Friday, January 28, 2011

Local Streams Rediscovered

by Tom Knight

Recently I discovered an East Bay group called Friends of Five Creeks. Creeks? In Berkeley? What creeks? Where are they? Where do they come from and where do they go? For many Berkeley residents, the answers are just emerging, as ever so slowly creeks are re-appearing, being “daylighted.” For those of us who are agents at Berkeley Hills Realty, maps of all the creeks are available, their “secret” underground locations identified, and the implications to homeowners well understood. For those curious ones, some very good info on Berkeley creeks can also be found on the City of Berkeley's website.

Before the California Gold Rush, streams in the Bay Area ran free and clear, undisturbed in their natural channels from the hills down to the bay. The Native Americans in this area, Ohlones, feasted on the salmon and steelhead which frequented the larger creeks. Also prevalent, particularly where streams entered the bay, were abundant shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels. When the first Europeans arrived, village locations were clearly marked by enormous mounds of shells, some dozens of feet high, containing thousands of years of accumulated dinner leftovers.

One such shell mound was located where the Spenger’s Fish Grotto parking lot is currently situated. It was here in the “old days” that Strawberry Creek flowed into the bay. It’s strange to think that once this was the edge of the bay. It gives one some idea of just how much of the shallow areas of the bay were filled in throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Another very large shell mound was at the mouth of Temescal Creek on Bay Street in Emeryville about where P.F. Chang’s restaurant is located, now commemorated by a small earthen mound and stylized basket sculpture.

These mounds of shells were of no archeological interest to early settlers and were soon destroyed. Gradually, small settlements replaced Indian villages. Muddy roads transited local farmlands, connecting early communities. Wooden trestles and bridges carried rails and roads across streams, but it soon became apparent as “progress” rapidly impacted the land, putting the local waterways underground was easier and cheaper than building more bridges. Large cement pipes and square reinforced concrete culverts captured local waterways. Once covered over and built upon, they were soon forgotten.

I have seen these large diameter pipes spewing their watery contents into the bay following winter storms, as I ride my bicycle along the edge of the bay. When I see such a pipe I have often wondered, was this once a named creek? Where does it come from and what did it look like before being trapped in a pipe? Friends of Five Creeks is an organization dedicated to awareness of our creeks and sponsors activities which benefit the health of these local resources. As more and more people have become aware that there even ARE creeks in Berkeley, there is a growing movement to uncover these “lost” creeks. Local waterways are now valued as natural areas which enhance the scenic beauty of our area and help the recovery of local wildlife.

Codornices Creek is one which has received a lot of attention recently and substantial financial support towards restoration of one section in West Berkeley. To see the results, you can walk, bicycle or drive over to the University Village area on Sixth Street just two blocks north of Gilman. Bulldozers, excavators, backhoes and dump trucks have just completed an extensive restoration of this section. Magically, a natural area resembling a park has replaced a rundown, overgrown, debris-strewn area. Incidentally, “codornices” is the Spanish word for quail, and according to one historian, was the name given to this creek by Luis Peralta, one of the sons of the Peralta family which once owned Rancho San Antonio, a land grant which stretched from Cerrito Creek just south of El Cerrito Plaza all the way to San Leandro. No doubt, quail will soon again frequent the banks of Codornices Creek.

It is wonderful to see the old creeks in our area reappearing and being valued. Many people are coming out on weekends to assist in this effort. You can see old grinding holes in streamside rocks and learn about our “lost” local creeks. You will certainly meet some great folks on Saturday morning work parties, from school kids to white-haired retirees. You might even become one of the “weekday weed warriors,” helping to remove invasive, non-native plants and restore the land to its natural state. For much more information on the history of area creeks and how to help out, check out the Friends of Five Creeks website. I’ve found it a great way to get some weekend exercise which may benefit the community and the environment as well.

Tom Knight, Broker Associate


Friday, January 21, 2011

Video Home Tour of 8379 Terrace Drive, El Cerrito

Presented by Bill McDowell and Tracy Sichterman
More at

East Bay Real Estate Market in a Minute

“…there will be some tremendous opportunities in the housing market for first-time buyers, investors, long-time owners and international buyers. These opportunities will pave the way to recovery in 2012 and beyond.”
--Carmen Hirciag, California Association of Realtors, December 2010

The East Bay continues to be one of the most stable real estate markets in the state. But, performance varies greatly neighborhood by neighborhood and sometimes block by block. In Alameda County, median home prices are up slightly from last year with the city of Berkeley pulling up the curve. On the other hand, Contra Costa County’s median price is down 10.3%, with the city of El Cerrito down over 18%. Prices are down in many areas and time on the market has increased.

Sales volume is down throughout much of the East Bay. Some Homeowners are waiting for a market recovery before selling their home. True market recovery will take time. Waiting for the return of 2005 values can sideline a Seller’s plans. “Nostalgic pricing” can hurt the final price and further increase time on the market. Life involves change, and if those changes include the sale of your home, sales are still strong in much of Berkeley, Oakland, Albany, Kensington and El Cerrito. Proper pricing and presentation can elicit greater buyer interest.

As for Bay Area Buyers: Our area continues to be a desirable landing spot. With a projected market recovery, historically low interest rates, ample inventory and low prices, now may be the time to invest in California real estate. Because lender financing is more challenging than in the past, it is wise to plan on spending at least seven years in your first home (up from an average 3-5 years).

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

Friday, January 14, 2011

Feri Niroomand and Negar Souza join Berkeley Hills Realty

BERKELEY, CA – January 2011 – Feri Niroomand and Negar Souza, a dynamic mother-daughter real estate team, have joined the prestigious firm of Berkeley Hills Realty. They will be serving buyers and sellers in the East Bay and beyond.

