Marin Home Buying Strategy: Make like a Cougar.

Not that kind of cougar!

As the Fall market sets in and there are fewer listings and less buyer competition, the trick is to get everything in order and then be ready to pounce. Fall is a good time to be a smart buyer in Marin.

City views from Camino Alto on Corte Madera Ridge.

City views from Camino Alto on Corte Madera Ridge.

Many families who wanted to move in time for the school year have already done so. If they could not find what they wanted, they are probably waiting until next spring. So the buyer pool is smaller, and less competitive. The market is still very strong, but the totally insane multiple offer situations we saw in the spring are now more the exception rather than the rule.

As the days get shorter and homes sit on the market a little longer, price may be more negotiable. We are heading in to the holiday season, and Sellers who have not yet sold their home and want to get on with their lives may become more flexible on price. Twice this week, when talking to another agent and letting them know that the home was currently priced out of reach for our client, the agent said, “The Seller has said they will look at all offers. Please make one.”

Selection is still fairly good, and in some areas, inventory is increasing. In fact we are at our highest inventory level right now in months, with 835 homes for sale in Marin. Just this week in Larkspur and Corte Madera, there were several new listings of smaller homes on level lots in walkable locations. These properties, especially if they have a large enough lot that would permit some later expansion, are often the best deals, if you consider their long term upside.

The first trick is to know exactly what you are looking for. Then you must get your financial ducks in a row so that you are ready to pounce. next, you get out there and look at everything you can, especially as the weather gets worse and rainy (we can only hope) and all but the most ferocious and diligent of buyers have given up. And then you will be ready to pounce!

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Marin Market Balance Returning? Depends.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” That’s the opening to “A Tale of Two Cities”, and maybe that’s the best way to illustrate what is happening with the Marin County real estate market.

New Larkspur listing this week: 11 Ward Street, a two bedroom, 3 bath walk-to-town townhouse in downtown!

New Larkspur listing this week: 11 Ward Street, a two bedroom, 3 bath walk-to-town townhouse in downtown!

Real estate is moving more towards a balanced market, which we have been predicting for some time. It is, however, still very localized, with major differences between towns and price points. Areas where buyers still perceive there is value, as well as better entry level pricing, are still doing quite well. At higher price points though, it is well into a balanced market, with inventory growing higher.

So let’s look at two cities in Marin County. Fairfax….aka “The People’s Republic of Fairfax.” Former home of Van Morrison and the Grateful Dead, known for tie dye and alternative lifestyles, right? How about this: family friendly, vibrant downtown with thriving shops and restaurants, and great trail access where there are only fourteen homes available for sale, and half are already in contract?

Tiburon, on the other hand, a place where everyone wants to live with perfect weather, outstanding views, and great proximity to the City has 77 homes for sale, and only 29% are in contract. As gorgeous as Tiburon is, the small town local atmosphere of the Twin Cities (Corte Madera and Larkspur) and Mill Valley, along with San Anselmo, Fairfax and parts of San Rafael are often at the top of the young family buyer’s list.

But the big difference in this tale of two cities is median price.  The median priced home for sale right now in Fairfax is $1,100,000; the median price for active homes in Tiburon is $3,444,000. Other luxury-priced markets have a similar story. In Belvedere, 29% of homes are in contract, and in Kentfield, 23%. In the slower moving luxury end of the market, these are  good numbers.

In Novato, 46% of listings are in contract, with a median active price of $899,000. Corte Madera has 35% in contract, with a median of $1,195,000. San Anselmo is very similar, with 39% of listed homes in contract.  As always, there are pockets where it is still crazy, especially close to town locations. The Rose Lane condominiums for seniors (55+) in Larkspur sold out all of their phases in the first weekends. In Mill Valley, a new condo development right downtown, 33 Lovell, sold their first two units in the first week, at $1000 a square foot.

Pending sale in Inverness, this custom built contemporary just across from the beautiful Chicken Ranch Beach.

Pending sale in Inverness (approx $1m) this custom built contemporary is located just across from the road from a beautiful community beach. You will love crossing the road to get to Chicken Ranch Beach!

