Author: Pam Buda

"It ain't over till it's over." or what Yogi Berra can teach first time buyers about Real Estate

yogiisms.jpgSo if you know me well, you know that I am a die-hard THIRD generation New York Yankees fan. (DISCLAIMER: Despite this fact, I have several clients, good friends and colleagues who are Boston Red Sox fans, but that is another story.)

How does Yogi Berra relate to the current real estate market in Sonoma County, Ca?
Well as current clients of mine will tell you-they thought they’d found a perfect house. We’ll call it “Park Place”. Great commute location, walking distance to shops and restaurants, and best of all a vastly over-sized, 13,000 square foot park-like back yard (complete with its own redwood tree and veggie garden).  Unfortunately for them, 18 other buyers also thought it was a great property and the winning offer was not ours, even thought we went well over asking, my clients were extremely qualified first time buyers. In this case it wasn’t enough. But they gave it their best shot at a price that made sense to them and lived with the results.
After a four week break to take care of family obligations, my clients were ready to write an offer on another pretty interesting property.   Meanwhile, I had told the listing agent for the first property to keep us posted if something happened to the original offer.
Also we  kept an eye on things.  We don’t want to rely on an overburdened REO listing agent. To make this easy for everyone, I set up a private web site for my clients updated in real time with changes to the MLS (Real Estate Multiple Listings Service). You may not realize it but most public facing websites are not reliably up to date, so a property could be back in escrow and not available again before you know it.
In this client website, we can keep homes in “Newly Matched”, “Saved”, and “Rejected” Tabs.  That way we are in sync and can both keep tabs on things so to speak. With my out of town clients, the “Comments” feature helps my get to know their preferences pretty quickly.
Back to the Yogi Berra situation: the same day we were writing on place number 2, I received a phone call from the listing agent on “Park Place” –the house of the 19 offers. Apparently the first buyer could not perform due to problems with their FHA financing.   The 3`cash buyers had gone elsewhere.  My clients were selected next by the bank who owned “Park Place” (bank as property owner-is an “REO” for real-estate owned).
Long story short, my clients are now in escrow to purchase “Park Place”.  Of course, it ain’t really over till escrow closes.  It is always wise for buyers of any property not to fall in love until they are moved in.  But this one, given up for good a month ago, looks pretty good now.
So thanks Yogi, for the real estate wisdom.   And I thought you were just a great catcher, hitter and 10 time World Series Champion!

Sonoma County Real Estate Market Half-Time Report

The long days and sunny weather have taken me away from my computer--sorry it has been so long since my last post. I have a new iPhone (fun and without a doubt best new productivity tool in a long time--probably since my first Palm Pilot in 1996). I am available by phone or email or Twitter, Facebook, etc. if you have an immediate question, please feel free to contact me. And thanks to those of you who already have! We are in the thick of a hot summer market here in Sonoma County. Buyers have been coming back into our market in increasing numbers since late last year. Now, nearly every property sold under $400,000 has multiple offers. First time buyers or conventional buyers with ten or twenty percent down should expect to have to write offers on multiple properties before they get "the one". There is only 2-4 months supply of inventory available at the current rate of sales (at price points under a million dollars). What about the new wave of "shadow" inventory of foreclosure properties being held back from the market by the bank? At this point, it would appear that the market of existing buyers (both first time buyers and investors) will absorb it fairly readily....

Add Solar now, Pay Later with your Property Taxes: Innovative Sonoma County program provides property owners with financing for Energy Efficient Improvements

