May 31, 2010

It’s Memorial Day – how are you celebrating it in the Bay Area?

It’s Memorial Day – how are you celebrating it in the Bay Area? How many open houses will you attend to help show interest and drive up prices?

Comments (73) -- Posted by: burbed @ 5:10 am

May 30, 2010

Backyard Cottages: Threat or Menace?

Here’s an article sent in by burbed reader nomadic, who writes, “The RBA needs backyard cottages too!  I bet Worried Mom would be happy to live in a cottage in her backyard while she rents out the main house to cover college tuition for her kids.”

This is another crazy idea from Seattle, which brought us too much coffee, Windows Vista, and not enough sunshine.  Why would we in the RBA (Real Bay Area) want to use them as a role model (we’re doing a great job this year on that last one)?

Seattle’s backyard cottages make a dent in housing need

John Stoeck sweeps the 437-square-foot cottage he's building behind
 his home in Seattle. The city changed zoning rules to allow cottages in
 single-family neighborhoods.

<< John Stoeck sweeps the 437-square-foot cottage he’s building behind his home in Seattle. The city changed zoning rules to allow cottages in single-family neighborhoods.  

Lynn Watkins, left, and her partner, Yolinda Ward, built a 
600-square-foot cottage behind their four-bedroom Craftsman-style house 
after deciding the "big house" was too big.

>> Lynn Watkins, left, and her partner, Yolinda Ward, built a 600-square-foot cottage behind their four-bedroom Craftsman-style house after deciding the "big house" was too big.

By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

SEATTLE — John Stoeck is building a one-bedroom, 437-square-foot cottage on the spot where his garage stood before a tree fell on it. Construction costs: about $50,000. When the cottage is finished this summer, he plans to rent it for at least $900 a month, which will make a nice dent in his mortgage payments.

His is just one of about 50 tiny cottages sprouting in backyards across the city as it tries to expand affordable housing options in established neighborhoods without resorting to high rises and apartment complexes. The city changed zoning rules to allow cottages in single-family neighborhoods citywide, rejected a proposed cap of 50 cottages a year and helped organize a design competition to spur creation of reasonably priced plans. The point is not just to allow the cottages, but to encourage them.

They may not making any more land, but would this work in the RBA?  Would rental cottages in the back yard make RBA homes more or less Special? A rental income stream is nice, but how does a tenant a few steps from your back door work for you when you want to slip out to soak au natural in your hot tub?  How can you water your own lawn when your cottage renter tore it out to put in a garden?  How can you enjoy being lord of your manor when you’ve downsized to a 600 sf Craftsman cottage, and you’re renting out The Big House to an Angry Renter?

Would this solution work for Worried Mom?  Could it work for you?  What would your city do if you put in a permit application for one of these beauties?  Renters, would you jump at the chance to live in a cottage in a SFH neighborhood instead of your current digs?

Then again, this is the RBA!  Maybe we can make it even more Special!  Instead of Backyard Cottages, we could have Backyard Garages, and incubate the next Web 3.0 startup! What’s even better than rental income? How about ground-floor equity?  After all, it’s your ground floor!

Comments (8) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:02 am

May 29, 2010

Good news! Record number of property value reductions in county

Record number of property value reductions in county

The Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office today announced $21.4 billion in property value reductions on approximately 118,000 properties in the county.

The figures, based on an initial analysis of the assessment roll by the assessor’s office, represent a record number of reductions. The numbers won’t be final until the roll is completed on July 1.
The decrease in assessed values means a further hit to already cash-strapped schools as they see their revenue from property taxes drop.

Assessor Larry Stone said the number of reductions in assessed value will likely greatly exceed the number of increases.

"The last 36 months is by far the worst economy I’ve experienced in the 45 years since I left graduate school for Wall Street," Stone said in a statement.

The reduction in assessed values is $4 billion greater than last year, Stone said.

To someone who is outside of California, this may seem like bad news… but in reality, this is excellent news. This means that homeowners will have low property taxes from now until forever thanks to Prop 13. This means less revenue for government, which means a smaller government, less services for people, which means more opportunities for businesses and private enterprise to fill in the gaps! And for these homeowners to become landlords and increase GDP.

Woot! Even better, according to the comments for this thread, houses in the Real Bay Area were not impacted at all! Double woot!

Comments (57) -- Posted by: burbed @ 5:00 am

May 28, 2010

The Best Value in Palo Alto

Thanks to Burbed reader AR for this interesting post about experiences in finding a house in Palo Alto;

The Best Value in Palo Alto

We found this house on Craigslist. We keep scanning Craigslist looking for an arbitrage opportunity. In a city where fairly ordinary houses get 19 offers, it’s best to look at non-traditional venues for bargains.

