Friday, October 31, 2014

Top Five Secret Luxuries of the Bay Area Housing Market

Sshhh… We've got it and it’s a secret worth keeping to ourselves.  A quick trip to LA taught me that the lifestyle coveted by the rapidly growing pool of billionaires is not only ours--but relatively affordable. Last week, this Berkeley girl swapped her old Birkenstocks for new Jimmy Choo’s and teetered into a private event auspiciously titled, “Luxury Connect.” It was hosted at the $135 million dollar Beverly House in Beverly Hills.  The one-day affair was limited to 100 attendees and boasted a panel of the who’s who in the Los Angeles luxury real estate market. 

While I sat furtively listening to the guys from Million Dollar Listing, I started to notice an interesting pattern.  Luxury is becoming less about conspicuous possessions (bad call on the new shoes) and turning more subtly towards an idealized daily life. Today’s high-net-worth elite covet luxurious creature comforts in and around their not so humble abodes.  Surprisingly (or not), the new list of must-haves matches nearly perfectly with what we know and love about our East Bay neighborhoods in Oakland, Berkeley and Kensington.

Here’s what the East Bay’s got that's hot in multi-million dollar LA estates:

1. Views: When asked what tops the list of “must haves” for the financial elite, broker Sally Forster Jones quickly declared, “views.” You know you have reached the pinnacle of your career when you can claim outstanding views. Areas in the East Bay such as Berkeley, Oakland, and Kensington, boast bountiful views of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge, and deliver spectacular California sunsets night after night.

2. Eco-friendly: During a session on design and construction Innovation, architect Leo Marmol noted that opulence is often tempered by guilt.  If you can afford to fly by private jet, chances are you’d like to offset your emissions by shrinking your carbon footprint while at home. Billionaire’s homes are shrinking in square footage while emphasizing their energy efficiency and use of sustainable resources. The East Bay got the global warming memo and acted appropriately. Berkeley is number seven on Mother Nature Network’s Top Ten Green US Cities, posting Berkeley as “a great place to find an abundance of organic and vegetarian restaurants also on the cutting edge of sustainability. Berkeley is recognized as a leader in the incubation of clean technology for wind power, solar power, biofuels and hydropower.”  Oakland is ranked even higher, claiming the number four spot, having, “access to an abundance of fresh, organic food, much of which is locally sourced. It's also home to the nation's cleanest tap water, hydrogen-powered public transit and the country's oldest wildlife refuge. Oakland also plans to have zero waste and be oil-independent by 2020, and already gets 17 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

3. Recreation:  Health-conscious billionaires are retiring the treadmill, preferring trail running with a personal trainer over the tedium of the home gym.  The East Bay Regional Park District is something of which the East Bay can be proud. The system comprises 114,000+ acres encompassing 65 parks in Alameda and Contra Costa County, including over 1,200 miles of trails.  But this isn’t just about staying in shape; people seem to be looking for a greater connection to the outdoors. Busy entrepreneurs like to know that recreation is easily accessible and luxury real estate investors want their safe harbors to do double duty as vacation retreats.  Aside from our local splendor, it is a great Bay Area boon that fabulous weekend destinations like Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe are within easy driving distance.

4. Mild Climate: High-end smart houses are now equipped to adjust the air temperature, lighting and music to daily preferences. While our historic homes may currently lack high-tech habitat controls, our weather more than makes up for it. Where climate is concerned, it’s no exaggeration to say we are the best.  According to Wikipedia, “based on data gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oakland is ranked No. 1 in climate among U.S. cities.”  Many out-of-state visitors are surprised to learn that few of our homes feature air-conditioning.  Instead, the Bay provides natural climate control for the area.  And, if ever it starts to feel too warm, the fog drops in to kindly reset our thermostat.

5. Car-free Commute: During the “Under 40 Luxury Buyer” panel, agent Kat Carrol expressed that her buyers are looking for locations with good public transportation.  The wallets of the young and wealthy now sport a passport and a transit card in lieu of a driver’s license.  Let’s face it; there is nothing cute about sitting in traffic--no matter how fab your Ferrari. On my trip home from LA, I left the hotel about forty-five minutes early in case my driver hit traffic on my way to the airport.   Not a problem here, as our extensive Bay Area Transit System (BART) is a commuter’s dream and can get you to work no matter how far you travel.  Not impacted by street traffic, BART can deliver you all the way to San Francisco Airport (SFO), an international hub for worldwide travel. Alternatively, if you want a more personal mode of stress-free transportation, try a bicycle.  With Berkeley’s impressive network of Bicycles, and Oakland’s innovative Super Sharrows, safe cycling options and exceptional weather encourage happy, healthy commutes.

Life is rough here in Berkeley, and I’m finding it hard to limit myself to just five reasons to gloat.  The East Bay has always been a world class destination ripe with cultural riches that include art, opera, theater and music. Then there’s the food. Berkeley’s own Alice Waters pioneered California cuisine, and Michelin star restaurants abound around the Bay. But, maybe one of the best kept secret luxuries is our ability to celebrate uniqueness in all its forms. When everyone is special, it gives the gift of low key anonymity to our local celebrities. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

California Dreaming on Such a Berkeley Day / Living SF Luxury at Berkeley Affordability

View from
Fifteen years ago, Buyers looking for their Bay Area "dream house" were likely to tout a bay view as a top must-have. In today's market a view is still wonderful, but more and more buyers are willing to sacrifice a front seat at our beautiful sunsets for the more practical ability to walk to a local coffee shop.  At Berkeley Hills Realty we call this the "latte factor."

A noticeable shift took place in 2009 when a study, Walking the Walk, came out 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 WalkScore algorithm used in the study looks at a multitude of 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.

Local amenities not only support the value of our housing stock and add to the joy of our daily lives-- they may just help save the planet. In June of this year, NBC News contributor, Diana Olick reported:
Car shares, bike shares, improved rapid transit and teleworking. All are the product of a new generation that is more environmentally conscious than any before it and more willing to use its own energy to get around town, rather than tapping expensive energy sources. Millennials prefer urban cores, even ones outside of major metropolitan areas, because they want to be able to walk or bike to work and stores.
Living the good life in the Bay that bears the name San Francisco might make you think you need the City to enjoy its creature comforts.  San Francisco's got it, but the price is steep. Instead check out some of our walkable neighborhoods in the East Bay. 934 Arlington Avenue in Berkeley (open Sunday 10/12/2014) offers a great WalkScore and a spectacular view.  With fabulous neighborhood shops, nearby amenities and better affordability, you can live like a San Franciscan while spending like a Berkeleyite.

Grab a great cup of coffee at your favorite local shop and compare to 934 Arlington home values of $408 per square foot to San Francisco housing prices.  Don't dribble your coffee as your jaw drops, we think you will be delighted and amazed.