Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Los Altos Market Update for December 2010

In Los Altos we've had 29 closed sales in the month of December as od December 28th.  That up from 25 in December 2009.  The average selling price was $1,589,705 which is a 4.5% decrease from December 2009.  There are still pending sales so this is an excellent indication of the strength of the Los Altos real estate market which continues to lead the local recovery.

The high-end, defined as homes priced over $2 million, saw four sales between $2 and $2.425 million.  One sale that started as a high-end listing with a list price of just under $2.5 million sold at $1.95 million which had an impact on the overall average for the entire market.  While the high-end market continues to do well, a few homes seem to get priced too high.  That property started at nearly $2.8 million.

Another weight on the overages was a low-end sale under $1 million (an extremely rare event in Los Altos) which sold at $820,000.  Another sale right at $1 million also helped pull the averages down.  It's not uncommon to see a lot of bargains get sold at this time of year but they tend to skew the numbers.  Los Altos rarely sees sales under $1.3 million in a single family home.

Over bidding is coming back strong with 9 homes selling for 100% or more of their asking price.  That's a really good sign that the market is strong going into the end of the year.  Those homes were across the board from the low-end to the high-end so there isn't any one market segment showing signs of strength.

The average days on market was reasonable at 55.  Current inventory is low and there have been several expired or cancelled listings in the last 3 weeks.  I know for certain that many of those will come back on the market but not untill well into 2011.  Open house activity has been good going into the holiday season and offers are being written so we can expect this strength to continue in January.  I'll provide a final December update next week.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Los Altos Spotlight: Rick's Cafe

Rick's Cafe
205 State Street
HOURS:  7:30AM - 3:00PM  Mon-Sun

Bryan's Opinion:  I can't begin to say enough great things about this place.  It is everything a breakfast place should be and then some.  First, a little history.  Rick's Cafe came to Los Altos in 2008.  It started as a breakfast and lunch place before trying a dinner menu.  The dinner menu didn't take off so it's back to breakfast and lunch.

Breakfast is incredible and there are few places in the entire area that will even come close to the quality.  A perfect example is their Denver Omelette which comes filled with tender ham, bell pepper, and onion all folded over in a half-pan shape that looks like it was carved out of egg.  Covered with your choice of cheese, the flavors are balanced and hearty.  You also get a side of hash browns that are cooked to just the right side of tender and seasoned well plus a bagel that gives the best in New York a run for their money.  All that for about $11.

Lunch has the usual fare but the best is their burger.  I'm not sure how they season it but it'll beat anything you've had at Red Robin and it's one of the best burgers in town.  Los Altos has many fine restaurants offering great burgers.  These are juicy, tasty, and cooked to perfection.  You get all the usual condiments plus a small salad and the same tasty potatoes they serve with breakfast.  Keep in mind that these are no ordinary has browns, in fact they're not even browned but really sauteed.  Tasty!

One special feature they have that is truly unique is that they roast their own coffee on-site.  No other breakfast place offers that and you can taste it in their brew.

The service is always warm and friendly with the owner usually there helping people get seated or taking care of the register.  This relatively young addition to the Los Altos restaurant collection has proven to be wildly popular and will be busy at peak hours on the weekends and at lunch.

Los Altos Spotlight: 5K Fun Run on January 1, 2011

The Los Altos 5K Fun Run has been taking place on New Year's Day for many years.  It's the finale in a string of holiday events in downtown Los Altos.  After the carriage rides, Festival of Lights parade, holiday shopping, and more this event is a welcome break.  It's also a great way to kick off the new year with some exercise to work off all the food and drink from the last few weeks.

Registration isn't required and it's completely free. 
You can stop by the Los Altos Recreation Department website for more details.  Basically, you just show up on Saturday morning at 9AM and you'll get to run with thousands of other people.  Anyone can run, walk, or stroll the course (they usually do with kids in strollers, pets, etc) and you can stay in town for brunch afterwards.  The race starts at State and Main Streets where the clock tower is in front of Citibank.

You'll also find updates on the Los Altos Online website with an article there along with comments.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

REALTORS Give $2500 To Los Altos / Mountain View Charity

As the district chairman of the Los Altos  / Mountain View area I've had the pleasure of presenting many checks to local charities that support community.  At the final meeting of the year, a special breakfast presentation to the Los Altos Hills Country Club, I made my last check presentation to JustREAD.

An article in the Los Altos Town Crier talks about the event.  This organization focuses on getting kids who have reading difficulties a completely fresh start.  They literally start the kids from the basics of sight words (pre-K level) up to proficient reading.  It's hard work but the program has proven to be successful and our donation was designed to expand the program significantly at three schools.  This is another clear signal that REALTORS provide significant benefits to our Los Altos and Mountain View communities.

Our district has made many other donations and done other community service efforts throughout the year.  The largest of these was Relay for Life.  I know that in 2011 and future years, we'll continue this tradition of providing support for the Los Altos and Mountain View charities that build a better community.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Los Altos had a 3.1 earthquake on December 19, 2010

The SJ Mercury News reported this morning that good old Los Altos had a 3.1 earthquake this morning.  While not major, it's very rare that a quake is ever centered in Los Altos or even Los Altos Hills, even with all the fault lines nearby.

The quake was 2.1 miles deep and there were no reports of damage.
The article is posted here if you'd like to read more. 

I've felt many quakes in Los Altos and was around for the major quakes in recent memory.  None ever felt significant and the town always seems to get little or any impact from them.  I'm not sure if the town is just lucky or is well placed but it seems that earthquakes have little impact on Los Altos.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Has the Los Altos housing market hit bottom?

A recent article written by local financial advisor Artie Green and published in the Los Altos Town Crier asks the question "Have housing prices hit bottom yet?".  Based on my experience and the current pricing trend in Los Altos, we have indeed hit bottom and are moving back up.
The article was primarily aimed at the general market around the country.  Most economists, even the pessimists, will argue that the market has turned and will rise anywhere from 3-20% in the coming year.  The few dim spots in the economy can't overshadow the fact that home prices in many areas are rising, Los Altos being one of them.
The biggest challenge in Los Altos has been the high-end.  This is also true in Los Altos Hills.  While the overall market in Los Altos has done very well, rising several points this year alone, the market segment over $2 million is still weak.  It's not dropping but it also isn't moving up.  That may indicate a bottom but since so few transactions occur in that price range, it's hard to say.  It's even harder to define the market over $3 million.
So the general answer for Los Altos is that, yes, we've hit the bottom.  However, we need to see strength in the high-end of the market in order to say that the entire market has hit bottom.  This same conclusion applies to Los Altos Hills.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Los Altos Hills Home Inventory Coming Off The Market

Just in case you've been tracking inventory in Los Altos Hills, there have been 6 homes taken off the market in the last 2 weeks that will specifically be brought back in 2011.  This is a common practice because the high-end market has been slow for many years now and Los Altos Hills isn't immune to bargain hunters looking for deals.

There are currently 42 homes on the market in Los Altos Hills, the 6 homes taken off the market account for about 15% of the total inventory.  While this doesn't mean a record low, it's unusual to see so much inventory disappear in such a short time as a percentage of available inventory.  What's even more interesting is that ALL of the listings have notes indicating that they'll be back on in the following year or are still available.

What does this mean for buyers?  Basically it means what was stated with similar homes last year, sellers are hoping to get more for their homes in the Spring.  The trend on newer homes has been to see prices drop.  However, the price per square foot on older homes has been increasing.  So, about half the homes just taken off will increase their chance of getting an offer at asking price but the other half (larger, newer homes) will probably see more bargain hunters.

Los Altos Spotlight: Kiwanis Christmas Tree Lot

There are a lot of traditions in Los Altos around Christmas time; carriage rides, Breakfast with Santa, and tree lots.  One lot that was around for ages but disappeared a few years ago was the lot at Grant and Covington (technically in Mountain View) but many Los Altos residents went there.

The Kiwanis Tree Lot is one of those things you just look forward to because they've been around so long.  Operating since 1987 (24 years) they've been one of the few consistent lots actually selling trees in Los Altos.  Many of the "local" providers are in Montain View and not truly a Los Altos business.

As with many of the civic services that have been around a long time in Los Altos, this one benefits another institution, the Los Altos Pet Parade. That has been around for a long time as well and become an even bigger Los Altos institution.  Stop by, get a great Christmas tree, and help support our fine community.

Los Altos Spotlight: De Martini Orchard

DeMartini Orchard of Los Altos
Prices: $-$$
Hours:  8-7 OPEN DAILY
Credit/Debit: Yes

There are two great grocery stores in town offering produce, but neither offers the quality and pricing that De Martini offers.  Having been at their current location for years, it's become a bit of an institution for those wanting fresh, high-quality produce at very reasonable prices.  They're also one of the few places you can still get locally dried apricots which used be to one of the major crops in Los Altos.

The stock rotates on a regular basis offering staples and seasonable produce alike.  One huge plus is that they offer local produce all year round from a variety of producers.  By local, I mean, within a 30 mile radius or closer.  I like this because it means we're supporting our community as well as getting "a taste of the area" instead of getting bulk poduced goods from some distant land.  There's something about farm fresh fruits and veggies that make a meal special.  Even if the local goods aren't always from Los Altos, they're still representative of our area.

