Tuesday, January 31, 2012

1476 Greenwood Terrace, Berkeley

Designed in 1907 by Bernard Maybeck for Francis E. Gregory, this inspiring home features all clad redwood walls, a particular design Maybeck like to incorporate, views of the Golden Gate, and great separation of space.

Maybeck once said, "A house should fit into the landscape as if iit were a part of it," he declared, and then added: "It should also be an expression of the life and spirit which is to be lived with that it. "Back of all this," he continued, "is the simplicity, the sincerity and the naturalness of the expression." (Keeler, 2006) The location of this home in the Berkeley Hills and the simplistic design of this Maybeck home captures the essence of this quote.

The unique architecture of the surrounding houses, the beautiful redwood trees, incredible views and the incorporation of nature is what makes Greenwood Terrace a spectacular place to call home.

In addition to many homes throughout the Bay, he also designed the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and The First Church of Christ in Berkeley among other public buildings.
Come by and see 1476 Greenwood Terrace this Sunday from 2-4pm.

written by Gina Odom, Realtor
(2006) Bernard Maybeck: A Gothic Man- by Charles Keeler.



Monday, January 30, 2012

Emeryville has far surpassed its label as the “Rottenest City of the Pacific Coast!”

When I was at Rotten City Pizza in Emeryville, I was reading a quote by the Alameda County District Attorney Earl Warren. He said that Emeryville was “the rottenest city on the Pacific Coast.”  This quote is what inspired the name of Rotten City Pizza. There is nothing rotten about their pizza, however, it is delicious.  They are open late, have free delivery and sell it by the slice if you are in the neighborhood.
And for you history buffs, following the crackdown on gambling in 1919, Emeryville began licensing card clubs, and many prospered along San Pablo Ave including Santa Fe Club, King Midas Club, Bank Club, Key Club, Alamo Club, Avalon Club and Oaks Club.  Today, only the Oaks Club has survived and it's thriving. You can still enter the Bank Club but it’s only if you want to grab a drink. Speaking of drinks, during prohibition in the 1930s, a number of “speakeasies” and bootleg joints offered illegal liquor. The Townhouse Bar and Grill built in 1926 and one of these “speakeasies” and still exists today serving up great food and drinks and has live jazz weekly.
Today, Emeryville boasts some modern fantastic bars and restaurants and is home to Bay Street. This urban hub uses architecture, lighting, landscape and environmental graphics to create a unique, contemporary atmosphere where you can shop, eat, live and has a tremendous, high quality movie theater.  You can also find the only IKEA in the East Bay located next door.  A few of my favorite restaurants in Emeryville are Café Bier where you can dine while drinking beers from around the world and watch soccer, and the original Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café where you can get food, both traditional diner food and good vegetarian delights any time of the day. And rumor has it, that a band member of Green Day is the one of the owners of this fine joint.
Emeryville is an easy commute to San Francisco, being the first stop over the bridge. Condo/loft prices range from $250K to $700K depending on size and era.  For single family homes, prices range from $250K-$500K but they rarely come on the market.  As a buyer, you will normally see condos or lofts for sale before you see a single family home.  Emeryville also has a down payment assistance program that is worth checking into should you need some down payment assistance.
By Gina Odom, Realtor

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Northbrae Neighborhood in Berkeley Ranks Top 10 Places To Live

By Krista Miller, Realtor

The American Planning Association's "Great Places In America" has voted our own Northbrae neighborhood in their top 10 places in 2011.

Most people associate Northbrae with Monterey Market, Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, and Marin Circle Fountain. Me being me must associate it with food and coffee, so after I grab a latte from Espresso Roma Cafe and a slice of pizza from Gioia, I head with the kids to King Park and take in the amazing scenery.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Real Estate Agents as Online Content Curators

We live in interesting times. Because of the internet, it is possible to connect to information about everything. My seven-year-old knows this instinctively. Recently, I told her about my hypothesis that the Tooth Fairy paid children for baby teeth because "ground baby teeth" is the secret ingredient in pixie dust.  She said, “Why don't you look it up online.”  Sure enough, I quickly discovered that my theory is not original.  (See Tooth Fairy Fun "Facts".)

Real estate is no exception. You can go online and find infinite information. Some of it very useful.  Some of it as tangible as pixie dust.  A good real estate agent can help guide you to the most reputable sites and tell you what sources are flawed.  In the East Bay, agents with access to our local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) have a product called ListingBook, which allows them to share accurate MLS data with their clients.  This tool is by invitation only, so you do need an agent to hook you up.

If you are not yet aligned with a Realtor, and you want to filter out inaccurate information, it's important to understand why online data is not always reliable.  To do this, consider how real estate data is sourced and commoditized online-- and see yourself (homeowner, potential buyer or enthusiast) as the consumer of this commodity.

The first rule of reporting is "question the source."  Some sites gather information from their user community.  This is the Wiki model and requires the community to self-police its users.  Wonderful concept; but not always reliable, and often it is difficult to trace the source.  These sites can have inaccuracies due to human error or dishonesty.

In addition to requesting user participation, some sites employ complicated algorithms to automate the population of data.  The algorithms pull from a variety of sources including MLS data and county records-- sometimes resulting in surprisingly accurate calculations.  Other times, due to small sample sizes or the inability to account for individual variations (like the spectrum of remodeling choices evident in our Bay Area homes), the results are misguided.  The graph below is Zillow's  disclosure on the accuracy of their data.  Click on the graph to enlarge it.

