Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Brainjamming in Berkeley

Mark your calanders. This Satuday from 9:30am-5pm, the next Brainjams event is going to be held on the UC Berkeley campus at Barrows Hall. That's right, the knowledge networking 'unconference' is coming to the East Bay and you're invited.

I just got off the phone with organizer Chris Heuer. He has been collaborating with Lee Felsenstein, who is going to be joining Chris as a co-facilitator and it sounds like we're in for a treat.
In a sense, Lee is reprising his role from the beginning of the PC revolution as co-founder and facilitator of the Homebrew Computer Club.

In addition to focusing on discussions about how we use emerging social media tools like blogs, wikis, podcasts and other Web 2.0 tools, Lee and Chris will begin the day with a discussion on learning from other disciplines, finding/borrowing/improving on patterns through experimentation and collaboration in the commons.

What we have been trying to do with BrainJams is very much what Homebrew did 30 years ago - we follow in their footsteps and are very honored to have him sharing his experience and wisdom with us.
Four months ago, I had the pleasure of participating in the first Brainjam which was held at the KRON 4 studios in San Francisco. The connections that I made that day have blossomed into an extensive network of friends and colleagues who are involved in all sorts of exciting projects.

If you can make it, we'd love to see you down there! (Don't forget to register)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Housing - Just Cool or Going Cold?

by Glen Bell

Here's an article from yesterday's Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle that asks some very good questions about the real estate market. These questions are then addressed by examining past historical cycles within the Bay Area.

It's entitled; "Housing -- just cool or going cold? With home sales continuing to drop, questions about its cyclic nature are taking on a new sense of urgency." The article is written by Kelly Zito, a Chronicle Staff Writer.

Here are a few interesting exerpts to give you a flavor of the article. It's definitely well worth reading.

"The Bay Area real estate market typically runs in cycles, forming almost a stair step pattern of multiyear price increases followed by periods of stagnation or even mild declines."

"At the end of the last two major housing booms in the early 1980s and 1990s, prices in most areas did not collapse."

"On the coasts, you see price run-ups, and then instead of having large price declines, you have mild declines and flattening for a period -- it's what you'd call a stylized fact of the industry," said Andrew Leventis, economist at the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, the overseer of mortgage titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"Nothing leads to big declines in house prices except job destruction," said John Krainer, economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

"San Francisco may have more of a chance to not ha ve a severe (correction) because it's so hard to build here," said UC Berkeley's Rosen. "The difficulty in putting on new supply protects home prices from big adjustments."

"People ask why are home prices so high in California, and my response is: 'Everybody in the world wants to live in California,' " said Michael Carney, real estate professor at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona.

flickr photocredit nhanusek used under a creative commons license

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

East Bay Real Estate Market Trends & Conditions

by Glen Bell

As a homeowner or real estate investor, you have probably been following the recent news reports on a cooling, or a the possibility of a bubble bursting in our real estate market?

The headlines catch our attention. It’s there, in our face, almost daily, someone’s interpretation, based on some numbers, telling us of what’s really going on in our real estate markets.

One such example is a Contra Costa Times article entitled “Real Estate Market Continues to Cool,” by James Temple, based on just released statistics off of the DataQuick Information Systems site. For those who are not familiar with DataQuick, it’s one of the most up to date and more reliable research sites on real estate.

Whose crystal ball do we use? Sellers market, buyers market, normal market, housing bubble, soft landing? The information on these articles is almost always based on someone’s interpretation of old data. "Timing is everything when buying a home," is another recent article to take a look at, also written by James Temple of the Contra Costa Times.

In his article, he asks the question "Is now the time to buy an East Bay home?"

"Some industry observers answer with a resounding yes or no, having deciphered clear signs from their crystal balls that housing prices will absolutely rise -- or unquestionably fall -- over the next few years. Others, however, say that timing the market is a fool's game, that personal circumstances should outweigh short-term trends and that buyers should take precautions for any eventuality."

Often times we are listening to an analysis of a market that’s anywhere from 20 to 45 days old. Furthermore, the numbers used are very general and always cover very broad areas, with the smallest statistics being based on entire cities. What most of us really want to ask, is, “what’s happening today, in our own unique neighborhoods?”

We, as real estate agents, have access to the MLS, and are able to extract up to the minute information to give us a better clue as to what’s really happening in your neighborhoods.

However, these bits of information that we are able to pull are only snapshots. Tracking these numbers over time gives us the ability to spot trends. These trends may be subject to our interpretation, but they do give us an up to date insight on a market so that we are able to make a more well informed real estate decision.

