Wednesday, April 26, 2006

From Appreciation -> Cashflow; A Few Threads

During the recent bull market, real estate investors/speculators in the Bay Area could make up for the negative cash flows by counting on appreciation.

Now that its becoming clear that the market in the real estate in the Bay Area is reaching a plateau, it might be a good time to sell and capture the recent gains in capital appreciation and move into investments with better cash flow.

With this thought in mind, I was doing a bit of research and I found a few good threads on Creative real estate online that I thought I'd share with you.

Where to get best cash flow and some appreciation?

Best U.S. city to invest next 3-5 yrs

Want to Know Where the Hots Markets Are?

Interested in more? Here's the pages that I've tagged with investing in (wikipedia)

flickr photocredit noahwesley. Used under a Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Family Watchdog: Sex Offender + Mapping Mashup

Familywatchdog mashes up the registered sex offender database with a mapping service.

Put in an address and the site will map out the offenders in the area. You can also sign up for notifications if someone of the list moves into your area.

What do you think? Is this a helpful tool, or a cause of paranoia? Is this just another step towards a 1984-like society?

There's quite a lively discussion on the subject happening on the Digg entry right now.

You have to admit, it's a bit creepy.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Is Berkeley Bubble Proof?

We're looking for opinions regarding the resiliency of certain local markets.

Basically, is Berkeley Bubble proof?

Based on the pending / active ratios, the East Bay Area as a whole has shown a buyers bias since October of 2005. The relative strength of the east bay as of 4/18/06 was .54 Berkeley on the other hand is a very healthy .99, El Cerrito is .93 and Kensington is a robust 2.67 (small sample size), Albany has ranged between .67 and .89 this past month. Oakland and Richmond are at .55 and .39 respectively.

Is it the University? Is it Totland? Is it Berkeley Bowl? El Cerrito Plaza? New High Schools?

What do you think? We're welcome to any and all ideas...

flickr photocredit polymerchicken. Used under a Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bay Area Appreciation Continues to Slow

The latest Bay Area housing numbers from Dataquick are in and sales volume and appreciation rates are continuing their downward trend.

"March numbers are pretty good at predicting upcoming activity. We figure that sales will be good but not spectacular on into the summer and that price increases will stay below ten percent. We'll probably have a couple of months with new price peaks, but those new records will be reached at a slower rate of appreciation," said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed themselves to paying was $2,958 in March. That was up from $2,889 in February, and up from $2,636 for March a year ago. Adjusted for inflation, mortgage payments are 18 percent higher than they were at the peak of the prior cycle sixteen years ago.

What's interesting is that Berkeley seems to be insulated from the rest of the East Bay market. According to the latest data that my colleague Glen Bell just compiled, Berkeley's Pending/Active ratio has rebounded to .99 while the rest of the East Bay is stagnated in the .5 range. A higher ratio is indicative of a stronger sellers market.

Chart courtesy of DataQuick Information Systems,

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Rating the Mapping Services

Since my profession requires me to be a heavy user of online mapping services, I was really interested this recent comparison that TechCrunch ran.

I've been using GoogleMaps for the past year, but I try our Yahoo Maps Beta from time to time. I've heard decent things about Windows Live Local, but haven't had a chance to play around with it yet.

What did they come up with?
Mapquest is the most popular mapping service but lags on features and usability. Google is the most notable and has a ubiquitous API. Windows Live Local dazzles with its creative views and features but falls short of the others in direction functionality. Mapquest offers a number of features but still is missing satellite imagery, which makes it trail the competitors in core functionality. Ask Maps is a worthy competitor but had the highest error rate of the group.

Overall, Yahoo Maps was by far the best application tested. Its fast Flash interface, multipoint directions, live traffic information, and easy send-to-mobile feature make it the hands down winner. It also features the most robust API options.

Looks like I might have to give Yahoo some more run.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Breaking the 5% Barrier

Home buyers and sellers in the Bay Area this spring will be doing so in a climate where rates are the highest they've been in 4 years as the benchmark 10-year T note has broken the 5% barrier.

