THE SECOND STORY | April 16th, 2009

There’s a lot of wind around the halls of City Hall…(oh no, not another rant)

(This week’s photo was a rare opportunity to see the U.S., California, and Alameda flags (at City Hall), whipping straight out against a gorgeous blue sky. The already cold day was made a lot colder due to the wind chill, as I rode my bike on the broker tour into a headwind along the length of Shoreline Drive. I figured the breeze was a solid 25 knots: a value judgment based on a few years of sailing and flying. Weather reports noted surface winds around the bay, bridges, and beaches to be upwards of 50 mph that day. Nifty!)

City Hall and what’s inside and around those halls….

Tuesday, April 7th:The Mif Albright Par 3 Golf Course: I attended the City Council meeting to offer support for re-opening the 9 hole par 3 Mif Albright golf course, which has been closed down for several months and allowed to lay fallow. It’s part of the Alameda Chuck Corica Golf Complex. The room was packed with citizens of all ages; young kids, middle and high school student golfers (among them regional, state, and national level talents), seniors who play the game but don’t want the commitment of 18 holes, and everybody who practices the ‘short’ game. It’s fun, easy, well-paced, and very inexpensive!

There is a lot of concern and confusion about how the place has been managed in past years by the city and most recently under the Recreation and Parks Department. Then there’s the city’s accounting system which doesn’t seem too transparent. The argument has been that the place doesn’t make any money. The fact is that the money it has made (about 500K per year for the past 10 years) has been immediately shuttled into the city coffers resulting in a lack of proper golf course capital improvements (like course drainage, updating restrooms, the driving range rolled carpet, etc.) just to keep it at par (get it? par?). Anyway, it’s been turned over to Kemper Golf, a professional management company that has a one year contract. And there is a noticeable improvement around there.

But Kemper wasn’t hired to run the Mif. And they don’t want it. They think Alameda is primed to be a fancy golf place. And most of the users say ‘not so much.’ But a big group of locals want the Mif back and a plan devised by a local gentleman may just help that happen. Open the Mif and run it as a non-profit. There are ways to do it. And it can pay for itself as long as the city is not allowed to touch the money. The plan is now in front of the City Council and interim City Manager. It will be fun to see how this wonderful coming together of the citizens turns out!

New subject: City Managers – Speaking (writing) of the interim City Manager, our new one took over from the old one in the past month. What strikes me is how the term interim means a two year contract. That’s a lot of interim. But so far, I think Ann Marie Gallant can call a spade a spade and may have a fighting chance of getting the town into shape midst these challenging times.

Too bad about the last one. More than a few have thought she resigned before she could get fired. What’s up with her resigning and she gets 6 months of severance pay? The City Council that was in place when they hired her negotiated that contract. Buh bye Debra Kurita. Good luck.

New subject: Trash it – Back to the City Council meeting I attended. I didn’t have to speak about the Mif. Others said all there was to be said. But I found myself in front of the council addressing a topic that had touched me recently and they just happened to have it on the agenda. Trash. Garbage. Recycling. I don’t know about you, but we don’t put nearly as much garbage into our gray bins (remember we have apartments here), and thus continue to pay for that which we do not use. I am aware there are ‘health’ minimums about what size bins you have to provide per unit. But the construct doesn’t make sense. We pay for bins that don’t get used!

It seems the concept of recycling is catching on. But with the downturn in the economy, big money right now is not in the commodities associated with recycling and ACI is having a tough time selling all the recycled materials it collects. So Alameda chipped in 800K to ACI (the money was a set-aside somewhere for something like this I guess) to help offset their losses, and then the council voted to extend the contract with them until 2022!

Something was mentioned during the city staff presentation about prevailing wages and the Teamsters – in the same sentence – and my ears perked up. ACI was pitching all the small cities they serve to get them to give them money, with the implication being that we get better service from a smaller provider and we got everything we asked for as citizens when we signed our last contract with ACI. Not only did I point out to the council that we pay for basic service we don’t use, I wondered if they did some type of online survey to the payers, if the list of services that seemed so important the last go-round, might look a bit different now! I also asked what kind of prevailing wage the Teamsters got. The two concepts of prevailing wage and Teamsters don’t mesh to me.

I asked the council, in this day and time, since we were about to gvie ACI 800 grand, just what were the Teamsters giving up to the cause? Ooh, ahh, subject off limits? People around me in the audience had been muttering during the presentations from our Public Works Director Matt Naclerio, and the rep from ACI. So I took the bait and asked.

I also voiced my concern about extending a contract so far out, noting that a lot can happen in a short time these days, and a contract so long doesn’t give the users/payers much flexibility.

Here’s what I think about that…this council will be long gone by the time the absurdity of this length contract becomes obvious. It’s no different than the previous councils that chose to ignore the union contract obligations they approved for the city fire and police that have now resulted in unfunded liabilities to the tune today about $67,000.000+ !

Once the public comment portion of the meeting was closed (there were two of us who spoke and the other is a great guy I know with generations of sanitation engineers in his family, as he pointed out), Marie Gilmore kind of answered my question. ACI has a ‘follow me’ type of Teamster relationship. That means that whatever the bigger group of local Teamsters does, the smaller group follows them, no questions asked. A city employee sitting next to me agreed that we clearly had to apply for jobs with ACI. It apparently has a perfect pay system for its employees, untouched by the economy.