During the holidays you can get fruit baskets with a wide array of fruits, nuts, and gourmet foods in a range of sizes.  While they may not be like Harry & David, I think you get a better product from De Martini because it's all fresh.  Giving such a gift will mean more than the usual store bought stuff.

In addition to all the produce, there are several gourmet products, spices, and such that can help make your meals that much better.  Again, prices are very reasonable and far better than the grocers in town.  This is one of the unique services available in Los Altos and I recommend stopping by.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Breakfast With Santa in Los Altos - December 18th, 9AM

The "Breakfast with Santa" is a long-time tradition in Los Altos put on by the Los Altos Village Association.  Families and children are invited to gather at a local restaurant for a nice breakfast before being joined by Santa who stops by to sit with kids, take gift requests, stand for photos, and more.

This local tradition is what makes Los Altos such a nice place to live, offering a bit of fun along with strong community involvement.  This year, the event takes place at Maltby's Restaurant.  This place has been catering to families for a long time and is a great selection to host this year's Breakfast with Santa.

Participation costs $20 per person and seating is limited.  It usually sells out fast so I highly recommend getting to one of the many stores selling tickets as soon as possible.  This is another event coordinated by the Los Altos Village Association who helps downtown Los Altos merchants connect with residents and hosts several events downtown throughout the year.

For more information click here for the Los Altos Village Association.

Friday, December 10, 2010

ar-old stuck and killed in crosswalk in Los Altos. Could it have been prevented?

A 76-year old Los Altos resident was struck and killed at the intersection of Los Altos Avenue and Hacienda Way.  The driver has not been charged and the investigation is still on-going.  As many locals know, there have been issues with pedestrians being killed in crosswalks on San Antonio Road in recent years.  Those incidents resulted in almost all the crosswalks on that road getting special crosswalk lights that illuminate to indicate to drivers that someone is walking across the road.

More Lights?  The question now is "Do we need more crosswalk lights on long streets where people are likely to speed?  Speeding is a common issue on San Antonio.  While I don't know if it's a factor is the latest accident, the question remains the same.  By that virtue, which streets should have the markers.

Expensive But Worth It.  While I'm not a fan of overprotecting people, this seems like a good idea on the many streets at risk for this sort of thing.  Some major streets that might benefit from crosswalk lights include Almond Avenue, Los Altos Avenue, El Monte, Covington Road, Grant Road, Springer Road, Magdalena, and Foothill Expressway.  The cost may be more than we can afford but I think they should be added over time.
A lot of these roads have kids crossing for schools and many have walkers or joggers trying to cross.  In my opinion, we should add these lights to improve the safety of our community.

Here's a link to the article in the Los Altos Town Crier.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Los Altos Real Estate Market Update - November 2010

November was a slow month for sales in Los Altos.  There were 22 sales with an average listing price of $1,593,485 and an average selling price of $1,547,586 which is 97% listing/sold ratio.  This is down from 28 sales in November 2009 when the average listing price was $1,678,518.  No matter how you slice it, the market is down from October 2010 or November 2009.  Does this mean we're heading down in general?  No.  In my opinion based on watching this market for years, this is just a one time slowdown.  The trend in Los Altos has been up for the year.   Inventory is low and listings are getting a lot of buyer interest.  Uncertainty tied to the economy is probably having an affect on buyers making offers.

Sales Over $2 and $3 Million
There were 3 sales over $2 million but they were well off their asking prices with one exception which was n overbid.  In November 2009 there were 5 sales and three of those were well over the $2 million mark.  Those big sales are exactly why the market isn't as high right now.  So, as discussed before, this critical segment of the market is where improvements in median and average sales prices are being made or lost.  This month the high-end sales didn't happen so the median and averages took a hit.  Los Altos usually does well in this price range and we've seen better activity recently so we may have gotten such a good run in October that November was that much less active.

Inventory Trend
Inventory is trending lower which is normal.  There were virtually no new listings in the last 2 weeks of November which is a trend that has continued into December.  With the limited inventory, buyers will have to decide if they want to wait until next year in the hopes of seeing more of just snap up what is available.  We'll see.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Los Altos Real Estate: 939 Clinton Road

939 CLINTON ROAD, Los Altos 94024
MLS# 81055814
Listing Agent: Don Yarkin, Yarkin Realty
List Price: $1,450,000
Days On Market: 1
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 3
Living space: 2,117 SqFt
Lot size: 9,440 SqFt
Age: 58

Bryan's Opinion: Central Los Altos covers such a wide range of neighborhoods with quiet little streets such as this one. From this street, you're minutes to downtown Los Altos, Rancho Shopping Center, MacKenzie Park, and commute routes. On the one hand, you're getting a street that will have quite a few people heading just down to the park so you will get some traffic. Otherwise, it's pretty quiet.

The home itself is pretty typical for this area of Los Altos although the lot is a bit on the small side. Most lots in this area (and thus the comps) have lots 1000-2000 SqFt larger. Not a big deal but still something to consider with respect to price. The home is larger than most in the area so that offers some compensation.

The property needs updating and that should be a factor when comparing to others in the area. The back yard is almost entirely taken up by the pool and deck. This should be considered a HUGE plus. Why? You can walk to the park in 60 seconds. Why have all the maintenance of a yard when you can enjoy the pool and play in the park. Besides, MacKenzie Park is one of the best in Los Altos in my opinion.

As for the pricing, it's in line with the comps so taking into account all other things I think it's reasonable.

Los Altos Spotlight: Burger Town

Burger Town in Los Altos
Prices: $
Hours:  10-7 (Closed Sunday)
Credit/Debit: Yes

Yelp Review

BRYAN'S OPINION:  This place is a classic example of the "greasy spoon" burger joints of the old days but with better quality.  It's totally unassuming, operating in what was a Dairy Queen and sandwiched between a vacant lot and a vacant building.  The clientele ranges from construction workers to locals with something for everyone on the menu.

Burger Town is the best "bang for the buck" burger joint of any place in Los Altos.  While I love the burgers at First and Main, The Grill, and Maltby's, they are all much more expensive.  For $6 I get a quarter pounder and fries hot and fresh.  The flavors and quality are excellent.  This place is not about ambiance but about hearty food.  Onion rings, shakes, and more are all made to order fast.

Similar to In and Out Burger, you can opt to get more patties for a small extra fee.  They have a 3/4 pound burger on the menu but if you want more you can get it.  Grilled onions, no problem.  Extra cheese, coming right up.  It's truly a burger joint for those who are all about the burger.  Lots of options that all taste great.

If you read the reviews on various sites, you'll get mixed feedback.  Trust me, it's worth a visit.  I eat there more than I should and I've always walked away satisfied.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Los Altos Spotlight: Assistance League of Los Altos Costume Bank

Open: Wed-Sat
Prices: $-$$

BRYAN'S OPINION: Are you attending or hosting a costume party? Then this is the place to be! The Costume Bank has been around for decades and offers, in my opinion, some of the best costumes in the area. Located on the corner of State Street and Third Street in downtown Los Altos, this is one of the oldest continually running businesses in Los Altos.

The costume selections include everything from vintage flappers and soldiers to cartoon characters. Many off the costumes are hand-made from high-quality materials by volunteers from the Assistance League. These are the same people who staff the store and help with selecting a costume to suit your particular party or event. Obviously, many of the great parties in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are attended by residents who stop by the Costume Bank to get their costume.

The customer service here is much better than other costume stores in the area. They'll really take the time to work with you on finding a costume, adding accents, and sizing. While most costumes are designed to fit average folks, they do have tricks to make them fit if the costume is a little too big or small.

The profits all go to charity so no matter what you do, the price is for a good cause. A word on price, the prices here are as good or better than many other local shops and with fewer crowds. So, stop by for your next costume party!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Los Altos Ranks #1 Most Expensive In California

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Los Altos was the most expensive town in California for the month of October 2010 with a median sales price of $1.7 million. While I love that Los Altos is always near the top of the state and national ranking as most expensive ZIP code, this time the paper got it wrong.

Los Altos Hills and Atherton both had median sales prices higher than Los Altos in October. It wasn't a matter of being close, both were well past Los Altos.

So, why the differences? I have found that when papers post #1 stats for any town based on sales they often have minimum population sizes.  So, Los Altos will make the top of the list with a population over 30,000 but Los Altos Hills won't.  Atherton is also left of the list.

