Featured in today’s ONE OF A KIND article in the Homes section of the CC Times, this custom home is situated in a prime location in prestigious Happy Valley.

This luxury gated home was custom designed and built by renowned designer Leila Douglah of Douglah Designs. The designer’s touch is visible in every impeccable detail and the finishes are simply exquisite. The curb appeal of the house is enhanced by the custom ironwork, the stone exterior and arched solid alder front door.

This is a fabulous home for entertaining inside and out. The enormous game room upstairs with stunning bar area is wonderful for indoor fun. The chef’s kitchen and family room open up to the back patio area with a firepit, built-in grill and views of the hillside full of oak trees. The private back yard features steps that lead to a second patio area with a tranquil pond and a meandering path up the terraced hillside.

This house is amazing, and photos simply can’t do it justice — it’s a “must see” to appreciate.

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Danville police officer Alan Shields was a guest speaker at our office meeting this week, and I found his information fascinating.

We know we are in a relatively crime-free area, but I learned that, until recently, we’ve seen a steady decline in all crimes since the 90’s. Lately it’s been ticking up, so the police are trying to engage the community and bring those numbers down.

We don’t see violent crime as a rule, but we have had burglaries and the “kick in” of the front door type of break-ins. Officer Shields told us about someone they arrested who had been breaking into homes to the tune of 4 or 5 a week, up and down the 680 corridor for several years.

He said they interviewed the crook to find out what his methods were and what would potentially deter him. He was always on the look out for empty homes; he would dress nicely to fit into the area (not in a suit, but just nice clothes to blend). He would ring the doorbell, and if no one was home and it was a protected view, he would kick in the door. Otherwise, he’d walk around to the back of the house.

“What if there is a sign indicating an alarm?” No, that wouldn’t really bother him. Some people just have the sign and no alarm, and so many people don’t bother to set their alarms. If one sounds, he can just run.

“What about dogs?” Dogs are sweet and friendly. He will pet them and they will watch, wagging their tails while he puts the family’s jewelry in his pockets.

“How about cameras?” Ah, cameras area another matter for this criminal. His response was that if he rang the doorbell and looked up to see a camera, he would not proceed. In fact, he would not try the neighboring homes either, knowing that he was on camera next door.

Officer Shields encouraged cameras and had some great examples of how cameras in the community had been helpful. He also mentioned that the Town Council is discussing a town-wide camera system that he expects we will have installed soon.

He also told us that any door-to-door solicitor is required to have a permit from the Town of Danville. Ask the next pesky magazine salesperson that comes to your door. Or don’t answer the door if you don’t want to – but Officer Shields cautioned against waiting quietly inside your house for them to go away. The criminals looking for an empty house to rob will think you’re not home and could break in. Just shout through the door “go away; I’m not interested,” and if that doesn’t work “go away, I’m calling the cops,” and then make that call.

Have you heard of www.crimereports.com ? The Danville police department uploads their activity to this website at 5pm daily. Also – if you do get a camera for your home, you can register it here. That info will only be viewable by the police department, but it could help them solve a crime if they know where to go to find cameras that may have captured a clue.

Of course, unincorporated Alamo is serviced by the Contra Costa sheriff, but I inquired and learned they are seeing similar patterns in Alamo. Also, I can see information from www.crimereports.com in Alamo, so clearly the sheriff also feeds to this site.

Remember how we all hung on to our home phones for years even when the only call we were getting on them was from the library regarding an overdue book because it seemed like a good safety feature to be able to make a 9-1-1 call from your home phone and know that the location was identified? The good news is that the locate feature now works from your cell phone as well. So you can give the library your cell phone number and give up the home phone.

The biggest message of the day was “please call us.” Officer Shields emphasized that if you see something odd, don’t hesitate to call. Please don’t feel you are troubling them or that they are too busy. Sometimes it’s the calls from helpful neighbors that make all the difference.

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I’m frequently asked, when working with buyers, how to make a “smart purchase.”  They remember the drop in prices we saw after the bubble burst, and want to be sure that the house they buy does not lose value.  Location is obviously the most important factor, which is why we always say it three times.  But another key factor is lot size: the homes that hold value best are on large lots — they aren’t making any more land.

Last week, I looked at the stats over the past five years in Alamo and Danville. Both towns saw a huge jump in the price per sq foot and the median price from 2011 to 2015, but the Alamo numbers were more dramatic.  Alamo is a town where the majority of the homes sit on 1/2 acre lots or larger.  Danville is much larger with two zip codes, and although I only included single family homes in my stats, the difference in neighborhoods and size of lots is quite varied.