And this week, I found out from a local property manager, that along with the package the council approved for ACI, there was a clause that requires owners to pay for services for their tenants in 5+ unit buildings. No longer can tenants have their own bills. Sure the costs get passed on to the tenants. The upside is there are fewer bins getting dragged to the street curbs. The downside is that tenants will not be as concerned about the expense if it doesn’t come out of their own pockets. We’ve always included garbage and recyling in our rents…but…there must be more money in it for ACI to want that change. There is simply no other obvious reason for it.

New subject: Will Sun Cal get the Point (get it? Alameda Point or the point the people may be trying to make?) – Did you get a robo-call from Mayor Johnson and the brochure about 3 weeks ago with her picture on it endorsing the Sun Cal (never mentioned directly in the call or brochure) ballot proposal? Tell me it ain’t so Madame Mayor. It is such a blatant shove of a proposal down the citizens throats and makes it appear you are in bed with the developer!

Today’s Alameda Sun had some excellent comments, letters, an editorial, and a report of how the Sun Cal signature gatherers are attempting to hit the hot buttons of citizens by saying the ballot measure will get the toxic mess the Navy left behind at the base cleaned up. No mention of Measure A being eliminated from their Alameda Point plan, or the density of the housing.

I’ve now heard the rep from Sun Cal do the pitch three times in various meetings. At the first one, a Chamber of Commerce committee (of which I am a member) meeting, I was the only one to ask about Sun Cal’s financial backing. Admitting that some of their other projects were heavily backed by Lehman Brothers (oops, say buh bye to them), he said the Alameda Point project is financially sound.

Okay, here’s the deal. Yesterday I had the chance to chat for a few minutes with a recently laid off finance guy who did big ‘deals’ with OPM (other people’s money) in providing financing for those ‘deals’. I’ve come to know John because over the years we have volunteered in various high school classrooms in which teachers have incorporated a program called the UrbanPlan into their advance placement Economics and Government curriculum. And so it was yesterday when we met up at Miramonte High School in Moraga. Check out this video, mostly filmed here in Alameda, to see what I’ve been privileged to be part of for the past 6 years. John is in several scenes, as well as Mike Corbitt, the guy in charge of all the leasing at Alameda Towne Centre. I asked John what he knew and thought about Sun Cal. He didn’t have much positive to say about its strength and/or its ability to perform.

Here’s another aspect that hits me. I don’t like to be told I’ve got a ‘take it or leave it’ choice. And that’s exactly what Sun Cal is asking this town to do by taking their plan to the voters in the form of a ‘take it or leave it’,’ yea or nay’ measure they are trying to get on the November ballot. As I’ve been saying when asked, think about what South Shore could have been and what the town got. Thank goodness the town rejected the orignal size of the Community of Harbor Bay Isle.

I’ve also been saying for quite some time “Government is not designed to move quickly. If we see it (on any level) pushing through something too fast, that is the sign to put the brakes on and slow it down.”

New subject: Fire fighters and police officers – did you know that of approximately 106 total staff of the Fire Department only about 6 live in Alameda? I think between 24-27 are on staff at any time. I asked that question of our Fire Chief who gave a presentation at last week’s HBR office meeting. I was thinking about how many of those employees care about the quality of our parks and schools if they don’t use them. Others gasped their concern about who will be working here in an emergency? There is apparently a program that gives fire deparment members who live in one town but are employed in another, the ability to work in their town in an emergency, if they can’t get to their job. Oh, now I remember. We’re an ISLAND! How many will be able to get here, or yet, how many live here and work in other towns (I bet that number isn’t huge).

The question of what is the total effective pay of the job, plus overtime, plus life time health benefits for the firefighter and his/her spouse (yes!), plus the fact that retirement can come at a fairly early age also came up. That bullet was dodged pretty well since management can’t talk about union business in detail. I expect those city employee pay packages will be put out into the public in the near future, since it has been ruled public information in the courts. So far nobody’s had the guts to do it here yet.

Well, this writing was a surprise to me. I sat down with nothing in my head. But a lot sure popped out. Sorry for the length.

Alameda real estate this week…

If you are looking for an interesting time about 1pm tomorrow, Friday, go to 1238 Versailles, the Webster House (bed and breakfast, kind of). It’s been grossly overpriced for years. Sotheby’s just took it off the market, failing miserably in their attempt to bring prestige to the place at 1.7M+. A real estate auction house has put it on the market last Sat for 595K. I’ve spoke to that agent twice, last Saturday. They get it low and expect to drive it up. Any bets on the selling price? If the reserve figure (not published or known, but I did ask) is not achieved, it will go short. They are accepting the normal contract Realtors use. It will be a live auction. The place is just funky. I’ll be there to watch!

Check out this article in the New York Times. A neighbor emailed it to me and then I also found it in one of my online trade journals. It’s close to home (Piedmont and Orinda) and really supports my long-time feelings about open houses, of which many of you are familiar because we’ve had ‘the talk’.

Active listings 164, 158 last report
Pending listings 82, 76 last report
Note: there was a large jump in new listings in the past 2 days, thus they were not on this past Tues Tour.

Tuesday Tour 10 with 1 repeat

Highest priced new listing
Lowest priced new listing

New 15

BOM (back on market) 1

Price changes 10

Pending 11

Sold 3

Expired (some show up as new) 5

Withdrawn/cancelled (some show up as new) 4

Alameda real estate awards this week…remember this is only my perspective
Get me a facelift

Got me a makeover

That’s a wrap. Enjoy the weather over the weekend! ‘They say it’s heatin’ up!

Carry on! Marilyn

THE SECOND STORY | April 14th, 2009

March 2009 Sales Stats and Market Charts for A-town!

(First rose of the season from the garden last week!)

Check out the stats below. I’ve added some back stories that may give some perspective beyond what the limited sales are.

