Spring Real Estate 2007

Publication Date: Friday, April 27, 2007

Hot properties at high end
Solid community wealth keeps market active

by Kate Daly

Local realtors will tell you spring is traditionally the heaviest selling season for properties. Blooming gardens enhance curbside appeal, and the hectic holidays don't serve as a distraction any more. In the mid-Peninsula's high-end market however, the selling season appears to have started early.

For Hanna Shacham with Coldwell Banker in Menlo Park, business took a significant turn for the better back in November when she sold a $19.7 million house still under construction at 70 Barry Lane in Atherton. The nine-bedroom/nine-bath house covers about 16,000 square feet and features a pool and pool house on an acre.

The property never made it to the Multiple Listing Service, and sold in the "very early stage of construction," Shacham said.

"There's a strong demand for new construction where people can move in, and it has all the amenities," said Tom LeMieux, also with Coldwell Banker in Menlo Park.

Last January for example, he sold a six-bedroom/four-bath home being built on just over an acre at 31 Fairview Ave. in Atherton. He first listed the $10.9 million property back when it was still in the framing stage.

"We had a variety of people come through," he said, in the 290 days the house was on the market, then it finally sold for close to asking, when potential buyers could more readily see features such as the wine cellar, game, media and exercise rooms taking shape in the 9,337-square-foot floor plan.

Contrast that long wait to make a sale with another new home in Atherton that sold recently in about a month. He said the new construction at 246 Polhemus Ave. was listed at more than $11 million and went for "somewhere in the tens."

At the upper end, "we're seeing a very active market, and it just proves the amount of wealth out there," LeMieux said.

He predicts the new two-story six-bedroom/four-bath 10,100-square-foot home situated just down the street at 279 Polhemus Ave. could go quickly, too. Just listed at $12.5 million by Alain Pinel Realtors, "it has very nice finishes," he noted.

LeMieux studies sales-price trends in Atherton, and publishes a newsletter that shows 13 houses in the $7-10 million range sold in 2006, compared to nine the year before, whereas seven houses over $10 million sold in 2006, compared to only four in 2005.

In the upper price range, "I see some strong demand for all of last year, and it appears to be continuing this year," he said.

"There's a high demand and low supply, and that keeps pressure on the price," he added.

"It's a tight market. I have a number of buyers looking, but there's nothing to buy," said Scott Dancer with Coldwell Banker in Woodside.

"I get calls all the time. There's a pool of buyers out there who are always looking for the right product," he added.

Right now, he's hoping a call will come in searching for what he calls "one of Northern California's premier estates" -- his $28 million listing near Menlo Country Club. The large French chateau-style estate on five acres is also known as Le Soleil, the former Crosby mansion.

Dancer has advertised the property with a big color spread in Gentry magazine, and expects a bona-fide buyer will come along soon, because he has been showing the property for more than five months, and his experience shows "if something is priced right, it should be sold within the first six months."

The price just dropped on the 7,523-square-foot six-bedroom/four-bath house at 1055 Forest Ave. near downtown Palo Alto. Located on more than three quarters of an acre with a pool, the property has sat on the market for several months now, and recently saw its asking price of $17 million drop to $15.5 million.

Angelique Elmengard with Intero Real Estate Services in Los Altos is pleased to have just sold the property at 13902 Campo Vista Lane in Los Altos Hills for close to the listing price of $15.5 million. The seven-acre parcel with a two-bedroom guesthouse and foundation for a new home, sat on the market for more than a year. She said several offers came in over time, with some customers waiting to find out about the possibility of subdividing, then a local man swooped in with plans to build "an estate for him and his family."

For her the sale depended on "finding the right buyer for the property, who saw the potential on this last large piece close to town."

Further proof that sales are picking up, at about the same time that transaction took place, Shacham said she sold a classic Tudor in Old Palo Alto for $6.85 million that was originally listed at $7.9 million. The Realtor had a prior history with the four-plus bedroom home with a pool on more than half an acre at 330 Santa Rita Ave.

"I sold it to my client in September 2005, then we leased it again in September 2006. ... There were several people strongly interested" in buying, and it went under contract this last February."

Shacham says she is usually pessimistic about the upscale market, but after closing some big deals lately, is feeling quite optimistic.

"It just goes in cycles, there is so much money in the valley," she said.

She is hopeful she will see serious interest in her $15.95 million listing at 168 Isabella Ave. in Atherton that has been for sale since last September. The six-bedroom/five-and-a-half bath home boasts staff quarters, a guesthouse, pool and tennis court on nearly two acres across the street from the Menlo Circus Club.

Shacham's observation is that 80 percent of the sales in Atherton either involve people moving from one house to another within Atherton, or people coming back to the area.

Dancer agrees that there is a familiarity factor involved. He said most of his high-end clients already live on the Peninsula or in San Francisco, because many people moving here from elsewhere have a hard time getting used to the Bay Area's inflated prices.

He heard about a large property on Hooper Lane in Woodside selling for upwards of $45 million. The estate was "quietly rumored to be for sale for two years," and sold some time last year for an undisclosed amount, he said.

When rumors like that circulate, the buzz just keeps on growing about how hot properties are right now on the Peninsula.