I was already thinking that I should return to the Danville stats and see how the numbers would look using only large lot homes when I was inspired by a conversation with a Danville homeowner.  She said she bought in 2010 and felt that her house had not gone up in value.  I often say that if only I could go back in time, I would go to 2010 and buy 10 houses, so of course her house has gone up in value–she bought at the very bottom of the market.  In addition to perfect timing, she selected a house in a wonderful location, location, location: just off the El Pintado loop where lots are huge, it feels like country, and yet so close to downtown Danville.

Here’s a chart that shows the five year sales snapshot in Danville for homes on large large lots.  I defined large lots as those over .4 acre because many 1/2 acre lots are a bit shy of the full ~22,000 sq feet.

DANVILLE # Homes Sold Median DOM Median Price Median PPSF
2015 136 14 $1,572,000 $474
2014 126 10 $1,550,000 $470
2013 125 13 $1,300,000 $414
2012 121 28 $1,120,000 $359
2011 87 33 $1,050,000 $334

Not unexpectedly, these numbers are similar to the Alamo stats, and even stronger.  Certainly in the downturn, I noticed that the most desirable parts of Danville (especially the walk-to-town westside locations) held values better than Alamo as a whole.  But all neighborhoods in both towns survived the foreclosure years relatively well.  And you know why: location, location, location.

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If you bought your house in 2010 or 2011, your timing is pretty perfect. Prices have climbed steadily ever since. But even if you bought your house at the top of the market in 2004 or ’05, and you saw the value go down through the “foreclosure years,” you can feel pretty confident that your home is back to its top-of-market value (and in some areas, higher).

Here’s a chart that summarizes the trends of the last five years:

ALAMO # Homes Sold Median DOM Median Price Median PPSF
2015 202 17 $1,516,000 $503
2014 247 19 $1,460,000 $465
2013 221 14 $1,299,000 $434
2012 254 21 $1,182,000 $373
2011 166 37 $1,078,000 $355
DANVILLE # Homes Sold Median DOM Median Price Median PPSF
2015 643 12 $1,155,000 $451
2014 598 10 $1,080,000 $427
2013 629 10 $955,000 $383
2012 611 19 $840,000 $329
2011 545 29 $820,000 $320

I gathered all the sales from each year in Alamo, and all the detached homes in Danville.  I used the median rather than the straight average, so that the average would not be skewed by the outliers.

What’s in the crystal ball for this year?  Everyone seems to agree that rates will be going up, and that is certainly creating a sense of urgency for buyers.  Inventory is low now, but many homeowners are getting their homes ready for the market, so expect that to change quickly.

As I look over the chart above, it reminds me of that wise old saying “location, location, location.”  We should all be grateful to live in such a desirable area with wonderful schools–it’s not just a fabulous lifestyle, it’s a great investment.

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The holiday season is so many things: festive, delightful, stressful, exciting, restful, exhausting, exhilarating — almost any adjective will apply at some moment during the roller coaster ride of fun and family that make up the two weeks where the kids are off school, the tree is up, the lights are gleeful, the cookies are warm from the oven, and life as we know it comes to a screeching halt.  Or at least it moves at a far slower pace, since most of us take time off work and enjoy the festivities.

Sellers often wonder “is there any point to having my house on the market in December?”  After all, I just said life comes to a halt.  But that’s life outside of real estate, it seems.  I always tell sellers that they should enjoy their holidays and consider their comfort first.  It’s no fun to have buyers trekking through your house while you are baking pies or hosting a gift exchange.  But if there is no inconvenience for a seller, then it’s a wonderful time to have your house listed because the serious buyers are out there.

In fact, my off-market listing on Alamo Way (www.1594AlamoWay.com) went pending on Christmas Eve.  11 other listings in Alamo went pending in December, whereas only 9 went pending in November.  In Danville: 46 homes went pending in each November and December.

Maybe you are wondering, as I was — how does this compare with the pending sales in other months?  I just went month by month and counted the sales: not closed deals, but rather when the property pended.  This will tell us when buyers are making their offers and getting into contract, rather when their moving trucks are pulling up.  If you are trying to determine the best time to list your house, don’t use closed sales as stats.  There is generally a 30-day escrow period, often longer and sometimes shorter, but the more pertinent detail to consider is when the homes go off-market as a pending sale.