How many homes are for sale in your neighborhood, how long have they been on the market, and how many buyers are looking? (Simply put supply and demand). This translates to actives, average days on the market (actives only), and pending sales. The relationship that we find to each other in our respective markets can give us some indication as to whether we are in a sellers, a normal, or even a buyers market. This can be done on a more local basis, being able to look at your neighborhood by itself.

The past seven years we’ve had far too many buyers’ looking at a much smaller number of homes for sale. It’s been a strong sellers market every where. As stated in the article, Ken Rosen, from UC Berkeley, is quoted as saying, “There’s no question that we have moved from a seller’s market to equilibrium or even a buyer’s market in certain cases.” I have to agree with Mr. Rosen. However, this change did not happen overnight as some other news article headlines may have suggested, but gradually over the last 6 months.

The chart above tracks the number of actives (homes for sale) and the number of pendings, (homes that are in contract with buyers). The sample was taken from 34 cities within Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Pendings have dropped noticeably in comparison to actives since July of last year. There are more homes on the market with fewer buyers. This has been a gradual change over a six month period.

Some of what you see is seasonal, some unique to this market.

The graph above measures a very large area. A sample this large, translates to being able to make only very broad general conclusions about this market overall. It doesn’t necessarily tell the story of the market in your particular neighborhood.

In reality, there are markets within markets, different neighborhoods within cities. Not every neighborhood in Berkeley, for example, will be quite the same. Some neighborhoods will have stronger markets than others. The right house, presented well, in the right neighborhood, and at the right price continues to bring multiple offers. However, in most cases, homes are staying on the market longer, and we’re starting to see some price reductions. There are also markets within price ranges. Homes that sell for under $800,000 may have a stronger market in general than homes selling for over $1,000,000.

What can you make of all this? Making your real estate decisions should be based on up to date information that reflects the conditions of your specific neighborhood. Ask your well informed real estate agent to talk to you about the market trends and conditions of your neighborhood before making that all important decision to buy or sell a home.

Monday, February 13, 2006

It's On! Pillow Fight Club Tomorrow

Tomorrow at Justin Herman Plaza (map) in San Francisco, when the clock hits 6pm a spontaneous pillow fight is going to break out as Pillow Fight Club makes it's way in to the Bay Area

The Rules of Pillow Fight Club

1) Tell everyone you know about PILLOW FIGHT!!!
2) Wait for the Ferry Building clock to strike 6:00pm
3) Don't hit anyone with out a pillow (unless they want it)
4) Don't hit anyone with a camera
5) HAVE FUN!!!

Who wants to go?

Upcoming listing

Hat tip to Scott Beale

Flickr photo credit for the poster: sfslim used under a creative commons license.

Finding a Bargain Realtor

Everybody loves a bargain.

Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Costco are great examples of successful companies that offer Top Value for a consumer's dollar. Shoppers flock to these companies because in the end, their net monetary outlay is generally lower than purchasing from competitors that offer fewer discounts or make the shopping experience inconvenient (why isn't Kmart more successful?) or unpleasant.

Unfortunately, finding a true Bargain Realtor is a little tougher. I guess what it really boils down to is value, or how do I NET the most money from the sale of my home.

Bernice Ross, founder and CEO of and author of Who's the Best Person to Sell My House? offers this little suggestion. Find an agent with a Top list-to-sell ratio. Put simply, whoever has the highest ratio will generally be expected to get you the most money for your house.

For example, if two agents list identical $500,000 homes and agent 1 has a ratio of 1.02 and agent 2 has a ratio of 1.08 then agent 1 will on average sell the house for $510,000 while agent 2 will get on average $540,000 for their respective clients.

If you consider the average difference between full service and discount brokers is 2% or roughly $10,000 in this case a best case scenario is agent #2 nets the home owner an extra $20,000 The worst case is if both agents charge a full 6% commission, in this instance seller #1 potentially lost out on $30,000.

Some people will argue that Realtors are interchangeable and discounters will do just as much as full service realtors to sell your home. I would argue that the numbers say otherwise, and people should learn how to look for a realtor and what questions to ask.

Discounter or Full Service, average is better than poor, good is better than average, and great is better than good. One way to start determining who you are talking to is to ask for their list-to-sell price ratio.

flickr photo credit for the shot of the Berkeley sunset on 1/23/2006 goes to lightmatter. Used under a creative commons license.