...consumers will soon be paying more interest on credit cards and home mortgages. The change will have the biggest impact on people who took out home loans with low introductory interest rates but adjust to higher rates in later years.
The average national 30-year fixed mortgage interest rate was 6.43 percent last week, up from 6.21 percent at the start of the year and 5.71 percent at the start of 2005. The introductory interest rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage was up to 6.11 percent, from 5.78 percent in January and 5.3 percent a year ago.

For much of the last year, analysts and policy makers have been confounded by the United States' relative low long-term interest rates, given the Federal Reserve's campaign to push up interest rates by increasing its benchmark short-term rate, now at 4.75 percent. The Fed has signaled that it intends to raise its federal funds rate on overnight bank loans at least once more, to 5 percent, at its meeting next month.

Many experts believe longer-term interest rates in the United States have been kept low by the purchase of federal government debt by foreign governments and investors, particularly from Asia.

Keep paying attention to the 10 year note, its behavior will be cricical in how this current housing market plays out.

flickr photocredit for the sweet HDR shot to Automatt. Used under a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Berkeley Rose Garden & Codornices Park

Norm and I took a break while previewing homes up in the Berkeley Hills to enjoy a bit of sunshine at the Berkeley Rose Garden.
The Rose Garden was one of the first Civil Works Progress Projects under the Works Project Administration (WPA), the Rose Garden was conceived in 1933 and completed and dedicated for public use in September, 1937.

East Bay rose societies and community members donated hundreds of hours of volunteer time. The terraced amphitheatre and 220-foot-long redwood pergola was suggested by architect Bernard Maybeck; the final design and execution were the work of landscape architect Vernon M. Dean and rose specialist C. V. Covell.

Besides row upon row of gorgeous fragrant roses, the Berkeley Rose Garden has a redwood pergola, four tennis courts, a picnic area, scenic hiking trails, foot bridges, a semicircular terraced amphitheater, a breathtaking view of the sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge and an ornamental pool fed by Codornices creek which runs through the garden.

The garden is a wonderful place to hold events, weddings and celebrations. The Berkeley Rose Garden is considered by many, to be the finest rose garden in Northern California with its 3,000 rose bushes and 250 varieties of roses. The roses are pruned in January in preparation for Mother's Day when the garden is in its most spectacular state.

Across Euclid Avenue from the Rose Garden is Codornices Park, which has basketball courts, a few nice sized fields and this sweet concrete slide.

Additional Rose Garden info: (wikipedia, BAHA Entry)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

At Least the Sun is Shining Somewhere

(it's sure not shining here)

Yesterday, in a post titled Adding Some Sun to Rain City Guide, Dustin Luther announced that he's joining the Move (formerly Homestore) team and will become their new Director of Consumer Innovations.

A few months ago, after a $100 million cash infusion from private equity group Elevation Partners was announced, Dustin proposed a mission:
Imagine that you’ve been invited to 2800 Sand Hill Road to discuss the future of real estate with Roger McNamee, Fred Anderson, Bono, John Riccitiello, John Doerr, and Joe Hanauer.

What do you tell them? What features do you want to see in real estate search? If you are an agent, what is the biggest pain that someone could fix with a technical solution? If you are a buyer, what are the major gaps you see in the current system? What information do you wish you had?

I know that some of my readers have some great ideas. Please share as much as you’re willing. Remember that these guys want to work “within” the current system (i.e. cooperate with real estate agents!), and, most importantly, these people are thinking huge… $100M huge!

It looks like the folks from Homesto..err, make that Move hopped on the Cluetrain and made an excellent choice in bringing Dustin aboard to help them achieve that mission.

A big part of the coming evolution is the upcoming launch of, which reportedly will include
A vertical search engine for new homes and rental units that, like Google, will “crawl” the Web looking for relevant content and display that content in algorithmically sorted search results.

The new engine replaces the existing search functions at and, which limited results to paid providers.

The result of the beefed-up search capabilities will be a big increase in the number of results to consumers, making the search experience far more compelling, says Allan Merrill, Homestore’s executive vice president for strategy and corporate development.

