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How To Find A Good And Reputable Real Estate Agent

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Boom market, bubble or simply a seller’s market, whatever you call today’s real estate market, homes are selling for record prices and bidding wars have become the norm. Regardless of whether you’re buying or selling, finding a reputable and experienced agent to represent you is critical, especially now.

The real estate profession is filled with people hoping to be part of the Bay Area’s current gold rush, the real estate boom. It’s also filled with perennial professionals who have learned to market in down times as well as negotiate the best prices during peak times. As a home seller or as a home buyer, your first bit of shopping should be for one of the true pros.

According to the National Association of Realtors, a professional realtor will sell your home for almost 25 percent more (based on median sale prices) than an owner who goes it alone. That more than makes up for the 6 percent commission.

In our seller’s market, a Realtor may seem less relevant. But Realtors are experienced in traversing the legal landscape of selling or buying a home. Also, most buyers these days (about 80 percent) are going through agents, and they are typically only showing homes that are listed by fellow agents. The Balance.com has a comprehensive list of what selling agents offer, which includes marketing, staging, pricing help and legal guidance.

For buyers, a buying agent provides research, advises on, writes and presents offers, communicates with the selling agent and is an ally right up until closing.

How does one find a good real estate agent?

Bankrate.com suggests that when shopping for a Realtor, you:

  • Talk with recent clients.
  • Look up the licensing.
  • Pick a(n award) winner.
  • Select an agent with the right credentials.
  • Research how long the agent has been in business.
  • Look at their current listings.
  • Ask about other houses for sale nearby.

Talk with recent clients

As when you hire any professional, ask for referrals. Ask their recent clients about asking price vs. sale price. Ask about time on the market and ease of closing.

Look up the licensing

In California, Realtors are licensed by the California Bureau of Real Estate. You can verify licensing here.

Pick an award winner

This one can be tough. There are only so many awards to go around and those Realtors can only handle so many clients. But if you go through the lists of National Association of Realtors honorees, you might choose to work with one of their agency colleagues. Typically, honest and reputable agents will only work for honest and reputable firms.

Select an agent with the right credentials

Bankrate decoded some of the credentials

CRS (Certified Residential Specialist): Completed additional training in handling residential real estate.
ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative): Completed additional education in representing buyers in transactions.
SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist): Completed training aimed at helping buyers and sellers in the 50-plus age range.

Research how long the Realtor has been in business

If your Realtor survived the market crash in 2008, they have withstood the ultimate test of time. If they are a Johnny come lately, you might want to rethink it, unless they are backed up by an experienced broker.

Look at their current listings

You want to hire an agent who is familiar with your areas and who works within your price range. If you have the lowest-priced listing on their roster, it might not get the attention of other, higher-priced homes.

Ask about other homes nearby

Ask your agent about “comps” or comparable properties in your area or desired area. It will give you an idea of whether the agent is familiar with your area.

Featured image via American Advisors Group (AAG.com).

Sunnyvale Is About To Get A Lot Bigger, Thanks To Google

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The 27th largest company in the world is about to get a lot bigger and Sunnyvale is about to gain a lot more jobs.

Image via Pixabay.

According to Mercury News:

Blue Angels LLC, an entity with direct ties to Google, and with offices at the tech giant’s headquarters, paid $18.9 million on Sept. 14 for a low-slung industrial building at 1190 Borregas Ave. in Sunnyvale. The building totals just under 33,000 square feet and the price works out to $576 a square foot.

Google on Sept. 20 bought a 27,000-square-foot building at 270 E. Caribbean Drive, according to Santa Clara County property records. That price was even higher: $20.2 million, or $747 a square foot.

Google is purchasing, and in some cases, leasing, several buildings in Moffett Park. The buildings were originally built for the aerospace, defense and tech industries.

They are also moving into a couple of office towers just a half mile away near Crossman Avenue and East Java Drive. The towers are part of a 15.5 acre campus called Moffett Gateway.