And Finally... Norman Gee

The last, but not the least, of our new contributors is Norman Gee. Norman's a Berkeley native and an active investor who's constantly full of great energy. He's also a founding member of the Keller Williams Golden Gate research team and he's constantly uncovering great little nuggets of information.

For his first post, he digs into the subject of Finding a Bargain Realtor.

Welcome aboard Norm!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Don't Forget, Arrrested Development Finale Tonight!!

Don't Forget

The final four episodes of Arrested Development are going to run back-to-back-to-back-to-back tonight begining at 8:00. Two solid hours of what could be the end of the Bluth's run on television.

Hopefully someone in their right mind will sign the show to a new deal so that it can make it to syndication.
"It's an established name. It's critically acclaimed. It's been deemed one of the best shows ever created for this medium," Showtime president Robert Greenblatt said last month. "And I think having that in with our other shows has a bit of a halo effect" that also could spark growth in paying subscribers.

It's embarrassing to openly beg. But there are times when only abject groveling will do: Please, please, please don't let this be the end of "Arrested Development."

How Can I Post a Graph (and have people be able to read it)

We have a problem and I'm sure that there's a simple solution that we're not thinking of. So I figure I'll toss it out into the blogosphere and maybe someone can help us out.

We've been keeping housing data in an excel spreadsheet we want to post a graph in the blog so that our readers can see it. We tried turning it into a jpg and throwing it up on flickr and adding it to a post like we would a picture, but that didn't work. It was too small and it wasn't readable.

We also tried grabbing a screenshot with Snagit, but that didn't work either.

I'm tired of searching for the answer and I'm hoping that someone can help a Realtor out.

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Adverse Possession – Modern Day Land Grab for Squatters?

By Glen Bell

I keep attending real estate classes where the concept of “Adverse Possession” comes up. The idea of a land grab always comes to mind with some of the newer agents. We all have this image in our mind of squatters from the old western movies putting up stakes on the open range to claim the land as their own through possession. It’s a similar idea, an idea that you rarely hear about these days.

In fact, everyone that I have ever talked with knows of no one who has ever successfully attained property through this method, with but one exception, myself.

First of all; “What is Adverse Possession?” The classic definition of adverse possession is; “A method of acquiring title to real property through possession of the property for a statutory period under certain conditions by a person other than the owner of record.” For an example using a legal precedent, view the article entitled; “The Nuts and Bolts of Adverse Possession," written by Christopher Schwindt.

There are five essential elements to this process;

1) Open and notorious occupation. It does not require residency on the property.

2) Continuous for five consecutive years.

3) Hostile to the interest of the true owner and without any degree of permission.

4) Held under a claim of right or color of title. Claim of right – Adverse possessor treats the property as his own because he feels that he is the owner of the title. I have a right to this property! Color of title – Adverse possessor holds document appearing to give good title, such as a forged deed, invalid will, etc, but it does not.

5) Payment of taxes for five consecutive years.

My grandmother purchased two lots in the Oakland Hills with her brother back in the 1930’s. The property was off of Skyline Blvd with beautiful views. Their dream was to one time build and live up in “the hills.” They even placed a small RV on the land where one of her sons stayed and lived for a brief period.

“Uncle Joe” owned the property after my grandmother passed away. He had lived in New York all of his life. The Bay Area, for him, was only a place to visit on occasion and, on one such occasion, he decided to “sell” his property real cheap to his nephew’s four boys, (myself and my brothers).

So we bought the two lots for what he and my grandmother had originally paid. This amounted to a couple of thousand dollars. This was back in the late 1960’s. It was "Uncle Joe's" way of leaving us, “the kids” something.

We immediately had it surveyed so that we could see what exactly we had “inherited.” We’d drive by on occasion to see what if anything was going on in the area, to walk the land and, finally sit at the property's edge to look at the panoramic views of the bay. There were no sewer hook-ups, no water and no electricity in the area at that time. The idea of building one day, once the utility services were in, was an appealing dream. We continued to pay the property taxes as had my grandmother and “Uncle Joe” had done since the 1930’s, but, as time went by, we made fewer and fewer trips to the property.

It wasn’t until years later when we put the property up for sale that we discovered there was a “cloud on title.” The property had been purchased from a Delaware Corporation, which we soon discovered was defunct.

There was only one deed that we could find, describing only one lot. In order for us to clear this up, we approached Richard Waxman, our attorney. Rick, now one of the managing partners of Wendell Rosen in Oakland, talked to us about taking a quiet title action. This is a court action brought to establish title and to remove a cloud on the title.