Active listings as of 4/14/09 160 (178 Feb stats)
Pending listings as 4/14/09 78 (60 Feb stats)

The chart link below is of value to see the trends year over year. The source is the MLS but Harbor Bay Realty has an exclusive contract with the vendor who preps the data and presents it. I can do amazing searches. But remember – if a listing has been pulled off the market for more than 30 days, then the price and days on market (DOM) start as fresh, eliminating the original price and the previous days on the market. It’s how the system reads the data.

March sales charts March 08-March 09 Show charts

2 bedroom single family homes (4)

  • average DOM 50
  • average sales price $479,750
  • notes: the property at 1104 Santa Clara started at 599K. The actual average DOM for this group of 4 was 96.

3 bedroom single family homes (6)

  • average DOM 29
  • average sales price $632,000
  • notes: two of these really did sell over list price. 1809 Fremont actually started at 899K and finished at 815K

4 bedroom single family homes (2)

  • average DOM 64
  • average sales price 987K
  • notes: the property on Old Castle had full bay views on the walk path. History – it closed 5/2/05 for 1.5M. on a list price of 1.490M. Then it was on the market for 1.625M 7/23/06, dropped to 1.529M and then cancelled 10/09/06. Next it came on the market 8/2/07 for 1.445M and then cancelled 9/27/07. Next it came on the market 2/5/09 for 1/295M and closed for that price 3/25/09.
  • notes: the property on Sable Point was actually on the market for 11/1/07 for 939K, then it dropped to 805K on 10/18/08, and it closed 3/13/09 for 690K.

2 bedroom apartment style condos (1)

  • DOM 5
  • sales price 350K (original list 385)

3 bedroom townhomes (1)

  • DOM 1
  • sales price 408K

4 unit apartment buildngs (1)

  • DOM 279
  • sales price 688K
  • NOT a fixer, had common laundry, off-street parking, concrete foundation, nice location.

Check out previous posts for financing updates, more market observations.

Carry on! Marilyn

THE SECOND STORY | April 9th, 2009

Watching the work week, and watching the week work.

(This is the FIRST rose of the season and there must be at least 150 buds waiting to bloom in the front yard! The two Double Delight rose bushes have always been the first to show.)

The only thing mornings and Marilyn have in common is the letter M. We don’t necessarily see eye to eye, mostly because both of my eyes are closed when dark turns to dawn. Much of the world around me is already sitting at a desk, commuting (bike, car, public transit) to a desk, delivering kids to school, running on the beach, walking a dog, or have completed a workout at a club or gym. Gosh, I wonder what that’s like….no I really don’t.

But this week I hit the early morning meetings with vigor and gusto: Monday 8am- contractor bid; Tuesday 7:30am – meeting called by City Council Member Frank Matarrese with various community business leaders – no, I’m not a biz leader. I was asked to attend with the Chamber of Commerce Exec Director and President because of my involvement with a City Manager appointed committee dealing with customer service for the Planning and Building Department; Wednesday my regular HBR sales meeting; Thursday another contractor inspection; and yet to come – Friday an appliance repair appointment (my own 10 year old Maytag Neptune frontload washer), followed by a meeting with a potential client.

Then there were the evening activities/meetings: Monday a church committee meeting; Tuesday the City Council meeting (attended and spoke – watching on TV is better) and was there until after 10pm; Wed our wonderful mid-week church testimony meeting, then talking with Evan and Erin about their home searching adventure in San Diego; Thursday my meeting with the computer to do this blog. And Friday, I’ve made a double date with my ironing board and Netflix.

In between the early AM and the later PM: 4 hours of property inspections; the broker tour; wrote an offer; interviewed for a listing; previewed a unique property I may have the privilege to work on; prepped a large property just before 2 virtual tours were shot; reviewed about 50 pages of 30 years of permits for that same big property.

In between those: researching property comps for tax challenges; attempts to establish values for potential listings for which there are no comps; attempts to calm and get answers for a buyer in contract; calls to agents to get feedback about property showings and then report back to the clients; phone calls to return; emails to read and write; call an agent to get inspector referrals for friends who are beginning to think about selling a house; a golf lesson late Thursday morning (a rare word to me in the world of golf, the word “excellent” was heard more than once -yippee- must be the new clubs), trip to Costco; and Friday isn’t even here yet. I expect the mid-day Friday golf game will be rained or muddied out.

Oh, I forgot about the sawing, hammering, bolting, and general extreme racket going on under the house between 8am and 3pm for the past 2.5 weeks, with maybe one more week to go. We are adding to our 20 year old concrete foundation some engineered seismic shearwalls and extra bolting around the front half perimeter of the building and to some some interior lower subwalls).

All the work, the play, the down time, up time, on time, off time, blends together harmoniously.

Now you see why I feel so blessed to do what I do! Nothing is old, everything is new. The people I am privileged to work for or with are exceptional. Strange situations give me perspective and opportunities to try to solve problems, as well as an appreciation for that which is not strange.

Recently I’ve found myself finishing each day, as I lay in bed saying “Thank you for letting me…..(fill in the blank).” I start with the simple and obvious, and ease into the deeper, more obscure. Then I sleep.

Alameda real estate this week….

Inventory is down, and pending sales up again. With the moratorium on foreclosures coming to an end, there is concern there may be an increase of foreclosed properties coming on the market but this link talks about ‘shadow foreclosures in the Bay Area. I’ve spoken with several folks recently who are in the long, drawn-out process of loan modification and they are grateful for relief. Here’s a synopsis of what is going on out there now. Some sellers are having a hard time adjusting to the adjusted market (list price too high, condition doesn’t match the price).