The good news is that Los Altos prices are, in fact, increasing and we should continue to see market leading home prices going into 2011.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hot Los Altos Hills Real Estate 11/17

24632 OLIVE TREE LANE, Los Altos Hills 94024
MLS# 81001641
Listing Agent: Terri Couture, Coldwell Banker
List Price: $2,700,000
Days On Market: 1
Bedrooms: 5
Bathrooms: 3
Living space: 4,430 SqFt
Lot size: 49,222 SqFt
Age: 47

Bryan's Opinion: This section of Los Altos Hillls is one of the more "rural" areas and there's a real mix of estates and older homes.  Because it's so far away from town, you don't get the same sense of connection to Downtown Los Altos you do from other areas.  This is great, if that's what you're looking for.
The home was completely remodeled and the finish quality looks fine for the price range.  The size of the home and the fact that it's completely turn-key makes this an excellent value at this price.  It sold 2 years ago for $2.9 million so it's priced $200K below the current asking price and after the owners invested money in improvements.  Considering how far we've come in the current market, that also makes this a good value.
There are very few new homes on the market this week (or last) in Los Altos or Los Altos Hills in this price range.  I expect there will be only a handful of homes put on the market over the next month.  If you're looking at a newer home in Los Altos Hills, this should definitely be on your short list.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Los Altos Spotlight: Adventure Toys


Open: Mon-Sun
Prices: $-$$$
Adventure Toys

BRYAN'S OPINION:  This place is full of toys that are more interesting that the typically stuff you see at Toys r Us. I've been here so many times with my son that it's like a destination spot.  We used to have a routine that after karate we'd stop off here to look at toys before walking down the street to Spot Pizza.  This place isn't about quantity, it's about quality - a theme in Los Altos.
When you walk in, head right, and look at the section between the girls toys in front and the Legos and building toys in back.  That middle section is a goldmine of scientific learning toys and family games you'll have a hard time finding anywhere else.  You want to build a rocket?  There is a kit to build one.  In the same section is a wide range of puzzles with enough challenge for kids 2-80.  You want a 5000 piece super-puzzle, they've got it.
Opposite that section is their game area.  There are lots of individual and family games including old classics.  What is most interesting is there are games there I haven't seen anywhere else including similar specialty toy stores in other areas of the state.  Many are award winning and some are just plain creative.
The rest of the store offers just a much variety.  There are the usual Legos and dolls plus crafting kits and dress-up clothes to let a kids imagination go wild.  Along with their usual creative selection, you'll find special displays for certain holidays and nice extras especially during Christmas.

Los Altos Spotlight: First and Main Sport Lounge

Open: Mon-Sun
Prices: $$
First and Main Sports Lounge

BRYAN'S OPINION: The only real sports bar in Los Altos is First and Main Sports Lounge. It's a great place for everything from group meetings to gathering with friends. There are screens everywhere. It is impossible to NOT see a game and they have all the major sports on. There's memorabilia everywhere and many sports folks have signed the wall above the bar. This place exudes a cool sports vibe from every corner.

The food is, for me, the best part of First and Main Sports Lounge. They have arguably the best burger in Los Altos and their variety is excellent. The salads are always like getting a hand-picked from the garden fresh. The quantity is more than enough to satisfy a big appetite. I'm always impressed with the service which is always delivered with a smile. The best part is that the owner (one of them) is frequently onsite so there's a lot of consistency in both quality of food and service.

This is one of my favorite places to visit in Los Altos and I highly recommend stopping in to visit with friends and watch a game.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Los Altos Real Estate - Price Drop of the Week 11/10

803 MORA DRIVE, Los Altos 94024
MLS# 81001641
Listing Agent: Ed Graziani, Sereno Group
List Price: $2,495,000 (down $300,000 from original list)
Days On Market: 301
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 3 1/2
Living space: 3,488 SqFt
Lot size: 11,784 SqFt
Age: 1

Bryan's Opinion: The Country Club neighborhood of Los Altos is very popular with buyers wanting larger lots and an even more "rural" feel than other areas of Los Altos. There has been a lot of new construction in this area with prices doing fairly well even during the downturn. This home is now officially a bargain.

The price was actually dropped a month ago but it never got the attention it deserved. The listing expired last week and it was relisted by the same agent. I've actually held this house open and buyers have all said it stands out as being of higher quality than many others in the area.

This home was custom built for the owners who had other plans but changed their minds. The attention to detail is much higher than a "spec" home. That said, it has some features you won't find in most homes including an outdoor fireplace. It's one of the best examples of new home construction in the Country Club neighborhood of Los Altos.

Someone is buying up downtown Los Altos

A lot has been happening in downtown Los Altos in recent months with new construction and an emphasis on major redevelopment of downtown Los Altos into something more than just a sleepy little town.  Someone is buying large sections of downtown Los Altos.  The question is, what for?

I've lived here on and off since the 60s.  In all that time Los Altos seems to have been stuck between two camps; people who want a sleepy little town and those who want something like Santana Row or Los Gatos. The folks who want to keep the "village" feel are against large chain stores coming into town.  The other folks, like me, would like to see the town become something interesting where we have a lively downtown similar to Los Gatos.  The inability to make the change has been landowners downtown who refuse to allow chains.

Well, Los Altos is heading for change - big change.  The zoning has been changed to allow multi-story buildings downtown.  That will make knocking down old buildings in favor of newer ones economically viable.  In addition, the city is moving ahead with plans to make First Street more walkable with wider sidewalks.

 The entity that is buying up Los Altos has purchased buildings on State Street, First Street, and other areas.  Over $40 million has been invested so far and more may be spent.  Is a developer on the way to buying up downtown to make it a vibrant destination like Los Gatos?  I certainly hope so.  I'll be keeping an eye on this topic and talking to my friends in commercial real estate to see where this goes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hot Los Altos Hills Real Estate 11/9

26390 ANACAPA DRIVE, Los Altos Hills 94022
MLS# 81053519
Listing Agent: Kathy Bridgman, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $2,295,000
Days On Market: 1
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 2 1/2
Living space: 3,344 SqFt
Lot size: 1.18 Acres
Age: 49

Bryan's Opinion: When people think of views in Los Altos Hills, this is the sort of thing they're looking for. This area of Los Altos Hills is full of fabulous luxury homes. There are a lot of people looking for opportunities such as this - an older home on a great lot with spectacular views and easy access to the Los Altos Village.

It's in move-in condition and large enough that you could live in the house while working on plans for an estate for the ages. Compared to other homes in the area or even in other sections of Los Altos Hills, this one is particularly appealing because the price is perfectly matched for the lot size, location, and best use.

Another huge plus is the fact that this home is serviced by Palo Alto schools. I know so many buyers who want the Los Altos Hills address but with Palo Alto schools. With so few homes in this price range with that feature, I'm sure this will sell fast.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rosita Park in Los Altos - Major Upgrade Coming

This park, located at the end of Rosita Avenue in Los Altos, has been a spot for tennis, BBQ, kids playing, and more for decades.  I remember going to this park when the pool at Covington School was still available to swim in.  Nearby the park was a Catholic School with a large field for baseball and general play.

Now the park will be completely updated with a cleaned up baseball diamond, three new tennis courts (instead of the current 2), a childrens play area, new trees and shrubbery, and more.  It's the most money the city has ever spent on a park which bodes well for this gem literally at the heart of Los Altos.

I think this park, along with many others in Los Altos, it part of what makes this town so special.  We have a very active community who likes to be outside for sports and recreation.  Keeping our parks in great condition and continually improving them goes to the core values of Los Altos.

Stop by the Los Altos Town Crier for more details and a small picture of the new park.

October Market Report - Los Altos Hills Real Estate

October was a mixed month for the Los Altos Hills real estate market.  As I said in my preliminary report, the sale of one $8 million home has skewed some of the value.  That's most evident in the percentage of listing price received.  That was down to 88% in October 2010, down from 95% a year ago.
The median and average sales prices were $2,150,000 and $3,012,000 respectively.  Last year, those figures in Los Altos Hills were $2,435,000 and $2,545,000.  So, the average is up (due to the one large sale) but the median is down.  Median has little meaning for this month because there were only 8 sales, compared to 11 in 2009.  Inventory was up to 64 units vs. 58 a year ago and new listings were up to 14 from 6 a year ago.  The trend is more inventory and fewer sales but few days on market (only 102 vs. 128 last year).

Sales Over $2 and $3 Million
There were 3 sales over $2 million and each was very close to their asking price.  There was 1 sale over $3 million (except the $8M property) and it was also very close to its asking price.  Those are critical for the stats in Los Altos Hills because the market in the $2-3 million market band has had trouble still this year.  As I said in my last report, one month is not a trend but it could bode well in establishing 2010 as a turning point in the high-end market of Los Altos Hills.

One Big Sale

The home that sold for $8.2 million was listed at $10.9 million so that has skewed a few numbers.  The bright side of October 2010 is that all the other homes sold for close to their asking prices.  This would seem to indicate that homes priced well are in fact getting solid offers.

Comparison to September

The October market in Los Altos Hills had fewer new listings, lower inventory, more sales, lower days on market, and a higher average selling price which is all good for the long-term trend.  The activity of buyers in November indicates that this trend could continue.  What will impact sales this month is the loss of several selling days due to holidays.

October Market Report - Los Altos Real Estate

The month of October was great for Los Altos real estate.  The final numbers show that October is one of the strongest months for selling homes in Los Altos for many, many months.  There were 34 homes sold compared to 25 sold in October 2009, and 19 in September 2010.  The average selling price was  $1.94 million which is much higher than any previous month this year.  What drove this bump was sales over $2 milion and strong performance in the market band of homes in the $2-3 million range.
The median and average sales prices were $1,737,000 and $1,940,000 respectively.  Those figures in Los Altos were $1,580,000 and $1,710,000, respectively, in October 2009.  Inventory was down to 73 units vs. 89 a year ago and new listings were down to 26 from 36 a year ago.  The percentage of listing price sold is up to 97% from 95% last year.  This shows that Los Altos is doing much better.

Sales Over $2 Million
Los Altos had 4 properties listed over $3 million that were set to close this month and of those, 2 actually closed over $3 million, one was within $15,000 of that mark, and the last was at $2.775 million.
Los Altos had 8 properties listed over $2 million and all of them sold for over $2 million.  This is huge for this market segment because as I had reported in September, homes in this price range have been selling with no up or down movement.  We'll see how sales this month change the course of median and averages in this critical high-end of the Los Altos market.