The post is intriguing. We’ve seen 1000 sqft homes go for more than $900k. So naturally we wrote to the agent in question. Where, we wanted to know, was this wonderful bargain available? Why was it such a bargain? And could we get first dibs on checking out this great bargain? The realtor wrote back, yes the property is available he said. This was fine, we expected as much, but we were insistent: where was this wonderful property? The realtor finally sent us the address. But! Please don’t go in there, there are tenants there. But feel free to drive by. And so on our next open-home tour we stopped by. Our first thought was that if we were to buy the house, we would be doing the neighborhood a huge favor.


Overall, it’s actually a pretty interesting blog. Check it out!

Comments (12) -- Posted by: burbed @ 5:13 am

May 27, 2010

Really Angry Renter Ruins Real Palo Alto for the Rest of Us

Surprise!  Here’s another guest post from madhaus, who hasn’t contributed since… yesterday.

130 Bryant St, Palo Alto, CA 94301


SQ. FT.: 2,114
$/SQ. FT.: $613
LOT SIZE: 7,000 Sq. Ft.
PROPERTY TYPE: Detached Single Family
STYLE: Traditional
COUNTY: Santa Clara 
MLS#: 81024985
STATUS: Active 
ON REDFIN: 3 days

Tenant has lived in the house for over 18 years- needs work. Reports available. Fifth bedroom was dining room.

Here’s a rare opportunity to buy a house in Downtown Palo Alto at a Cupertino price!  Sunnyvale, even!  But unlike Cupertino or Sunnyvale, this is no tract home that looks just like every one of its neighbors.  This is an 85 year old house with lots of character, traditional styling, architectural interest, and serious damage.

So, what’s this about a tenant?  Someone’s lived here for 18 years?  Oh dear!  Homes built in 1925 shouldn’t have 18-year tenants!  The place must have been absolutely perfect before a tenant moved in!  Why, tenants could have done all kinds of things to this house in the last 18 years!  Rusted the pipes, made the roof leak, filled the place with termites, splashed hard water all over the bathtub!  Let’s see how much work is going to be needed to bring the house back to habitable condition.


Oh no!  There are no inside pictures!  It must be some hecka damage.  You’d best read those reports that are available.  Are they police reports?  Arson reports?  Suppose that tenant ate crackers in bed or left the milk carton open?  Even… gasp… both!  And goodness knows what happened to the dining room.  The tenant, or somebody, turned it into a fifth bedroom!  The nerve!  If it’s a bedroom, how are you doing to put a dining room table there?  It’s going to leave no room for the nightstands!

This is what happens when Angry Renters are allowed to live in a “good” neighborhood: there go the property values for everyone.  But their loss is your gain!  A little bit of spackle where the pushpins went in the wall, sand off that window that got painted shut, replace the missing floors and staircase, and you’ve got a beautiful house!  They really knew how to build them in 1925, so you won’t have to worry about much else.  Except the dining table in the fifth bedroom.

Comments (135) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:01 am

May 26, 2010

Single Family House for Price of a Condo… in the RBA. Really.

And for your reading pleasure, a guest post from madhaus.

409 Fernando Ave  Palo Alto, CA 94306


SQ. FT.: 645
$/SQ. FT.: $1,006
LOT SIZE: 3,000 Sq. Ft.
PROPERTY TYPE: Detached Single Family
STYLE: Contemporary
VIEW: Neighborhood
COUNTY: Santa Clara
MLS#: 81024711
STATUS: Active
ON REDFIN: 2 days

Nice and cozy one bedroom/one bath single family home located on a quiet street across from the beautiful Boulware Park. Newly remodeled bathroom and new dual pane windows throughout. Close to shops, restaurants, Stanford University, hospital, and public transportations. Private backyard, no HOA. Single family home for the price of a condo.

Last week, this site reported the startling news that only one ZIP code remained in the RBA (Real Bay Area).  That ZIP was South Palo Alto, 94306.  So here is an affordable house in the only ZIP worth buying.  $649,000?  That is better than free.  That is like having the owners pay you to take it off their hands!  All you have to do is live in this house while you enjoy 11.7% annual gains every year you own your very own RBA house!  Best of all, you can feel superior to every other ZIP code in the entire Bay Area.

So what do you get for $649,000?  You get the healthiest looking property in the neighborhood.  Nothing obese about this svelte lot layout!