After I counted the sales, I referred to my weekly inventory stats (I capture the current inventory number every weekend), and tried to determine the percentage of sales within the available homes.  This is less than a perfect calculation because the inventory changes throughout the month.  For example, in January the year opened with 23, but by January 18th there were 31 homes on the market, and the month closed with 28.  I tried to take an average, but in general, these numbers should provide a glimpse into the competitiveness of the market, for both buyers and sellers.

SALES 10 16 17 21 31 21 22 17 19 18 9 11
INVENTORY 27 37 48 57 63 63 60 65 63 62 52 39
37% 43% 35% 37% 49% 33% 37% 26% 30% 29% 17% 28%

It will be interesting to see if 2016 follows the same patterns as 2015 and 2014.  So far, I’m surprised to see similar inventory numbers to start the year.  Check out today’s inventory, compared with last year.  Remarkably similar numbers.  In fact, since 2013, the year has opened in a similar fashion and our inventory has been low ever since.

January 1st 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
ALAMO 24 23 29 25 62
DANVILLE 41 48 43 44 138
BLACKHAWK 27 21 17 27 26
SAN RAMON 34 33 29 23 126
DUBLIN 25 36 50 26 68
PLEASANTON 40 33 31 29 124
WALNUT CREEK 25 30 43 43 124
LAFAYETTE 12 12 24 15 38
ORINDA 9 11 15 15 23
PLEASANT HILL 11 20 25 11 43
ANTIOCH 85 163 116 56 197

I was showing property today and my buyer wondered what I expected to see in the market considering the rising interest rates.  It’s a great question, and my crystal ball is foggy.  My best guess is that 2016 will be similar to 2015: another strong market, but with prices stabilizing.

It’s been a lovely holiday break, but now it’s time to get back to work and see what 2016 will bring to our real estate world.  Happy New Year!

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We are 11 months into 2015, and with the year winding down and the holidays upon us, the market is understandably a bit slow.  One sure sign of a slowing market is the fact that sellers are accepting contingent offers again.  Remember those?  That’s when you find the home of your dreams, make an offer, but you have to sell your existing house first.  It’s a great concept since the alternative involves some tricky timing or an interim move.

In the hot hot hot market of 2004 and 2005, sellers were enjoying offers with no contingencies (“we will take the house as-is, no inspections, no loan contingency, no appraisal contingency”) so a house-to-sell contingency didn’t have a chance.  But back then, we still had the crazy loan market, where buying a house without selling your house was possible; the lenders just made it work somehow (something that would seem careless and irresponsible later, but at the time it simplified life for the move-up buyers).  And then came the slow years, and in 2009 and 2010, contingent offers were abundant.

This strikes me as ironic.  When a seller can’t sell their house easily, they are willing to take a contingent offer–relying on yet another house to sell in a tough market.  But when the contingent sale would be a slam/dunk, the seller is not likely to consider it.  Of course, that’s often because the seller has better, cleaner offers to consider.  I had a listing in September (61 Bolla Ave in Alamo) that received six offers.  One was contingent and was immediately placed in the “other” pile.  My sellers simply did not want to deal with the complication if they didn’t need to.

But most of the homes on the market today are not receiving multiple offers, and a buyer can certainly write a contingent offer with some confidence that it will be considered.  In fact, one agent told me yesterday that she has a continent sale currently pending that has four contingent sales behind it.  That’s a lot of dominos, but it’s going smoothly and all the homes in the transaction chain have removed all contingencies.

Today, as I captured the inventory numbers, I glanced at the current contingent sales and found 15 of them.  Price ranges from $500,000 to $2.6 million, five of them are in Danville/Blackhawk, three are in San Ramon, two in Pleasanton, and one each in Lafayette, Alamo, Pleasant Hill, Dublin, and Diablo.

Inventory numbers for today (and a few pulse points over the year):

11/29/15 10/4/15 7/5/15 4/5/12 1/4/15
ALAMO 50 64 57 53 23
DANVILLE 69 124 103 74 48
BLACKHAWK 42 44 39 39 21
SAN RAMON 65 104 112 55 33
DUBLIN 40 73 58 42 36
PLEASANTON 56 94 110 68 33
WALNUT CREEK 62 103 88 69 30
LAFAYETTE 17 30 47 29 12
ORINDA 21 37 40 19 11
PLEASANT HILL 25 34 45 31 20
CLAYTON 16 22 17 19 11
ANTIOCH 124 162 172 111 163
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It seems that buyers have been crying for more inventory all year.  Today in Alamo, there are 52 homes on MLS and of those:

  • 47 have been on the market for 30 days or longer
  • 28 have been on the market for 90 days or longer (10 of these more than 200 days)
  • 17 are priced between $2.5 and $11 million
  • 15 are priced under $1.5 million

So, if you are an average shopper in Alamo, looking for a home priced between $1.5 and $2.5 (the sweet spot in Alamo), then you are limited to 21 listings, only one of those is new in the last two weeks, and only three have fewer than 30 days on market.