The new has yet be to be launched, but with it's exclusive agreement with the NAR, it seems like they're in a unique position in the vertical real estate search game that could.(link)

Taking into account their already strong ranking along with exclusive access to listings directly from the MLS, they look to be in a good position once finally does launch.

Once again, congratulations Dustin. Real Estate professionals across the nation should rest a bit easier knowing that we have people like you going to bat on our behalf.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Which Home Improvements = Best Return

A dirty little secret many homeowners don't know is that most home improvements don't yield positive results when you do decide to sell. When we list a property for sale, depending on their timeframe and budget, we explore what actions we can take in order to sell the property quicker and for a higher price.

I came across this article today and thought it would be a good resource for those thinking of selling in the near future.

The top 3:
1. Clean / de-clutter - 973% Average Return on Investment: Remove clutter by storing items in basement, attic or friend’s home. Rent a storage space or sell excess items, if needed. Keep every room very clean dur
insert linking open homes. Do pre-open house cleanliness inspections.

2. Lighten and brighten - 865% Average Return on Investment: Replace any burnt-out bulbs and use higher wattage bulbs, if possible. Have defective electrical components repaired or replaced. Make sure skylights are clear and keep drapes open during the day.

3. Yard - 426% Average Return on Investment: Store away personal effects from front yard. Hire gardener or landscaper to trim back the overgrowth and maintain yard. Make sure that your lawn has a healthy green appearance.

oh, and one more
5. Staging - 251% Average Return on Investment: Buy some fresh flowers, live plants and other decorations to liven up the home. Dispose of old furniture or other large items. Consider renting furniture or hiring a staging consultant.

I'm not sure how popular staging is in the rest of the country, but here in the Bay Area is very common. Since you're going to be competing with these listings, it's a usually a good idea to bring a professional staging consultant into the fold.

Check out the rest of the top ten here.

flickr photocredit Auntie P. Used under a Creative Commons License.

Monday, April 10, 2006

What Does Your Email Address Say About You?

Ardell over at Rain City guide has a great post about professionalism and how it relates to email addresses.
People often ask how they should select a real estate agent and/or mortgage person. Maybe it is not fair to say that those whose email address is yahoo or hotmail or even aol are not “professional”. But doesn’t it seem so? Can it be as simple as that? Often when I am caught in a transaction with a less than professional agent or less than professional mortgage person, I am dealing with someone whose email address is So I think I will go out on a limb here and propose that one’s email address IS an indication of who you are dealing with.

I guess I'm out on the limb with her. An email address is absolutely an indicator. I'm not saying that it's an overriding factor; but in a time when more and more business is being conducted online, it should be a consideration.

flickr photocredit Scott Beale @ Laughing Squid. Used under a Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Google Real Estate

It looks like Google Real Estate has arrived.

If you type "homes for sale" or "real estate" into Google's search box, you're now presented with a new option. You can now refine the search based on location or listing type. (Bottom of screen shot)

I searched for Berkeley and grabbed this screen shot.

It looks like a bare bones Google Maps + Google Base mashup. If you click on the pushpin, the listing summary pops up on the map. However, the map seems a bit small and I had to do some shifting in order to position the property info bubble so that I could read it.

Not perfect by any means, but it HAS arrived.

hat tip: Shimon Sandler via Tech Memeorandum.

On a side note- Memeorandum is tracking baseball now! Ballbug

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tax Tips for First Time Buyers

It's that time of year again and it's time for first time buyers to file their first tax return since moving into their new home.

You survived the bidding wars, the inspections and the whole moving process, now check out this guide to make sure that you reaping all the benefits of home ownership.

Flickr photo credit: tizzie used under a creative commons license.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Better Zillow?

The Web 2.0ey home valuation space just got a little more crowded.

I just happened to come across RealEstateABC a couple of days ago while searching for resources to pass along to my clients.

The next day, they introduced their home valuation tool. Called ABC Values(TM), it's billed as:
a free, powerful and easy-to-use online home valuation tool that complements the expertise offered by local real estate agents.

After a little playing around, my first impression is, "Has Zillow been outzillowed?." The values seemed to be a lot more accurate and I liked the interface better.

Try it out & let me know what you think.

Hat tip to Glen for the scoop.