“No one has witnessed the magnitude of growth that Google has exhibited over the last decade, not from Cisco, not from Apple,” said Phil Mahoney, vice chairman with Santa Clara-based Newmark Cornish & Carey, a commercial realty brokerage.

What about jobs at Google?

Google plans on filling those buildings with up to 15,000 to 20,000 employees. Presumably, a good number of those will be already existing employees, but they will still be hiring several. After all, they are growing at a steady rate of 21 percent per year. More than 75,000 people currently work for the internet behemoth.

What about housing?

Where Google plans to house their new employees is still a mystery. Housing in Sunnyvale is so tight that earlier in the month, a home sold for a whopping $782,000 over list price.

Your eyes do not deceive you: The four-bed, two-bath house — less than 2,000 square feet — listed for $1,688,000 and sold for $2,470,000.

Source: Mercury News

Even now, some Google employees are living in the parking lot at Google’s campus. With the average rent at over $2,500 per month, who can blame them?

Bay Area Real Estate Is Crazier Than Ever — How Do You Win A Bidding War?

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Earlier in the month, news broke that a house in Sunnyvale sold for almost $800,000 over the asking price. It was a modest, by middle Americans standards, three bedroom, two bath house. The house is only about 1,200 square feet, which is less than half the average American home. It caused a bidding war and next thing anyone knew, it sold for $2,470,000, which was $782,000 over list.

What is a bidding war?

Bidding wars have become the norm in California real estate. Savvy real estate agents often intentionally list homes on the low end, hoping to encourage bidding wars. The tactic works. That Sunnyvale home had 15 offers, seven of which were from people who worked at either Apple or Google.

It’s not just Silicon Valley. When we bought our East Bay home, we lost several properties to bidding wars, and ultimately to cash offers, before settling on our “needs a little work” choice.

Can a regular person win a bidding war?

If you are an executive at Google or Apple (or at any number of tech firms), you might not have a problem, but for those of us who have solid middle class incomes, a low down payment and good credit, is there a chance?

While it is tough to compete with billionaires and those with all-cash offers, there are ways to help boost your chances. Here are some tips from CNBC:

  1. Get pre-approved and pull together some cash — Sellers don’t have the patience these days to deal with uncertainty. They want to know that any offer is set in stone, so make sure you are pre-approved for your loan and try, if at all possible, to put down at least 20 percent.
  2. Be quick — In a hot housing market, look at the hunt as a second job. Don’t rely on just your realtor. Drive your desired neighborhoods and religiously scan Realtor.com for new listings. Try to schedule immediate viewings. The goal is to be the first offer.
  3. Include an escalation clause in your offer — Ask your real estate agent to include an escalation clause that will allow you to top other offers, up to your desired upper limit. The clause, if properly worded, will raise your offer to just above the highest current bid. For example, if you list your highest bid at $500,000 and the current highest offer is $480,000, your official bid will be about $481,000.
  4. Inspection — While nearly every expert recommends that a homebuyer have the house inspected, in a seller’s market, it could disqualify you. Instead, CNBC recommends that you go ahead with the inspection before making the offer. You will have to pay for it, but the seller will be happy to know that you won’t back out because of previously unforeseen problems with the house.
  5. Charm the sellers — Unless your seller is just an investor, they have invested a decent portion of their lives in that house. Sure, they want to maximize their profit, but they also want to know that the house will be loved. Send them a house love letter (your agent can forward it). Include pictures of your family.
  6. Remember it’s not just about winning — Winning a bidding war is great, unless you don’t really want the prize. Spend some time in the neighborhood. Check out the schools. Also have your agent check “comps” or comparable sales to make sure you aren’t overpaying for the home. As tight as our housing market is, it’s still better to rent than to dramatically overpay for a house you didn’t really want.

More Than Half Of San Jose Home Sales Have A Co-Signer

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Earlier in the year, San Jose was named the most unaffordable city in the country. It’s no wonder, with the median home cost at about $900,000. Still, with a population of over 1 million, and growing, people are making San Jose home sales work.

How are people in San Jose able to buy homes?