Days On Market
The Average Days On Market did not skew to the high side even with the sale of a few homes that had been on the market a long time.  the average days on market for Los Altos in October was 59, down from 75 in October 2009.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

OPEN HOUSE: 900 Madonna Way in Los Altos 1:30-4:30 11/6

I'm holding open 900 Madonna Way in Los Altos today from 1:30-4:30PM.  This has just recently had a price reduction of $150,000 and is now priced at $1,998,000!  For the size and location, this is an excellent deal!

The home is a 4 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath with 2,957 SqFt on a 9000 SqFt lot.  It offers spectacular views of Silicon Valley and the flats of Los Altos.  The location is only minutes from downtown Los Altos with easy access to Hwy 280 and Foothill Expressway.

Stop by and I'll be happy to provide a tour as well as insights into the local market.

900 Madonna way Los Altos

Los Altos Pre-School Needs Help

Los Altos schools rank among the best in the state, especially the elementary schools.  Our top elementary schools even score above Palo Alto schools which most home buyers seem not to know.  So, where do we get all these fine students from?  Pre-schools!  Almost every incoming child has had at least a year of pre-school before they get into kindergarten.  My son had 3 years of pre-school so he was very well prepared going in.  So, I was shocked to learn that one of the oldest pre-schools in Los Altos is at risk of disappearing.

The Los Altos Parent Preschool lost its lease and is now looking for a new home.  They've been serving the community since 1954 and currently support almost 60 families.  As a co-op, parent participation is required and part of how it does so well.  They are currently looking for new space that is available at below market rates so that tuitions can be kept low.  If tuititions aren't kept low, the pre-school may not survive.  Take a look at this story in the San Jose Mercury News for more perspective.

I encourage any reader who knows of space in the area to contact the school so this part of the Los Altos educational legacy isn't lost.  I'll be on the look out as well.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hot Los Altos Real Estate 11/4

595 ROSITA AVENUE, Los Altos 94024
MLS# 81052959
Listing Agent: Hiep Nguyen, Intero Real Estate
List Price: $3,795,000
Days On Market: 1
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 4 1/2
Living space: 4,986 SqFt
Lot size: 22,100 SqFt
Age: 2

Bryan's Opinion: This is the Los Altos neighborhood I grew up in and I've watched many new homes get built over the years. This particular area of Central Los Altos is one of the most popular areas for developers. There have been some spectacular homes built in this area and this is one of them.

A few key points, this lot is much larger than the others in this section of Los Altos. Most lots in this neighborhood are about half this size so you're getting a lot of value. There is some traffic for people going to Covington Park but it's relatively mild. The street is generally really quiet. The home itself is much larger than some of the newer homes that have sold recently on connecting streets such as Parma. Those homes have sold for close to $3 million.

in my opinion, the price is good and the location with quality make this a winner.

Los Altos Hills Real Estate - Price Drop of the Week 11/4

10869 MORA DRIVE, Los Altos Hills 94024
MLS# 81042247
Listing Agent: Mickey Shaevitz, Coldwell Banker
List Price: $4,795,000 (drop of $1,200,000)
Days On Market: 2
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 4 (and 2 half baths)
Living space: 5,120 SqFt
Lot size: 70,567 SqFt
Age: 75

Bryan's Opinion: Here is another huge price reduction on a luxury estate in Los Altos Hills. This section of Mora is very private as it is near the end that ends against the Rancho San Antonio County Park. That means you'll get very little traffic and have easy access to one of the most popular hiking areas in the SF Bay Area.

The house itself is a heavily remodeled home on nearly 1.75 acres of land. While the modern feel may not appeal to everyone, it's still got the casual charm consistent with the area. In addition to being gated and private, it's also large enough to be competitive with similar sized properties in the area. When compared to other Country Club homes on Mora and nearby priced in the $2.5 million range (in either Los Altos or Los Altos Hills) this seems like a bargain.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Los Altos Holiday Stroll

A little break from the usual blog posts about Los Altos real estate this time.  Here's a note about the upcoming Holiday Stroll held in downtown Los Altos on November 12th.  The stroll is on from 5-9PM and offers shoppers a chance to do their holiday shopping while enjoying live entertainment, snacks or drinks at the various stores, and live entertainment.

When I served on the board of the Los Altos Village Association, this was considered a great event for residents or anyone who likes Los Altos because it showcases the charm of the Los Altos village.  You'll see all the trees on Main Street lit up with white Christmas lights, restaurants open with lots of friendly people, and a vibrant atmosphere of holiday cheer.

For more information, take a look at the website for the Los Altos Village Association.

Hot Los Altos Real Estate 11/3

26 SUNKIST LANE, Los Altos 94022
MLS# 81052599
Listing Agent: Kathy Bridgman, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $2,149,000
Days On Market: 2
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 3
Living space: 2,974 SqFt
Lot size: 11,280 SqFt
Age: 51

Bryan's Opinion: I used to walk this neighborhood in North Los Altos when I lived nearby. This area has lots of new construction and remodels, is close to downtown Los Altos, and is very quiet (little street traffic or noise).

This home has a healthy sized lot and offers an above-average size home in great condition. The grounds are amazing and there's even a pool. What I think will limit many people is having only 3 bedrooms. I've seen other larger homes come on the market (remodeled and/or expanded) that didn't get a 4th bedroom and the price took a hit as a result. Other than that, this is a great home.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Early Market Report for October - Los Altos Hills Real Estate Sales

October was a great month for the Los Altos Hills real estate market. One sale over $8 million has definitely skewed the numbers higher across the board. There were only 8 sales but that's actually more than normal so even more good news!

Sales Over $2 and $3 Million

There were 3 sales over $2 million and each was very close to their asking price. There was 1 sale over $3 million and it was also very close to its asking price. Those are critical for the stats in Los Altos Hills because the market in the $2-3 million market band has had trouble still this year. One month is not a trend but it could bode well in establishing 2010 as a turning point in the high-end market of Los Altos Hills.

Averages Doing Well

The average listing and sales prices were $3.4 million and $3.01 million respectively. While it would appear from those numbers, which are higher than average, that homes are getting 10% discounts, that's not true. The home that sold for $8.2 million was listed at $10.9 million so it's skewing the numbers. In fact, all the other homes sold for close to their asking prices. This would seem to indicate that homes priced well are in fact getting solid offers.

The average days on market was also high at 102 but again this number is skewed by the 524 days on market that the $8.2 million house sold in. Los Altos Hills has seen the average days on market getting stronger recently so this will set that trend back a little.

Price Per Square Foot

This is an often quoted figure by people shopping in Los Altos Hills. However, the vast majority of buyers use the figure incorrectly. You can't compare the price per square foot for a 3000 SqFt home to one with 6000 SqFt. It's not a linear progression and never has been. Other factors including comparing new, old, and remodeled homes also skew this figure. This month has some good examples. the $8.2 million home sold for $751/SqFt while a home that sold for $1.875 million was $1257/SqFt. One was old and small, the other newer and much larger. Buyers need to get a proper market analysis to get a realistic view of how well a home is priced.

Early Market Report for October - Los Altos Real Estate Sales

October is looking like an incredible month after a slow September.  There are 32 homes with close of escrow dates in October which is substantial.  The average selling price for the month is $1.993 million which is a substantial spike over September.  Here are a few standout transactions.

Sales Over $3 Million
Los Altos had 4 properties listed over $3 million that were set to close this month and of those, 2 actually closed over $3 million, one was within $15,000 of that mark, and the last was at $2.775 million.

Sales Over $2 Million
Los Altos had 8 properties listed over $2 million and all of them sold for over $2 million.  This is huge for this market segment because as I had reported in September, homes in this price range have been selling with no up or down movement.  We'll see how sales this month change the course of median and averages in this critical high-end of the Los Altos market.

Days On Market
This figure will see a skew to the high side in the October stats as well as month-over-month, and possibly Q4.  This is because 4 homes had days on market over 200 days each.  The days on market for October was 61 but with 25% of the properties sold having 100 or more days on market, it's a little higher than most. Quick look at the results shows that most homes sold in less than 30 days with many selling in 2 weeks or less.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hot New Home in Los Altos 10/29 - Happy Halloween

1365 FAIRWAY DRIVE, Los Altos 94024
MLS# 81052109
Listing Agent: Kirk Mahncke, Coldwell Banker
List Price: $1,895,000
Days On Market: 2
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 3
Living space: 3,007 SqFt
Lot size: 27,720 SqFt
Age: 63

Bryan's Opinion: The Country Club neighborhood of Los Altos is always in demand when you get a nice lot size combined with a great home. This home is in great condition and in an excellent location with a very large lot size, even by Country Club standards.

What's most compelling for this home is that you get a lot of house for the money and the lot size gives you the option to build a larger home when the time is right. After all, this is an older home that has been remodeled. That said, the price is a challenge with only 3 bedrooms, in my opinion. I could also make the argument that the price is right due to home and lot sizes. Tough call but still a great house.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hot New Home Los Altos Hills 10/28

14414 SADDLE MOUNTAIN DRIVE, Los Altos Hills 94022
MLS# 81051923
Listing Agent: Jim & Jimmy nappo, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $2,295,000
Days On Market: 1
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 3 1/2
Living space: 3,573 SqFt
Lot size: 84,942 SqFt
Age: 27

Bryan's Opinion: I'm not a fan of this area of Los Altos Hills because it's so far away from the town and it's too close to Hwy 280. That said, this is an excellent opportunity to get a large chunk of land with a nice house and Palo Alto schools.

