Friday, April 24, 2015

Drought Tolerant Landscaping Important

Well, here we are in the 4th consecutive year of an increasingly severe drought. Of course, this brings up the question of how does one responsibly conserve water and still maintain attractive landscaping. The answer is drought tolerant landscaping.
In real estate, properties featuring drought-tolerant landscaping will likely fetch a premium from homebuyers, particularly in the environmentally conscious Bay Area. Sellers, if they haven’t done so already, may want to take steps now to incorporate water-saving features in their landscaping.
Several weeks ago, Pacific Union discussed indoor improvements to conserve water, such as low-flow toilets, water-efficient appliances, and dripless faucets. Today’s discussion moves outdoors. Whether you are a homebuyer, a seller, or simply a Bay Area resident trying to cut back on water usage, check out the links below for smart ideas that can save you money and help the environment.
The California Institute for Water Resources has more than a dozen web pages offering advice on many aspects of landscaping and gardening. A few of the topics include “Keeping Landscape Plantings Alive under Drought or Water Restrictions,” “Growing food with less water,” and “Water-wise gardening tips for Marin County.”
The California Landscape Contractors Association offers smart, practical tips to help you survive this year’s drought and help you prepare for water shortages.
Sunset magazine, famous for its rich, color layouts of manicured lawns, does an equally fine job presenting “24 inspiring lawn-free yards.” One look at these outdoor scenes, and you may be tempted to tear out every blade of grass in your yard. Also check out the magazine’s Water-Wise Garden Design Guide and list of 12 great drought-tolerant plants.
Better Homes and Gardens, not to be outdone, offers detailed steps to create 11 lush outdoor environments with minimal water needs.
Southern California’s Las Virgenes Municipal Water District has posted a 60-page “California-Friendly Guide to Native and Drought-Tolerant Gardens” that’s every bit as useful in Northern California.
Digital First Media, which operates a half-dozen news websites in the Bay Area, including those of The San Jose Mercury News and the Marin Independent Journal, offers plenty of local advice for tending lawns and gardens without much moisture.
So, you can have a beautifully landscaped yard and still conserve on the use of water.

For this and other helpful hints, give us a call: Peter: (415) 279-6366; Jane: (415) 531-4091.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Prices Still Rise--Just More Slowly

Well, prices in the Bay Area continue to rise. However, the pace at which they rise has moderated a bit.
The San Francisco metro area has given up its claim as the home of the nation’s highest-rising housing prices.
The region posted the fourth-highest annual rise in home prices in the nation in January after two months at No. 1. That’s according to the latest S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, which are widely respected but run two months behind current results.Holding cash
January home prices in the San Francisco area increased 7.9 percent from a year earlier, trailing Denver (up 8.4 percent), Miami (8.3 percent), and Dallas (8.1 percent). Nationwide, home prices in January were 4.5 percent higher than they were one year ago.
The results show that annual home price gains in the region are easing off from the rapid pace of the past two years, when they reached as high as 25.7 percent in the fall of 2013. In December 2014, the San Francisco area led the nation in annual price growth at 9.3 percent. In November, prices were up 8.9 percent.
The latest Case-Shiller numbers also reveal that home prices in the San Francisco area slipped 0.9 percent from December to January — the biggest decline among the nation’s 20 largest metro areas —  after a 0.5 percent rise from November to December.
“Regional patterns in recent months continue,” David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee for S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement accompanying the results. “Strength in the west and southwest paced by Denver and Dallas, with results ahead of the national index in the California cities, the Pacific Northwest and Las Vegas. The northeast and Midwest are mostly weaker than the national index.
“Despite price gains, the housing market faces some difficulties,” he said. “Home prices are rising roughly twice as fast as wages, putting pressure on potential homebuyers and heightening the risk that any uptick in interest rates could be a major setback. Moreover, the new-home sector is weak; residential construction is still below its pre-crisis peak. Any time before 2008 that housing starts were as low as the current rate of one million, the economy was in a recession.”
Looking at more recent data for the Bay Area, the median single-family home price increased year over year in seven of Pacific Union’s nine regions, according to local MLS data.
The biggest increase was in our Silicon Valley region, where the median price rose by 21 percent to $2.8 million. At the other end of the spectrum, the median home price fell by 15 percent in our Sonoma Valley region to $540,000.
The chart below provides more information on annual Bay Area home price changes. Also, be sure to check out Pacific Union’s fourth-quarter 2014 real estate report for more in-depth sales data and information on how we define our regions.

Jan15CaseShiller
For a free valuation of your home, give us a call: Peter: (415) 279-6466; Jane: (415) 531-4091. Also, if you're seeking to purchase, be aware that rates are still near historic lows, with the past week's increase in mortgage rates being so small as to be virtually negligible.

