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.