Livermore looking up in 2013

Home Prices In Livermore Expected To Rise This Year

Real estate website forecasts price increases for 2013 in all but one Bay Area zip code | February 20, 2013 | link


Home prices in Livermore will rise about 6 to 7 percent this year, according to a study done by an online real estate site.

The site,, predicts home prices in 244 of the 245 zip codes in the Bay Area will rise in 2013. The only exception will be the 94515 area in Calistoga, according to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The story says the biggest reason for the projected price increase is a lack of homes for sale on the market.

Even with the increase, prices are still well below the peak prices of a few years ago in most zip codes.

Here is the individual zip code data for the Livermore area.

Zip Code Dec. 2012 median Dec. 2013 projection Increase % decrease from peak price
94550 $500,000 $542,620 8.5% -27.5 percent
94551 $394,100 $424,725 7.8% -34.9 percent

Learn more about Livermore

Five surprising facts about the Livermore Valley

Susan Hathaway | Mercury News | March 18, 2013 | link

Brett Caires, owner, walks to unlock the tasting room at BoaVentura de Caires Winery in Livermore, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

Brett Caires, co-owner and winemaker of BonaVentura de Caires Winery, grew up in Livermore with fifth-generation winemaker Karl Wente. Before he made wine, Caires worked as a real estate broker in the area for 26 years. Here, he shares five surprising facts about the Livermore Valley — things you probably never knew.

1. It’s old

The Livermore Valley is probably the oldest wine region in California. There were well over 50 wineries in Livermore Valley before Prohibition, but the 18th Amendment demolished much of the wine industry there. In fact, the wine business still hasn’t caught up to its pre-Prohibition winery count, which was around 70.

2. It has its own orientation

Most California wine regions run north-south, but Livermore runs east-west. This is a good thing for wine grapes because it helps the vineyards cool as coastal breezes come through from the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay.

3. We saved the French

We gave them phylloxera, the wine version of herpes, and then gave them the cure. A lot of grape cuttings originally planted in the Livermore Valley were from France and when some cuttings went back to France, they brought with them the sap-sucking pest that wiped out much of the French vines. Later, phylloxera-resistant American root stock from Livermore was sent to France to help them recover.

4. It’s fueled by geek power

About half the winemakers in this region are highly educated in areas like physics and engineering. Many retired from Lawrence Livermore Lab or Silicon Valley, and come armed with other technical backgrounds. They are off-the-charts smart.

5. Agriculture conservation is a priority

The South Livermore Area Plan, first adopted in 1993 to ensure “orderly development” of the area, includes permanent agricultural easements that must be followed by developers. Each building permit must include one acre used for “intense agriculture,” which has led to significant expansion of vineyards in the region. Today, you see newer subdivisions with vineyards planted between them.

The Year of the Condo?

Bay Area condos’ tight supply has buyers scrambling

Pete Carey | Mercury News | February 18, 2013 | link

(LiPo Ching / Mercury News)

The Bay Area’s market for condominiums and townhouses has seldom been hotter. Existing units are selling in record time with multiple offers, and new ones are being snapped up before there’s even a model home to see.

Just ask Niha Singh. Last month, Singh, a 27-year-old Silicon Valley computer engineer, and her husband tried to buy one of 12 units in a new townhouse development under construction in Milpitas. Even though they’d car-camped outside the developer’s office, they ended up on a waiting list.

“When we got there on Friday, there was already a line,” she said. “People were camping out, some of them for six days before the date of release.”

Across the Bay Area, buyers are fighting for a limited supply of new and existing condos. Investors have already snapped up many foreclosures and short sales and are renting them out, while owners who might sell in a typical market are either still on the sidelines watching prices rise or are underwater and can’t afford to sell. And demand has been growing.

Condos — the affordable homes chosen by many first-time buyers — have made bigger annual gains in asking price than single-family homes in all parts of the Bay Area, according to real estate website Trulia. Sales are at their highest level since late 2008, according to DataQuick, a housing information company.