We were given the above guidelines. The property was again surveyed. A fence went up in the front of the property with a sign posted for the “world” to see our claim of ownership. We spoke with neighbors to see if any claim other than ours was even a remote possibility, and found nothing.

Finally after a five year period, we felt that we had established through “adverse possession,” ownership of the property. The case went to court and although it was an unusual procedure, even for the judge, (her first such case), it was made so very obvious to her that there were no other claims to this property but ours. The court awarded us title and the property was eventually sold.

This is such a rare procedure. Again, I have heard of no one, other than ourselves, ever having successfully claimed property in this manner. What we had in our favor was the truth, that the property was indeed ours. Adverse Possession was only a means to clearing title.

The point of the story is that such a thing can happen. It is possible. The intentions of the law were to protect people like us, however, it does open up the possibility of land being taken without your knowledge if you are not careful. Leaving land that you own alone for long periods of time without improvements could run the risk of loss by such a quirky law.

So, just in case, for those of you with concerns of ever having this remote possibility ever happen to you, I’ve included an article for you to take a look at as a precaution, “Understanding – and Avoiding – Adverse Possession" written by Benny Kass.

Enter Stage Right: Glen Bell

Alright. The next post is from our latest new conributor Glen Bell.

When I first started up my blogging group, Glen was there every week eager to learn. Without much prodding, he was up and running in no time. (Except for that flickr login problem from hell that took a few weeks to work through) <-- There's actually a funny story that came out of that ordeal. Maybe he'll write about it sometime.

Anyway. Glen has been the driving force behind the timely market data that I've been sharing from time to time and I'm really glad to have him aboard.

Enjoy his first post as he tackles the subject of Adverse Possession.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Berkeley Real Estate Deal Killers: RECO Edition

By Stephanie Root

One reason that Berkeley real estate deals can get held up in the title office is because those involved don't know about the city's RECO ordinance which involves upgrading the property to meet energy efficiency standards.

If you're purchasing property in Berkeley, you should know that in many cases, though not all, it’s the SELLERS’ REPSONSIBILITY to be in compliance BEFORE SELLING the property.

If the deal goes through without the seller meeting the requirements, guess who’s responsibility it will ultimately become? Yes, you the buyer and yes, it translates into spending more money.

Now that’s fine if you intend to remodel your newly purchased house/condo etc. anyway. But what if you are an investor and you want to purchase a property that’s in dire need of a rehab and the seller is supposed to be in compliance before selling it to you?

Since the seller is selling the property in a debilitated state, it’s obvious that he/she doesn’t want to put more money into making the property energy efficient. They’re looking for a quick sell. So what do you do?

This happened to some of my clients who were interested in purchasing a fixer. First I checked to see if the property had met the requirements (and this can be a little tricky if your agent doesn’t know what informational systems to check). Next, I informed them about RECO by giving them information that briefly explains what it is, how to meet the requirements, and who’s responsible for being in compliance. I knew that technically, the seller could not “pass on” the responsibility on to my clients.

So instead of having this issue kill the deal, I told my clients that if they purchased the property, they would have to meet the requirements even though this was originally the sellers responsibility. They were fine with being responsible for the upgrades because they were going to do upgrades to the property anyway. With this out of the way, we could close the deal without any surprises and hang ups at the title office.

But what if the seller was going to close that transaction with someone who was unaware of RECO and not in agreement with having the responsibility shifted on to them. I did some research and talked to the department heads at the RECO office. They explained that some realtors will take the transaction to “outside” title companies because they are less likely to catch local ordinances. This seems to suggest it’s the title company’s responsibility to catch this problem.

Pam Roda, at Financial Title in Albany California informed me that the general public needs to know that local ordinance compliance issues are not necessarily a matter of title. However, they are willing to handle these issues as a matter of courtesy to sellers and their real estate agents if THEY ARE INSTRUCTED to do so.

So buyers and sellers, to avoid any surprises at title, like having your deal delayed or killed because of local ordinance issues, make certain you understand your responsibilities and have your realtor help you understand them so you can have a hassle free closing at the title company.

So there you have it, RECO in a nutshell.

If anybody has any other questions about local ordinances, let us know and we'll get to the bottom of it for you.

Enter Stage Left: Stephanie Root

Recently, I've been working with a few agents in my office have been very receptive to the idea of blogging A few have even gone to the lengths of creating posts to contribute to MyEastBayAgent.