Homes that are for sale near downtowns are in particularly high demand. Call me, Bob Ravasio at 415-378-1414 if you would like more detailed information about the market or any of our listings. If you are a buyer, call either of us tand we’ll share our best strategies and timing for buying in Marin.

And please follow Marin Real Estate Insider!  Learn all about the real estate markets in some of the most amazing and beautiful communities on United Spaceship Planet Earth! (And yes, that’s a bow to the Republic of Fairfax).

A better way to prepare homes for sale

This Homestead neighborhood home in Mill Valley got the works! Refinished floors, a super cleaning, and expert staging. It sold for over asking price, beating all of our expectations.

This Homestead neighborhood home in Mill Valley got the works! Refinished floors, a super cleaning, and expert staging. It sold for over asking price, beating all of our expectations.

As part of our commitment to provide the kind and quality real estate services people need most, we now have experienced project managers on our team who help us prepare homes for sale in the smartest, most economical ways possible.

To get started, our team visits the listed property, often weeks or even months before the on-market date.  We itemize everything that 1) needs doing, and 2) is worth doing.  Not all improvements and repairs are wise investments for a seller, but many are. Fresh paint, landscaping, floor refinishing and new fixtures are often at the top of the list of what should be done. Working with the client’s budget, we estimate and coordinate subcontractor schedules for desired improvements. Our project managers then schedule the work in the right order, and supervise the details to make sure everything gets done professionally, quickly and economically.

Good real estate is a team sport, so the players on the team really do matter.  Because we work with many of the same contractors regularly, and have a good working relationship with them, they tend to give us great service and excellent value. They know we expect top quality work and on-time completion.

The last step is staging, another highly advised investment in most cases.  Staging a whole home can cost from $8000 to $10,000, but can result in a substantially higher sales price, so we almost always advise it.  Sometimes we stage just the main living areas, and maybe the master bedroom. Each home is different. Each has different needs, different deferred maintenance, and different opportunities.  But by providing fresh paint and finishes, new fixtures, and other relatively inexpensive upgrades, we are able to create the best possible first impression for buyers.

As Dale Carnegie said, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”

A Balanced Market Coming Soon?

City views from Camino Alto on Corte Madera Ridge.

City views from Camino Alto on Corte Madera Ridge.

While the 20-month run up in Marin real estate continues, there are signs we are returning to a more balanced market. We continue to believe the market will return to some semblance of balance by the end of 2014. Here are some of the key trends at present:

  1. Average sale price is up significantly. It is now $1,193,345 for the County year to date, which is a 14.8% increase vs. the same time frame one year ago. The average square footage of homes sold has actually shrunk slightly, from 2,040 square feet to 2,031 square feet. Average price is a good indicator of long-term trends as a whole, but not a clear indicator for individual towns. For more on that, scroll down to the story about Marin County’s sweet spots.
  2. Homes are selling faster. Year to date, average days on market is 56 days, vs. 64 days last year. This is another indicator of market strength.
  3. 3. Homes are selling at list price or better. The average sale to list price ratio is 100%. In other words, on average, most homes sell right at the list price.

Inventory is still tight, but there are indications buyers are starting to resist some of the steep price increases. Right now there are 767 homes available for sale in Marin County, which is low for this time of year. But only 313 of them are in contract, or 40%. That is starting to approach a balanced market.

Bike and hiking paths connect us to nature and to each other.

Bike and hiking paths connect us to nature and to each other.

August is traditionally a slow month, as vacations and the start of the school year become the focus. Most young families who were looking for homes this year are already tucked in, or will likely resume their search early in 2015. There are always buyers on the lookout, and as the weather cools and hopefully turns rainy again, the market will cool further, but the savvy buyers will still be out looking for a deal.

We’ll closely monitor September trends for you, as that will be a key indicator of where the market is headed next. Enjoy Marin’s always beautiful Indian Summer, and we hope to see you at Corte Madera’s Oktoberfest celebration on Saturday, October 11 in Old Corte Madera Square, in Menke Park, at Tamalpais and Corte Madera Avenues.

Is Marin market too good to be true?