“There are huge numbers of people trying to buy what’s available,” said Quincy Virgilio, a specialist in the condo and

townhouse market and vice chairman of MLS Listings. “We’re seeing incredible overbids, and multiple offers on a regular basis. A lot of them are first-time buyers trying to get into this marketplace.”Adding to the pressure for many condo shoppers, apartment rents shot up nearly 10 percent in a year, encouraging even more people to join the hunt.

“We want to start a family, and a two-bedroom near our work is $2,600,” Singh said. “We thought, why not pay it as a mortgage?”


From right, Bhavin Acharya, Sonali Acharya, Aashini Acharya, 3, and their real estate agent Danielle Contreras walk by the model homes at the William Lyon Homes Coyote Creek residential complex in Milpitas on Saturday, Feb. 16. (LiPo Ching / Mercury News)

builders are converting condos to apartments to take advantage of the rising rents, according to some real estate professionals. Also, lenders are still reluctant to finance condo projects, said Tony Sum of Silicon Valley Lofts and Condos.But new projects are under way, and condo prices are rising, too. In the last three months of 2012, median sale prices for condos were up 25 to 35 percent from the same quarter in 2011 in the East Bay, Peninsula and South Bay, according to DataQuick.

Buyers have to be nimble. The average time for a condo to sell dropped about 40 percent in December from a year earlier in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, according to MLS Listings. In San Jose, the time it took to sell a condo or townhouse dropped from 89 days in December 2011 to 31 days in December 2012.

Condos in Castro Valley sold in 11 days in December, compared with 82 days in 2011, the Bay East Association of Realtors reported. In Pleasanton, the average number of days on the market dropped from 52 days in December 2011 to 10 days last December.

In Fremont, the number of condos for sale dropped from 112 in December 2011 to 20 in December.

“It’s as nutty as the market for single-family homes now,” said Jennifer Branchini, president-elect of the Bay Area East Realtors Association.

In Contra Costa County, condos sold in January in less than half the time it took in January 2011, according to the Contra Costa Association of Realtors.

One condo in Concord sold last week for nearly twice the list price.

“We had it listed at $125,000 and we had 28 offers,” said Barbara Safran of Land of Gold Realty in Walnut Creek. “We ended up selling it for $205,000” in an all-cash deal to buyers who plan to move in, she said.

It was on the market for a week. “It could have sold in two days,” she said.

It’s even tough in the retirement condo market.

Units at retirement community Rossmoor in Walnut Creek are selling like hot cakes. Mary Beall-Neighbor, broker-manager at Prudential California Realty in Walnut Creek, said the 55-plus development typically has about 150 listings at a time. “Yesterday we had 16. That gives you an idea. And it’s not just Rossmoor. That’s kind of the way it is everywhere,” she said.

Nancy Blum, 61, of Chicago, is finding out that you have to be fast if you want to buy a one-bedroom unit in Rossmoor. Her agent called her with 10 listings recently. Blum picked out six and flew out three days later. By that time, all the condos she could afford were gone, and only four of the 10 were left. By the end of the week, all but one of the 10 were sold.

“Three days?” Blum said. “My home in the Chicago suburbs has been on the market for two years. It’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?'”

Rising prices should eventually bring more sellers off the fence, said Mark Wong of Alain Pinel Realtors in Saratoga. “Lots of people know the market hit the bottom, interest rates are historically low and not going up soon.” That makes lots of people jump into the market.

“I think this is the year of the condo,” Wong said.

Buyers coming from abroad

Wealthy homebuyers in China embrace the McMansion

Mary Umberger | Chicago Tribune | February 22, 2013 | link
  • Wealthy Chinese fancy Western-style homes, such as this one in Lagoon Manor, a development in northeast Beijing.
Wealthy Chinese fancy Western-style homes, such as this one in Lagoon Manor, a development in northeast Beijing. (Dahlin Group photo)

An American export has turned out to be a surprising hit in China: the McMansion.