The trick out there is to NOT believe the short sale or REO -real estate owned (by the lender) listing price. If it sounds too good to be true it just may be because multiple offers show up. And I know of a situation where the lender continues to counter offer above the short sale list price, despite the fact that two recently closed sales support the list price. Gotta feel sorry for that listing agent. While reviewing some recent closed duplexes, a couple of closed prices were HUGELY discounted off the list price. Opportunities are found most frequently with those properties that have been on the market a LONG time.

Active listings 159, 158 last report
Pending listings 76, 76 last report

Tuesday Tour 9 with 2 repeats

Highest priced new listing
Lowest priced new listing

New 11

BOM (back on market) 3

Price changes 7

Pending
14

Sold 5

Expired
7

Withdrawn/cancelled 1

Alameda real estate awards this week..
.remember this is only my perspective.

Winner, Out of Rehab (well, it’s been completely re-done)

Get me to Rehab

Get me a Facelift

If you celebrate Easter, have a joyous day. Everybody else…have a joyous day, too!

Carry on! Marilyn

THE SECOND STORY | April 2nd, 2009

Spring bloom blast and a blustery day by bike.

(This week’s blog photo is courtesy of a friend of a dear friend and client of mine who is a regular reader. Robert Perricone is a wonderful photographer of all outdoors Alameda, AND has loads of Alameda walks he’s logged, tracked, and cataloged, complete with distances, landmarks, and notes on items of interest along the way. In his email print version he has links to many of those items. It’s quite impressive! So thanks Betty for sending along three of his photos, and thanks Robert for being willing to share! As I read through some of the Alameda walks, it occurred to me they are excellent bike rides -my style)! I named Robert’s photo this week “Spring bloom blast.” It is located in the linear street park along Main Street (walk and bike path within it) on the way to the ferry on the estuary –oh that rhymes! I like it!)

When the kids were little there were favorite books that Carl and liked for ourselves. They were meant for the kids, but they became part of our lives. A day like today was a classic Winnie the Pooh Blustery Day. Wonderful and gorgeous! I was riding around town on my bike doing a loop full of errands, watching the whitecaps on the bay when I realized what a classic spring day we had. Blustery. And so it goes.

Alameda real estate this week….
The common thread this week is once again the financing hoops people are being required to jump through. Here are some stories from one of my CA Assoc of Realtors online trade journals that may help explain what is going on out there and why it all seems to dump on just you. Trust me, the lenders are not that exclusive…they are doing it to everybody.

Jumbo mortgages costly and still hard to get

Mortgage refinances on the rise
(duh, my comment)

Cashing out is now harder

Challenging your property tax valuation – now that we’ve passed the comp cutoff date of March 31, you’ll be able to collect comps up to that date if you want to challenge your assessment. But you can’t actually submit anything until you receive your postcard in July from the county with the notification of what your property is being valued at. Some of you have inquired about the values and I’ve already sent out some comp info so folks are ready. If you have questions, let me know but there is plenty of time to get organized and I’ll keep you in the loop.

My client got an accepted offer at 538 Haight this week! I’ve received several calls from people who are positioned and motivated to sell for any number of reasons: need to sell in order to buy, not just moving out – moving out of the country, tired of being a landlord. And I’ve had a number of calls from those ready to jump into the market: seeing a combination of super low interest rates and price drops, wanting to move into a larger place, downsizing. I think this is indicative of the larger market and that the activity level is increasing because of that perfect combo of interest rates and pricing. But along with that it’s been equally interesting to see numerous properties come BOM in the past weeks.

Another big list of pending sales this week. Inventory is down…hhmmm.

Active listings 158, 168 last report
Pending listings 71, 68 last report

Tuesday tour
(not too many) 9 with 2 repeats

Highest priced new listing

Lowest priced new listing

New 10

BOM (back on market)
2

Price changes 2

Pending 18

Sold 9

Expireds 2

Withdrawn/cancelled 8

Alameda real estate awards this week…remember this is only my perspective!

Get me a facelift! and me too! That’s it!

Have a great weekend!

Carry on! marilyn

THE SECOND STORY | March 26th, 2009

What’s behind what we think we see?

(I had to put on the brakes, park the car, and take a photo this afternoon when I saw this blast of color in the 1600 block of San Jose while on my way to an appointment. We can thank the gardener/owner for some wonderful forethought.)

A number of years ago a friend gave me tickets to see the play/musical STOMP. It’s an amazing and loud conglomeration of rhythm, noise, dance, and humor. I was so impressed with the talent. And then I realized that if I was walking down a street and saw one of the cast members, it would not occur to me to think…’hey, I wonder if that guy is a Broadway dancer?” Admitting that I can be quick to judge, I’d probably think the kid was a high school dropout. Not good and not correct. That was quite an awakening for me.

I’m trying to look beyond the surface of things these days. I’d like to see what’s really behind my initial perceptions, which are often wrong. In an effort to show the softer side this week, I share two items that were sent along to me this week. Maybe you’ve seen them.

One is Ilana Yahov, who does sand art. Now I love the beach, I love sand, and I’ve spent my fair share of time playing in it and with it. But the world this woman sees as she morphs one scene into another on a back-lit sand table is beyond me.

That video triggered a response from daughter Sutter in New Zealand. Once you click on the link, scroll down a bit to the video and then tolerate the ad for a few moments. This guy is known as the Sand Dancer. Sutter showed me samples of his work when she moved to NZ a few years ago. He works IN and ON the medium, and each piece disappears with the tide. We’re not talking sandcastles here. The way he carves and rakes his thoughts into designs on the beach with admittedly no initial plan, how he can visualize and then create a 3D picture in a rather two dimensional medium wakes me up to understand that what I think I see has nothing, nothing to do with what others perceptions are.