Friday, April 10, 2015

PacUnion in Top 10 in US; How to Make Your Home Look Better for Market

Well, this week we have a couple of items for you to consider. First, Pacific Union has reached the Top Ten in the nation in terms of sales volume.
Pacific Union is proud to announce that our firm has moved up the ranks of RISMedia’s 2014 Power Broker list and the latest REAL Trends 500 list. We are now one of the 10 largest brokerages in the U.S. as measured by sales volume.Pacific Union logo
Pacific Union’s 2014 sales volume was $6.75 billion, ranking us No. 9 on both lists, which track the largest 500 brokerages in the nation. We ranked No. 14 on the 2013 Power Broker list, No. 18 in 2012, and No. 23 in 2011. On last year’s REAL Trends 500 list, we ranked No. 13.
Our firm continues to experience in excess of 20 percent annual growth for the fifth consecutive year since the acquisition from GMAC Homes Services in 2009. We have accomplished these results organically, without acquiring other companies.
Perhaps more importantly, Pacific Union has achieved this growth with substantially fewer real estate professionals than our competitors. We were the only brokerage on both top 10 lists with less than 1,000 real estate professionals – 637 as of 2014. By way of comparison, the No. 8 ranked brokerage had roughly six times the number of real estate professionals as Pacific Union.
According to Pacific Union CEO Mark A. McLaughlin, the company’s business model of attracting and retaining only the San Francisco Bay Area’s most talented and efficient real estate professionals is the primary reason for our firm’s consistent sales volume growth over the past few years.
“This is an outstanding accomplishment that Pacific Union achieved organically without acquiring a single competitor,” McLaughlin says. “I am honored and inspired daily to play on this special team of the finest real estate professionals — the people who make this kind of amazing yearly growth possible.”
Pacific Union’s relationship with the industry’s finest professionals is a direct result of our culture and commitment to their success. “Our culture is 100 percent our most significant asset,” Pacific Union President Patrick Barber says. “It’s in our DNA, and it’s what makes us tick, perform, and provide a level of elite service to our professionals and their clients.”

Clearly, this is an enviable position to be in, but, more important, it provides you, the homeowner, an opportunity locally to work with one of the best firms in the entire country!  Give us a call and see how we can help you in buying or selling a home.
With the heat and competitiveness of today's market, every advantage you can muster can help you sell your home for more money in a shorter period of time.  One of the most important things to consider is staging the home.
A recent survey by National Association of Realtors’ 2015 Profile of Home Staging showed that 81 percent of homebuyers found professionally decorated properties easier to visualize as a future home. Staged homes typically sell within 30 days, according to research by The International Association of Home Staging Professionals and HomeStaging.com. Additionally, staging usually leads to a higher final sales price.
“Staging isn’t about decorating your home,” says Laney Nelson, Accredited Staging Professional stager for Walnut Creek-based East Bay Staging. “It’s about selling.”
THE BASICS AND BENEFITS OF STAGING
Stagers conduct a home assessment, examining items to be removed and refurbished, neutralizing decor to appeal to a majority of buyers, and maximizing both indoor and outdoor space to generate positive impressions of the home’s features. Replacing carpeting and flooring, painting, cleaning, landscaping, changing furniture, and even simple fixture replacements can help a property connect with buyers.
But mixing conflicting styles and accessories can put off homebuyers, according to Kelly Wood, a buyer’s specialist and a former stager. “The extremes don’t really work,” she says.
Additionally, staging and repairs offers the appearance of home upkeep, both in the real world and online, says Danielle Cirelli, owner of Walnut Creek-based staging company Designed to Sell. “Photos are an essential part of marketing because over 90 percent of the buyers will preview a property online,” she says.
Millennials, who currently make up the largest share of homebuyers, are even more likely to peruse online listings before visiting a home. Pacific Union CEO Mark A. McLaughlin stressed the importance of technology on the real estate industry in his recent Inman Select Live presentation, saying that digital strategies are geared toward users likely to “give you eight seconds.”
CONNECTING WITH A STAGING PRO
Sellers who decide that staging is the way to go will likely want to employ the services of a pro. Many expert real estate professionals offer their clients a list of recommended contacts – including architects, general contractors, and interior designers – who can help enhance a home’s appeal. Some real estate professionals provide staging services as a part of their service package. Sellers can also find a staging company through online resources such as Yelp and Angie’s List or referrals from friends and family.
Though some sellers might fret over staging expenses, it actually costs less — an average of $675, according to NAR’s study — than the first price reduction – typically at least 10 percent of asking price. And a lingering home on the market sans staging can incur additional price cuts, according to Nelson.
“Every month a home is on the market, there is a price reduction of usually 5 percent,” she says.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Home Prices Rise; Water Conservation Begins at Home

This week we'll deal with two items affecting home owners here in the Bay Area: Rising prices and saving a valuable resources: WATER.

In the first, as hyou likely already know if you've been paying attention, home prices in our local area continued to rise like the proverbial skyrocket in February. 

