Blog

Why shouldn't consumers have access to sales data?

Some local MLS's (multiple listings services) are now starting to enable consumers to search "sold" listings as well as actives and pendings.  This has been a controversial move for the old guard in real estate, stemming from the days when the licensed realtor high priests held data to themselves and were able to pronounce as from the Oracle of Delphi, what property values might be for a given potential listing or buyer purchase.  Not hard to hold that data tight to your chest when the only access was the printed MLS book updated weekly.  A little impossible to defend in the days of Zillow, etc.   Personally, I want my clients to have as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions, and we work as a more powerful team that way....

I knew the deal was in trouble when…

... we noticed that the claw foot tub in the guest bathroom was supported by foam blocks and the home inspector had not noticed.  My contractor husband came by to inspect the property informally with me as I performed my agent's visual examination.   This was a new home in the country outside NW Santa Rosa, with fantastic style and my clients fell in love with it on-line and we wrote an offer after they flew in from San Diego to see it in person.  It stood up at first glance and matched their on line infatuation.   Kind of like a successful first encounter after meeting on Match.com! Anyway, the home had been built on spec by an architect and built by himself and his buddies, we later found out.   Something didn't seem right somehow--it had never been occupied and had been finalled by the county inspectors earlier in the year.    When Bruce (my husband) came by to look at the property (unofficially--i.e. not retained by my clients) he was able to point out a large number of items that had either been done improperly or were never finished.  For the most part, they were minor but added up to a huge punch list.  Given that the property had been "finished" nearly a year earlier, that was cause for concern. The most egregious item was the aforementioned claw-footed tub.  Bruce was able to easily tap the foam supports away and said, "Can you imagine what would happen the first time the tub was filled with water?"  Apparently the only thing supporting it was the exposed drain pipe running down to the subway tiles!    While we called for an official plumbing inspection to further investigate, my clients tossed and turned and lost a lot of sleep until we decided that the best course was to cancel the escrow due to the results of their investigations.   That was in August of 2007.  The house is still on the market, but on November 30, my clients closed escrow on a FANTASTIC new home in Healdsburg built by a very successful and conscientious builder.  There was a happy ending after all.   My husband, the contractor, said that oftentimes in new construction, it takes a large cast of inspectors to really evaluate a property.   I am not so sure, and have changed home inspection companies....

Sonoma– the brand–tea kettles to purses

As a relatively recent (1999) transplant to Sonoma County, I don't need to be sold on the Sonoma County lifestyle.  I do spend a lot of time with out of town country property buyers showing them what makes Sonoma County special to me:  the stunning views, fabulous food and wine, the gardening paradise and fabulous places to ride and a very active equestrian community.  According to yesterday's Press Democrat, much of the US is taking it's appreciation of the Sonoma lifestyle national.  "The name Sonoma can now be found on everything from field glasses by Tasco to a lounge chair at Ace Hardware, tableware by Thomson to tea kettles by Farberware. Coach, the ultimate name in aspirational handbags, featured a Sonoma line of natural grain leather purses that sold in the three figures. Men can order a pair of H.S. Trask "Sonoma" loafers for $170. "Sonoma" is one of the leading house brands for Kohl's Department Stores, putting Sonoma on blue jeans and bath towels. Montgomery Ward is peddling a Sonoma line of furniture. The even more well-heeled homeowner can capture a bit of Wine Country glamour by logging on to PoshLiving.com and ordering up the "Sonoma" wicker and mahogany outdoor bar set for $3,263." "Co-opting cachet Sonoma carries what marketing experts call "geographic equity." Manufacturers, restaurants and retailers can gain an immediate response from consumers, even without marketing, by co-opting the cachet of a place, even if the product was made in China and has no connection to the area at all, said Damon Aiken, a professor of marketing at Western Washington University, who has studied the phenomenon." Apparently Napa doesn't carry quite the same cachet with marketers, being a measly two syllable word, which aside from the obvious wine connotations (an area in which it pre-dates Sonoma in fame--remember the old Sonapanoma Mendocino ads?  That will really date you if you do--Italian Swiss Colony ads from the 60's cashed in on Northern California cachet.) Napa apparently resonates with branding experts and marketers in terms of car parts too--less appetizing if you are planning to open a trendy eatery in Washington DC, Dallas or New Zealand.  What do locals think of this exalted marketing status?  Considering the fact that tourism brings over a billion dollars into Sonoma county businesses, more than doubling from $500 million in 2000, and one of the top 3 industries in the county, along with wine and technology, it can't be all bad.  More on this later. "...