The next post is from a colleague of mine named Stephanie Root. She's an agent in my office that I work with quite a bit who's fearless and willing to tackle any subject.

I'm glad to welcome her aboard.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

It's alive! Zillow launches it's Beta

The beta version of Zillow is now live.

One of the most secretive and highly anticipated online real estate tools made its debut on Tuesday night.

Although I expect more features to be added in the future; this beta version's primary function is to offer free, unbiased valuations of more than 60+ million homes in the US.

I ran a few properties in Berkeley and my first impression is that the valuations given were quite a bit lower than expected.

Rain City Guide has a nice writeup.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Viral Marketing Alert : Monk-e-Mail

Oh My God! I'm hooked. This one could have some serious legs.


Is CareerBuilder going to have a Super Bowl ad later today? If so, this could be a killer viral marketing campaing to help prolong a pricey 30 second spot.

Until then, just remember.

Update: There were a couple CareerBuilder monkey ads during the game, but there wasn't any mention of Monk-e-Mail. I'm still digging it though.

Friday, February 03, 2006

California Foreclosure Activity is Rising

Dataquick just reported that foreclosure activity is rising in California. The timing of this article is a bit ironic since I recently mentioned to my colleague (And soon to be MyEastBayAgent contributor) Norman Gee that I noticed that there was a definite upward swing in the volume of Notice of Defaults.

Lending institutions sent 14,999 default notices to California homeowners during the October-to-December period. That was up 19.0 percent from 12,606 for the third quarter, and up 15.6 percent from 12,978 for 2004's fourth quarter, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

"There's always going to be a certain amount of financial distress. People lose their jobs, have medical emergencies, get divorced, pass away or make bad money decisions at a certain rate. Because of the rise in home values, much of that financial distress has been covered by the increasing amount of equity that people have had in their homes. That equity is now being created at a slower pace, and default activity is inevitably on the rise," said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president.

When a notice of default is filed, that means that the lender has started the legal process of foreclosure. We recently started a program to contact owners in default to see if we can structure win-win situations.

As soon as a Notice of Default is filed, the race is on and soon there are all types of people trying to contact the homeowners to offer to solve their problems. Whomever contacts the homeonwer and gains their trust first is often the person they trust to rectify the situation.

Some are trustworthy, some are scam artists, some are licensed, and some aren't. Just because someone is licensed doesn't necessarily mean that they're trustworthy.

Since we're trustworthy and licensed, we feel that we can offer some additional options that an unlicensed investor can't.

After examining their situation, we present them with some options. If they decide that they want to try to keep the property, we'll go over the options for them to attempt to do so. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense to hold onto the property any longer. If that's the case, together we'll sit down and decide on the best course of action.

We'll let you know how it goes.

Flickr photocredit karmablue. Used under a creative commons license.

Thumbs Up for Hyperwords

Hyperwords is an extension for Firefox and Flock that I've really been digging recently.

It allows you to select any text & choose a command from the resulting pop-up menu: search, look up references, blog, email, copy, translate and more. Basically, it makes every word on the web interactive.

Here's a quick demo video.

You can download the extension here.

Try it out!

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

New Housing Search Tool: Propsmart

There's a new search tool in town. After playing around with Propsmart for a little while, I'm fairly impressed. Sure there's lots of room for improvement, but its not bad for a brand new service.

In case you haven't heard of them.
Propsmart is a next-generation real estate search engine, aggregating nearly a million property listings from hundreds of online sources and private sellers and making them easily searchable with a GoogleMap-based visual interface. We've also got a budding online community of buyers, sellers, and service providers, so hang around a bit and check things out.

So as I see it, it's a Craigslist (among other sources) mashup with googlemaps in a sexy interface. They're trying to build an online community around it, which would be the differentitor. I'm looking forward to seeing how the community develops.

I'm also looking forward to seeing how they close they can come to indexing all of the active listings in the MLS. As cool as this tool is, if you're not sure that you're seeing everything available, there's going to be fear of loss to deal with. This is the same problem that I have with Trulia, another visual housing search site that I like.

I ran a couple searches and found my current active listings that I had listed on Craigslist. Here's the Propsmart page for 1237 Carrison St. It's well laid out & I think it looks good. It also has all my info, so if someone wants to contact me off of the ad, they can. I'll take more exposure for my listing...especially if they include my contact info.

Happy house hunting!

Hat tip: ReyEstate, Rain City Guide