Bill McDowell's background was in retail. "I've had two main jobs in my life," says McDowell, who grew up in the East Bay. "First I managed a sporting goods store, and then I decided to become a realtor."

After years in retail, McDowell moved into real estate in 1988. He initially went to work for Mason-McDuffie, but his impressive skills and background earned him a berth at Berkeley Hills Realty. "When Peter and Nancy bought Berkeley Hills in 1996, they made me an offer I couldn't refuse," he says with a laugh. Says Nancy Mueller: “We had great respect for Bill’s ability and integrity, and we wanted to make him the third member of our management team.”

Though McDowell moved into management, he continued dealing with clients, and often found himself working on projects with Sichterman. "Tracy could always add a creative element to my listings," he said. "She would take some bare-bones ad I had written – something like, 'Rockridge, 2BR, 1BA, $350,000' – and give it style and appeal.” In time, Sichterman and McDowell formalized their business partnership, and in 2005 they became co-owners with Damm and Mueller. By now becoming sole owners of the firm, they are raising their partnership to a new level.

Berkeley Hills Realty has long been recognized as one of the market leaders in East Bay real estate. Founded as Berkeley Realty, the firm has more than fifty years of experience with residential properties in Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, Kensington, Piedmont, El Cerrito, and Emeryville. For more information, call 510-524-9888 or visit the firm’s web site at

Contact Information

Tracy Sichterman: 510-524-1700 x27; 510-520-0076 (cell);

Bill McDowell 510-524-1700 x30; 510-282-4673 (cell);

Peter Damm 510-524-1700 x13; 510-915-9147 (cell);

Nancy Mueller 510-524-1700 x20; 510-541-0552 (cell);