(I had one more item to share but I can’t figure out how to get it into the blog. Suffice to say I found myself crying with gratitude during the rather standard slide show format that had terrific pictures set to music. It was a good reminder to get out of myself. If you’d like to see it, send an email and I’ll attach it in a response.)

This is not to say that vision is solely for the artist. The engineer who has created the plan and execution of some seismic retrofitting being done around our house right now sees the world completely different from me. Not only in structure but in showing the workers exactly how to fit all the pieces together and eliminate mistakes! It’s like a piece of art. But mathematical and logical. Carl, as a yacht designer, could visualize his finished product in full 3D before he put it on paper, and then the builder translated those lines into massive shapes! His life-calling for work was both art and science.

It’s the same with toys and amusements! I had the chance to have some golf clubs fitted this week, and I was impressed with what the engineers and designers have come up with to make the design and function of each club more efficient and effective. Yes, I bought some new clubs. What a difference. Now I need to get used to what they can do.

And music! I’ve been fortunate to attend presentations of the SF Symphony, the Oakland Symphony, and Cal Performances the last two months. Oh my gosh…what those musicians pull out of their instruments! As I listened again and again, it hit me that each note for each instrument was heard in its completeness before the composer ever wrote it down!

How about the vision of the person who planted those gorgeous flowers pictured at the top of the blog this week?

All of these things were thoughts before they were manifested! As I control my thoughts, the opportunities for unlimited expression of them abound!

So that’s the softer side. I really do have one. And I know that each of us has equally amazing, diverse, unique talents, perhaps even still hidden within, yet there all along, just waiting for us to give them permission to come forward and change how we see the world.

Alameda real estate this week…

You’ll notice a decrease in the inventory and a jump in the pending sales this week. The property I called the Winner last week is now among the pending. Quite a few listings have expired or been withdrawn and then reinserted as ‘new’.

This article
repeats what I’ve been telling my clients about the financing process. Scroll straight to the heading ‘Sharp Underwriting.’ I’m warning and telling my clients that this isn’t about them…it’s about the moronic reactions to the moronic methods that lead the lenders to this moronic morass.

Active listings 167, 180 last report
Pending listings 68, 60 last report

Tuesday Tour
7 with 2 repeats (Clinton and Marina)

Highest priced new listing
Lowest priced new listing

New 8

BOM (back on market) 0

Price changes 13

Pending 17

Sold 10

Expired 3

Withdrawn/cancelled 9

Alameda real estate awards this week...remember this is only my perspective!
Not much to choose from and only one was worthy

Cute/charming (and now pending)

So that’s a wrap. I’ll be holding 31 Oak Park open on Sunday between 2-4pm. It is really nice, priced well, and I think some of the buyers out there will be getting off the fence soon. Based on what I’ve seen when I’ve been showing short sale and REO property this week to my Gen Y first time buyer client, things are picking up…and let me tell you, the discounts are deep in San Leandro.

Carry on! Marilyn

THE SECOND STORY | March 19th, 2009

All the info in the world is nothing without context.


(On the other side of this glorious fully bloomed tree is one of the Harbor Bay Realty conference rooms. Each season this gem has something to offer.)

I’d rather not repeat mistakes. Some of my best lessons are learned via the School of Hard Knocks ( graduation from which is far out on the horizon). One knock I took last year lead me to meet the Blue Screen of Death. I didn’t even know what it was until son Evan explained what I was looking at on my computer. Several hundred dollars later, and with a new hard drive and the excellent work of my tech meister, we (me and my computer) were up from the knock down.

The lesson learned was to think twice about opening an email if I don’t know the sender and/or if the subject matter is not clearly spelled out. If people are new to me, or I to them, the use of the phone is quite appropriate, and for me, preferable.

So, with that in mind, an email showed up last week from a person without a last name, and with only Alameda in the subject. As I was about to toss it, I paused and thought about it. And I opened it. And nothing bad happened. And there was a real phone number in the signature.

A woman from the east coast had been given my name as a real estate agent in Alameda. She expects to be moving back to the Bay Area, to our town, and wondered if I did rentals. I explained that my work was on the sales side but that I’d be happy to direct her to our property management section of the company website and since she wasn’t familiar with Alameda, I could perhaps help her with some pre-screening once I knew a bit about her priorities.

The email conversation has evolved. I wanted her to have a sense of place and distance about the properties she was considering. As I was thinking I could mark up one of the company paper maps, scan it, and email it back to her with the overall view, I said to myself, “Self, they have already invented Google Earth.” I haven’t maximized its use in my biz, but being willing to learn by doing (my late husband Carl’s dear alma mater Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s slogan), I spent a bit of this afternoon trying to figure out how to place addresses and make a tour on Google Earth. I got the address part down, but not the tour. So I saved the thing I made and emailed it.

It is very obvious to me if I can figure out the basics and a few tricks of this amazing tool, I may just enter the 21st century. The ability to show folks from across the world items of importance to THEM, not me, is powerful. As a consumer, I have used the ‘fly at ground level’ and ‘drive the streets’ modes. That beats any map or GPS. (BTW, If any of you have sources that can increase my learning curve, I’d love to know about it.)

Back to the relocation. I asked how she got my name. It is always nice to call, send a note, or even an email to say thanks to someone who shares my name. She got it from someone named Jamie, who knows Bethany, who rides the ferry with some folks who knew me. And I can’t figure out who any of these people are. And maybe it’s not important (except for wanting to offer a genuine thank you).

