Battle Royale: San Francisco Or East Bay, If You Had To Choose

Coming off the heels of my post about a modern, Swedish home currently for sale by some clients contemplating their move here to San Francisco or the East Bay, it inspired a long overdue Battle Royale (perhaps on par with SF v. NYC):
San Francisco versus East Bay (I leave the “what exactly is East Bay” interpretation up to you). If you had to choose and why. Please share in the comments below.

On the map it hardly seems fair with the East Bay being so much larger than San Francisco, but we all know size doesn’t matter right? At least “that’s what she said.”

More Battle Royales [theFrontSteps]

East Bay: Old Style Meets New Tech in New Oakland Listing

By Home Girl:

Fresh on the block is a substantial contemporary home at 5881 Snake Avenue Road in Montclair, which stands out for being a mix of old school and state-of the-art techie.

It’s worth making a detour to see this one, because it’s certainly not run of the mill. It doesn’t fit into any of the easy categories we assign to East Bay homes, such as Craftsman, brown-shingle, or post-fire new build.

Completed this month — literally — it’s 4,000 ft of house with lots of crafty touches as well as all the latest in modern gizmos. Architect Tomm Smail of TSI Architects evidently decided he wanted a house with personality. So there are dozens of stained glass windows (by Vicki Combs at Volcano Stained Glass) and acres of custom tile (by Michelle Griffoul Studios).

Then there’s the high-tech part: a whizzbang automations system which allows you to control everything — security, music,  lighting and TV — with your cell phone. (Assuming you’ve mastered TV remotes at this point.)

The advantage of building character into a new home is that you can’t criticize it of being bland. The risk is that nobody will share your taste. Personally, while some of the decor would not be my choice, I could live with it in order to enjoy that all the square footage and the gourmet kitchen. I’m less enamored with the living room configuration: it’s very open-plan and leads straight off the front doorway. I like my fireplace lounging areas to be a little cozier.

But I think the price is fair for the market — it would have been nudging $2m a couple of years back — it’s in a convenient spot for Montclair Village, and there’s always the inherent appeal of a one-off.

Price: $1,695,000
Per sq ft: $424
Walk Score: 80/100 — Very walkable.
Related: Another newly listed, new home nearby also offers “character” (check out the pink up-lighting in the kitchen), less space, a higher price ($1,800,000) and is more car-dependent.
In brief: Will suit those who like ’em new and original.

East Bay: Your Own Vineyard in Oakland (Yes Oakland)

By Home Girl

If you have ever flirted with the idea of having your own vineyard and harvesting a few decent cases of mellow wine every year, but a move to rural Napa or Sonoma seems too much of a leap, then have a look at this 4/3.4 updated ranch home at 5651 Colbourn Place on the Hillcrest Estate in the Oakland hills.

For its 1.5 acres do indeed include 250 Wente-Clone chardonnay vines, as well a concealed wine cellar, gardening beds, livestock pens, a chicken coop and fruit trees. This might not be the bucolic idyll, but it’s close: the nearest coffee shop is 2 miles away, there are stables down the road and the property is zoned for a horse.

The house itself won’t have you drooling — it’s a little bland and the living area is disproportionately small. But the master suite addition on an upper floor is a bonus, and given a mid-century makeover by someone with a sense of style, something could be done.

The setting’s the thing, though. Think glorious views, big skies and a sundowner cocktail on the deck before you wring one of your fowl’s necks and sling it on the BBQ.

Price: $1,398,000
Per sq ft: $519
Walk Score: 11/100
Related: House is on a cul-de-sac with neighbors; most Hillcrest Estate homes have a minimum 1-acre lot. Read this Times piece about “the pastoral beauty” of Oakland.
In brief: Is Oakland the new wine country?

East Bay: Berkeley Named Top Spot For Selling Your Home

By Home Girl, aka real-estate blogger Tracey Taylor

If you are selling your home, Berkeley is the place to be doing it, according to a piece in Forbes which ranks the ten best suburbs to sell a home. (Suburb? Ouch that hurts.) This is how they put it:

Berkeley known sometimes as a hippie haven, is becoming a hotbed for home sales. Prices in the Bay Area suburb are up 9% this year, with homes selling for a median price of $790,986. Properties are sitting on the market for 73 days on average, the lowest of any area with positive price trends within the confines of the country’s 75 largest Census-defined metro areas. Only 37% of sellers have been forced to reduce their prices, one of the lowest rates in the country.