Which brings me to my point: I have a listing that isn’t on the MLS but is available for sale, and it’s an awesome house.  Best curb appeal in Alamo!  Here are the details:

front of house

1594 Alamo Way – $2,149,000 – view more photos: www.1594AlamoWay.com

  • 5 Bedrooms plus bonus room, 3.5 bathrooms
  • 3674 square feet, .43 acre lot, 3 car garage
  • Built in 2001 with high quality construction details
  • Radiant heat throughout
  • Irrigation well with 500 gallon tank

This spectacular home is located in desirable Westside Alamo at the end of a cul-de-sac. The curb appeal is lovely, with elegant stonework beautifying the home, a steep roofline and gables, and paver driveway.

The ~1/2 acre lot is pancake flat, and features a solar heated pool and spa built in 2010 and outdoor kitchen with grill, refrigerator and side burner installed 2011. The lot was fully landscaped in 2010 and includes raised bed vegetable garden and producing fruit trees.

The floorplan of the home is wonderfully practical with three bedrooms and two baths (including the master suite) on the main level. Upstairs are two additional bedrooms plus a large bonus room, loft area, and bathroom.

The kitchen, with high-end stainless appliances and large center island, is open to the family room which has an inviting gas fireplace and soaring ceiling. The formal living room has a lighted coffered ceiling and a gas starter for the wood-burning fireplace.

Built in 2001 with quality construction including energy efficient Structural Insulated Panel (SIP), Anderson sliders and Milgard windows, and radiant heat floors throughout the home, resulting in very low energy bills. Additionally, the property has a well for irrigation, with a 500-gallon underground tank.

Close to town: walk to shops and restaurants and enjoy nearby Iron Horse Trail.

This was an off-market sale when my clients bought in 2009; we had been looking at everything on the market when I learned of this “coming soon” property.  My clients prefer to have another “off market” transaction – so please call me if you’d like to schedule a showing.  You won’t be disappointed — it’s a great house!

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Tuesdays are Broker’s Tour day for Lafayette, Orinda, and Moraga, so I have just returned from viewing some homes on tour.  Not many — things are slowing down for the holidays.  One home in Lafayette took my breath away.  It’s in Reliez Valley on a 2.14 acre lot with a vineyard and SPECTACULAR views.  The home is 6400 square feet with a fantastic floorplan: all bedrooms are en-suite and the master is spaced away from the secondary bedrooms.  The home has wonderful light and so many fabulous windows — all bringing your attention to the amazing views.  This listing belongs to a wonderful agent in my office; please visit her website here to see the floorplan, the movie, and more photos: www.3358Johnson.com.

Inventory has been low in LaMorinda all year.  Lafayette and Orinda opened the year with 12 and 11 active lisitngs respectively, hit highs of 54 and 44 in July, and today have 23 and 30 (and Moraga with only 7).

I have a couple of sets of buyers for Lafayette and Orinda, across different price ranges, but one of them fell for a cute house in the Glorietta neighborhood last week.  Priced at $899,000 with only 1600 sq feet and in original condition, but in a fantastic location and on a large (.4 acre) lot, this house was clearly going to get a lot of attention.  My clients did not write an offer once I explained to them what I expected in terms of the competition — but the reality exceeded my expectations: the lisitng agent told me he distributed 70 disclosure packages and received 27 offers.  16 of those offers were “all cash.”  We will have to stay tuned to see the final sales price, but I am guessing north of $1.2.

I am working with several sellers that are planning to list their homes in the new year, but most are reluctant to sell now.  If it’s a hardship to have your home on the market over the holidays (and for many of us it would be, that’s family time), then it’s a great idea to wait.  But otherwise — the competition is slim and the buyers are serious!

johnson rd pic

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It’s Homecoming for both Danville high schools this weekend, with the dances tonight and the football games last night. Monte Vista’s football team played undefeated Foothill High and lost 35-27 and San Ramon Valley HS played Livermore HS with a 49-28 victory.