“We’re delighted that Feri and Negar have joined us," says Berkeley Hills co-owner Tracy Sichterman. "Feri brings wisdom and years of experience to the job, and Negar has enthusiasm and cool technical skills. It's an impressive combination. Plus, they're fun to be around."

In a quarter-century working in the real estate business, Feri Niroomand has developed first-class listening and negotiating skills. "I always encourage my clients to explore their ideas about what a house will do for them," she says, "and I keep their interests in my heart." Feri grew up in Tehran and moved to the United States at 18. A UC Berkeley graduate, she has a master's degree in fine arts, and brings an artist's sensibility to her professional real estate skills.

Feri describes herself as very friendly and straightforward. Somewhat unusually, she works in both residential and commercial real estate. "I recognize that these are very different," she says, "but I find it exciting to work in both fields."

Feri spent two decades at Red Oak Realty, where she was a top producer in 2004, 2005, and 2006, and won the manager's award in 2007 and 2008. But in recent years, she's wanted to work in a smaller environment. "Berkeley Hills is intimate and cozy" says Feri, "and its owners offer a lot of personal support. Being here feels like family."

Speaking of family, Feri is making the move to the Solano Avenue firm along with her daughter, Negar Souza. "I've been active in real estate for five years," says Negar, "but I was actually born into the business." As the daughter of a real estate agent, she saw nothing odd about spending her childhood weekends at open houses, and she grew up learning the ropes. "I used to go with my mom on tours, even during the week. I was the kid tagging along." Says Feri with a laugh, "My daughter was handing out the flyers at open houses at the age of four."

Negar, who grew up in the East Bay, shares her mother's academic and artistic leanings. She is a San Francisco State grad where she studied interior design. She never wanted to just decorate homes, however. "I wanted to help people decide where to live," she says. "I wanted to decorate houses and stage them—to be involved with everything. Real estate is in my blood, so I always looked at it as something exciting that I wanted to do."

Negar shares her mother's enthusiasm about the move to Solano Avenue. "Berkeley Hills has the respect of the community, and it's staffed with agents I've admired," she says. "The place has a great feeling of camaraderie, and Bill and Tracy have been very welcoming."

Negar will always be the younger member of the mother-daughter team, but that has its advantages. In addition to youthful energy, she's comfortable with new technology and adept at social media. But mother and daughter both believe in the power of face to face, human contact.

They're also good at teamwork. It's in their genes.

Contact information:
Feri Niroomand (cell) 510-409-9111
Negar Souza (cell) 510-543-7016

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

Friday, January 7, 2011

Title Insurance Helps a Home Haunted by a Short Sale Past

When you buy a new home, it is wise to purchase title insurance in order to confirm clear ownership in the new property and to protect the bundle of rights associated with ownership against claims of another. In today's market, with its short sales and bank foreclosures, a title insurance policy may prove even more valuable.

After the chaos of 2008 and by the beginning of 2011, many banks have worked to better organize themselves around the short sale process. For others, the right hand still doesn't know what the left hand is doing. In some instances, home sellers have been told by a representative of the bank that their short sale is going to be approved, only to discover that another department of the same bank has finalized their foreclosure-- eliminating their ownership thus canceling the sale.

In one extreme circumstance, a privately sold home made an unexpected appearance at a public sale on the court house steps. First, the home's new owner noticed a card in the mail warning of actions the bank can take after a default, including public auction. Having just purchased the house, his first payment was not yet due much less delinquent. He promptly disregarded the notice. Soon after, a buyer standing at his doorstep (with information about the house on a smart phone) informed the unsuspecting homeowner that the sale of his property was taking place that day!

Luckily, the homeowner had a title insurance policy and the title company was able to confirm his rights. The back story at the bank; the completed short sale was not posted to the proper bank personnel and another department kept the foreclosure process moving toward the trustee's sale despite the fact that the property had already in fact been sold.

Not all short sales are disrupted by the foreclosure process. In fact, a property can still be considered a short sale even if the seller has never missed a payment. "Short sale" means only that the property will sell for less than the amount owed, not that the property is delinquent in its payments on that loan.

Even if foreclosure is not a factor, time is a consideration. Short sales, regardless of the level of hardship, still take longer than a traditional sale. The process is driven by how the bank is set up to make its decisions and this varies bank by bank. Aware of continued difficulties with short sales, the Treasury Department recently released a new directive offering revamped short sale incentives to lenders. The directive also includes stricter time lines for approving or rejecting a short sales.

Tips for Homebuyers:
  • If you are pursuing the purchased of a distressed property, make sure you get as much information, the best advice and the best representation possible as you move through the transaction. We can help
  • If pursuing a short sale, know that a foreclosure could still disrupt your sale. Ask if the seller has received a Notice of Default.
  • In most cases, be prepared for a long "short" sale process.
  • Remember that your title insurance policy offers essential after-sale protection.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Front Row Seats to the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco!

Sharing our spectacular sunsets is one of the joys of selling real estate in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2013, the view of the Bay will offer something even more thrilling: The America's Cup yacht race! reports, "Rather than holding the races miles off shore, which was the case in Valencia and in Newport, where the Cup was held from 1930 to 1983, San Francisco Bay offers a natural amphitheater."

We couldn't agree more. Like a Greek theater, the East Bay's naturally sloped topography will make many of the view homes feel like luxury box seats overlooking the main event.

In the current market, some of these luxury view homes can be purchased at a relative bargain. Berkeley Hills Realty currently has a panoramic view home listed in El Cerrito for under $700,000. 8379 Terrace Drive in El Cerrito is a custom built home with an exceptional vantage point for the 2013 America's Cup; binoculars included!