A report in September may explain how people are still buying real estate, despite the high costs. They’re getting help. According to a report from Attom Data Solutions, which compiles nationwide property data, just over half (50.9 percent) of San Jose’s homeowners bought with the help of a co-signer — that’s more than in any other city.

The report shows that for the first time, more than half of all home-purchase deals in San Jose involve co-borrowers. No other city has topped the majority.  San Jose was followed by 45.2 percent in Miami; 39.1 percent in Seattle; 31.1 percent in Los Angeles; 29.4 percent in San Diego; and 28.8 percent in Portland.

“Climbing home prices are forcing more and more borrowers to consider other options, such as leveraging a parent’s credit, in order to qualify to buy,” Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate, said in the report.

Source: Mercury News

The good news is that percentage wise, homeowners in San Jose have more equity than in other cities. Partly because they are making bigger down payments and partly because San Jose’s real estate market is so strong. Nationally, the median down payment is only about 7.3 percent of the median price of a home.

Now look at the numbers for San Jose, where buyers put down 25.2 percent of the median price of a home. Again, that was the highest median down payment in the U.S., followed by San Francisco (22.3 percent), Los Angeles (19.3 percent); Naples, Florida (18.5 percent); and the Oxnard-Thousand-Oaks-Ventura metro in southern California (17.4 percent).

Perhaps the same people co-signing on the mortgages are also helping with the down payment, which of course, makes the mortgage payments far more affordable.

Featured image via David Sawyer/Flickr.

San Jose Named Most Unaffordable City; What That Actually Means

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It might surprise you somewhat, or it might not, that the most unaffordable city in the United States is right in our backyard, literally. The most unaffordable city is San Jose.

So what does your money buy you in San Jose?

Well, let’s start with the least expensive single family home. The good news is that there are some homes that are listed for sale at less than $500,000. That, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll sell for under half a mil, but it’s a starting point.

The least expensive single family home is listed at just $349,000. It has four bedrooms and two baths and is described as a “contractor’s special,” which means it needs a lot of work.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 5.55.14 PM

For something a bit more move in ready, there’s this four bedroom, one bath, which is listed at just $459,999.

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This one bedroom, one bath condo is listed at just under $300,000. It’s small, but a bargain at today’s prices.

The most expensive single family home is a modern, light-filled six bedroom, 10 bath property on what is described as one of the Bay Area’s most prestigious streets. According to Realtor.com:

Located on one of the most prestigious streets in the Bay Area, Dry Creek Estate is simply a work of Modern Art. The to be built new construction will stand in at 6 Beds, 10 Baths, 6,600+ SQFT, and fit for modern royalty. The gracious floor plan includes 2 Masters on the 3300+ SQFT 1st Floor & 2 Masters on the 3300+ SQFT 2nd Floor. 6,000+ SQFT underground garage is an automobile aficionado treasure chest. The sun soaked 3,000+ SQFT Rooftop Deck features a Hot Tub & Views. The bells & whistles continues to impress including a Lap Pool, Wine Cellar, Rec Room, Pro Gym, Home Theater, Chefs Kitchen, & so much more. The Glass Elevator takes you from your Ferrari to your Roof Deck. Its the Hollywood Hills in Silicon Valley. Architect Maurice Camargo expands dreams & expectations into breathtaking spaces. This 21st Century luxury marvel is a visionary masterpiece designed for the modern Silicon Valley homeowner.

Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 6.12.06 PM

While the media likes to portray the Bay Area, and now specifically San Jose as out of reach for most Americans, there are still some bargains to be found — if you’re willing to do some work.

Featured image via David Sawyer/Flickr.

Are You Ready To Move Into A Tiny Home?

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If you spend any time watching home channels on TV, you probably think the tiny house movement is the rage. On one level, it makes a lot of sense. Tiny houses are cute as all get out and with the cost of housing in the Bay Area, going small could mean the difference between having a place to live and not.