When the listing includes MFA and MDA figures in the public comments, that tells me that the seller and/or agent feel it is best bought by someone who is looking at future development. I agree with that. With close to 2 acres, this is definitely a good home for someone who wants to build a true compound or estate. It's definitely value priced and should get a lot of interest fast with a relatively quick sale.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Los Altos Hills Real Estate - Price Drop of the Week

24855 PROSPECT AVENUE, Los Altos Hills 94022
MLS# 81044501
Listing Agent: Edward Graziani, Sereno Group
List Price: $2,585,000
Days On Market: 48
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 3
Living space: 2,850 SqFt
Lot size: 43,560 SqFt
Age: 51

Bryan's Opinion: This is a great house in a neighborhood with truly world-class homes. Nearby Morgan Manor, a fixture in Los Altos Hills history, is in direct view from the back of this home along with San Francisco, Oakland, and the Bay. The price was reduced today and, considering those views, it's now quite a deal.

In addition to having great views, the home has been completely upgraded in 1997 and the lot is relatively level for such a Los Altos Hills location. While some people may not be fond of the small downslope driveway, the pros outweigh the cons, especially at this new price.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Fun in Los Altos

If there's one thing Los Altos does well, it's celebrate holidays and throw parties.  Halloween is no exception.  As the start of the holiday season, the town has a tradition of hosting an in-town trick-or-treat event designed just for kids.

This Friday from 12-4PM in downtown, kids can walk into particpating stores and collect a piece of candy in teh grand tradition of Halloween.  In addition, from 2-4PM there is a street party at Second and State streets usually with face painting, balloons, crafts, kids rides, and more.  It's a lot of fun, especially for younger kids new to the whole Halloween experience.

Afterward, there are plenty of restaurants to visit so your stay in Los Altos can be extended a little longer.

This event, as with many others in downtown Los Altos, is hosted by the Los Altos Village Association.  I've been a member of this group for a while and appreciate their on-going efforts to support downtown businesses and the community.  For more information, visit their website.

Los Altos Foreclosure Update - October 2010

During my most recent open house I had a few people ask if I was aware of any foreclosures in Los Altos or Los Altos Hills.  I said yes but also pointed out that very few homes ever become REO (bank owned) property in Los Altos or Los Altos Hills for several reasons including:

Strong buyer demand
Ability to sell as a short sale
Significant equity in the home

So, will you get a deal on a foreclosure in Los Altos or Los Altos Hills?  Not likely.  Why?  Because the homes that are listed as short sales that have eventually become REOs are usually in poor locations and didn't sell in the open market for a reason.  One street in Los Altos Hills that has been a few of these is Elena Road.  The homes that have had trouble selling there have been close to 280 and priced too high.  The banks have been unwilling to reduce the price they take so the homes languish.  The short sale home on Lincoln Ave is in disrepair so potential buyers will have to look past the potential repair costs to get a good value.

Los Altos - Foreclosure vs. Short Sales Deals
One home that recently transitioned from short sale to foreclosure is facing the same issue that others have, the buyers want a deal but the bank won't reduce the price.  One home in South Los Altos on Richardson Avenue has been on the market for a long time but the bank won't take less than the asking price.

The few foreclosed homes that have come up in Los Altos Hills include a couple that were underpriced on purpose (under $1 million) and ended up receiving dozens of offers hundreds of thousands of dollars over the asking price.

Can You Get A Deal In Los Altos?
You may but don't count on it.  As I said, the few homes or properties that have become REOs are usually in poor locations and not the best investment.  The ones that have come up in good locations sell quickly at market rates.  If you're looking to save money on a home in Los Altos, I recommend looking at homes that have been overpriced and negotiate with the seller on a value in line with the market.  Remember, prices are trending up slowly in Los Altos so buying before the Spring push could get you a great deal!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hot New Home in Los Altos 10/20

1525 KENSINGTON CIRCLE, Los Altos 94024
MLS# 81050843
Listing Agent: Donna LaCroix, Coldwell Banker
List Price: $1,985,000
Days On Market: 1
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 3
Living space: 3,061 SqFt
Lot size: 19,215 SqFt
Age: 51

Bryan's Opinion: This is one of the most coveted streets in Central Los Altos and properties rarely become available.  It offers lots that are substantially larger than most in Los Altos and the privacy is hard to beat.  This home is at the end of the cul-du-sac which makes for even more privacy.  While the location is at the farthest southern section of Central Los Altos, it still offers Los Altos schools and easy access to both 280 and 85.

While this home is not upgraded as much as other nearby homes, it is still on a larger lot and has comparatively more square footage.  With such a convenient location, privacy, lot size, and more as pluses for this home, I expect this to get a lot of attention.  I'm a little concerned about the price but not too much .  We'll see how it goes during tour on Friday.

Los Altos Hills Real Estate Market Report for September

Mixed Average and Median Prices
For the month of September, 2010 the average sales price (ASP) in Los Altos Hills was $2,670,000 compared to $2,062,500 in September 2009. That's an increase of 29%. While that appears to indicate that the high-end market is on fire, it isn't.  I did a price analysis of homes selling in the $2-3 million range and the market is still having difficulty.  The median sales price in Los Altos Hills for September 2010 was $2,540,000 versus $2,297,500 in September 2009. That's a respectable 5.5% increase.  However, I'm not a fan of median prices so this is merely a reflection of a single month and not the year.  Yes, the market is doing better but not quite as good as these figures would suggest.

Sales Volume Was Down
Los Altos Hills had 7 closed sales in September 2010 versus 8 in the same period of 2009. The number of days on market went up, from 83 days last year to 125 days this year. Many homes that have been on the market a while have finally sold and it's skewing the numbers.

Inventory Is Flat In Los Altos Hills
There were 67 homes on the market in September versus 70 in the same period of 2009. There have been fewer listings this year but in general the inventory in Los Altos Hills is down as most sellers are taking a "wait and see" approach to the market.

Fourth Quarter Trends
As with other area, we typically see inventory drop along with average and median selling prices as well as the number of homes sold in Q4. I feel we'll see more strength going into the end of the year as the economy continues to strengthen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Los Altos Real Estate Market Report for September

Mixed Average and Median Prices
For the month of September, 2010 the average sales price in Los Altos was $1,682,581 compared to $1,638,960 in September 2009. That's an increase of 2.66%. However, the median sales price in Los Altos for September 2010 was $1,476,000 versus $1,676,000 in September 2009. That's a substantial 12% drop. I personally don't place my weight in median prices as they don't tend to show the true trend of the market.

Sales Volume Was Down
Los Altos had 19 closed sales in September 2010 versus 29 in the same period of 2009. That's a large drop as well. However, the number of days on market or how fast homes sold was way down, 91 days last year to 43 days this year. That shows that homes are selling faster, which is a trend most Los Altos based agents will attest to. The market is strongest with entry level homes priced under $1.5 million.

Inventory Is Flat In Los Altos
There were 85 homes on the market in September versus 86 in the same period of 2009. There were more new homes coming on the market but since they sold faster the final inventory count ended up being lower.

Fourth Quarter Trends
Going into the final quarter of the year we typically see inventory drop along with average and median selling prices as well as the number of homes sold. This is in contrast to the year as a whole. Based on sales so far in October, that trend may not hold true this year. So far, the market is strong and we'll see how the final figures for Los Altos settle in a 12 days.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Los Altos Market Performance for Homes Priced $2-3 Million

The good news is that unit sales are up and the average price per square foot are up in this challenging segment of the market. Los Altos home prices have been trending up slightly, especially after this past Spring when many homes priced under $1.5 million sold with multiple offers. The high-end market has had more difficulty but has greatly improved this year.

In 2009, some of the figures are distorted because there were several new or newer homes priced over $3 million that had substantial price reductions under $3 million. Two of these were on Manor Way in the Loyola Corners section of Los Altos. As a result of removing those homes, a more accurate comparison on 2009 and 2010 is shown.

While sales and the average price per square foot are up, the overall average listing price is down about 7%. The average sales price is down about 5% compared to 2009. Does this mean that prices are down in Los Altos? Yes and no. The average price per square foot is up but not enough to counter the overall sales price. So, prices are down but slightly - when put into that perspective. This only applies to this segment of the market. Los Altos general single-family home prices are up when including homes in all price ranges.

I'm seeing more sales activity in Q4 and expect to see a strong finish to the year.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hot New Home in Los Altos 10/14

91 ARBUELO WAY, Los Altos 94022
MLS# 81049871
Listing Agent: Yvette Stout, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $2,795,000
Days On Market: 1
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 3 and 1/2
Living space: 3,206 SqFt
Lot size: 10,138 SqFt
Age: 4

Bryan's Opinion: Arbuelo is in North Los Altos which is considered one of the most prestigious sections in the town. Many homes in on Arbuelo and on nearby streets have been upgraded or built new but not so much that the unique charm of the area has been drowned out. This home is similar to others in terms of size and look/feel that have sold in recent months. It should get a lot of attention and interest but will get some push-back on price.