“Only 37%” of sellers reducing their prices? Shows just how bad it is. Other California spots to make it into the Top 10 include Encinitas and Venice.

The report draws on stats from Altos Research and the really interesting angle — and one Forbes fails to mention — is provided by Altos CEO Mike Simonsen on his blog. He says this was a difficult one to call:

Their editors called and asked, “Where are the best selling suburbs for sellers right now?” It’s a tough question because the answer, really, is nowhere… By our Market Action Index, there are essentially no markets with demand levels high enough to call them “Sellers’ Markets”. We settled on identifying ten suburbs whose demand trends … simply weren’t horrible.

Of course, a Forbes ranking of “10 suburbs to sell that simply aren’t horrible” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

[Photo credit:]

East Bay: Doing Your Bit For Gas Prices in the Berkeley Hills

By Home Girl (aka real-estate blogger Tracey Taylor, former Redfin Sweet Digs maven).

James and Gillian Servais build “stealth homes”. Over the years the couple have designed more than twenty houses, mostly in the Berkeley and Oakland hills, and the one characteristic they all share is how well they blend into their surroundings. With their dirt-colored stucco and discreet positioning, they are the antithesis of the architecturally strident “statement” homes that some people chose to build in the aftermath of the 1991 East Bay firestorm.

The look is invariably rustic chic. Think limestone floors, hearths made from slabs of sandstone and recycled wood used for exposed beams and doors. The influences are Mediterranean and early Monterey with a dash of the Southwest.

1400 West View Drive, a 3+/2.5 with a garden, Bay views and a 2-car garage, has vaulted beamed ceilings (as in the living room, above) and hand-plastered walls. It’s not the most accessible spot: it’s reached by a private drive and parking is limited. And with its 34/100 Walk Score, it’s not for someone looking to reduce their dependence on foreign oil. But it may suit someone looking to retreat to the hills and, at $481/sq ft, the price is not unreasonable (Berkeley average being $433).

Another Servais home, at 1269 Grand View Drive, sold in April this year for $2,025,000 on a $2,495,000 asking price. Down the street, 1260 Grand View Drive — a 3,626 sq ft, 4/3.5 contemporary priced at $1,099,000 — has been languishing on the market for more than 150 days.

Price: $1,495,000
Per sq ft: $481
Walk score: 34/100
Related: Last sold in February 2006 for $1,350,000. Read article on the Servais’ own home in Diablo Magazine.
In brief: “Turbo Pueblo” living.

East Bay: Mid-Mod Classic with Eyes on SF Buyers

By Home Girl (aka real-estate blogger Tracey Taylor, former Redfin Sweet Digs maven, making her first guest appearance on The Front Steps. Thank you Alex!):

It doesn’t surprise me that this 3bed/3bath, 1946 house (pictured above), which comes with the distinguished Bay Area architect Walter Ratcliff‘s moniker attached, should be listed on the San Francisco MLS as well as on its East Bay equivalent.

This is the type of home that might just tempt a city dweller to cross the pond and put urban living on the back burner for a while. Set on 36,000 sq ft of wooded land, it features a great room/kitchen that opens to a patio and hot tub and a dramatic fireplace. And, of course, spectacular views of San Francisco to assuage any homesickness for those that made the leap.

But — and there is a but — the interiors look like they need some serious attention. And the big question, and possibly the reason the house hasn’t had any takers after more than 40 days on the market, is why it hasn’t been better presented. This is a house crying out for some sleek retro staging  — as you will, I’m sure, agree when you check out the listing photos.

A rash of Walter Ratcliffs hit the Berkeley market at the tail-end of last year: 2 Somerset Place, a 1920s beauty near John Hinkel Park saw its price slashed from $3.2m to $2.6m before disappearing from the MLS, and 2957 Avalon Avenue and 22 Tanglewood Road sold for $3.1m and $2.3m respectively, near asking price and no quibbling involved. But that was then.