Setting: the Wild Card in Country Property Values

Pricing residential country property is very challenging-there are so many variables to consider beyond beds and baths, square footage and age, location and condition. The size and condition of the septic system, the condition of the well and its capacity and water quality, zoning, expansion possibilities and more. (If you would have told me back at Swarthmore that I would become reasonably expert in any of these issues --especially septic--I would have doubted your sanity. Since a good 70 percent of the properties in Sonoma County are on well and septic, one of the most valuable services I can offer my clients is my ability to work with them, along with a team of experts  to carefully ensure that a property will be suitable for their needs, now and the foreseeable future. There are many great resources and people available to assist in the process, and an agent knowledgeable in country property can streamline the search and buying process for their clients, and help them to avoid pitfalls. But the true wildcard in valuation of country property is the setting. An exceptionally private, serene setting with pastoral or dramatic views, in a tranquil location of (name your pick) wild hills and orchards, vineyards, horse farms, quaint farmhouses, redwoods or oak-studded hills, or various combinations of these, have a perceived value to the buyer that is very difficult to value.  It seems that many out of town buyers coming to a wonderful destination such as the wine country of Northern California, all want the proto-typical vintage farmhouse with wrap-around porch in a scenic setting.  They dont't want to see or hear neighbors close by, and they'd probably like to see (or own) a vineyard or two.  Is the setting wild card factor worth $20,000 per acre, or more? Will a property be so gorgeous or secluded that someone will "overpay" by six figures?  Is it really over-paying if a willing buyer puts the money on the table? A client and I  viewed a property priced at $1.1 million the other day that perfectly met my buyers' needs for a weekend home in Sonoma county. By all rights, and based upon extensive touring, the property, in my opinion and the opinion of many agents I know, should have been priced under $1m, possibly closer to $950Kor $925K, even if in perfect condition. However, it was exactly a kind of property that would be a perfect weekend retreat...

Factual versus Actual: The Bay Area Real Estate Tide floats Sonoma County's Real Estate Boat

Have you ever visited the US Army San Francisco Bay Model? It is really great to see when the model is running and you can view the really complex tidal patterns that circulate through San Francisco Bay--I had the chance once when I attended a sailboat racing lecture there--tides being really critical to your success racing on SF Bay. With Homescopes, I hope that we can use our informal network of agents on the ground, to help us as a region get a feel for the ebbs and flows of our inter-related Northern California marketplaces. Many of us in the real estate market in the North Bay are fairly convinced that our market in Sonoma and Napa is very influenced by the strengths and variations of the Bay Area real estate market whether in terms of general trends (Hot, Cold or Indifferent) as well as localized effects such as the tides of Palo Alto and the Peninsula, San Francisco and the East Bay Insterstate 80 corridor. I spoke to my friend Izetta Feeny yesterday, a long time Coldwell Banker agent in Sonoma County and shared with her the 3 Ocean's Real Estate recent post about rapid median price apprection in Palo Alto and other selected markets in the Bay Area. "Oh! That's good," she said, "That means we'll see the effect up here in 18 months." As if the rising tide of the heart of the Bay Area's market would eventually ripple north to Sonoma and Napa counties and lift our boat. When our boat is eventually lifted by the Bay Area high tide, we attract at least 2 types of buyers from out of town: entry level buyers who can't afford to live where they work in Marin or San Francisco, and upper-tier buyers with equity in strong, competitive Bay markets that want a lifestyle change and move here full time, or who are looking for a weekend getaway or wine country estate. As the most desireable markets in the Bay Area are strong, then we see a more immediate impact on the markets that will serve the budding country squire (and squire-ess). Virtually all the buyers I have worked with this year fall into this category of new "lifestyle" immigrants to the wine country. As you view the upper quartile median price points for many of Sonoma County's cities (well, towns), the cities with the most cachet for out of town...