That got me thinking about connections. I visualize Facebook as being a crawler….linearly moving outward and reaching some we know, have known, care to know, know but don’t care to interact with, or bond with those whom we have something in common but may not necessarily know.

Then I thought about the string that lead the emailer to contact me. I was amazed by the effort it took to complete that request for information. My hope is that I may have helped her, just a bit, find satisfactory rental housing in a more informed, enlightened, and efficient manner before she explores Alameda in person, even if that means she selects another city. Our contact may have provided info about airport noise, distances and routes to/from work, and straight talk about California and Alameda schools. I encouraged her to take some time and hang out at a couple of local coffee shops and just listen to the people. And then ask questions. Alamedans are a friendly group: opinionated and caring about their town. And an indirect side benefit to me was learning a bit more about Google Earth and how it might help my customers!

This experience has, for me, reinforced the importance of context. All the info in the world means nothing without context. And that is why great real estate agents continue to do well, whatever market conditions exist.

(As another side benefit, it so happens daughter Sutter sent me this link from one of Seth Godin’s blogs. I rather liked the message of Where have all the agents gone? Check it out.)

New Topics
-From my New Zealand info source (Sutter), came this priceless piece. May be you’ve seen it.

Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has discovered the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second, to take from 4 days to 4 years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

Alameda’s wish list for $ from the Feds Check out the list the City of Alameda has put forth for stimulus money from the Feds.

Whoa! That loan costs a lot!Here is an excellent explanation of what costs the lenders are imposing on buyers these days. Low interest rates come with a price.

Alameda real estate this week….
Active listings 180, 178 last report
Pending listings 60, 60 last report

Tuesday Tour 15, 1 repeat

Highest priced new listing
Lowest priced new listing

New 11

BOM (back on market) 0

Price changes 7

Pending 9

Sold 5

Expired 2

Withdrawn/cancelled 3

Alameda real estate awards this week…remember this is only my perspective!

Winner of the week, cute/charming

Out of rehab (mostly)

Bang for the Buck, Get me to Rehab (but I can still live there while the work is being done – mostly)

Have a good weekend, enjoy the rain! Yea! But we had a lovely week of sunshine!

Carry on! Marilyn

THE SECOND STORY | March 16th, 2009

February 2009 Sales Stats and Market Charts for A-town!

(see previous post for description of the photo at right which was used as the header photo for the week)

There is activity out there…but I must refer you to the January 8th post in which the title says it all….”Location, Location, Motivation!” If those three rules of real estate for this market are not in place, kiss any offers buh-bye. Activity means offers being made, but the closed sales don’t necessarily reflect that activity. But it’s a step in the right direction.

AND check out last week’s post about challenging your property taxes. It’s got some really important info. You owe it to yourself to at least review it and do your family, friends, and co-workers a favor – share it with them. You may be a real hero!

If you’d like to receive an email notice when the weekly update is posted and when the monthly stats are posted….let me know and I can include you on the list (which is sent BCC so nobody sees anybody’s email address).

If you’ve got questions about a piece of property, want to know about close-to-Alameda-properties (deeply discounted in San Leandro), give a call. Need info about your own tax challenge? Pick up the phone….punch in the numbers, 510-814-4709, leave your message and question(s). I check my messages regularly and my outgoing message is updated at least once daily.

Active listings as of 3/16/09 178, 170 last monthly update
Pending listings as of 3/16/09 60, 62 last monthly update

The chart link below is of value to see the trends year over year. The source is the MLS but Harbor Bay Realty has an exclusive contract with the vendor who preps the data and presents it. I can do amazing searches. But remember – if a listing has been pulled off the market for more than 30 days, then the price and days on market (DOM) start as fresh, eliminating the original price and the previous days on the market. It’s how the system reads the data. Want more background? Give a call.

Feb sales charts year over year Show charts

2 bedroom single family homes (6)

  • Average DOM 38
  • Average sale price $439,000

3 bedroom single family homes (8)

  • Average DOM 54
  • Average sale price $553,875

4+ bedroom single family homes (7)

  • Average DOM 35
  • Average sale price $852,00

2 bedroom apartment style condos (0)

3 bedroom townhomes (0)

4 unit buildings (0)

Note the sidebar for some interesting info about the tax credit. Jumbo loans have moved up to $729K but the rates are quite a bit higher than the 417K conforming loan amount. Expect to pay at least 1 point for all financing.

Have a great day….we all deserve great, productive, joy-filled days.

Carry on! Marilyn

THE SECOND STORY | March 12th, 2009

Want to challenge your property taxes? DON’T pay a company to do it for you! I may be able to help and the price is… FREE!


(It’s beautiful outside and the garden is starting to show it! I took some photos of the front yard because the hedges were going nuts with color. I kind of like the zig and zag of the picture and the contrast with the ivy. There was an estate sale on the corner last weekend and folks walking by literally would stop, take a look, marvel, and then ask what those plants were (I was doing some cleanup outside.) I told them I didn’t remember but they turn a luscious green after the bloom. When I saw the plants at Thomsen’s Garden Center a few years ago, I knew those were the right plants for those locations and Iris Watson, the owner, agreed. She’s advised and helped our backyard long before it was ours, which means well over 20+ years because she remembers when some of the plants were put it!)

Back to the title of the post. This is primarily directed to my clients. BUT if you can’t find your agent because he/she is out of the biz, has become a secret agent, lost his/her license, lost a place to hang a license, isn’t proactive with his/her customers, then give me a call. I may be able to help. And if I don’t know you….I’ll have to limit my assistance to our fair city of Alameda.

The last time I did this was during the period 1989 – 1993. Every person I helped, including my own family, won their challenge and did not have to attend a hearing. There are plenty of companies starting spring up once again, sending postcards to owners how for around $100 they can reduce your taxes. Do you get your money back if they can’t? What about if they kind of don’t know your area? Do you think they know anything about properties around you other than what they can find on public records?

Who is a prime candidate for this? If you bought after 2004 that would be a start. If you bought before that, there’s a chance your taxes (even with the 2% annual increase the county can use), that your taxes are still lower than the drop in value since the top of the market. But we can talk that through. It’s pretty easy for me to make that determination with you.

When is it worth doing? It depends on how much you value your time vs. what you can realistically expect to receive back via the challenge. As a simple gauge, take the difference between today’s assessment and what you think the proper market value is (with my help, of course), and multiply that by .0126%. That would be the amount you’d get back. If it’s $10 that’s one thing and maybe so close the county wouldn’t accept the paper challenge. But if it’s a couple of hundred bucks….now you’re talking.

So…
IF you think the value of your property(ties) has (have) gone down to less than the current valuation…then you may want to consider challenging your property taxes.
IF you can find your most recent tax bill (second installment delinquent after 4/10/09) and
IF you don’t mind doing a bit of paperwork in exchange for some dollars and
IF the amount you may realize is worth your time and
IF the tax assessor doesn’t proactively re-assess most property values to avoid an onslaught of challenges and
IF we can find some sales comps to support your challenge THEN
GO FOR IT!

Here is a link so you can follow the process .(I’m so excited…everything I just wrote is accurate per the county assessor’s website – yea!)

Alameda real estate this week…

Active listings 173, 163 last report
Pending listings 60, 67 last report

Tuesday tour 12, no repeats

Highest priced new listing
Lowest priced new listing

New 13

Price changes 11

BOM (back on market) 1

Pending 8

Sold 10

Expired 6

Withdrawn/cancelled
6

Alameda real estate awards this week…
remember this is only my perspective!

Winner Harbor Bay lagoon home, completely remodeled (addition and upgrades) – will be interesting to see how the market responds to the price of 1.3M

Bang for the Buck great space potential in the high basement (brick foundation) of this Vict duplex

Cute/charming Nice upgrades in this single level HBR home, in a great cul-de-sac, next-to-park location.

Out of rehab (kinda) get me back (kinda) the link shows the property last year, then this year.

Have a great weekend! Call if you have questions about the tax challenge process, need vendor referrals, or have market questions.

Carry on! Marilyn

THE SECOND STORY | March 6th, 2009

“Go get them – you have never been one to hold back your opinon.”


(Some things just strike me as funny. And so it was on Monday when I noticed the un-bumper sticker on this rather well-worn Volkswagen van. I didn’t have my camera! On my way to the HBR sales meeting on Wed morning I tried to figure out where I’d seen the van…and I found it. This time I had the camera.)

It all kind of fit in with this Facebook thing I’ve been playing around with. There’s a group of folks from high school I’ve kept my eye on and I’ve made a couple of contacts. I’m quite sure I’m being ignored the same way I’ve chosen to ignore various requests to be my ‘friend.’

But I digress. The prime era for VW vans happened to be when I was in high school. For a graduation present my folks gave me $800 to buy a car of my choice so I could commute to Long Beach State. The only car I wanted was a VW bug. And I got a great one, until it was totaled on a Sunday morning at the intersection of Oak and Central. Got t-boned by a heavy metal Ford Fairlane driven by a little old lady who ran the stop sign (no signal there then). Oops. I again digress.

Back to Facebook. It’s been a big blast-back-to-the-past week. The capper was a comment from a guy in the high school group. He read last week’s post and observed “Go get them – you have never been one to hold back your opinion.” Now that’s just scary. 35 years of no contact – I was that way then? Nonetheless, last week’s post did get some very positive feedback.

Alameda real estate this week….
I had two closings in the past week. 450 Taylor (see sidebar) closed for my Buyers – a nifty Victorian with a wonderful high basement area they are going to put to good use over time once they get that brick foundation project completed. And the fixer 1/1 bungalow on Foley listed for 199K, closed in 14 days after being on the market for 8 days. All cash, completely ‘as is’, 230K (see sidebar and click on the website).

Everyday the rules are changing. The lenders can’t make up their minds what they want for documents. They are over-reacting and making of demands of the best qualified borrowers they’ve seen in years. The government is making new rules for existing and potential owners. It may be well worth your time to check out the following (these descriptions and links come from one of my California Association of Realtors online trade publications):

President Obama’s plan
to stabilize the housing market has two main parts: 1) help for homeowners whose homes have little or no equity to refinance and 2) assistance for struggling owners by giving government incentives to lenders encouraging them to lower mortgage payments to 31% of a borrower’s monthly gross income.

House of Representatives Democrat from Hillsborough, Jackie Speier is proposing aid that will help refinancing in the high-priced Bay Area.

FHA loan limits to increase in some high-priced areas.

California home buyers could get up to $18,000 in tax CREDITS

Active listings 163, 164 last report
Pending listings 67, 70 last report

Tuesday Tour 3 with 2 repeats

Highest priced new listing

Lowest priced new listing

New 9

Price changes 13

BOM (back on market) 1 (a Woodstock co-op)

Pending 6

Sold 6

Expired 8 (many are showing up as new listings…)

Withdrawn/cancelled 2

Alameda real estate awards…remember this is only my perspective and this week I have no perspective. Nothing was worthy of an award.

Have a great weekend! Longer days and lots of sun…

Carry on! marilyn

THE SECOND STORY | February 26th, 2009

Common sense, common decency, common courtesy…federal, state, local


(This picture is from the top floor of a condo at Marina Village with the lagoon in front, marina in the middle, and estuary in the back. I like the reflection of the not-yet-blooming trees on the water which was dotted with wind-blown blooms from other trees nearby.)

The broker tour was so gorgeous this past Tuesday! The properties didn’t do too much for me but the sunshine sure did! It was the first time in weeks I’ve been able to ride my bike on tour, having hosted a couple of new listings in the past three weeks and then with the rain…

I woke up early on Tuesday morning and started writing. That’s when I came up with the blog title for today.

Common sense – Federal government

“What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” If ‘they’ want to stimulate things…why not offer some perks to the ones who have played by the rules? How about FORCING the banks who took the bailout money to actually LOAN it to qualified individuals at super-attractive rates instead of hoarding it? How about letting us refi our personal residence loans at lower interest rates and keep the same number of years remaining on the loan(s) in place…not starting over at 30 years? No cash out refis unless you’ve got big equity in the property. Good credit required. That would make credit show up again. How about not charging points on those new or re-cast loans to those who have done the ‘right’ thing for years? How about giving those of us who own property (any property we own, not just personal residences) the choice to expense capital improvements over one to two years, instead of capitalizing (depreciating) the improvements we make (roofs, seismic upgrades, foundations, windows, additions, you name it). That would put a bunch of people to work, eh? And if we can’t get loans to do the work then allow folks to bust into what they may have left in their retirement accounts without penalties? How about letting people into their retirement accounts without penalties for the next couple of years? Oh, here’s an idea….if elected officials don’t pay their taxes….they are immediately fired. Give me a break.

Common decency – California government
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’ve been saying it for over a year…if the state legislators can’t get a budget together in a timely manner, then they cease to get paid until it’s passed. And during that period they don’t get any per diem allowances, no car/gas allowances, and no other perks. Better yet, let’s go to a part-time legislature. We have too much government and they ARE the problem. Professional politicians are passe. Get them back on the streets working with the rest of us, or better yet let them just go back to their lovely lives before politics, where they do so much damage.

Common courtesy – City of Alameda building inspectors
Pretend every customer whose property you enter is a member of the Royal Family. How about carrying covers (booties) to put over your shoes/boots before you enter a property bringing in the debris from wet or dry weather or the last job site? How about a city name tag? I know that’s a tough one since we are in a budget crisis. Based on that, my next idea of having a city shirt might be a bit of a stretch but it would increase the appearance (literally) of professionalism along with how the city wishes to be represented in the field. How about putting back what you take apart? If you pull out an electrical outlet, put it back — don’t leave it for the customer to do. If you turn something off, then turn it back on again (unless it’s unsafe). If you turn something on, then turn it off. If you write on the back of the inspection card the items that still need to be inspected or corrected, how about sticking to the list?

Speaking of the city….we do have one job opening. I received an email Thursday afternoon and confirmed it via phone with Mayor Johnson that Debra Kurita, the City Manager, resigned about 4:15pm. Or maybe we can do more with less….but I do like the fact that David Brandt, as Assistant City Manager will be running the show in the interim.

Alameda real estate this week….

I want to bring to your attention info regarding some financing changes out there. Okay…first it’s a mess. Even the most awesome borrowers are being rung through the ringer by either frightened underwriters OR funders who have run out of money and can’t fund the loans they have comitted to on agreed upon contract dates.

Here are some links for updates:

Condo projects have new rules to meet loan requirements effective March 1

Jumbo loan borrowers are being hit big time with interest rates that have no merit.

First time buyers get a nice, big break.

How does the Bay Area fare with the housing bailout?

Mortgage interest deduction at risk for taxpayers w/ incomes over 250K

Active listings 164, 165 last report
Pending listings 70, 73 last report

Tuesday tour 8 with 2 repeats

Highest priced new listing
Lowest priced new listing

New 3

Price changes 6

BOM (back on market) 1

Pending 9

Sold 8

no expireds or withdrawn/cancelled

Alameda real estate awards this week….remember this is only my perspective!

Only 1 was worthy….really worthy Get me to rehab ! The only thing missing is that it didn’t reek of stench. This is the worst property I’ve ever seen in this town. It hadn’t rained for a day and it was still raining inside the joint. The owner is known as a slumlord in Alameda. The city has petitioned the court which put it into receivorship. I think that is happening on another property this guy owns on Central. Despite the horrific process of getting permission to demolish a property (this is pre 1942 so is on the historical list), it’s a prime candidate. The HAB (Historical Advisory Board) with a hopeful helping hand from the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, should release their grips on this one. If you drive down Cedar, check out the surrounding properties and see if you think this would be worth Gold Coast prices in that location IF someone got it through rehab. Priced as 3 units for 935K (even the agent knows that is a complete joke) with some nice original details, the cost to restore this mess is beyond comprehension. Expect the price to come down 400-500K in the near future. Sell off what is salvageable and take it down. Very sad.

I’m happy to hear it’s supposed to rain this weekend. I’ll be working on taxes and checking messages. Give a call if you have real estate questions. I’d love to hear your takes on what you’d like to see regarding the bailout….since the country is in the giving mood as a result of so much previous taking, should ALL owners of personal residences, not just the stressed owners and distressed properties, be receiving relief and if so, in what form?

Carry on! Marilyn