Arbuelo is close to downtown Los Altos but a healthy walk at just over 1 mile. The neighborhood is generally quiet with little cut-through traffic compared to other nearby streets like East Portola.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Developers in Los Altos Hills - Super Mansions and Protected Land

Los Altos Hills has long been a destination for the rich and famous to build high-end estates and small developments of luxury homes. It's an attractive destination for developers and private land owners. Los Altos Hills is facing a couple of issues right now; restricting home sizes and development of Hidden Villa.

Hidden Villa
Hidden Villa is a 1600 acre preserve and farm that locals have enjoyed for decades. A developer has proposed building homes within an area too close to a creek running through the land, in violation of county regulations. While not officially a part of Los Altos Hills (it's technically county land), development in the area is considered undesirable by many local residents.

In my opinion, development of the site is not in the best interest of the community and further work within the 150-foot setback is an affront to the existing residents. I understand that a developer has to maximize the use of the land but in this case the setback was known prior to acquisition. Developers need to work within the rules to as much a degree as possible.

Super Mansions
There's a 28,000 square foot home planned for Los Altos Hills that has become one of a few that residents are taking issue with. In some local towns where such homes are built, including Woodside and Atherton, the solution has been to build smaller homes and get the additional square footage through more buildings - effectively creating a compound.

My question to the people building these homes is; do you really need all that space? It seems to me that such a home is merely a statement of wealth and not need. In light of the social backlash of overpaid executives it might be worthwhile to take a "less is more" approach and build more modest homes.

I'm not against development at all. However, I see an opportunity for restraint and practicality.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Perfect Symmetry: Los Altos Boy Born on 10/10/10 at 10:10

We all know that Los Altos is a distinctive place with a storied history filled with the names of interesting people. Well, we can add Rafael Terrell-Hondl to that list. He's the newest Los Altos resident, born on October 10, 2010 at 10:10AM in Room 10 of Kaiser Hospital!

Fortunately for mom he wasn't 10 pounds but he did weigh in at a nice 8 pounds 11 ounces and he measured 20 inches (2x10). The birth wasn't planned and in fact he was expected 10 days early.

Rafael joins his 6 year old brother and 3 year old sister when he goes back home to Los Altos. His is one of a rare number of babies born on this auspicious date and he'll have plenty of newspaper clippings to look at when he's older.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hot Home Price Drop in Los Altos 10/11

1504 COUNTRY CLUB DRIVE, Los Altos 94024
MLS# 81040749
Listing Agent: Judy Bogard-Tanigami, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $5,495,000 PRICE DROP OF $1.455 MILLION!!
Days On Market: 0
Bedrooms: 5
Bathrooms: 4 and 1/2
Living space: 7,585 SqFt
Lot size: 81,457 SqFt
Age: 82

Bryan's Opinion: This home is in the Country Club section of Los Altos and is considered one of the most desirable areas, especially with golf course views. This is a grand estate in the greatest tradition of Los Altos. While many will have an issue with the pricing, I suggest you consider quality, location, and lot size in that consideration. The homes priced in the $2-3 million range with 3000-4000 sqft are usually on lots 20,000 sqft or smaller, even if they're in great condition. This home is on a nearly 2 acre lot.

There are very few homes in the Country Club neighborhood that could achieve this price point. However, most are on smaller lots, are smaller homes, and don't have the same views. While not a historic home, it is a piece of Los Altos history. This is truly a great opportunity.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hot New Properties in Los Altos Hills 10/7

26620 PURISSIMA ROAD, Los Altos Hills 94022
MLS# 81049100
Listing Agent: Kevin Flynn, RE/MAX
List Price: $3,995,000
Days On Market: 0
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 1
Living space: 1,101 SqFt
Lot size: 108,900 SqFt
Age: 85

Bryan's Opinion: This seciton of Los Altos Hills is home to many large lots with older smaller homes, horses, and other farm animals. It feels to me to be more rural that some other sections. There are a few nice estate homes in this area but not as many as other areas of the hills. The downside of this area is that you do get noise from Highway 280. On the other hand, it is hard to find a nearly flat 2 acre lot as well. You will get no real views from this lot.

This is priced in line with other lots currently available in Los Altos Hills that are flat and running about $2 million an acre. If you're considering a large flat lot to build a new home and want space for animals, pool, tennis court, etc then this is a great opportunity.

Hot New Properties in Los Altos 10/7

2204 VINEYARD COURT, Los Altos 94024
MLS# 81049095
Listing Agent: David Troyer, Intero Real Estate
List Price: $1,828,000
Days On Market: 1
Bedrooms: 5
Bathrooms: 3
Living space: 2,743 SqFt
Lot size: 16,592 SqFt
Age: 51

Bryan's Opinion: Sitting on more than 1/3 acre of land at the end of a court, this home is located in a highly desirable section of the Highlands Neighborhood of Los Altos. Having sold a property in the same neighborhood this summer at $1,637,000 I can say that the pricing on this home is in line with the area. It is rare to get a lot of this size in Los Altos as most are 10-12K square feet.

The Highlands Neighborhood is generally hilly and some lots offer views and good privacy. There is very little traffic or road noise. I see this as being an excellent value especially considering recent sales.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Home sales and the 3.8% Medicare tax - it's real, sellers will pay it, be ready

There has been a lot of coverage in the media and throughout our industry about this 3.8% tax on home sales. There have been articles saying it's a lie, myth, false, etc. NAR Mythbusters called it false but if you read carefully, they in fact acknowledge it's REAL! However, the bar is set for markets with high-value homes and high income individuals. In Los Altos and Los Altos Hills we have a significant number of people who meet these criteria.

BARRIER 1: Personal Income (Adjusted Gross Income or AGI)
Your household needs to have income of $200,000 (individuals) or $250,000 (married couples). This barrier is easily passed in Silicon Valley with two engineers or managers each making $125K or more per person. This sort of household income may be rare in other parts of the country but here it's common.

BARRIER 2: Net Investment Income
You get an exemption of $250,000 (individuals) or $500,000 (married couples) from the sale of your personal residence. This covers most people in the country and even a fair number of people in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. However, once you go past that THE TAX TAKES EFFECT. Keep in mind, you have to meet barrier 1 and 2 - BOTH.

This will impact residents of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills because a lot of people bought homes priced at $500,000 years ago and those homes easily sell for $1.5 million or more today. So, with $1 million in equity, you'll a break on the first $500,000 but you'll pay the 3.8% tax on the remaining 3.8%. Check with your tax advisor on the details. This tax takes effect January 1, 2013.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hot New Properties in Los Altos Hills 10/5

25701 DEERFIELD DRIVE, Los Altos Hills 94022
MLS# 81047316
Listing Agent: Patricia Lindo, Cashin Company
List Price: $3,400,000
Days On Market: 8
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 4 (and 2 half baths)
Living space: 3,924
Lot size: 17,466 SqFt
Age: 3

Bryan's Opinion: This home is located on a quiet street within walking distance of downtown Los Altos Hills. The lot is small compared to the one acre standard in Los Altos Hills but it's still a respectable size. This area of Los Altos Hills has a mix of smaller lots in addition to the conventional one acre minimum.

The home does have some views but they're low level over the valley, not the high up views you get from homes on the other side of Highway 280. The proximity to town and high-quality neighborhood make this a prime place to be.

Market Trends: Los Altos Hills home prices have dropped, sort of

I've had a lot of clients tell me Los Altos Hills prices have dropped. I'm a pragmatic Realtor and have no issue with the facts behind a weak or strong market. My gut instinct is that the market is good overall but some segments are weak. So I looked specifically ONLY at homes that have SOLD where the sales price was $2-3 million. This is a key segment of this market because the average selling price is about $2.2 million.

The chart below spells it all out. The median and average prices are down both Q3 2009 to Q3 2010 as well as the year-to-date (YTD) trends for both years. The average listing price is down over 7% and the average sales price is down about 5%. However, the homes that have sold are smaller and on smaller lots. So, the price per square foot is effectively up.

Does this mean the overall market in this range of prices is up or down? I'd go with down because the price per square foot argument is difficult to truly quantify. Smaller homes typically sell for higher prices per square foot.

There were only 5 homes sold in Q3 2010 versus 20 in Q3 of 2009. To see if this is really an issue you could look at the number of pending sales but that would not make up the difference. The YTD sales are off as well with 31 in 2009 versus 22 in 2010.

Why are prices and unit sales down so much but they're up in Palo Alto in the same price range? Good question. I know that a lot of buyers are looking at Los Altos instead of Los Altos Hills because they want traditional neighborhoods and less land to take care of. I think Q4 will be strong and we'll see less of an difference between the two years.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Los Altos Short Sale Property 10/3

688 LINCOLN AVENUE, Los Altos 94022
MLS# 81035757
Listing Agent: George Ho, George Realty
List Price: $1,378,000
Days On Market: 3
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 3 1/2
Living space: 3,078
Lot size: 7,405 SqFt
Age: 63

Bryan's Opinion: This home is located at the end of Lincoln Street which runs along Foothill Expressway. It is within walking distance of downtown Los Altos with nice homes nearby. It has been on the market (off and on) for about 3 years, starting at over $2 million and at one time being as low as $799,000. The current price is very close to the lender approved sale price of $1,380,000.

For the size and location, this home is very well priced. While in great condition, it offers little flair or character. The view out the front door is of the Foothill Expressway sound wall. However, if you need a larger home, a Los Altos address, and a good general location. This is a home worth considering.

