Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Know your insurance before remodeling.

Property insurance is not a very exciting subject to be sure.  I just read this blog from a local insurance company, Allied Brokers Inc., well known for their involvement in real estate insurance
here in the San Francisco Mid-Peninsula area.

The article covers the insurance issues that can pop up when you have a remodeling project that encounters problems; things are not always covered as you thought they were, and it is a good idea to check up on your insurance coverage with your insurer before starting any remodeling.

Checking also whether your contractor has any insurance, along with his/her sub-contractors if there are any, is essential, and you may also want to add yourself to the Contractor's policy.

More on this important subject in this Allied Brokers Inc. article.

Thanks for reading,

Silicon Valley real estate specialist
Detailed, local trends etc...
Current mortgage rates

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Average prices in the SF Bay local Counties - evolution.

To piggy back on an earlier blog of mine, dating back to January of this year, here is an update to the graphs showing the increase in average prices in both the counties of Santa Clara and San Mateo; the figures include both the houses and the condominiums/townhouses.

As always, one has to be careful with statistics: a few very high priced homes can skew the average to a high number, even though nothing much else has happened in the market place.

A few things to note:
- In general, average prices go down at the end of the year and until January.  Last year was shielded in large part from this phenomenon: prices went down, but not much.  We will see if this year acts more "normal".
- The total number of homes (houses and condos) for sale last year at the end of August was 1,852 in the Cnty of Santa Clara, and it is now 1,778  - a little lower.  Still a lack of inventory ...
- Prices were an average of $715.7K in the County of Santa Clara in Jan of 2013, and they are now $992.5K, a 38.7% increase !
- From the graphs below, it seems that averages move faster up and down in the County of San Mateo than in the County of Santa Clara.  I believe it reflects the fact that a lot more properties went into the averages in SCC than in SM Cnty: 25,705 listings for Santa Clara County, vs 10,619 for San Mateo County.  The more properties you have, and the more the averages are going to be representative of the real market, instead of the specifics of the homes.  To say it simply, if you have a few very high properties, they will have less of an effect on the average of 25,000 sales vs the average of 10,000 sales.

One final note: the inventory of homes for sale in January of 2014 was around 900, about half of what it is now.  So it is a better time to look for a home!  Also, many trades linked to real estate, like property inspection services, termite companies, stagers, report being extremely busy right now (beg. of Sept.).  This could mean that inventory may increase soon...

County of Santa Clara:

County of San Mateo:

Thank you for reading,

Silicon Valley real estate specialist
Detailed, local trends etc...
Current mortgage rates

non-profit organization worth noting: Partners for New Generations - now called:
Mentor Tutor Connection.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bay Area home prices leveling off.

Prices in the Bay Area at large are leveling off.

Not everywhere, and not all in the same manner.  But DataQuick, the La Jolla-based real estate information services firm, said the median sale price for new and existing homes in the region in July stayed at a 3-month plateau at $617,000.  That was down .2 % from June's median price but up 9.8 % from the $562,000 median in July 2013. 

Complete information along the Peninsula can be found in this Coldwell Banker article, with the following remarks with regards to the area close to Los Altos and Palo Alto, and referred to as "Silicon Valley" (always more competitive):

...... Silicon Valley – The market is a bit spotty, according to our Cupertino manager. The demand for
great houses with Cupertino schools is as high as ever, but certain segments seem to have cooled off. It’s August, after all! Our Los Altos manager reports that there is lower inventory currently in most of the local cities, which is basically seasonal. But the stagers are booked out the whole month of September, so that means some new inventory hopefully. Downtown Mountain View houses often sell within one week. The condos are still getting strong activity with multiples either the next week or following. Palo Alto still has low inventory, but if the house is priced too high, it doesn’t sell. The best sections of town still lack inventory and there are buyers lined up for each one. Last week a house in old Palo Alto sold for more than 1M over list ($6,700,000) with multiple offers. Los Altos Hills with Palo Alto schools attract many buyers and multiple offers. North Los Altos is still in huge demand as is most of the city and Mountain View west of El Camino. Sunnyvale is still occasionally seeing a new all-time high. In Los Gatos, inventory is tightening up even more as school heads back into session. San Jose-Almaden agents are not seeing as many multiple offers in Blossom Valley and Santa Teresa but they are in Almaden and Cambrian. One listing in Cambrian had 20 offers. Our San Jose Main office manager said the local market is seeing another drop in inventory, while buyer demand has pulled back as well. Open houses are well attending with some open houses having 40 groups each day on the opening weekends. Multiple offers are still prevalent, but the sheer number of offers has seemed to decrease. All signs indicate that we will have a strong fall. The local Willow Glen listing inventory remains consistent where it has been the last month. Agents are waiting to see if the post Labor Day weekend will bring a surge of new listings for the fall selling season. With tight inventory and strong buyer demand agents there have seen heavy open house traffic. With this increased demand agents starting to see the pre-emptive offers, multiple offers and aggressive offers way over asking price. The market is getting hot again in Willow Glen. ...

thank you for reading!