You get a house that is absolutely the most Special anywhere.  It’s not every home that has a higher number for dollars per square foot ($1006) than… um… actual square footage (645). 

Ah, home sweet home… if you can find it in this photo!  You won’t find many places with a carport that are daring enough to use a front door good enough for a garage entry!  Now, that’s bold!  So, just what are the dimensions of this house, anyway?  This reminds me of those townhouse blocks that are exactly as wide as a two-car garage… only… smaller.


And at first the lack of windows in front seemed disturbing, but that western exposure would just heat the place up too much.  And you’ll need to use every trick to keep cool in the summer, because this house doesn’t have air conditioning, either!

Next, let’s take a look inside!  Ah, this must be the kitchen!


Wow!  Look at the vintage stove, the Ikea-style cabinetry (long before there was an Ikea!),, the… that is a sink, isn’t it?

Well, on to the living/dining combo!


Can’t you just hear the agent gushing, “Light and bright, light and bright!!!”  I suppose if you slap a bunch of titanium-flake white on every surface and turn the lights on in the daytime, that is what you get.  Plus a fireplace!  Wonder how long that paint job will last if you try using it.

Moving on!  Let’s see the bedroom.  There’s only one, so it’s important that it’s a nice one.


Whoops!  Either that’s a very textured bedspread, or we seem to have walked right past it!  Let’s try again.


Hey, how did we end up across the street?  This is definitely not included in the 3000 sf lot.

But it’s only $649K, so stop your complaining.  If they left the bedroom out, there must be a very good reason.  For extra credit, explain how a one bedroom place can be called “single family home,” when a “family” includes at least one adult and one child.

Oh, I almost forgot!  Per the listing, there are no homeowners fees associated with this house!  That is better than a condo!  Now buy this house and you can start watering your own lawn!  And pay for the water!

Comments (26) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:03 am

May 25, 2010


Thanks to Herve for this guest post….

So you’re 30-something. You listened to the stock options sirens and moved to the Bay Area in 2000… Ten years later:

– your options are worthless

– the sirens turned into 2 roommates playing WoW who haven’t showered for 3 days

– your 1996 Civic will hopefully last you another 10 years

More importantly, your dreams of early retirement shattered. But don’t despair, there is an easy solution.
Yes, you can own your own RV (Retirement Vehicle), park it in the Bay Area, build your own stairs, get your own mailbox (that’s the black box by the stairs) and come back every evening after a long day at work thinking you made it. On week-ends, drive your home to Safeway or Walmart, take pictures and send them to your parents. They will be proud of you and tell all their neighbors their only son invented the Internet in 2002 (that’s ok, nobody will know there). Remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.

Comments (22) -- Posted by: burbed @ 5:51 am

May 24, 2010

Opportunity knocks in San Carlos!



Beds: 2
Baths: 1
Sq. Ft.: 630
$/Sq. Ft.: $871
Lot Size: 4,700 Sq. Ft.
Property Type: Detached Single Family
Style: Cottage/Bungalow
Stories: 1
Year Built: 1933
Community: Alder Manor
County: San Mateo
MLS#: 81024603
Source: MLSListings
Status: Active This listing is for sale and the sellers are accepting offers.
On Redfin: 5 days
Opportunity knocks with this fixer-upper on a quiet west side street. Gently sloping lot with plenty of space to add on. Open Sunday 5/23 1:30-4:30 on tour 5/25 . Offers if any after Wed. 5/26. There have not been any inspections. To be sold As-is in all regards.
You know it’s going to be a good listing when it starts off by saying “Opportunity knocks”. Bad opportunities never knock – only good ones. And this is a great opportunity! Wow! A house for just $549,000 in San Carlos – and on the “good” side of Alameda!
Sure you might need to do a little remodeling or a little tearing down, but look at the huge level lot. Oh what? It’s 4700 sqft and sloping? Uh. Well. It’s still on the good side of Alameda.
Knock knock!
Who’s there?
Your opportunity to reach the American Dream!
Comments (87) -- Posted by: burbed @ 5:51 am

May 23, 2010

PTA, Bunch of Others Sue State of California

And now, may I present a guest post.  Take it away, madhaus.  Why thanks, madhaus, don’t mind if I do.

Sacramento Bee: Education Coalition Sues California Over School Funding

California’s system for funding public schools is irrational, unstable and in need of overhaul, a lawsuit filed Thursday asserts, and prevents 6 million students from receiving the education they are entitled to under the state Constitution.

