Author: Pam Buda

Fast Food/Slow Food and the Pursuit of Happiness

I enjoyed this photo essay by Maira Kalman in the New York Times today. Sonoma County is home to many adherents of local, sustainably produced food. Worth a browse to see her photos of a journey to Northern California and back to New York-from fast to Slow Food, with tales of locally, sustainably produced food and the Edible Schoolyard movement. Worth a look--enjoy! and Happy Thanksgiving! ...

Happy Thanksgiving, and Thank you!!

[caption id="attachment_533" align="alignnone" width="387" caption="A thanksgiving turkey in all his glory"][/caption] As I head off to Thanksgiving dinner in Sebastopol, I want to say how much I appreciate all of you who visit this blog, and of course I want to thank all my clients for entrusting me with the important business of selling or buying your homes, as well as your referrals to your friends and family. I am privileged to work with some wondeful people--thank you so much!...

An Upturn in the Housing Market May Be Reversing – NYTimes.com

But what about Sonoma County and Northern California? If you read this article in the business section of today's New York Times, An Upturn in the Housing Market May Be Reversing - NYTimes.com you'd find very justifiable skepticism about the increase in real estate sales volume nationally that we've experienced this summer and fall. As some friends and I discussed at dinner in Healdsburg Monday night, no one is convinced that the economy is on firmly recovering footing, Wall Street enthusiasm aside. So are we up for a "W" recovery--meaning another downturn in housing prices? From the article, which discussed the latest Case Shiller Housing Index Report: The two housing price reports lag, by a month, the figures on the volume of home resales, which were issued Monday for October. Home resales jumped 10.1 percent to the highest level in two years, better than analysts had expected. Much of the increase was attributed to the $8,000 first-time buyer’s tax credit, which had been set to expire Nov. 30 but has been renewed through spring. Buyers who have already owned a home are now eligible for a $6,500 credit. While brisk sales volume should, in theory, push up prices, Maureen Maitland, the vice president for index services at S.& P., said the oversupply of inventory was acting as a brake. “You can look down the street and have 10 houses to choose from,” she said. About 3.57 million used homes are for sale, a number that has been declining but is still higher than the historic average. It represents seven months of inventory at the current sales rate. Ms. Maitland speculated that the housing market might follow a “W” pattern, as the price lows plumbed last spring are tested again this winter. It's all well and good to look at national statistics, but (and this is a cliche so forgive me)--looking at the national housing market to try to determine what is happening with home values in your neighborhood is like trying to know what the weather will be like by knowing what the average temperature in the US is at any given time. Just look at the paragraph above--7 months available inventory nationwide. In Sonoma County we have less than three months of inventory available county wide, and less than two months at the lower price ranges. Even at the upper price ranges we have about 10 months of inventory...

Selling your Home? Make Sure you Know How it Looks in the "Cloud"

A Photo of a Google Tricycle scanning a neighborhood for Google Street View And I am not talking about the weather. Increasingly, information about US homes lives in the cloud, served up over high speed internet connections. For example, the National Association of Realtors is rolling out its own real estate database (directory) called Residential Property Resource--its goal is to provide comprehensive data on 150 million homes in the United States. (For a description and first take to the recent announcement, click here.) Google has been moving in this direction for several years. I recently wrote about Google Map's 3D Modeling Tool, Sketchup, and the ability to search real estate listings in Google Maps. Also, Google Street View in Google Maps simulates a 2D drive-by of many properties. Google Maps gives satellite views of most properties and their goal is to have a place page for individual structures. So even before your home is on the market--there is already a lot of data about it on-line. As a practical matter, if you are selling your home, make sure your agent knows how to take advantage of these tools and at the very least, is aware of how your property presents online already and that it is accurate. I have used Google Maps to look at aerial views of country property for example, and sometimes the pin indicating the property address is literally a mile or more away from the actual location and put it in the middle of a flat vineyard rather than a scenic hillside. I know that but a potential buyer may not. Or on one country property listing I had, the pin gave a very misleading view of the house's location in relation to the neighbors. I was able to relocate the map pin to the home site, which gave a more accurate view of the home in relation to the acreage surrounding it. Google Street View adds a whole other dimension, literally, to the cloud view of your home. Google actually sends people out in cars (lots of hybrids supposedly) and on tricycles to photograph neighborhoods, as in the photo above. Kind of creepy actually. Unfortunately, sometimes the photos on Google Street View are not very current, as a I discovered on one of my listings earlier this year. The home had be re-roofed and painted a year earlier but the Google Street view...

Google gets deeper into Real Estate but Offers Inaccurate Results

Google has added property search of current real estate listings to Google Maps. You can go to Google Maps and search a community, even add in your criteria in terms of beds/baths/etc. and the map will highlight current listings and display detailed listing information on the left hand column--Google provides a video overview below. I thought I would check it out for accuracy. I ran a search for Healdsburg and found a property listed for $639,000. which was news to me as I have clients looking for something like that--I follow all the key markets in Sonoma County regularly on the search for new inventory and sold results. So I clicked through to the property info and it turns out the listing was on Piper Lane in Sonoma! Somehow Google pulled the listing info, stripped the town of its Sonoma address (about an hour away) and added Healdsburg to the property address! That's one way to get new inventory! (not) Very misleading. It also picked up a listing in town on North Street which had four lots of about 25 acres each. Not possible--that would swallow the whole town of Healdsburg. When I clicked through the property links I found an empty page on a local broker's site. And these are only the first two errors that I saw. It appears that data is pulled from a variety of sources, including print magazines and other listing aggregators such as ListHub. All I can say is don't go to the bank on what you find because it can be very erroneous. Obviously the search itself is not ready for prime time but also the data being searched is unreliable. Garbage in Garbage out. Until there are agreements with regional MLS's (don't hold your breath) take the real estate information offered on Google Maps with a grain of salt. ...

