Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I want it all.....NOW!

Other than being a Tubes song, this was also a story reported by Edwin Newman on NBC in the seventies about Marin County, CA. Basically it showed a hedonistic lifestyle of hot tubs, pop psychology and plastic surgery of affluent people occupying the suburbs of San Francisco just across the Golden Gate Bridge. (The 1980 serio-comedy, Serial with Martin Mull, Bill Macy, Tuesday Weld, Sally Kellerman, Christopher Lee and Tom Smothers ran with that theme.) The NBC story led to Marin residence symbolically “plucking the NBC peacock” by displaying peacock feathers in their homes as protest.

However, it is a good theme for the impatience we are experience in this socio-economic transition in which we currently find ourselves.

One piece of ancient wisdom comes to mind: forcing change always meets with much more opposition than removing the factors that prevent and resist change.

This is good advice for any “hot-button” topic in the news these days: Real estate market decline, the automotive industry crisis, financial crises, political polarity, same-sex marriage, alternative energy, etc.

President Obama in his Notre Dame speech last week use a modicum of this philosophy in being conciliatory and opening dialogue with those who share an opposing opinion.

Bringing this philosophical tenet down from the level of the sublime to the mundane, we see how the real estate market is starting to transition in many areas of the country.

Price resistance and lack of confidence and credit availability but the brakes on the expanding market. Now we beginning to see a market “bottom” being defined in the statistics in some of the worst-hit areas on real estate prices. Some areas showing this trend are Southern California, Eastern communities of the San Francisco Bay Area, Atlanta, Texas, and Sacramento, CA

This dynamic is the result of factors downward pricing pressures and real estate availability overcoming fear, uncertainty and, of course, high prices, giving first time buyers and investors the initiative to dive in to take advantage of financial decisions that simply make sense for them.

This accounts for about 50% of the current buying trend and is in contrast with the mechanism that fueled the real estate “bubble” to begin with: trading up in equity to buy more house than was economically prudent. The potential for appreciation gains on paper created a boldness that resulted in imprudent leveraging. This then trickled down to those who did not want to get left behind who dove in to a market they could not afford out of fear of being left behind and goaded to action by easy credit.

And since the new administration took office under a banner of change, everyone wants change NOW!

Unfortunately the change will not come all at once.
It will not come in a guise that will please all of us.
It will not come in a package that is free of pessimism and criticism.

Grand edifices of social, political, or economic change come about as trends that gain momentum gradually.
They are ideas that eventually take hold in the minds and hearts of people and the attitudes of markets, they are not suddenly found on the morning landscape after a dark night like manna.

Those who exhibit impatience with the situation and attempt to force change too quickly will meet with a resistance opposite and equal to what they are exerting.

It's not “good”, it's not “bad”, it's just the way It Is
So everyone take a deep breath, keep you eyes and ears open for opportunities, whiffs of change in the direction of the winds, and take advantage of opportunities that appear where there was only resistance before. You will already notice hints of new scents in the breeze and be reassured.

After all, we wouldn't be able to handle it all now.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009


The Bottom!

Everyone talks about “THE BOTTOM” of the Real Estate market.

Has Mill Valley Real Estate hit “THE BOTTOM”?

Recent housing statistics show a trend over the past 12 months show a leveling in Mill Valley Real Estate regarding supply in relation to sales with the Altos Research Median Market Average index remaining consistently in a narrow “buyer's market” range. This illustrates that supply in relation to sales has stayed somewhat level during the past year.

Median single family home prices have declined approximately 13% over the past year to $1,266,692 as of May 10 and the days on market have escalated to 112 from a low of 68 in January, 2009. Median price per square foot has dropped $70 over the past year to between $610 and $628/sq. ft.

The Average Days on the Market figure has been consistently at 110 Days since the end of February which is up from a low of about 70 days in mid 2008.

In some communities there has been little decline, in some none at all. There is not enough of a trend to draw any conclusive answers in relation to the bottom, but there are some data that show some leveling off of some analytics.

Current Mill Valley homes for sale.

Mill Valley foreclosures.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Potrero Hill continued

"We Potrero Hill boys gotta stick together." - From the movie "Dirty Harry".

Potrero Hill at one time was known as “Russian Hill” among the locals, (not the current Russian Hill which was so named because of a Russian sailor being buried there) because there was a large settlement of Russian families in the neighborhood: Russian Orthodox and Molokon religions were the majority of the families. Their strong cultural roots also colored the streets.

I had one aunt who would always talk about the wedding processions of singers escorting the bride to church on foot.

Several generations of families stayed in the area until real estate prices began to escalate in the 80's and the economy changed, so there are now only tattered remnants of these families remaining amidst the newcomers who have mostly come from out of State which has resulted in the demise of the tenuous San Francisco “accent”.