Image via <a href=

Ben Chun/Flickr” width=”960″ height=”643″ class=”size-large wp-image-10167″ /> Image via Ben Chun/Flickr

Tiny home owners typically go in with a budget ranging from $20,000 to $60,000, but for that, people don’t get much and they don’t get the land. According to Forbes, the average per square foot cost ranges from $200 to $400, which is a bargain when you consider that Bay Area home prices can go for upwards of $1,000 a square foot. The only problem is that the tiny houses rarely come with land.

Still, if you are looking to minimize your environmental footprint or if you want portability, a tiny home might be perfect for you — as long as you go into it with your eyes wide open.

There is no track record on tiny homes, so don’t look at a tiny home as an investment. The resale value might hold, but it might not.

Every tiny home buyer knows that they have to downsize to fit into a tiny home, but they may not know to what degree. For many tiny homes, there is no closet space for even dresses (they are often too long for the miniature closets). Big shoe collections have to go and while many who are drawn to tiny homes are outdoorsy, there’s very little room for skis, rock climbing equipment, surf boards and other outdoor gear. Storage units across the country are filled with not-quite-ready-to-be-thrown-away belongings of tiny house owners.

That’s not to say going tiny is a bad thing. If I were single, I would consider it. I love cozy surroundings and I love the idea of being able to afford a home that’s completely renovated and made to look exactly the way I want. With a husband, two dogs, a cat and a lifetime of belongings though, it would be a big mistake.

The Healthiest Real Estate Markets Are Right In Our Backyard

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While Bay Area real estate is still some of the most expensive in the country, the market has been slowing down somewhat. Still, some markets are healthier than others, and as it turns out, two of the healthiest real estate markets in California are right in our backyards.

California_Nursery_Co._Office_Building_(Fremont,_CA)

The healthiest market for home sales and for home values is Fremont. Fremont is even affordable, at least with Bay Area wages. The average Fremont homeowner spends only about 22.5% of their income on housing costs. That’s good news in a country where many spend upwards of half their income on housing. Still, the median home value in Fremont is pushing $1 million, which means incomes must be equally healthy.

The fourth healthiest market is San Jose, where people spend about 21 percent of their income on housing. Their homes are somewhat more affordable, but still out of reach for most Americans, at $862,800. So again, expect to need a good salary to not be house poor.

For both Fremont and San Jose, homes sell in fewer than 25 days on average, so expect bidding wars if you are buying or selling in those cities. In the 7th healthiest market, though, a home will spend even less time on the market. In Oakland, people spend just over a quarter of their income on housing with a median home value of almost $680,000.

While only three Bay Area cities made it into the study’s top 10, it’s fair to say that those three cities at least partially represent the market as a whole. The housing market here is still healthy, at least for a while.

What’s With All The One Bathroom Houses In The Bay Area?

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While in the rest of the country, you might be able to buy a 3,000 square foot house for less than $500,000, here in the Bay Area, we’re lucky to get more than one bathroom in a 1,000 square foot house in am up and coming neighborhood. So, how does a family live in one of these one bathroom houses?

Bathroom_for_suite_-_Paris_Opera_Cadet_Hotel

It’s not impossible. With these tips, one bathroom can become manageable, although I’m not going to promise that two wouldn’t be better.

1. If it fits, add a second sink.

Many older homes (and let’s face it, most Bay Area homes are), have more counter space than sink space. If you have the room, add a second sink. The plumbing is already there, so it’s an easy fix for any plumber. It will, at the very least, enable one person to put on makeup and another to brush their teeth.

2. Build a wall around the toilet

Privacy on the toilet is often a priority among the closest of spouces, let alone entire families. A wall hiding the toilet can offer the privacy someone needs. If there’s room, consider a door along with a couple of walls. That would ensure total privacy and unless two people need to use the toilet at the same time, it solves all problems of privacy.

3. Think high

Most single bathrooms are small and lack storage space. Shelves can be a lifesaver. Build them high, which gives you the added bonus of fooling the eye to making the room seem more expansive.