Google Sketchup allows you to Create 3D Views of your Home and Community

Stephen Fells of Agency Logic, a real estate marketing company in the East Bay, has been blogging up a storm lately, and he recently drew my attention to some amazing new tools by Google. Recently a FREE 3D modeling tool called Google SketchUp made its debut--this will allow anyone to create a 3D model of any image. Imagine a 3D flyby of your home for sale, or a virtual fly by of the town you want to move to! Check out the tour of LA and San Francisco, below. (The song is great too!) And oh! Imagine your home for sale here! (Note: the second video talks about the community effort involved in rendering the images. I wonder how much of these were done with the free tool and how much with the Pro Version?) ...

Windsor Housing Sales Trends different than rest of Sonoma County

This is the 7th of the series looking at housing sales trends in Sonoma County. Windsor, sandwiched between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, has probably the most homogenous housing supply in the county, with many tract homes all clustered in the mid-price ranges. There are estate properties at Shiloh on the east side of 101, and many vineyard, horse and estate homes on the west side of town off Starr Road and others, and I often advise my country property buyers not to overlook Windsor because there are some beautiful wine country homes that can be easily overlooked in a search. But the preponderance are 3-4 bedroom homes priced in the mid-price ranges. Maybe that is why the recovery doesn't look quite so strong here yet in terms of prices. The median price in October 2007 was $620,000 and is now at $357,500, up from a low of $325,000 in April (not February!). Unit sales hit a near peak last month of 42 (the two year peak was 46 and the low was 11 in December 2007 when sales in the mid price ranges started their stall. Month's supply of inventory followed a steep decline from a high peak of 17.5 months two years ago to a low of 2 months over the course of September and October. I hope this series has been helpful! It has been interesting for me to look at individual towns in this way, and the stats seem to confirm my own impressions from my knowledge on the ground of the markets in each of the communities we've discussed. Each property, each location, each home is unique. If you would like some specific information about a home you are thinking of buying or selling, please let me know!...

Which of these is the screamin' real estate bargain?

Which of these is the killer real estate bargain? (See the answers below--these are true stories based upon real estate sales in Sonoma County over the last year--details have been eliminated for obvious reasons.) 1) an REO (bank-owned) home in Rohnert Park/Cotati that sells for $304,000 with 19 offers. Original asking price $256,000. Nearly 20% over asking price. 2) a country property in Healdsburg with two cute cottages that nearly sells for $137,500 under asking price. 3) a country property in Sebastopol that sells for full asking price ($1,750,000) with four cash offers. 4) an REO in Santa Rosa that sells for asking price with two offers. 5) a cute country property in Sebastopol that sells in a week for 95% asking. 6) a fixer (read:teardown) with a bad floor plan on a busy street that sells after a year on the market for 50% of the original asking price. 7) a cosmetic fixer on a great lot with good bones and multiple offers, sells 5% over asking. 8) property someone buys from a friend of a friend before it hits the market at 10% less than the supposed listing price because the seller doesn't want the hassle of selling or to pay commissions. ANSWER: 1) A BARGAIN--Are you crazy? The buyers paid $48,000 over asking. Yes but the bank significantly underpriced the property by not attributing enough value to the oversized, landscaped 1/3 acre lot with its own redwood tree and raised beds for gardening. A most unusual feature that attracted a horde of buyers. Fortunately my wonderful clients prevailed and bought a home for the price that was their target price all along. Now they have a house payment lower than the rent they were paying previously, before taxes. For their first home, a bit of country in a great commute location, with no repairs beyond their budget or skill set. It even appraised at full price. 2) A BUST: It seems like a bargain on paper, but what if the original sales price was about $175,000 too high and the property sits and sits and sits. Even with a $137,500/16% price reduction, the buyer might be paying too much. This property is still sitting on the market racking up interest and taxes. 3) A BARGAIN: A great retreat property that sold in...

Russian River Area Homes in Short Supply, but a Relatively Stable Market

As I reach Post 6 of this series looking at housing inventory trends around Sonoma County, I am struck by how relatively stable pricing has been in the Russian River area, from the farms of Forestville to the Redwoods of Guerneville and Monte Rio to the ocean at Jenner. Prices have always been lower "on the river" and the median has declined only 3% over the past two years, from $326,500 to $317,000. It hit a low of $190,000 in February and March of this year. Again-this probably has to do with an increase in sales in the mid and upper ranges after an almost exclusive focus on the low end of the market. Unit sales hit a two year high of 30 units in June of 2009 after a low of 8 last November, 2008. Unit sales usually are in the teens and twenties. Months supply of inventory is down to 3.6 from 5.8 two years ago. It did hover around 17.5 months last year at this time however. ...

X