Keep in mind, this is one of a limited number of short sales in Los Altos, ever. Within a half-mile radius there are three other properties that are much smaller and with similar location challenges priced within $200K or so of this home.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hot New Properties in Los Altos 10/2

555 SHELBY LANE, Los Altos 94024
MLS# 81047918
Listing Agent: Sunny Kim, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $1,895,000
Days On Market: 3
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 2 1/2
Living space: 3,389
Lot size: 12,632 SqFt
Age: 35

Bryan's Opinion: This home is located on a cul-du-sac within walking distance of downtown Los Altos with nice homes on the whole street. It's backed up to Covington Elementary which may not appeal to some people but the overall nearby neighborhood is excellent. There's a lot of remodeling and new construction in this area of Los Altos which is helping prop up property values.

For the size and location, this is reasonably well priced. While in great condition, it does feel a little dated. Given what else is on the market in Los Altos, I'd highly recommend looking at this for the size and convenience.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hot New Properties in Los Altos Hills 9/29

12000 SOUTH EL MONTE ROAD, Los Altos Hills 94022
MLS# 81047765
Listing Agent: Jackie Schoelerman, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $1,625,000
Days On Market: 0
Bedrooms: 5
Bathrooms: 3 1/2
Living space: 3,113
Lot size: 42,000 SqFt
Age: 47

Bryan's Opinion: This home was listed earlier in February 2010 for $980,000 and sold for $1.1 million. I was asked to give a pricing opinion on the property before it was listed is it eventually sold for almost exactly what I estimated.

The location is very close to Foothill College and the house itself is situated in such as way that you will get noise from El Monte and Foothill College. There are no views to speak of and there is a common driveway with another property. However, given the remodeled condition, this represents an excellent value for the Los Altos Hills. If you want a Los Altos Hills address and a nice, updated home, this is a great opportunity.

Can home pricing be part of a bigger strategy?

Home prices in Los Altos generally follow the same pattern. A market analysis will generally show where a home should be priced and the listing agent will price is 1-5% of where it will actually sell. For example, if the market analysis shows a recommended price of $1,429,000 the agent may price it at $1,450,000 or $1,395,000 depending on market conditions at the time, time of year, and amount of competition.

Optimal Pricing is Set By The Market
I'm of the opinion that pricing spot on is the best way to go, especially in Los Altos. You'll get more offers and a better overall response from both agents and buyers. Overpricing, even in a hot market, will tend to turn off buyers and agents. I priced a great home in Central Los Altos at $1,395,000 this spring and it sold with multiple offers for full price.

There are those that differ and price low to drive a lot of offers. While that strategy may work from time to time, again, the key consideration is market timing. If there's a lot of inventory and quality houses, pricing low may not be in your best interest. It might actually be better for your client to price with the rest of the market and wait until some inventory clears. Don't give up $50K just to get a quick sale.

Beyond Pricing High or Low
I offer another option to pricing that I've seen done. I call it "weird pricing". We all generally follow the same rules with prices in the thousands and hundreds, ending in 0, 9, or 5. But could we stand out more with "weird pricing"! Like this:

and so forth...

If I'm looking down a list of prices, that weird pricing grabs my attention. Could is also grad the attention of other agents and buyers? Perhaps.

Then I ask these questions. Does this become part of an overall strategy to make the property stand out more? Could this weird pricing make a home sell faster in Los Altos than other listings? Would an offer be more inclined to round up or round down?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Squatters in mansions? Say it isn't so!

I read an article on MSNBC about squatters living in mansions in high-end areas of cities such as Seattle, St. Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles. The focus of the article was Randy Quaid (of National Lampoons Vacation fame) who was "squatting" in a home he used to own in Montecito, California.

Normally, the issue of squatting is the domain of low-end homes and areas where there are so many vacant homes it's hard to keep track of who owns what. The problem still exists and in some cases the occupants are quite open about it, even being interviewed in local news stories about living rent free while their foreclosed home gets sold. Evictions take time and money which isn't something the "out of area" REO agents are often unwilling to do.

So as I'm reading this I'm thinking, "Is this really a problem or is it just another piece of bad news pumped out by the mass media?" Then I read the story and realize it really is just a load of crap.

There's an advocacy group in the Seattle suburbs that squats in mansions intentionally to draw attention to the plight of homeowners overall, not just the high-end. However, the article really only cites four instances of what amounts to trespassing. Is this a major issue? NO!!

As far as I know, and I'd say I'm fairly well connected, there are no cases of this here in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Atherton, Palo Alto, or the other high-end towns around here. There are certainly boatloads of "mansions" on the market around here and I have yet to hear of one having a squatter.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hot New Properties in Los Altos 9/21

1450 MONTCLAIRE PLACE, Los Altos 94024
MLS# 81046289
Listing Agent: Kathy Bridgman, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $2,749,000
Days On Market: 1
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 4 1/2
Living space: 4,957
Lot size: 10,170 SqFt
Age: 5

Bryan's Opinion: This home was listed last year for $2,895,000 (started at $3,185,000) and didn't sell. It was a difficult market in this price range last year. Located in the Highlands Neighborhood, this home is large for the area and at the top end of the price range. It's larger than homes on similar sized lots in the Country Club area which makes it a relatively good value. If you're looking for large, newer, and well located, check this listing out.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hot New Properties in Los Altos 9/15

252 FRANCES DRIVE, Los Altos 94022
MLS# 81045081
Listing Agent: Lynn North, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $3,099,000
Days On Market: 2
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 3 (plus 2 more 1/2 baths)
Living space: 3,342
Lot size: 12,600 SqFt
Age: 4

Bryan's Opinion: This last sold in 2006 for $3.07 million so the current price shows how well Los Altos is holding up compared to other markets. This neighborhood is great with lots of new/newer construction, walking distance to town, and a quiet street. Since this is relatively new, it commands a premium over similarly sized properties priced lower. This is very close to my where I used to live so I know the walking is great with lots of friendly neighbors.

97 PEPPER DRIVE, Los Altos 94022
MLS# 81045165
Listing Agent: Hilda Balakhane, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $4,288,000
Days On Market: 2
Bedrooms: 6
Bathrooms: 4 1/2
Living space: 4,000
Lot size: 16,675 SqFt
Age: 0

Bryan's Opinion: This is near the house shown above (3 short blocks away) and also close to town which is a huge plus. Very modern construction is not very popular in Los Altos but green construction is, which this house offers. The price is over $1000/SqFt which is rare and hard to justify in Los Altos.

Stronger markets, better banks, fewer foreclosures

Negative Media Spin
The local media is back in the habit of negative spin with the SJ Mercury News publishing a headline entitled "Silicon Valley foreclosure data: signs of stress, but some improvement". The first line states that hundreds of homeowners fell behind but foreclosures increased. Nice start to a story guys. Knowing that most people just read the first couple of lines in a story, it's no wonder people think we're in trouble.

Positive Reality
However, in reading the article we find that default notices were down a whopping 36.7% in August as compared to August 2009. That's a huge reduction! In addition, actual foreclosures were DOWN 7.5% in Santa Clara County. In addition, cancellations of foreclosures were up almost 100% from the year before and they outpace overall foreclosures. Only San Mateo County saw an increase in actual foreclosures, up 8.7% in August.

Market Shifting

The market is moving away from foreclosures for a couple reasons, properties are selling in the open market as regular or short sales (not all foreclosures are negative equity) and banks are working with more homeowners to avoid foreclosure. Both of those statements are supported by sales statistics and banks. There is less build-up of "shadow inventory" which means as more buyers enter the market, there is less inventory available. This also supports the rationale behind increased median and average selling prices.

Los Altos is not a hotbed of foreclosure activity and the few homes that get a Notice of Default end up selling well in the open market. Our market and the general area are selling well with prices trending up. As long as inventory stays low, we should post solid numbers for the year.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hot New Properties in Los Altos Hills 9/14

14176 Stanford Court, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
MLS# 81045160
Listing Agent: Ellen Barton, Coldwell Banker
List Price: $3,288,000
Days On Market: 3
Bedrooms: 5
Bathrooms: 4 1/2
Living space: 4,280
Lot size: 61,419 SqFt
Age: 22

Bryan's Opinion: This home offers Palo Alto schools which is a popular option for buyers in Los Altos Hills. This is very close to another recent listing on Mir Mirou in Los Altos Hills and a relative bargain compared to that one. While the area and location are good I'd like to see a more contemporary kitchen at this price.

Local schools even better, home values up?

We all know that school scores boost property values and reduce inventory. Guess what, the Los Altos School District is #1 in the area with a new district-wide API score of 965! Within our district, Bullis Charter School in Los Altos is the 9th highest scoring elementary school in the state with a score of 988. To get the latest scores I highly recommend visiting

Los Altos is #1
With the Los Altos School District the best in the local luxury home markets (in particular, better than Las Lomitas or Palo Alto Unified), how will this drive sales and pricing of homes in the area. As with most peninsula towns, real estate sales are heavily driven by school scores. Will we see a spike in sales or a rise in prices because of these new scores?

One of Many Factors
I don't expect that the current round of scores will drive a significant spike in sales or prices. I say this because we're already at the top of the score rankings. The gains in most schools are only a few points. While we get closer to a perfect 1000 score, we're already so close that a few more points don't matter much.