When people are relocating to Alamo and Danville from other parts of the country, they often ask me, “which high school is better?” Sounds like a simple question, but they never get a short answer.  In Alamo, the freeway is the dividing line for the two high schools so the kids leaving Stone Valley Middle are split between Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley.  For years, the 8th graders would apply in a pack to transfer to one school or the other, keeping the friend group together. Both schools are very highly rated in every aspect, so you would see a group all going to San Ramon Valley and another group heading to Monte Vista.  But then one year, San Ramon Valley was impacted and turned down all the requests.  Since then, the transfers still occur but no longer with the same confidence.

Other middle schools don’t have the same issue: all of Charlotte Wood rolls into San Ramon Valley, all of Los Cerros rolls into Monte Vista. San Ramon Valley and Monte Vista have a strong rivalry, but they also have a great friendship.  Before a tennis match, for example, you’ll see half the girls greeting each other with hugs before they start to play.

So – I always explain that while you “can’t go wrong either way,” the one thing that SRVHS has that Monte Vista can’t duplicate is the charming Homecoming Parade.

Yesterday at 2:30 or so, the SRVHS Homecoming Parade marched through downtown Danville.  Each class has an elaborate float, always fabulously constructed with a clever theme, and all the sports teams are in the parade. It’s like stepping back in time: Beaver Cleaver’s high school would have had such a parade. The parade does a small circle through downtown Danville, and the restaurants like Pete’s Brass Rail and Norm’s Place are crowded with green and gold patrons.  I enjoyed the parade from Revel, which is normally not open until 4pm, but opened early for the event.

I always invite my friends with kids at Monte Vista because everyone enjoys a good parade (and with cocktails at Revel on offer, how can you go wrong?).  It is seriously the 2nd cutest day of the year in Darling Downtown Danville.  Nothing can top our festive 4th of July, but this comes close.

band class float class float2 kids in parade

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Ask a handful of realtors in the area, and most will agree that the market has slowed. It’s a feeling, a sluggishness in the air. But why? Interest rates are low, and lenders are promising that “they will be going up, it’s just a question of how soon.”  That should be a strong motivating factor for buyers.  And there are homes to choose from: inventory is more plentiful now than it was in the beginning of the year.

Speaking of inventory, here’s a snapshot of the current active listings across local towns:

inventory lg

I too, can feel a sense of slowing in our market, but it isn’t statistically obvious. I took a look at the data, year-to-date, and compared to Q1 through Q3 in the past two years. I also examined Q3 vs Q2 this year to see if there was a dramatic falling off.  Here’s what I saw (please refer to the chart below): the market came back to life with a fervor in 2013 and we saw homes selling with only 9 days on the market in Danville (and 12 in Alamo).  The days on market in the chart below represent the median average, and you must consider that in a truly hot market, the DOM will be a little longer for the most desirable properties because an offer date is set, and the home will be on the market for 7 to 10 days to give it the exposure before letting the offers roll in.  A property with 10 days on the market may have received multiple offers in a bidding war situation, whereas a property with zero or 1 day on market accepted an early offer, often a pre-emptive.  Bottom line, the column “DOM” does not represent any pertinent change since the numbers are similar enough.

By the way — for those agents fretting that the market is “slow,” they may want to think back to 2009, when the median DOM for the same three quarters was 78.  Hel-LO.  How soon we forget what sluggish feels like.

But I digress — back to my chart below, we can see that in both Alamo and Danville, prices have gone up steadily since 2013.  That is evident in both the median sales price and the median price per sq foot.  This year’s median ppsf is represented by one of my listings: www.61Bolla.com, a 2700 sq ft home that sold for $508/sf or $1,450,000 (with 6 offers).  This home sold in September, so it falls in the recent Q3 statistics.  Ironically, it was as I was putting together a multiple offer spreadsheet for my sellers that I first heard someone mention the slowing market.

YTD Q3 2015 DATA lg

Six buyers for one home that push the price more than $50,000 over asking is hardly describing a sluggish market.  This house was priced right and staged beautifully, so it may have had a better experience on the market than most homes, but the fact remains that five eager buyers were still looking once this home went pending.

In Alamo, you can see the volume of home sales is down significantly so far this year–but that’s not the case in Danville.  And in both towns, prices have climbed year over year.  It’s all good news: for sellers, prices are strong and most homes are moving in relatively few days on market.  For buyers, the low rates allow more buying power, and inventory has not yet dropped off for the holidays so there are plenty of homes to choose from.  There is certainly no obvious reason for a sluggish market — both buyers and sellers can (and should) enjoy the great opportunity the current market is providing.


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