Silicon Valley real estate specialist
Detailed, local trends etc...
Current mortgage rates

non-profit organization worth noting: Partners for New Generations - now called:
Mentor Tutor Connection.

Monday, August 25, 2014

How old are these houses now?

Coming back recently from the old continent, where everything is at least 3 or 4 centuries old, when it is not from the previous millennium, I got curious about the age of properties in the US.  It turns out that:

-  14% of houses are between new and 14 years old,
-  25% are between 15 and 34 years old (33 million homes),
-  30% are between 35 and 54 years old (40 million homes),
-  16% are between 55 and 74 years old (21 million),
-  8% are between 75 and 94 years old (11 million homes),
-  and 7% are over 95 years of age! (9 million homes).

If you are buying an old property, in the latter category, I would definitely consider hiring a property inspector who specializes in older homes. There is an Historic Building Inspectors Association.  The problems in an older home may not be the same at all as in a newer home, and an inspector who is familiar with how homes were built a century ago would be more useful to detect what is still good (or even better than newer materials), and what has become dangerous. (i.e. some electrical set ups, plumbing arrangements, degrading materials, etc...).

It is unlikely that you will be in this situation in the Bay Area, but certainly not impossible!


Silicon Valley real estate specialist
Detailed, local trends etc...
Current mortgage rates
A place worth noting: Our Brother's Home in MountainView

Monday, July 28, 2014

Positive Equity Rises in 2013 - local market place update

A new analysis by CoreLogic shows that 4 million homes returned to positive equity in 2013, bringing the total number of mortgaged residential properties with equity to 42.7 million. 

However, it is important to note that the CoreLogic analysis indicates that nearly 6.5 million homes, or 13.3 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage, were still in negative equity at the end of 2013.

In our local area, the Bay Area of San Francisco, it is difficult sometimes to keep some perspective on the local market, which has been on fire since the beginning of January 2012.  This study by CoreLogic gives perspective at the national level: things have for sure improved enormously, but all is not over from the 2008-2009 crisis.

In the Bay Area, let's note that the inventory of homes (SFR + condos) for sale was about 1,700 after the first week of July, as compared to 1,872 a year ago.  There are fewer homes for sale.  It explains why property values have gone up so much in the past 12 months.  Inventory was at 7,500 in May of 2008!
For the area that includes only Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Menlo Park, inventory stands right now at:
150 homes total for sale (both houses and condominiums and townhomes, called PUD's), vs
184 last year at the same period.

We still have a very low inventory.

Dealing in the local market place day in and day out, I can however note here that, overall in the County, the activity seems to slow down: I have noticed fewer multiple offers in general, and a slower price increase in many areas. Except for Palo Alto and all areas with the best schools, I can sense that it is a slower activity now, during July.  This slow down can be the normal cycle, which slows down during the summer vacations (see my last graph-blog on the subject), or it could be a more general trend tied to the market in general.  We'll see in September! 

Thanks for reading!

Trends: Local prices and graphs.
A noteworthy local non-profit event:  Coalition on Homelessness, SF

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ROI on home improvements?

How much do you recoup from home improvements?

When home improvements offer the most bang for your buck.

Remodeling is at its highest level since the spring of 2004, according to the National Association of Home Builders' Remodeling Market Index. One of the reasons is that it has been so difficult to move up or move down: once you sell your property, you are not sure you will be able to buy a replacement very soon.  As a consequence, people remodel their house instead.  How much will you get back from these expenses, when you sell?

In general, home sellers cannot expect to recoup all their remodeling costs when they sell their house. From the upgrades, one can expect the average portion of costs being recouped at 66.1%

This is a question that clients ask me all the time, and one of the best sources of information on the subject is the web site showing the “Cost Vs. Value” report study.  It shows, depending on the area in the US, how much each project statistically gives back at the time of sale.