I feel that school scores are one of many factors driving buyers in this market. The strong scores will probably boost interest and may result in a few more sales but that's about it. We can just relish the fact that we have some of the best schools in the state and that that fact will keep us a popular place to buy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Los Altos Open House Report: Patterns and Trends

I held open two homes this weekend; one priced at $2.7 million in Cupertino and the other at $2.5 million in Los Altos. Both were very nice homes, comfortable and casual living, and priced reasonably for their respective markets and locations.

Patterns: Who Are The Buyers
The traffic was average on both days but the types of buyers was similar across the board. Here are the types of buyers I see:

- Upgrade buyers moving from a slightly lower priced neighborhood, even within Los Altos, who are considering upgrading from the $1.5 million range to about the $2.5 million.
- Relocation buyers who have been looking at multiple local markets and are still trying to define where exactly they want to go. This type of shopper is also heavily considering how far their dollar will go in each town or neighborhood.
- Value buyers have been looking for a while and know the statistics. These folks have looked in several markets just like the relocation buyers. They are different because they know all the statistics and pride themselves on comparing one area to another. They'll typically make an offer when a property appears to be undervalued and they see a perceptual, if not real, bargain.

What's The Trend For These Buyers
Many buyers are taking a wait and see approach expecting to see prices drop. Unfortunately, that's not the trend. Good homes, priced well, as selling quickly. The misperception among most of the buyers is that prices are still dropping. That's not exactly true.

The list prices are dropping but the averages are increasing. What's happening is that sellers will list higher to provide negotiating room and they assume the market is moving up. Prices are increasing, but barely and not at the high end. So, they'll price a property at $2.7 million, drop the price to $2.5 million, and finally sell it. Buyers see prices dropping as a result.

As a buyer, you'll have a better pick of inventory if your agent does an market analysis and provides a range of values for the home you want to buy. I do this all the time. You won't end up overpaying because you'll pay a price in line with the current market. Plus, you'll get settled sooner rather than waiting weeks for a price drop initiated by the listing agent. Buyers can take control with the right information.

Inventory is low in Los Altos right now but there are plenty of options in the $2-3 million range. If you're shopping in this range, this is a good time to buy and get a good value if you're well informed.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hot New Properties in Los Altos 9/9

623 Benvenue Ave, Los Altos, CA 94024
MLS# 81044310
Listing Agent: Pam Blackman, Intero
List Price: $2,398,000
Days On Market: 1
Bedrooms: 5
Bathrooms: 3 1/2
Living space: 3,255
Lot size: 11,088 SqFt
Age: 59

Bryan's Opinion: This street and area is extremely popular because it's so close to town (walking distance) and there is a lot of new construction. A larger house on a smaller lot 2 doors down the street sold in May for $2.75 million.

900 Madonna Way, Los Altos, CA 94024
MLS# 81044456
Listing Agent: Charlene Sawe, Sereno Group
List Price: $2,295,000
Days On Market: 0
Bedrooms: 4
Bathrooms: 2 1/2
Living space: 2,957
Lot size: 9000 SqFt
Age: 40

Bryan's Opinion: This home is in the inner foothills on the other side of Summerhill Road, 2 minutes from downtown Los Altos (almost walking distance), and offers views that rival more expensive homes.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Living in Los Altos: Little known resources you need to know

There are a lot of resources available online to learn about everyday life and history in Los Altos. Some are better than others but all should be referenced every so often just to make sure you're not missing anything.

Neighborhood Information

Los Altos Neighborhood Network (LANN) - This monthly newsletter offers insights into events and activities around the city. It has been around for about 10 years and offers an online archive of past newletters free of charge. Current newletters require a modest $20 subscription fee.

The newsletter offers links to other resources including civic services, utilities, schools, communications, transportation (school routes and bike maps), recreational activities, and traffic data.

Downtown Activities Information

Los Altos Village Assocation (LAVA) - This group highlights the downtown merchants much like the Chamber of Commerce. However, that also coordinate major events including the farmer's market, Los Altos Art & Wine Festival (one of the best in the Bay Area), Friday Movie Nights, and more.

Their website offers details on events, links to merchants, and information on promotions and coupons for merchant products and services.

Los Altos History
The Los Altos History Museum - Whenever you want to look back on how Los Altos came to be, this is the place to go. Whether visiting in person or online, you can see how life was like when the town was little more than a train stop with a few houses. They also showcase exhibits from local artisans with everything from crafts and collections to painting and pictures.

This little slice of local color is often overlooked by new and existing residents because it is set back behind the library and civic center. Take a look and learn more about where we live.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The San Antonio Hills neighborhood in Los Altos, California

Los Altos Neighborhood Spotlight - San Antonio Hills

Where Is It?
This prime area of Los Altos is actually unincorporated Santa Clara County land. The borders are Foothill Expressway, Magdelena Avenue, Ravensbury Avenue, and Permenente Creek.

Types of Homes and Land
Most homes in the area are new or newer and in a variety of styles from Mediterranean to contemporary. There are a lot of custom home styles that stand out including Cape Cod, Carmel-cottage, French Provincial. Home sizes start as small as a few hundred square feet to 6000+. Lot sizes tend to be larger than Los Altos standard with many lots in the 12000-15000 s.f. range. There are a lot of ranch-style homes left over from early development.

Special Features
The Los Altos Hills Country Club takes up a significant portion of the available land. Streets tend to be narrower than other areas of Los Altos but the larger lots offset that. Of course, the area is slightly hilly similar to the Highlands Area of South Los Altos. The HOA for the area is open to annexation but only by Los Altos Hills.

Other Resources
The area has an HOA with its own website. Visit here for even more details and history:
San Antonio Hills HOA Website

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hot New Properties in Los Altos Hills

27040 Old Trace Lane, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
MLS# 81042917
Listing Agent: Mary and Brent Gullixson, Alain Pinel Realtors
List Price: $24,950,000
Days On Market: 4
Bedrooms: 6
Bathrooms: 6 1/2
Living space: 14,855
Lot size: 3.394 acres
Age: 20

Bryan's Opinion: This is one of the most beautiful estates in Los Altos Hills and among the more expensive ones as well.

13914 Mir Mirou Drive, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
MLS# 81043038
Listing Agent: Gary Campi, Campi Properties
List Price: $6,450,000
Days On Market: 4
Bedrooms: 5
Bathrooms: 4 1/2
Living space: 5,524
Lot size: 2.37 acres
Age: 28

Bryan's Opinion: Close to the Palo Alto Hills Country Club and very private. It's not in the primary Los Altos Hills area but it's still a great location.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hello Los Altos! Can you hear me now?

Our poor town is having such a hard time actually embracing the 21st century. Once again, we've got neighbors complaining about someone who wants to install a new Verizon transmission tower in the San Antonio Hills neighborhood. This new 55 foot tower would be placed along with 3 others in a residential neighborhood.

I'm sorry, but are all these neighbors using AT&T service? Have they tried to make a call in Los Altos on Verizon? Verizon does not have a strong presence in Los Altos and they need the signal boost. It's ridiculous that I get 1 bar in a town filled with engineers and high-tech executives. We should have 5 bars!

I understand the issue of blight and not wanting commercial technology sitting in the middle of multi-million dollar homes. HOWEVER, there are ways to hide those towers. In my opinion, this town has been suffering with poor cell service for a long time and this is a viable solution. Hide the tower and pick something else to argue about.

There's a concern that having the tower there will impact property values. I don't see how. The area has been selling well with the three towers already there. Having another one is unlikely to make an impact.

BTW - For those of you, even locals, who don't know where San Antonio Hills is, I'll blog about the area soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Just how wrong is Zillow and what do you tell your clients?

With Free Data, You Get What You Pay For
We all have clients who go to Zillow, CyberHomes and other sites to get an estimate of the value of their home. An article in the Sacramento Bee a couple of weeks ago talked about how far off these sites can be. Even Zillow's chief economist says they are accurate to within 10% on their best day. Since it's free to consumers, do these sites do more damage than good. Is the free data offered without the expertise of an agent setting expectations higher or lower than they should be? The value of Zillow and other automated estimating sites is just as they present themselves, a starting point. Where they fall short is in areas where the homes become more distinctive.

It's Just A Step Along The Way
A lot of agents, myself included, feel that in some markets these estimates are so far off the mark as to be at least useless and at most dangerous. Sellers could feel their home is undervalued and decide not to sell. Buyers could get unrealistic expectations on value and press agents to make offers based on those estimates. However, I seldom see these things happen. What is most often the case is that buyers and sellers get an idea of the relative value of the home to others in the area. In general, these estimates are a starting point from which they and their agents can start.

A Local Realtor Is Better
These automated tools will never replace an expert in the area. A Realtor will be able to account for variables the software can't. In the process, the Realtor can educate the seller or buyer about the market and set a price that makes sense.

In the local market of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, Zillow is often very wrong. A few times it has been very accurate, but 9 times out of ten it's way off. It's often wrong because an entry-level rancher with 1800 square feet can appear on Zillow to be worth $1.2 million because it hasn't been fixed up. However, with some updates it may be worth as much as $1.5 million. The 25% discrepancy is huge and requires a Realtor to discuss and explain. There's a piece of property on Loyola Drive in Los Altos that Zillow shows as worth $902K. It has a 672 s.f. house and a 20,000 s.f. lot so it's really worth at least $1.2M - based on my expertise.

This problem is even more pronounced in Los Altos Hills. It's easy to find examples of valuations where updated homes with $3-5 million are given estimated values of $2-3 million. Just remember to check with your local Realtor to get the most accurate estimate of the value of your home.