Letter to the Editor: “$2+ million on 22nd between Valencia and Guerrero (3373 22nd St)” and some East Bay insight

Part 1:

We noticed it [3373 22nd Street] hadn’t had a Sunday open in a while, but rather than a pending or sold sign outside – we noticed the sign was just gone yesterday. It isn’t on the public mls as in contract – it just isn’t there. You know the scoop?

We are dying to know the final sales price. It was our perfect house in our perfect location – but a very unperfect price. So it wasn’t just the price – it was the price plus the people who were squatting in the house before the developer bought it, who still like to hang out around the house. For 2 + million – I don’t want to regularly have to ask the neighborhood characters to loiter elsewhere.

Now, we don’t know for certain which property you’re talking about, but imagine you’re talking 3373 22nd St, so we’ll go ahead and assume.

According to MLS it closed on 7/10/08 for a sales price of $1,950,000 (original asking was $2,095,000, originally listed 5/1…love that day!), and we heard the buyer represented himself (mls states the same). Last sale was 11/05 for a sales price of $920,000 and has definitely been fixed up since then.

Part 2:

And while I’m asking – I’ll give you a bit of insight from the east bay. We were supposed to close yesterday on our house in Oakland – only the bank hasn’t delivered loan docs yet. We have a jumbo loan and found the very last bank willing to do a 20% loan. Everyone else wanted 25% down or ridiculous rates. There is no problem with the loan – the bank is just backed up. We likely won’t close until sometime next week and the sellers are rolling with it. I was fully prepared to have to beg and plead for them not to walk – but we are hearing from our agent that a lot of deals are closing late. Is it the same over there?

Deals closing late, or the begging and pleading? We’re seeing a bit more of both. ;-)

Thanks for the insight on the East Bay, thanks for your email, and thanks for reading!

Hop, skip, and jump to the Mid-Century (Fremont)

Every now and then we’ve been known to skip across the pond or even ferry to the north to get our fix of real estate porn, and a good way to get us to bite has always been with a tip to some Mid-Century Modern gems and today is no exception.

Built in 1962 and designed by architect John Canavan, 4992 Valpey Park Avenue (Fremont) is 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, asking $668,000 (God bless East Bay prices) and has been “extremely well preserved (and tastefully upgraded) by its design-savvy owners.”

Unfortunately, we left our passport in Mexico and weren’t able to travel over to Fremont this weekend to check it out, but must admit, the home (and front yard) is right up our alley.

[Update: “Just wanted to note that the FIRST open houses are being held this week, not last week. Brokers open on Thursday, June 26; first public open house on Sunday, June 29. Thanks!”-Renee]

4992 Valpey Park Avenue [Virtual Tour]

Getting the LEED out for the weekend

This tip comes to us all the way from Oregon, via telephone no less (what is that!), and is about “one of the country’s first LEED certified homes” (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) that happens to be across the pond (Oakland). Rather than ramble on, we thought we’d just leave you with some nice photos and a link to details for the weekend.

That should make for some nice before and afters. Thanks for the tip, and phone call. It’s nice to hear a voice every now and then, isn’t it?

Bon Weekend!

Margarido House [website]


A reader report on the East Bay

We know not what happens in the East Bay, but every so often get a request to expand our coverage, and we do our best to oblige, but we’re just not there…physically, mentally, or expertisely (not a word, we know). This time, we again defer to the reader’s report Thanks Dan!

I wish you would expand your coverage to the east bay. There’s a lot of variation within Oakland – the poor to marginal areas seem like they’ve got lots for sale, but the situation is more complex in the good to great neighborhoods. Definitely a bit down compared to a year or 2 ago, but holding pretty strong. Piedmont on the other hand is still completely crazy. A semi fixer (didn’t see it myself, but that’s what I’m told) listed at 1900 sq ft just went on the market at 1.025M, got 10 offers, is pending at 1.3M. The great school system of piedmont coupled with the subpar public middle and high schools of Oakland, plus crime and low inventory, drive Piedmont up with no slowing in sight. Anyway, there’s a lot of interesting stuff, and some of it, especially Piedmont & Rrockridge plays a role in SF market.

Keep providing us that insight Dan, and you’ll educate us all on what’s going down across our newly polluted bay.  We appreciate the information.  Seriously…keep it coming!