Those projects that pay off the most are, according to the article from Kelli B. Grant of CNBC:
-       Entry door replacement (steel):  96.6% recouped
-       Minor kitchen remodel:  82.7%  recouped.
-       Window replacement (wood):  79.3%

Why would contractors who “flip” houses make money then, you might ask?  I believe it is because they start from a house that does not show well, and therefore is going to sell at a discount, and they have the cost-efficient means to improve on the house, emphasizing those projects that show off the most for the best value.  Examples of such improvements would be, as I indicate to my clients when preparing for a sale:
-       Light fixtures,
-       Painting,
-       Retiling a shower enclosure,
-       Changing counter tops (but not necessarily all the cabinets, where there is a lot more involved),
-       Floor refinishing,
-       Deep cleaning,
-       Staging.

All these projects have a fairly small, finite cost, while improving immensely the look of the property to be sold.

Moreover, I believe that there are some areas like the Bay Area where buyers are willing to pay top dollars for a remodel that has been done already.  Is it because people here are too busy to undergo or direct a home remodel? Or they do not have the patience?  In any case, it has been my experience that remodeling jobs in this area of the San Francisco Bay returns more money than shown on the statistics of the cost vs value report.

Do you have an input on the subject?  Please let me know.!
Thanks for reading.

Trends: Local prices and graphs.
A noteworthy local non-profit event:  Coalition on Homelessness, SF

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Investing in real estate.

Investing in real estate -

I recently read an article from NewsGeni.us that I found quite interesting, dealing with real estate investing.
Without repeating the whole article here I thought I would comment on some of their points:

Their advice is:

Focus on promising areas - the clientele in the SF Bay Area has been well served by believing in the local area in the past 30 and 40 years. 5 years ago though a lot of people got scared and some sold, or did not buy when they could have.  For those who bought when no one believed in it, I say “bravo”!  However the Bay Area is just one choice, mostly based on price appreciation, not return.  Indeed until very recently, the return on investment was not great - purchase price very high, rental fairly low. 

I personally chose another route: an area with very little appreciation, but with traditionally good return .  With the help of an investor mentor (thank you Louis!), my family invested in real estate in Texas.  There, the gross return was more like 10 to 11% per year, as opposed to ~3% in the Bay Area at the time.  The area was promising because of the job market, which had been very consistent, and strong.  Since it continued to be strong, the rental market stayed strong.

Never spend more than you can afford - unless you buy cash, mortgages start to add up when you purchase rental properties.  You have to count on a few set-backs, like damage due to weather, vacancies, repairs tied to finding new tenants, etc…  if you do not have reserves, it can start becoming a stretch.  Plan on a certain amount of unknowns, and I would say, plan generally on costs being higher than they should be.  (like insurance costs….).

All of the advice is well taken in this article called “When is the right time for investing in property?” .   I would add another item: choose a good management company (if you are going to invest away from where you live, or if you do not plan on managing yourself).  This is essential to staying out of trouble, so-to-speak.  That company should be used to missed payments and how to deal with them, and they should be well organized and standardized in their procedures.  Getting referrals or testimonials is very important in my opinion.

If you are thinking about investing in real estate, share your thoughts with me - I’d love to help you out with what I learned so far on the matter.

Thanks for reading,

Trends: Local prices and graphs.
A noteworthy local non-profit event:  Coalition on Homelessness, SF

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Emergency savings - Affordability challenges

One in Three adult Americans has no emergency savings.

According to this April 2014 article fromhe housing industry will likely be impacted by the results of a new survey from NeighborWorks America, which serve as a stark reminder of affordability challenges. The survey found that almost 70 million working age Americans – about one-third – have no emergency savings. This highlights a primary problem facing potential homebuyers, as one in three homes are deemed unaffordable to the average buyer, and mortgage originations are reportedly at a 14-year low.
  • Only 25 percent of American have enough saved to cover 30 days of living expenses.
  • About one in five have enough savings to cover three months – about the average time of unemployment for many Americans – while 28 percent expect their emergency funds to cover a year.
  • Approximately 29 percent of adult Americans have no emergency savings in place—whether to pay for the repair of a car that’s required to get to work, or fix a major household necessity such as a roof or furnace.
  • Retirement and buying a home are the top savings goals at 28 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
  • Just 5 percent of consumers say that they are currently saving to create a buffer in case of a financial emergency.
  • 52 percent of people earning less than $40,000 said that they had no reserve.

Even though this is a nationwide study, California is not immune to the phenomenon obviously, and affordability concerns are certainly increased in areas of high prices like the Bay Area. I believe it is important to reflect on it.
Thank you for reading,
Trends: Local prices and graphs.
A noteworthy local non-profit event:  Coalition on Homelessness, SF