Chart "About Zestimates" from Zillow.com 1/20/12

Careful users should also consider how a site is monetized.  Many sites rely on on advertising dollars to keep the site free to the user.  To lure advertisers, they hope to show good search engine ranking on sites like Google and Yahoo.  To this end, some sites post real estate data indiscriminately in order to gain good SEO (search engine optimization).  Having lots of data offers more keyword search opportunities and better ranking.  Better ranking translates to more paid ads.  More is better here, so attention is not always given to fixing inaccuracies.

The foreclosure website ReatlyTrac suffers from the "more is better" syndrome.  In the quest to have the most foreclosure listings possible, they post "pre-foreclosure" information.  If a homeowner is behind in payments, their home could make this list.  Many of these homes never become bank-owned foreclosures:  The homeowner catches up on payments or sells the home before they get a notice of default.  These phantom listings can be confusing to a home buyer.

Real estate agents also use online sites to monetize their efforts, if indirectly, to gain a commission.   They do this by aligning their marketing prowess with the sites that have the best ranking:  “Dear Seller, I am so good I promise to post your home on Zillow and Trulia and Realtor.com….”  This creates inaccuracies because, although many agents are eager to put their listing online and gain the exposure, there is far less motivation to update the information after the property has gone pending or sold.  We get frequent emails asking about random listings found online, only to discover they have long since sold.  BTW, Berkeley Hills Realty prides itself on tracking our syndication efforts and we take the extra step to revisit the sites we have control over to post the most accurate data.

This article is not meant to render the mentioned websites disreputable.  We use all of the above sites daily in our business and appreciate the multiple streams of information.  No one wants to limit access to online data.  But, in the age of information overload, good advice is priceless.  Real estate agents have become the curators of good content.  Contact one of our agents for guidance to the best available information.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Berkeley is OK by Me

by Tom Knight, Broker Associate

For all the media attention to far out fringes of Berkeley, California, particularly those of a political nature, it may come as a big surprise to most that for the vast majority of citizens it is a just a very comfortable and pleasant place to live. People here do appreciate Nature, but who wouldn’t with the temperate climate and beautiful views of San Francisco across the Bay. Beaches and marinas are pleasant places to enjoy some sun, even if you aren’t a seasoned sailor. If the bug bites, the Cal Sailing Club is ready to provide all the instruction you need at a reasonable price. More of a hiker? Tilden Regional Park has valley trails, mountain trails, lakes, even a steam railroad and carousel for the young and the young at heart.

People do enjoy eating at one of the many diverse restaurants, the vast range of ethnic cuisine in part explained by the presence of the university. Having dining choices is wonderful, but you can still get an old-fashioned hamburger at Oscar’s, Barneys, 900 Grayson or Bongo Burger, just to name a few. For the more adventurous, there are Nepalese and Ethiopian places to dine, but my preference is more towards good Mexican or fresh seafood, sometimes one and the same.

Bookstores are kind of old fashioned I guess in this digital age, but for those of old fogies like me who like to let our minds wander as we browse the aisles, it’s pretty darn nice to have Moe’s, Shakespeare Books, Black Oak Books and Books, Inc. When you search the internet, you’re already starting with a direction. The beauty of browsing in a bookstore is the joy of discovering ideas you hadn’t thought of, as well as deepening your knowledge of established interests.

Kids are supposed to go to school from kindergarten through the senior year of high school. Sure, there are some fine private schools to send your kids to, but the public schools offer quality instruction. For the child with a ravenous intellectual appetite, Berkeley High School has classes in astronomy or Swahili, not to mention advanced calculus. For the slow learner, classes exist which enable those special needs kids to reach their maximum potential. It’s nice to live in a town where the unique attributes of each youngster is acknowledged and nurtured.

The public transit system is comprehensive, making it easy to get around by bus, rapid transit or train. You can rent a car by the hour or by the day. Bicycles are in vogue, with many streets having bike lanes and public places providing bike racks. You can combine bus and bike, train and bike. The Oakland Airport is only fifteen to twenty minutes away and offers domestic flights almost anywhere. From the nearby Emeryville Amtrak Station one can catch the California Zephyr to Chicago or the Coast Starlight to L.A. or Seattle. Walking is not all that bad either, and the many small neighborhood centers make a short stroll to the store or coffee shop a pleasure.

When it comes to a roof over your head, it’s true that there are some stunning estates high up in the hills with fabulous panoramic views and iron gates. But for every one of those, there are dozens of craftsman bungalows with fine woodworking from the 1920s, built-ins with leaded glass and cozy charm in modest living rooms with tiled fireplaces. In Berkeley even the smaller homes exude comfort and style, as welcome as an old pair of fuzzy slippers. Trees, lots and lots of trees line the streets and the flowers, well, they bloom just about all year long. It’s a gardener’s paradise with mild temps and great soil. You can get your hands dirty here, whether it’s in politics or in the backyard.

Berkeley sometimes gets a bad rap from the occasional media blast over fringe points of view, but overall I find it to be very middle America: quiet, beautiful and a comfortable place to call home.  I guess it would be fair to say that Berkeley is definitely OK by me.