Spring Real Estate 2008

Publication Date: Friday, April 18, 2008

Slow, but steady sales at higher end
Pricey houses typically take longer to sell

Traditionally, when the weather gets warmer, the housing market heats up too.

But while there are some hot pockets among higher-priced properties, the upper end seems tepid, local Realtors agree.

Jim McCahon of Coldwell Banker, Woodside, describes the market as "spotty."

He has been in the business for two decades, and says so far this year, "It's been more active than it's been in the past couple of years. There are a lot of buyers. ... A lot of people feel real estate is a very good value."

In Woodside and Atherton, he counts 14 deals all involving homes valued more than $5 million that either closed or wound up in escrow during the months of January and February.

"There are no foreclosures in this price range, and in a lot of cases there are no loans," he said, which could help explain why the upper end of the housing market is holding its own.

In March, McCahon was hopeful his $7,450,000 listing at 45 Roberta Drive, Woodside, would soon sell given the current climate. Situated on four acres with a newly updated four-bedroom/three-and-a-half-bathroom house, guest house, pool, barn and riding ring, the property "is really a true value," but has seen very little action until recently, he said.

McCahon listed the house back in October, at a lower rate than the original asking price of four years ago. Since fall, he has aggressively marketed the house, putting out fliers, placing ads in magazines and newspapers, mailing picture post cards, and promoting it on the Internet on various Web sites, including his own.

These days many potential buyers let their fingers do the walking by taking a virtual tour online before even committing to a drive-by or on-site tour. The Internet has become an indispensable tool in the business, with some Realtors dedicating Web sites to a more expensive home.

Cashin Company Realtor Dana Cappiello says extra marketing is now the norm. For example, she has her listing at 4 Arastradero Road in Portola Valley publicized on 17 different Web sites, including Craigslist, the one she finds has the most traffic.

In addition, the San Jose Mercury News has featured the French chateau as a "fantasy home," and pictures have appeared in design books and her most recent mailing to prospective clients.

According to Cappiello, the housing market "was just dead between August and February; a lot of buyers were just waiting."

Now she said, "People think we've hit the lowest prices we're going to see," which could explain the sudden burst of interest in the 6,200-square-foot remodeled French-style home on close to six acres, with a guest house, vineyard and 12-stall barn.

About six months ago, the property was listed at $12 million and didn't attract much attention, but now that the price has been reduced to $8,275,000, she has shown it to clients 12 times in two weeks.

Alain Pinel Realtor Bonnie Biorn sees another trend developing among buyers here on the Peninsula.

"They don't want fixer uppers. So many people are in high tech and very busy, or married with children and don't want to do a fix up," she said.

As a result, she said, "New homes are moving very well in Atherton, but there's very little new construction in Atherton."

Elaine White of Coldwell Banker might disagree with that statement, based on her experience trying to sell a brand-new New England Shingle-style house designed by architect Roger Kohler at 2 Mount Vernon Lane in Atherton. The home, with all six bedrooms and seven full baths and two half baths fully staged, first came on the market last July at an asking price of $7,495,000.

The property has its own Web site, and has been advertised in a local magazine. Eventually, the price was dropped to $6,795,000 and recently came under contract. But she says, "The buyer couldn't get his money as quickly as he thought," so the deal fell through.

White is now in the process of having the house restaged, and adding some colorful flowers to the custom landscaping job to give the property "a fresh look." "We're changing it up to make it sparkle," and taking the house temporarily off the market during the spruce-up phase, she said.

Houses in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton "are holding their values," Biorn said, but she notes "a slight downturn" in Los Altos Hills over the past year.

For example, her $7,990,000 listing at 13914 Mir Mirou Drive in Los Altos Hills has generated some interest but no offers since it went on the market some six months ago.

The stately English Country-style home sits on approximately two and a half acres adjacent to the Arastradero Preserve. Built 25 years ago, the main house features five bedrooms, three and a half baths, and overlooks oak groves and meadows, a guest cottage, pool and tennis court.

For more than a month, Biorn has also been representing owners of a 78-year-old Dutch Colonial home in what she calls "highly desirable" Old Palo Alto, where the builder is keeping the exterior intact, but "everything else is new." Located at 2050 Waverley St., the house is more than 4,000 square feet in size, with plans to create four bedrooms, three and a half baths, a new basement and wine cellar.

The extensive remodel is expected to take until the fall, giving buyers the chance to help select finishes. The asking price is $6,400,000.

Biorn says she hasn't marketed the property yet, but will as soon as the project site looks more presentable.

'There are no foreclosures in this price range, and in a lot of cases there are no loans.'

Jim McCahon, Coldwell Banker, Woodside