4. Change your sink

Even if you don’t have room for a second sink, make the best of one by making sure it has storage. Pedestal sinks are a no-no when there is just one bathroom. The under sink storage is imperative. If you can’t afford a new sink, there are shelving units that are designed to o around pedestal sinks.

h2>5. Outsource

The only things that have to be done in the bathroom are, well, going to the bathroom and bathing. The rest can be done outside the bathroom if necessary. In a pinch, teeth can be brushed over the kitchen sink. Purchase bedroom vanities for putting on makeup and for drying and styling hair.

Believe it or not, large families in years past typically made do with one bathroom. Human needs haven’t changed, but the amount of stuff we have has. Minimize and be strategic. There will be challenges, but it can be done.

If You Plan On Selling Your Home, Do It Now; Here’s Why

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If you own a home in the Bay Area, congratulations. You own property in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas of the country, but ironically, the cost of real estate now may be why the cost of your home could soon tumble.

san-francisco-918903_1280

According to a poll by the Bay Area Council, millennials are becoming fed up with the high cost of living in the Bay Area. 40 percent of them want to leave. That’s up from 34 percent last year.

The desire to leave the Bay Area was tied to how much of a person’s income went towards housing costs. Among respondents spending 60 percent or more of their income on housing, more than half are planning an escape. Other factors identified by survey respondents as serious include traffic, poverty and income inequality.

One insight the survey revealed was a generational gap in residents looking to depart for cheaper destinations. According to the survey, 46 percent of millennials saying they are looking to leave, leading all age groups. To (Bay Area Council President, Jim) Wunderman, that data doesn’t bode well for future economic growth, especially with big-picture economic indicators like job growth slowing.

“In order to effect meaningful change, we have to signal to the people who live here as well as people who are looking to the region that we’re ready to take on the challenges of making the Bay Area a place that feels like the future.”

Source: San Francisco Business Journal

None of this is particularly surprising. San Francisco is the second most expensive city in the country, just after New York. With average housing prices at nearly $3,500, it’s easy to imagine how people would become frustrated and want to leave our beautiful area.

The good news is, if you have a home, especially a house, outside the city, you might be hit slightly less if millennials start the exodus. Millennials without families tend to live either in San Francisco or in Silicon Valley, and generally in apartments. Still, if you are thinking of selling, now might be the time to do it.

Is Solar Worth It For Your Home?

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You might now know it now, but California is one of the sunniest places the nation. The Bay Area is also home to some of the most advanced green energy companies in the world. There’s definitely a push to go solar, but is it worth it for you?

solar-power-862602_1280Last week, I wrote about ways to cut your energy costs, and I only briefly mentioned solar, because it’s not very cut and dried. If you are looking just to save money, solar may or may not be for you. If you are looking to save the environment, solar is a great option, especially in California.

The first thing you should do is find out if you’ll even save money. Google has a nifty tool where you just plug in your address and it estimates the savings, if there are savings. When I plugged in my address, it said I would be saving about $400 a year in electricity. It would be more if we added electric heat, hot water and air conditioning units. On average, if your electric bill is north of $100, solar may be the right choice for you.

Buying vs. Leasing Solar Panels

Installing solar panels can be costly. For my house, which is a split level, so it doesn’t have a lot of roof space, the estimated cost of solar panels would be a bit over $20,000 over a 20 year lease term. If we were to purchase the solar system outright, it would cost about $15,000 less nearly $5,000 in current tax credits (so just about $11,000 out of pocket, which can be financed). If we purchased, it would pay for itself after about eight years. After 20 years, our savings will be about $17,000. Even if we finance, our monthly payments will likely be less than our electric bill would have been. If fact, PG&E could end up owing us money since they purchase any electricity we don’t use.

If you lease solar panels, you may not be able to take advantage of the tax credits and you may not get credit for any electricity you don’t use. So, why would anyone lease when they can buy? Because there’s no maintenance and you won’t pay for installation. Overall, though, your monthly payments will likely be at least a little lower if you buy instead of lease. Either will increase your home’s value, although the leased system would have to be transferred to the new owner.

Featured image via Pixabay.

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