One of the biggest problems with solar and other alternative energy systems and home energy conservation projects in general is that the upfront costs can take months or years to recoup in the form of lower utility bills. Plus, if a property owner is not sure they will be in the structure long enough to realize those benefits, there is even less incentive to make an investment, especially in our current economy. But reduced consumption of energy immediately benefits the planet, leading to less pollution and a reduced carbon footprint.  Unfortunately the environmental benefits don't reconcile immediately with short term financial outlay. One new program designed to address this problem head on. The Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP) is billed as "HOT, COOL and GREEN!" An overview of the program was the subject of a story in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Conserve now, pay later A brief overview from the SCEIP web site: Program Specifics: Participation in this Sonoma County program is completely voluntary. Energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy generation upgrades must be permanently attached to the property to qualify. Items not permanently attached such as dishwashers and other appliances are not allowed. Improvements like insulation, cool roofing, heating and air conditioning systems, waterless urinals, solar panels and energy efficient windows are acceptable. Improvements must be for existing buildings, new construction does not qualify. Assessments are a lien on the property itself: when the property is sold, the assessment stays with the property. Repayment is made through your property tax bill over time. Participating in the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program is easy. First decide how much makes sense to invest in energy and water efficiency or renewables for your home. Then fill out our application and follow a few simple steps (outlined below.) Before you know it, you’ll be realizing a monthly energy savings on your bill. The lowest interest rate currently offered on the SCEIP website is 6.75%, but there is some talk of additional funds being made available to subsidize lower rates to make the payments more affordable.  There is a calculator at the site so you can see what possible payments might be. For more information on Solar Resources in Sonoma County visit "Solar Sonoma County"

Where the action is in Sonoma County Real Estate

Brokermetrics, a real estate data analysis service provided by Terradatum, is currently beta-testing a new tool for analyzing real estate sales trends by price range. This is really welcome as far as I am concerned because our market is so hot at the low end (under $400,000) and so slow at higher price points that it is really difficult to make sense of market stats country wide for all price ranges. It takes a lot of slicing and dicing to confirm what most of us already know, that mid and upper price range properties are moving much more slowly than entry level homes being snatched up by first time buyers and investors. So here is a look at the new Brokermetrics graph. I know you really need your microscope to read these images, so don't forget to click on them so you can go to a larger version than fits in my middle column here. ...

Are you a Property Virgin? $8,000 $Reasons to find why now might be the time to buy your first home

I have got to give credit where credit is due..Krisstina Wise is an Austin real estate broker, head of the Good Life Team. Earlier today she followed me on Twitter. I decided to check out the website of her self-described "hip" Austin real estate brokerage. I found it engaging, well-thought out, informative and professionally done. They use video judiciously and well and have some good tools for buyers and sellers. Their blog had a post on the new federal tax credit for first time home buyers. It wasn't the feds who coined the "Property Virgin", nor did I, so I MUST give credit where credit is due. Thanks to Krisstina and the Good Life team. Here is a bit of their post: No joke. The 8,000 reasons to buy today are quantified in terms of real dollars — $8,000! That’s right. As part of the stimulus package, Uncle Sam is offering “First-Time Homebuyers” (Let’s call you Property Virgins) up to $8,000 in the form of a tax credit for purchasing a home in 2009. If you have been on the fence or if you are considering buying a home in the next year or so – you must learn about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – The First-time homebuyer tax credit. This is a special opportunity that enables you, as a Virgin, to be one of the few who can BENEFIT from this crazy economy. What is it? As part of the Stimulus package, a Property Virgin who purchases in 2009 is eligible to receive up to 10% of the cost of the house –up to $8,000– in the form of a tax credit on their tax return (did we just use stimulus and virgin in the same sentence?). A tax credit means that the $8,000 is a dollar for dollar reduction in what you owe in taxes. This means that if you owed $8,000 in income taxes and you received the $8,000 tax credit, you would owe nothing to the IRS. If you are owed a refund of $1,000, after the credit you would receive a refund of $9,000! And no, you don’t have to pay it back if you live in your new home for at least 3 years. Actually both the term property virgin and first time buyer are not really accurate. Eligibility for this tax break really focuses on your...

Median Home Price Rises in Sonoma County

A few days ago I wrote in a post: The sheer activity level, the vast number of first time buyers and investor clients looking for rental property, and the declining number of new listings have all been detailed here over the previous months. In December, new sales exceeded new listings for the first time in many months, and, beginning in February it seems to us that the bottom was reached and had passed some entry level buyers by. A few minutes ago I received the following snapshot of the Sonoma County Real Estate Market closed sales figures from March 2008 through March 2009, thanks to my broker, Rick Laws of Coldwell Banker, who compiles our market statistics and shares them generously, with not only me and my colleagues, but the Press Democrat newspaper. Obviously one of the take aways from this graph, year over year, is the 27% drop in median price for the county. But the median price rose from its low in February about $10,000 with a high rate of closed sales and a good statistical base. Prices on the low end seem to have stabilized and maybe bounced upwards a few percent. This is as welcome as the signs of spring!...