417S_DuskPatio207FinalBubble is a word we are starting to hear more and more as we approach the end of another year of double digit appreciation. The memories of the crash in 2008, when Marin real estate prices dropped 15 to 45%, are still fresh. When prices rocket upward as quickly as they did in 2013, and again as they did through the first three quarters of 2014, the question has to be asked, “Is this another bubble?

Is something going to trigger more foreclosures and short sales sometime in the near future, or maybe even just around the corner? Are we about to have a big fat deja vu?

Not so fast — at least that’s how it seems to us. This two year run up seems like  a legitimate housing recovery, funded by real money and real jobs. Unemployment has declined dramatically in both Marin and San Francisco, and all of those new workers now want to own real estate and maybe even start a family, which is what usually brings people to Marin County.

Real estate always moves in boom or bust cycles, but there are two major factors separating this recovery from the last one in Marin County.

1. Down payments. The financial strength of Marin buyers today is unprecedented. There are still some FHA loans, which require as little as 3% down, but the majority of  homes are bought today with a minimum of 20% down. Oftentimes, the percentage is much higher than that as buyers pull from other assets to make their offer stronger and more attractive, showing they can cover the difference if the home does not appraise at full value. There is also a startling amount of all cash buyers at all price levels, as buyers will go all cash to make their offer more attractive, then put a loan on the property later.

2. Better lending standards. If you’ve gotten a loan in the last two years, you know how difficult it is. Banks are very demanding not just in their documentation, but in what they demand from clients. The last years of the real estate boom in 2005-2007 was fueled by tactics like 100 % financing, interest only loans, and stated income. Now tax returns, W2’s, employment history and ability to pay back the loan are all carefully reviewed.

3. Rising rents. Next we’ll do the math on this – but as crazy as it sounds, it still makes sense to buy vs. rent, at least in most markets in Marin.

Marin’s recovery has been built on strong market fundamentals and sound lending practices. Barring some major national economic calamity, we predict a solid end of year for 2014, and a equally reliable market in at least the first half of 2015. Keep in mind, we do not own a crystal ball, and even if we did, we would not reccommend you trust it.  Nobody knows for sure what the future holds, but taking a good guess is an important part of any good buying or selling strategy.

Are Larkspur and Corte Madera Marin’s Sweet Spots?

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 11.12.09 AMMarin County home sellers have had a phenomenal year so far. Maybe it’s the new elementary school, the worsening traffic to the north, the nicer weather, and for a myriad of reasons, but the Twin Cities market is as hot as Marin gets right now. Which is pretty hot. Well priced homes in many areas have been flying off the market. But if the real test is how much people are willing to pay per square foot for a home, then the year to date the two of the strongest markets in Southern and Central Marin are Corte Madera and Larkspur.

In Corte Madera, homes year to date are selling for $672 a square foot, a 21% increase vs. a year ago. In Larkspur, homes are selling for $766 a square foot, a 25% increase vs. last year. That does not mean these are the most expensive markets in Marin- that would still be Ross, where this year buyers are paying an astonishing $1,042 a square foot for homes. Well, actually they are more similar to estates, with an average size of 3,034 sq feet.

Mill Valley also saw a big jump, with price per square foot rising 19% to $731 a square foot.

Why the big increases in these two towns? In a word, value. Relative to neighboring towns prices have historically been much lower there than in the neighboring communities of Mill Valley, Tiburon, and Kentfield. Yet commute times to the city are similar, school districts are also excellent, and many believe the weather is better on the Corte Madera-Larkspur side of the ridge, with less fog and warmer temperatures.

Our candidate for value right now is Greenbrae, where price per square foot is actually down slightly from last year at $577 a foot. But the Bacich School District is excellent, proximity to the freeway and the Larkspur ferry outstanding, and Bon Air Shopping Center provides most of the amenities anyone needs.

A close second would be San Rafael. School district scores there are lower, but there are so many young families moving in to the area we expect that trend to improve. And we love the corridor north of San Pedro Road. Country Club, Loch Lomond, Glenwood, and Peacock Gap al have great weather, commutes, and communities!