Both home prices and sales increased from January to February in every Bay Area county, says a new report, though inventory constraints continue to frustrate many would-be buyers.Home prices rising
According to the California Association of Realtors’ latest home sales and price report, the median sales price for a single-family home across the nine-county Bay Area was $740,270 in February, a month-over-month gain of 10.7 percent. On an annual basis, home prices grew by 9.9 percent, nearly twice the rate of appreciation recorded statewide.
Monthly home price increases in the Bay Area ranged from 2 percent in Contra Costa County to 36 percent in Napa County. Six local counties topped the ranks as California’s most expensive places to purchase a home in February: San Mateo ($1,200,000), San Francisco ($1,154,670), Marin ($1,023,440), Santa Clara ($915,130), Contra Costa ($738,090), and Alameda ($697,160).
A limited supply of homes to choose from is one factor contributing to rising prices. In a statement accompany the report, CAR President Chris Kutzkey said that housing supply across the Bay Area was down by 10 percent from one year ago.
The report pegs February’s months’ supply of inventory (MSI) in the Bay Area at 3.2 – down from 3.3 in January — meaning that our local markets are still heavily tilted in favor of sellers. San Francisco County had the lowest MSI in the state, at 2.5, followed by Santa Clara (2.6) and San Mateo and Alameda (2.8) counties. According to CAR, an MSI of 6.0 to 7.0 is indicative of a market balanced evenly between buyers and sellers.
Tight inventory means that the Bay Area remains the only region in the state where the typical home seller could expect to pull in more than original price, an average of 104.2 percent in February.
After starting the year on a sluggish note, single-family home sales picked up in February, with the nine-county Bay Area recording an 11.6 percent gain from January. Sales volume was up in every local county from the previous month, ranging from 2.1 percent in Alameda County to 28.4 percent in San Francisco.
And speaking of San Francisco, the city and county now has the dubious distinction as the state’s highest-priced real estate market per square foot, with the average buyer shelling out $754. In San Mateo County, which had formerly topped California for largest square-footage costs, buyers paid an average of $689 per square foot.  For you fellow Marinites, you'll note the median is now over the magic $1 million mark.
What does this mean fo buyers and sellers?  For buyers, it is stimulating faster decisions on buying, the individuals not wanting to pay "too much" for a home.  For sellers, it means the recent trend of receiving more for your home does, overall, continue. Curious about what your home is worth? Call us; we'll be happy to advise you.
As regards water conservation, anyone who's lived here at any time in the past few years is aware of the worsening drought conditiond we live under.A few tips are worthwhile for ways to save water--and money--as the drought continues. Take note!  They're definitely worth it!
Worsening drought conditions demand the attention of all Californians. Whether you are a homebuyer or a seller, water conservation will increasingly be a part of your real estate discussions — and decisions.
Bathroom sink faucetIf you are a buyer, you will save money (and headaches down the road) by checking prospective homes for water-efficient appliances and low-flow toilets and making sure the plumbing is up to date and faucets don’t leak.
For sellers, water-conserving improvements are a sign to prospective buyers that your home has been well-maintained and kept up to date with modern housing standards.
Drought-resistant landscaping is another key factor in conservation efforts at home, and we will discuss the subject in future posts. Today, however, we focus on efforts inside the home to help all of us cope with the very real threat of shrinking water supplies in the Bay Area and across California.
Toilets are by far the main source of water use in homes, accounting for nearly 30 percent of indoor water usage. Older, inefficient toilets use as much as six gallons per flush, while newer models that meet current federal standards use 1.6 gallons per flush. The very latest models, however, use 1.28 gallons per flush or less while still providing equal or superior performance.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that replacing old, inefficient toilets with one of the newest models reduces water used for toilets by 20 to 60 percent for the average family, saving nearly 13,000 gallons of water per home every year. That could add up to more than $110 per year in water costs.
These extremely efficient toilets carry the EPA’s WaterSense label, which identifies a wide range of high-performance, water-efficient appliances, fixtures, water systems, and accessories, including shower heads, faucets, and water softeners. Other energy- and water-efficient appliances, such as dishwashers, clothes washers, and water heaters, can be identified by the EPA’s Energy Star label. For more information from the EPA on conserving water, visit the agency’s Green Homes website.
Did we mention that there are dozens of rebates and free products available to Californians to promote water conservation?
The incentives are sponsored by state and local agencies. The Santa Clara Valley Water District, for example, offers free shower heads and faucet aerators, as well as toilet flappers and shower timers. In Santa Rosa, homeowners can get a $25 rebate on a high-efficiency clothes washer and a $100 rebate on a recirculating hot-water pump. San Francisco residents can receive a $150 rebate on an Energy Star clothes washer.
The rebates and free products are scattered across two websites. To see what is available in your community, visit the EPA’s WaterSense Rebate Finder page, as well as the Find Your Local Water Agency page on the statewide Save Our Water website.

For more info on these, or any other housing subject or question you may have, you know the numbers to call: Peter: (415) 279-6466; Jane: (415) 531-4091.  Let us help you!

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!