Homes on the auction block

One of my colleagues asked me to accompany him to a home auction at the fairgrounds in San Mateo County last weekend. Now, when I think of auctions I think of the Keeneland Yearling Sales in Kentucky, the Napa or Sonoma Wine Auctions or livestock auctions. The concept of auctioning peoples' HOMES, I found depressing and sort of difficult to imagine, as if the homes would be paraded around the livestock ring on a lead rope, with numbers stickered on them, and the happy buyers would roll them away in shopping carts. So last Saturday I decided to go, and to help Miguel and Cecilia, his wife, as their agent, and see what the scoop was.The auction was run by LandAuction.com, a company which primarily has run land sales, but recently has started to move more homes due to the subprime mortgage situation and the amount of homes in default. The process of buying a home in this way is appealing to a lot of people (they think they are getting a deal, and the average time of a home on the block (2 minutes--or 500 homes a weekend) certainly shortens the sales cycle! In Australia, many homes are sold at auction. The process is fraught with risks however, and is about as different as can be from the "standard" California home purchase transaction as it can be, without completely disregarding California laws concerning seller disclosure and buyer investigations in real estate transactions.In the case of the auction, the buyer generally must do ALL of their investigation prior to bidding on the property buy the property as is and with no contingencies close within 21 days of the auction Unless you are very familiar with an area, and have thoroughly investigated a property, you could find yourself in the position of losing your earnest money deposit if you change your mind after your "winning" bid and decide not to go through with a purchase. This is the reverse of the sequence and a vastly different process on a "normal" purchase where the buyer is in the driver's seat during a negotiated contingency period and can cancel a purchase during their timeframes if the property does not pass their inspections or their loan is not approved, for example if the property doesn't pass muster with either the bank or the appraiser. There is no loan contingency period unless you use the lender affiliated with the...

Horses and Wine Country

For more inspiration about the wine country from a horsey viewpoint. This article was posted last year in the monthly on-line magazine from Bay Area Equestrian Network, an invaluable resource for all things equestrian in Northern California. There are other regional equestrian magazines around the US, but this is one of the first and most widely visited. I bought my truck and my living quarters trailer through this site, although www.usedtrailers.com and www.endurance.net are also good trailer-finding resourses, but that can be a subject for a different day. Ciao for now....

Wine Country and Horses

Hi All, This is the first post of what i hope will be a series of regular comments on the Sonoma County wine country lifestyle and my experiences as a realtor with Coldwell Banker entering my fifth year of business. I am a high tech refugee from the Bay Area who traded in my home with views of San Francisco Bay for 3.5 acres in the wine country northwest of Santa Rosa nine years ago. My purpose was to fulfill a life long dream to own a horse property and have some more room to roam for myself and my Vizsla dogs, with whom I compete with at field events along with the horse or rather now, horses, plural. Personally I spent countless weekends searching both Sonoma and to a lesser extent, Marin and Napa counties before I found a beautiful spot on a quiet lane in the Olivet area. Wine Spectator just featured this part of Sonoma County so I guess it is catching on. (registration required).It was one of the last places I expected to buy since many of my friends owned property over in the Valley of the Moon area, i.e. Kenwood, Glen Ellen and the town of Sonoma, and their places were my base while I searched. However, one day I found a really neglected 3.5 acre piece surrounded by vineyards and horse properties which had sat on the market for over seven months. It had been very overpriced and showed poorly. Not a good sales strategy but a great opportunity for a buyer (and experienced friend) to whom setting was paramount, and the rest could be fixed. The place was full of stuff, not well maintained and a student lived in it and had the heat on to over 80 degrees every day. The grounds were neglected and there was an old prune orchard on a big chunk of it. However, the setting was secluded, with vineyard views and a quiet, peaceful feel away from major road, yet 10 minutes to everything. I was sold.Anyway, I am very glad to have landed here, as are my horses, and absolutely love Northern and Western Sonoma County, which have so much to offer. I really don’t miss the Bay Area, and can easily get to the Golden Gate Bridge in an hour (traffic permitting of course.) I fell so much more in love with the area that...

X