Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can You Have Your Cake and Eat It Too? (Part 2)

edited from article originally posted in the Berkeley Voice, Real Estate Section, June 10, 2011

The Hills Newsgroup recently published our article discussing the importance of putting in some effort to make a house a dream home, especially in the Bay Area. The next question is which improvements make the most economic sense? Kitchen and baths are often good choices to upgrade and offer high returns on investment. However, most of the difficult choices involve other living spaces – such as a family room, deck, media room and so on. We often help clients with these decisions.

We recently advised a client not to build a deck on the upper level because it would ruin the beautiful lower level patio that leads to the garden, by covering it from above and having the deck supports go down in the middle of the lower patio. We recommended a much smaller cantilevered deck which wouldn’t interfere as much with the lower patio.

We advised another client during the purchase of a house in Kensington. The clients wanted a play room for their children. We found a house with a huge semi-basement space that was begging to be converted into living area.

We discussed various possibilities with them and got preliminary estimates from a couple of contractors for them to consider, prior to making their offer for the house. They were pleased that they could achieve their dream space, even though it was not visible at present. They made an aggressive offer and they won the house in a multiple offer situation.

Six months ago, we had another client who wanted a three-bedroom house close to shopping and public transportation. We found the perfect house that was half a block from the bus route and main artery of the city. It had only two bedrooms, but plenty of room for expansion. Our happy client is in the middle of a renovation to add on a third bedroom and a family room and bath downstairs.

Most homeowners don’t think to ask the advice of a Realtor in advance of the improvements. We recently spoke to sellers who had spent an enormous amount of money putting in skylights, energy efficient windows, new drywall and a fantastic garden. But, the square footage of the tiny house was the same after the 100K in renovations, and the bathroom and kitchen were not considerably changed. When we did a market valuation of the property, it didn’t look like they were going to get their money back! That was unfortunate, but they realized that it was all worth it for the last 10 years that they lived in the house; working on it and raising their child in it had given them tremendous pleasure.

Ultimately, not all decisions have to be made with an economic justification. If that were the case, would we even have kids in this modern society? We do things that are just to improve the quality of life and make us feel good. Go ahead, make your dream spaces. Keep in mind the financial impact to your pocket book, but don’t let that be your only decision making factor.

Click here for Can You Have Your Cake and Eat it Too? (Part 1)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sky Camp: Let Your Imagination Soar

by Tom Knight

Imagine, if you will, you are returning by air from the East Coast, preparing to land at the Oakland International Airport. As you cross the last row of hills on your descent, suddenly the vast open space of the Bay Area appears below… the bay, San Francisco in the distance, bridges, miles upon miles of houses, buildings, highways and byways stretching out far below you in all directions. Suppose it’s night: the twinkling lights sparkle like a vast illuminated electrical quilt and the dark space of the bay is like a black cat stretched out asleep in the center. Imagine you freeze frame that moment and live in a place with that sensational airplane view locked in, a place with that instant of recognition that you are home. There is a place like that: Sky Camp.

Imagine you live on the edge of the forest full of ferns and wildflowers. You hear the echo of owls hooting through the night woods, see red tailed hawks soaring on the afternoon updrafts below you, just as you remember seeing on your last visit to Big Sur. You have miles of hiking trails beginning in your backyard, the solitude of the wind in the trees punctuated by the chatter of the Steller's jays. Yet, you are not quite lost in the wilderness. You gaze out from your perch at the panorama of civilization a thousand feet below. There are no cars passing by. You live at the end of the road, the top of the hill. You live on the fringe of the urban jungle. There is a place like that: Sky Camp.

Imagine the warm winter sun on your outside deck, a quiet beginning of your day with your first cup of coffee and croissant. In your garden patio, sheltered and bright, your Adirondack chair puts you in the relaxed reclining mode for happy hour. Rhododendrons above, roses below, who needs Golden Gate Park? A fresh Acme seeded baguette from the Berkeley Bowl, some camembert from Marin County’s Rouge et Noir, a bottle of spicy Zinfandel from Amador County’s Renwood Winery, some fresh cherries from Frog Hollow. “Eat local” they say. “Slow food” they say. You’re there: Sky Camp.

The floors are wood, the walls are wood, the open beamed ceiling is wood. Is this a cabin in the pines of Tahoe? You throw another log in the wood stove and gaze awhile out the floor-to-ceiling windows. No. You’re on the urban fringe, living on the edge of the beautiful Bay Area. You are at the top of Panoramic Hill. You are where daydreams come easily. You are at Sky Camp.

Not just a house or a place. An experience for a life time. Sky Camp. Imagine it yours.

For images from Sky Camp: