Friday, March 06, 2015

Bay Area Remods Hit 8 Year High!

As in past housing boom years here, one factor contributing to price increases has been a dramatic increase in remodeling projects.  This phenomenon is not just local, but nationwide! 
As the U.S. housing stock increasingly shows its age, home-remodeling activity is nearing heights not seen since the previous housing boom. And homeowners who can handle the renovations themselves can realize significant costs savings.Kitcchen_Remod
Citing data from the Harvard Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity, John Burns Real Estate Consulting’s Feb. 9 U.S. Housing Analysis and Forecast says that Americans spent nearly $150 billion on home remodeling and repairs in the fourth quarter of 2014, nearing peak levels recorded in 2007. And given that the average U.S. home is about 40 years old, spending on renovations is likely to increase in the coming years, says the National Association of Realtors.
In a recent blog post, NAR said 40 percent of homes in the country were built prior to 1970. Such homes accounted for 42 percent of improvement loans in 2013, says JBREC, with Americans taking out almost $15 billion in home loans to renovate properties built in 1969 and earlier.
Both homeowners who need to spruce up their properties in advance of a sale and homebuyers who are considering a fixer-upper can save a significant amount of cash by performing the labor themselves. For example, while the median cost for a professional kitchen remodel comes in at close to $36,000, those with the do-it-yourself approach could expect the same job to cost $15,000. DIY bathroom remodels cost about $5,000 less than professional jobs, and handy homeowners can save nearly $7,000 by overhauling a bedroom on their own.
NAR says that even though a home-improvement project can seem like an expensive and overwhelming task, first-time buyers may be better off purchasing an existing property that needs work rather than a newly built home.
“Many factors come into play in choosing a home, but first-time homebuyers may need to better appreciate the financial benefit of purchasing an existing home as a starting point for homeownership, instead of ‘saving up for a new home,’ ” the organization said in a statement.
According to NAR, the median sales price for a new U.S. home was $298,100 in December, and in 2014 new homes sold for 37 percent more than existing homes. Historically, new homes have cost about 10 percent more than existing ones, but rising construction costs and limited inventory and land have helped to widen the divide.
Since every remodeling job is different, costs will of course vary by project, although a look at JBREC data offers some perspective. The company pegged the average home-improvement loan at $84,000 in 2013, compared with a 2005 peak of $94,000.
So, if you're either thinking of making major changes in your own residence short of buying a new home, or of adding some things that will definitely return increased value to you down the road, you may definitely want to consider a remodel.  Need expert advice and leads to contractors? Call us for help--Peter: (415) 279-6466; Jane: (415) 531-4091.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Value of Landscaping

You always hear the term--curb appeal.  That's how your home's appearance looks to prospective buyers when they first pull up at the curb in front of your house.  Good curb appeal can add thousands of Dollars to the amount you finally receive when you sell, while a lack of curb appeal can cost you similar amounts.  Though it's still February, it's NEVER too soon to consider how to improve your curb appeal.

Sometimes all it takes is something simple like a warm spell in winter to change our outlook on the world and get us thinking about the future. Such is life in the Bay Area.
DaffodilsBut spring really is just around the corner. Besides, it’s never too early to start thinking about spring plantings and home landscaping plans for the coming year, especially if you plan to put your property on the market.
The Professional Landcare Network, the national trade association for landscape professionals, offers smart advice for homeowners looking to get a jump on spring. Here’s a quick summary of the organization’s recommendations:
  • First, inspect the trees and shrubs in your yard, looking for limbs or branches that might be broken or damaged. Prune them or have them removed by a professional.
  • Rake away leaves and other debris from plant beds, prune any dead branches, and create tidy borders around the beds using an edging tool.
  • Test the soil every few years to make sure it has the proper pH balance and nutrient mix. Most garden centers sell soil-testing kits if you’re in do-it-yourself mode, or you can consult a lawn-care or landscape professional.
  • Depending on the plants in your yard and the soil conditions, you may want to fertilize it, along with trees and shrubs. Check with an expert for the timing and type of fertilizer. When possible, choose slow-release or controlled-release nutrients to prevent runoff and increase absorption.
  • Add an inch-thick layer of mulch in plant beds and around trees, but don’t let the mulch touch the tree trunk and never let it accumulate to more than a three-inch depth. Mulch makes planting areas look neat and also helps to retain moisture in the soil. It keeps the roots cool in the summer and insulates them in the winter.
  • Check your outdoor lights for broken fixtures. Reset timers when daylight saving time begins on March 8.
If you have questions about pest management at home or in your yard or garden, contact  a master gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension for free “plant doctor” diagnosis and management resources.
If you have any questions about landscaping or experts in the field, call us.  We would be happy to recommend folks we've worked with for years!
Speaking of calling, whatever the question--buying or selling, or anything else (such as the above subject of landscaping), we'd love to hear from you, and will be only too happy to assist. Call: Peter: (415) 279-6466; Jane: (415) 531-4091--an don't forget to use the area code now that the new Marin County phone overlay is in place.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Staging Can REALLY Help You Sell!

By now, nearly everyone is familiar with the concept of staging homes to help them sell.  But exactly HOW MUCH does it help? The following may help explain in detail its value. 
According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2015 Profile of Home Staging, 96 percent of surveyed real estate professionals who primarily work with buyers believe that staging a property makes an impact on most or some their clientele, while only 4 percent think it has no effect whatsoever.
On the flip side of the coin, 51 percent of real estate professionals who mostly represent sellers would recommend that all or some of their clients – including those with high-priced or difficult-to-sell homes – stage the property before holding an open house. Rather than a full-blown stage, 44 percent of sell-side respondents would advise clients to simply declutter the home and make necessary repairs, while 5 percent would recommend no staging activities at all.
Interestingly, 71 percent of sell-side real estate professionals believe that staging adds value to a home, compared with 52 percent of those representing buyers. Roughly one-third of respondents on both sides of the transaction estimated that staging can increase a home’s value by 1 to 5 percent.
Despite the gap concerning the necessity of staging, both sides were in exact agreement when ranking rooms by order of importance in a staged home: living room, kitchen, master bedroom, dining room, bathroom, children’s bedroom, and guest bedroom.
If you decide to hire a professional to stage your home before potential buyers walk through the door, you may wonder how much it costs – and who’s going to foot the bill. According to NAR’s survey of sell-side real estate professionals, the median cost of a typical staging job is $675, and 62 percent of respondents said that they include it as part of their client-services package.
Keep in mind that every home and selling situation is unique, so plan to discuss staging with your trusted real estate professional before you make a final decision.
Still skeptical?  GIve us a call and allow us to introduce you to the best stagers on the market for all types of homes!  You'll be glad you did! Peter: (415) 279-6466; Jane: (415) 531-4091.  We can also help in many other ways--just call us and see!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Bay Area Job GRowth Outpaces US--This Means More Qualified Buyers

In 2014, the rate nearly doubled the US job rate. This means more folks employed, which means more people able to afford a home.  Good news for those of you selling.
The Bay Area demonstrated impressive job gains over the past year that far outpaced the national growth rate, another sign that intense demand for local real estate is almost certain to continue in 2015.green_up_arrow
According to a new report from the Palo Alto-based Center For Continuing Study of the California Economy, employment increased by 4.0 percent in San Jose and 3.8 percent in San Francisco between December 2013 and December 2014. Nationally, job growth registered 2.1 percent during that same time period.
The report says that the nine-county Bay Area added 11,000 jobs from November to December, accounting for nearly half of the state’s monthly totals. CCSCE notes that the Bay Area remains California’s leader in terms of job growth, driven by hiring surges in the booming high-tech sector.
Our regional economy ended 2014 on a particularly strong note, with jobless claims dropping from the preceding month in all nine Bay Area counties, according to recent data from the California Employment Development Department. Six local counties now boast unemployment rates of 5 percent or less, the level that many economists believes represents full employment.
Marin County unemployment claims dropped to 3.4 percent on a nonseasonally adjusted basis in December – the lowest in California. San Mateo County had the state’s second lowest unemployment rate at 3.5 percent, followed by San Francisco County at 3.8 percent.
Jobless claims declined to 4.5 percent in Santa Clara County, dropping below 5 percent for the first time since April 2008, according to historical data from the EDD. Unemployment fell to 4.7 percent in Sonoma County and 5.0 percent in Alameda County. Contra Costa and Napa counties are also hovering right around full-employment status, both with jobless rates of 5.1 percent.
California’s unemployment rate also dropped from November to December, to close out the year at 7.0 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, the lowest since June 2008 and down from a peak of 12.4 percent in several months of 2010. Here in Marin, the jobless rate was the lowest of any county in the state--3.4%! Want to discuss taking advantage of this?  Give us a call: Peter: (415) 279-6466; Jane: (415) 531-4091. We'd be pleased to help you.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Property Taxes & Household Income Growth

Well, today we're going to look at a couple of items that should be of interest to both homeowners and those considering becoming homeowners. Usually, this type of info pops up on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, or on a financial website. But, as both subjects are important to anyone owning or thinking of owning a home, we're giving the latest, "right off the presses" as it were, on both the rate of household income increases and property taxes.  The first goes toward how much house someone can purchase and maintain, while the latter gives some detailed information about what your property taxes on that home really are, in comparison to other states, and why.

Household income growth in the Bay Area is the highest rate of growth in the nation. 
The Bay Area leads the nation in median household income growth according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the latest indicator of our region’s remarkable economic strength.
Photo of hundred-dollar billsThe median household income rose an estimated 5.1 percent from 2012 to 2013 in the San Francisco metropolitan area, which includes San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, and San Mateo counties. The San Francisco region outpaced both the U.S. (0.6 percent) and California (1.7 percent) in terms of annual income growth.
Households in the San Francisco metro area earned a median income of $79,624 in 2013, the second-highest in the U.S. behind the Washington, D.C. region. The Census Bureau estimates last year’s U.S. median household income at $52,250 and California’s at $60,190.
Median income is the midpoint in the range of household incomes, from the very wealthy to those with no income.
The income data was released as part of the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, which measures income and poverty levels across the country. San Francisco has placed second in median income among the nation’s 25 most-populous metro areas for at least three years.
Household income is a barometer of purchasing power and is closely tied with real estate activity. The latest Census Bureau results suggest that the Bay Area’s real estate markets will continue to strengthen along with the regional economy. Sounds like a pretty good reason to buy a house and live here in the area, particularly in Marin County, which, within the greater Bay Area, has in its own right, one of the highest income growth rates in the state.

As for property taxes, the following may surprise you, especially given the cost of housing here.  The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) this week released a report on state real estate taxes across the nation, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey. Living in high-tax California, we would absolutely expect to see the Golden State way up on the list of largest real estate taxes paid.
And sure enough, California had the 11th highest annual median real estate tax bill among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. in 2013 — $3,015.
Northeast states tended to have the highest tax bills, with New Jersey No. 1 in the nation at $7,331. The lowest taxes paid were in the South — Alabamans (they ranked 51st) paid $532. So California was solidly on the side of big-tax states.
But wait. Number-crunchers at the NAHB went on to note that it would also be useful to compare real estate tax rates. Most counties sets their own real estate tax rates, but dividing taxes paid statewide by the aggregate value of homes within a state reveals an effective real estate tax rate for each state.
By that calculation, the picture changes dramatically.
California, it turns out, has an effective tax rate of 0.77 percent, owing to its expensive real estate. It ranked 34th among the states.
To be sure, New Jersey is still No. 1 when it comes to real estate tax rates, at 2.09 percent, and Alabama was only one step above the bottom, at 0.39 percent. (Hawaii’s rate was 0.29 percent.) But California, in fact, sits quite comfortably among the low-tax-rate states.
Of course, this may be scant consolation for Bay Area homeowners who still pay hefty taxes for their high-value homes, but it’s worth noting a more accurate source of the pain.
For a look at the complete state rankings, including median home values, click here
Finally, if you want to get an estimate of what your home is worth, or are thinking of buying, give us a call. We can provide you with the latest up-to-the-minute information. Peter: (415) 279-6466; Jane: (415) 531-4091.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Unemployment Drops Again--Are You Ready to Sell?

Well, once again, a strong reason for those of you considering listing your homes for sale has popped up. It's the unemployment rate. Obviously, when folks are not working, the last thing they're thinking of is buying a home. However, conversely, when they are working, it's a lot more likely they'd be thinking of buying a new home!

Well, here's the latest good news on that front!  As in July, every Bay Area county posted a lower unemployment rate that the California average of 7.4 percent on a nonseasonally adjusted basis, which was unchanged from the preceding month. Bay Area counties were the only ones in the state to boast unemployment rates of less than 5 percent, which many economists believe indicates that a market has reached full employment.
Marin County continued to have the state’s lowest percentage of unemployed workers, at 4.2 percent. This is by far the lowest level since the recession began in late 2007.

The EDD’s recent Labor Day briefing says that California has regained all of the 1.33 million jobs it lost during the Great Recession in June of this year. July marked the 53rd consecutive month of statewide employment growth, and California now has about 43,000 more nonagricultural jobs than it did at its prerecession peak in July 2007. This means that there is a greater pool of potential buyers for your home.  Obviously, not all of these employed folks will be buyers. But, for those who are, it's a perfect opportunity to get your house ready to sell, and then get it on the market!

Not sure how to proceed or what may need doing to have your home in perfect shape for that potential buyer? That's OK. We've been handling exactly such situations for many years, and we'd be happy to assist you ready your home so that you get the most money in the shortest possible amount of time! Call us! We'd be happy to help: Peter: (415) 279-6466; Jane: (415) 531-4091.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Interest Rates--Up or Not? What's Really Happening

Well, as many of you have likely heard over and over for the past year and change, interest rates in general--and mortgage rates in particular--were going to be heading up. Some experts predicted that by the end of 2014 mortgage rates would be at 5%, quite a bit higher than where they were last year. As you know, every time these rates climb, the cost to you of buying a home rises with them.  The house may cost a specific amount, but every penny you have to borrow to complete the purchase costs you more.  It's kind of like going to the grocery store--given today's supermarkets, that's a quaint notion--and on day 1 finding steak costs $8/pound; then returning for more steak on day 10 and finding the price has now gone up to $10/pound. Kind of spoils your apatite. Well, as the following information indicates, rates haven't gone up that far--in some cases had begun to do so and then dropped back down.
Good news for homebuyers: Interest rates for home loans continue to linger at historically low levels, extending a rare opportunity to get a mortgage at rates that can shave hundreds of thousands of dollars off payments over the life of the loan.Illustration of a house made of hundred-dollar bills
Bankers and economists last year had forecast mortgage rates to climb higher in 2014 and top 5 percent by the end of the year. But the reverse happened, and rates today on a 30-year mortgage are nearly one-half of a percentage point lower than where they stood a year earlier.
Today’s low rates give another chance at home ownership to Bay Area residents who were outbid on properties during the frenzied real estate scene of 2013 and early 2014.
Since then, the number of all-cash investors has dropped significantly and the supply of homes on the market has gradually expanded — both signaling new opportunities, especially for first-time buyers.
Freddie Mac reported late last week that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.12 percent, down from 4.57 percent last year at this time, and 15-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.26 percent, down from 3.59 percent one year ago.
Surprisingly, mortgage rates aren’t too much higher than when they fell to a record low of 3.31 percent in November 2012. By comparison, mortgage rates averaged 7 to 9 percent in the 1990s and 10 percent in the ’80s.
Last year, Pacific Union explained how rising mortgage rates can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to total house payments over the life of a loan.
Even with increasing home prices, buyers who take advantage of today’s low mortgage rates can still find a bargain. But it’s a wise move to act fast. How long these low rates will linger is a question that even bankers and economists cannot reliably answer.
So, where will the mortgage rates go from here? Well, it is a safe bet that at some point, they will again begin to rise and possibly hit the 5% level.  The question is when and how quickly.  As to decisions about buying or refinancing your home, the current wisdom is to not waste too much time in getting your loan approved. Better to lock in today's rates than to wait for next year and find you cost yourself hundreds if not thousands of Dollars every month on your payments.
Need help in valuing your home or understanding what both the real estate and mortgage markets are doing? Call us! We can handle all of your needs from valuations of your home to finding your next one to getting connected with the best experts in the mortgage market. Peter: (415) 279-6466; Jane: (415) 531-4091.