The Credit Crisis Simplified

Kudos to blog buddy Gretchen Merrick, writing from the South Bay, for calling my attention to this wonderful animation which explains the origins of the current credit crisis in clear and simple fashion. Her post contains a link to an interview on Terry Gross's Fresh Air Show on National Public Radio, which offers more detail. The Credit Crisis Simplified | South County Real Estate Today I thought I would offer the video here. I love this form of visual communication when done well! The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo....

Have we hit bottom in the Sonoma County real estate market cycle?

Actually the only way you know is when it has passed by. A few weeks ago an agent friend and I were visiting as I fed the horses one early spring evening. She was telling me of the difficulties she was having successfully securing a home for first time buyers. This a great agent with many years of experience who was working with entry level low income buyers in Sonoma County. They were looking for a home priced under $200,000 in the Santa Rosa city limits. They were pre-approved for FHA financing with the reputable lender who had referred them to my client. They are eligible for a $10,000 down payment assistance from the city of Santa Rosa which will subsidize their down payment. Their income and credit qualified them for an FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan. Although they qualify for the federal government first time buyer $8,000 tax credit, that cash won't reach their pockets until after the sale has closed. This couple was competing in many multiple offer situations with all cash investor buyers or other first time buyers such as themselves. Many properties in their price range were in such poor condition that they would not meet the strict FHA property condition guidelines, and the repairs needed would have put them beyond the couple's limited budget. I don't know how many offers they wrote but they were not having luck. As my friend detailed the many days and hours she spent with this couple, she said it was seeming increasingly unlikely that they would make it into the market. I paused as I asked her, "Do you think we have hit the bottom here in Sonoma County?". She said yes--good properties are selling extremely fast and sometimes at over asking price. I had to agree. What had seemed a consistently active but still laid back market this winter was falling into high gear as the days got longer. As some of my buyer clients and I surmised in January and February, we felt that things would be much more competitive as spring arrived, and that seems to be true. In fact, the southern part of Sonoma County, in Petaluma was already scorching hot at Christmas and New Year's time. And that same scorch-ability (sp?) seemed to be tracking north along the 101 corridor. The...

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me

The title of my last blog post was so upbeat I was a tad embarrassed on reflection.  Was I just drinking the real estate Koolaid?  If you read the body of the post last week, you'd realize that my comments were a little more nuanced, but there was good reason for my optimism. I was in the midst of a multiple offer competition on a property in Healdsburg (my buyers are now in escrow and very happy), there were many properties going into escrow in the last couple of weeks in Sonoma County, and not just in the bottom end of the REO pool. Some really special country properties in Sebastopol and Graton that interested a number of my clients sold within a week of coming on the market before people could even get up here from out of town to see them. Open houses were packed all over the county. My transaction coordinator, Alise Posman, had 10 newly opened escrow files on her desk Monday morning and she is only one of several TC's at our office. It seems that there is a lot of pent up demand, and people with cash are deciding to invest in real estate here rather than stuff it under a mattress. Some are buying rentals, some are buying homes for the first time. Some are buying weekend homes, or rentals that will eventually become their wine country retirement homes. Some are searching for horse properties and there are some great deals at a variety of price points. That said, I felt a little sheepish about the headline, given the brutal reality of current conditions in our country. The old title of Richard Farina's 1966 book came to mind: "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me". I guess we are taking these signs of life as encouragement where we can this spring. No one has any illusions that happy days are here again but there are little glimmers of hope, kind of like the first bulbs coming up in the spring. It will be interesting to see how this year unfolds. But don't believe if you are a buyer that you will be without competition for the best properties, well-priced and in good condition this spring. If you are a seller take heed, and do what it takes to be perceived as a deal right out of the chute. You might be pleasantly surprised....

Sonoma County Real Estate Market sizzling hot up to $1 Million

But not over a million.  That part of our market is very slow.  But signs are very encouraging for a more balanced market in 2009 at all price points under a million.  The experience of most Sonoma County realtors I know is that buyers are out if force for January, following a very busy holiday season.  The big difference is that we are finally seeing sales movement at prices between $400,000 and $1 million, as buyers in those price ranges seem to be stepping off the fence. Both single family homes and condos are selling at a rapid clip. More details to come but here is a quick snapshot for single family dwellings in all price ranges through January 30, 2009. ...