The lawsuit, filed by a coalition of students, parents and education groups against the governor and the state, puts California on a growing list of states slapped with what lawyers call "adequacy" suits

Thirty-three states have faced adequacy lawsuits, in which plaintiffs argue that a state does not give schools enough money to achieve that state’s academic standards. In most cases, experts said, the states have lost in court and been forced to come up with more funds and a new way of paying for schools.

image Now that’s the American way.  Something’s broken?  Sue ‘em.  The lead plaintiff in this case, Robles-Wong v. California, is a junior at Alameda High School.  Yay, Bay Area, We’re #1!  We’re #1!  And despite a press conference in Sacramento, the suit itself was filed in Alameda County.

A spokesman for the group noted California had some of the highest educational standards in the country, with some of the lowest funding rates.  Yeah, take that, New Jersey!  We do more with less!  We’re the best at writing standards, and the best at failing to meet them!  Boo-yah!

The article also described the method of determining each California school district’s unique funding as “a complicated funding formula.”  This is akin to noting that the General Theory of Relativity is “kind of tough,” as there are only four people in the entire world who understand how the state school funding algorithm actually works.  One of them has an unlisted phone, one refused to respond to repeated requests for comment, and the other two were driven insane by the process of mastering it.

Okay, assuming you were actually reading any of this, by now you’re saying, madhaus, you are just making that part up.  Am not.  See?

San Jose Mercury News: Schools, PTA sue California over education funding

For most of California’s roughly 1,000 school districts, the state budget crisis has caused per-student funding to fall for two years. But the complaint reaches beyond current cutbacks. For decades, California schools have budgeted according to a complicated funding mechanism determined by multiple laws and court rulings and resulting in unpredictable and different per-student amounts for each district. For example, in 2008-09, Evergreen Elementary School District in San Jose received $7,787 per student, but Palo Alto Unified received $14,214.

The suit contends that the state has neglected to do what the constitution requires: prioritize school funding.

See?  See?  “Complicated funding <miscellaneous noun>.”  Told you so.

Can’t get enough of this?  Read the lawsuit (PDF, 59 pages) by clicking here.

Comments (72) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:01 am

May 22, 2010

f u cn rd ths u cn lrn abbrvs & gt a gd jb as a rltrd

And now for something completely different… a guest post from madhaus.

17259 DEER PARK Rd  Los Gatos, CA 95032

17259 DEER PARK Rd, Los Gatos, CA 95032 - Deer Park

BATHS: 3.5
SQ. FT.: 3,800
$/SQ. FT.: $523
LOT SIZE: 2.96 Acres
PROPERTY TYPE: Detached Single Family
STYLE: Mediterranean
STORIES: Bi/Split Level
VIEW: Mountains, Canyon
COMMUNITY: Los Gatos/Monte Sereno
COUNTY: Santa Clara
MLS#: 80950749
STATUS: Active 
ON REDFIN: 207 days

Private setting, updated custom home, redone/last 8-9 yrs. Mstr. bedrm & ba redone 2007.Excellent flr pln. Lrge grt rm, F. R. & D. R. ,granite slab in eat-in kit, wd cab, gas stve. Lge utility rm. Big lot size of 2.96 ac w/ built-in pool/spa & fenced yrd. Gate entry w/ lg circular drvwy. Gd lndscping, R. V. boat area/slab w/ power. 2nd side of grge used as offce. Garage can be rtrnd to 3 car garage.

omg wtf?  Does Coldwell Banker now want all home descriptions to fit into one Tweet or SMS?  Are we going back to per-word classified rates? You’d think for almost two million that the agent would meet his well-heeled buyers halfway and not make them guess what some of those abbreviations stand for.

wolfdogFirst things first: Prce Rducd.  Listed for $2.489M in October 2009, dropped $100K in January and $400K more in May.  Lge lot, lge drp!  Now why would a nice home in the hills have trouble selling?  Maybe it’s because during the open house, there’s a welcoming committee.  

Everyone loves dogs!  Everyone!  Just ask the agent!  Everyone loves dogs!  And if you don’t love dogs, then, who cares, because evry1 <3s dgs!  These dogs are loved so much, their owners wouldn’t dream of locking them up while a bunch of strangers tramp through their home.  And nothing says “This could be my house” like being greeted by wolf hybrids in the driveway.  Unleashed wolf hybrids.  If a couple of these don’t scare away the buyers, there’s always the vicious little yappers caged in the laundry room!  This is a whole new level on Special.  If you aren’t brave enough to get out of your car, you don’t deserve to own ths hse.

Do you like 3-car grges?  Do you want one?  You can have one on this property!  Simply gut the offce that’s using up most of it!  It’s all about choice!  I mean chce.

Comments (16) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:00 am