(Speaking of real estate, the neighborhood had Ray Cicerone and later, his former employee opened Peterson Realty as the two Realtors on 20th St.)

A typical Hill property currently on the market

I guess my point is, San Francisco like other great cities, is known around the world for the flavor and history of its neighborhoods: North Beach, Haight/Ashbury, The Castro, Noe Valley, The Richmond, Pacific Heights, Polk Street, etc. Each of these evokes an image and a feel for the retail and living spaces that help to define them.

Although “The Hill” is not a tourist neighborhood on the scale of North Beach, Montmartre, The French Quarter, etc. There remains a distinctive flavor and mood that keeps it unique.

This is a tradition that should be fostered in our cities, embraced incorporated into change that comes with time. The history and ambiance should be honored and emulated as these areas evolve, and it will continue the rich, local tradition of The City.

Newer Hill property in with traditional flavor

Another classic Hill property

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fairfax Redux

Previously I wrote briefly about Fairfax, CA before (see my blog post on 2/26/09), but there is so much local color, I thought I should elaborate.

Fairfax residents pride themselves on the alternative lifestyle mood and hippie heritage (The bumper stickers: “Fairfax: Mayberry on Acid” and “Only in Fairfax” are testaments to their self-image.)

There is a lively bar and music nightlife scene on Broadway featuring some local talent and lots of Marin-ites. On weekend mornings it is a nexus for bike racers and mountain bikers (After all, Mount Tam IS T-H-E “mountain” in the phrase: “Mountain Bike”.

There is an attitude there that hearkens way back to the West Marin identity during the Prohibition Era. Bolinas boasts the longest, continuously operating bar in the U.S. Because they were so isolated, the government agents could get to them to shut them down.

It is an excellent community noted for the quality of the schools and the laid-back environment. The retail area of town has suffered over the past decade or so, but there are still cafes, diners and coffee shops interspersed with yoga studios, and, because of its relative isolation, maintains a diverse retail environment catering to all of West Marin.

One project on the drawing board, is a German sausage house slated to take over the old Real Food store on Bolinas Road, across from the Town Hall. Their manager, Murphy is a serious bike enthusiast and plans to have bike racks IN the cafe space.

They intend to be serving fare such as vegan sausage and kale salad along side traditional German sausages and beers, sauerkraut and salads. The owner, Fra, is a HUGE fan of traditional German sausage houses and has been wending his way through local government approvals and permits for the past seven months.

These efforts along with the City's proposals of adding more biker-friendly facilities, is showing how the local color is reacting to existing trends and reinventing itself.

It is innovation and energy like that which can keep the local flair and color alive and vibrant in trying economic times and continue to build a sense of community pride and identity.

The current real estate market there shows 31 properties on the market as of May 10 (up from 23 in January and down from a high of 43 in October of '08) and the Median home price is currently at $731,231, down about $80,000 from a high in October of '08.

One current Fairfax Listing

Another property in the median range.

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Potrero Hill Neighborhood Stores

Neighborhoods have followed in the wake metamorphoses in The City over the past few decades.

Elements that anchor the neighborhoods and lends them character that endure generations can be something like a series of houses (see the painted ladies on Alamo Square) that become an icon for the neighborhood.

In my old neighborhood, Potrero Hill, there has been a varied trend in the style of architecture. All of the vacant lots have evaporated and in many places the old Edwardians have been replaced by industrial and modern style buildings.

A couple of features that have held on tenaciously over the years are the retail strips on 18th and 20th streets and between Wisconsin and Minnesota and Chiotras Grocery on Rhode Island between 20th and Southern Heights.

Up until the 1970s, there were grocery stores almost on every corner on The Hill. Chiotras' on Rhode Island, Bill Kobsoff's on DeHaro and 23rd, DeRosa's on 2oth and Carolina, Andy's on 20th & Connecticut, Wang's on 18th and Kansas and two others at 19th & Vermont and 19th and Mississippi.

Many of these were literally “corner stores” and inevitably the locals had their favorites for certain items or sandwiches. (I still have old neighborhood friends asking where they can get a good “hard roll sandwich”. These used to be ubiquitous at almost any corner store and were made on the spot from a hard or soft roll pulled from a large bag. The hard sourdough had a split top and more times than not would cut the roof of your mouth...but they were great!)

These were some of the fixtures that defined The Hill and its culture for decades.

A little history: Chiotras's was originally opened as Dariotis & Chiotras Grocery sometime around 1912. Pete Dariotis moved back to Greece for his retirement and Christo Chiotras and his family ran the store until around 1980's and still owns the building.

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