Though “McMansion” may not be the kindest term for this Chinese architectural phenomenon, that’s the case: Wealthy locals in Beijing and other cities have become smitten with Western-style houses that are huge (even by U.S. standards) and in planned subdivisions. And they’re farming out the design work to American architects.

Not unlike in certain U.S. communities, such homes have become a way of advertising their success for well-to-do Chinese, according to Chip Pierson, a principal of Dahlin Group, a Pleasanton, Calif.-based architecture firm that has designed many of them. The homes are also perceived by the buyers as a safe haven for cash — usually very large amounts of cash, he said.

In an edited interview, Pierson explained how these well-heeled buyers’ tastes favor a vaguely French chateau look, with a hefty dash of “Downton Abbey” thrown in:

Q: How involved is your architectural firm in Chinese residential design?

A: Our firm has spent 35 years in development and homebuilding for Fortune 500 companies, some of America’s biggest homebuilding companies. We’ve been involved in developments all over the country.

I’ve been working in China personally since 2001, when a Chinese employee of ours led us to become involved with homes for expatriate housing there. Now we are designing homes for communities whose residents are going to be Chinese.

Q: What is the attraction of the Chinese to these Western designs?

A: More people in Chinese cities live in high-rises than in single-family homes. The idea of a single-family villa, which is what we call these detached homes, for the Chinese buyers was incredibly unique. Nobody had built single houses for individuals there since the 1930s.

As the United States’ economy went down from 2006 to 2010, the Chinese economy went up. As their economy grew, the middle class grew, and they began investing in real estate — homes like these.

At the peak of the market over there, our company hired 45 people in the U.S. to do design work for Chinese buyers, which is the opposite of what most people would think — they’d think, you’re offshoring work and talent to the Chinese, but actually the Chinese are offshoring their work to American architects.

Stylistically, in the bigger villa projects, some of the designs are contemporary, but many are very European. If you think back to the early development of what became the wealthiest American suburbs, (the grand mansions) they built were a takeoff on their vision of traditional European style. That’s the trend for the single-family home in China now.

Market researchers in China say that these buyers prefer styles (derived from) the old houses in France and England. The people feel that the styles of the English and French are more “wealthy looking” than Spanish or Mediterranean styles. Think of “Downton Abbey” or Fontainebleau. Those are perceived as the homes of royalty. Homes in Spain or Italy, they perceive those homes as more casual.

And they want to show that they have money.

Local education looks for change…

Assemblywoman Buchanan talks education, budget
Proposes changes to state education code

Glenn Wohltmann  | Pleasanton Weekly Staff | March 6, 2013 | link

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State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) is proposing a package of three bills that could measure teacher performance, streamline discipline and dismissal procedures for teachers and require reporting on suspected child abuse by school personnel.

Buchanan, formerly a school board member in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District for 18 years, is now chair of the State Assembly’s Education Committee.

The assemblywoman caught flack last year when she voted against a bill that could have let school districts fire teachers who commit sexual or drug-related acts with children.

Buchanan has defended herself regarding her vote. She explained that the bill was flawed, and said districts already have ways of ousting an employee involved in physical, sexual or drug-related child abuse.

In the proposed legislation, Buchanan says teacher performance should be measured, but not by test scores alone. Buchanan told a group of Pleasanton educators last week that teacher performance should be judged by “multiple measures,” including formal and informal evaluations as well as student performance.

“If you’re a teacher, you give a test not only for a grade, but to see what students have learned,” she told the group last week.

Buchanan said teachers need time to work with other teachers, too.

Regarding discipline and dismissal procedures, Buchanan told the group, “It just takes too long and costs too much money.”

“The focus of our bill is going to be cleaning up the part of the statute that needs cleaning,” she said. “You want to preserve the intent, but you want to update it.”

Buchanan said that includes reducing the appeals process from a year and a half to six to seven months.

In child abuse cases, she pointed to two school districts, Miramonte and Moraga. In Miramonte, third-grade teacher Mark Berndt was charged with committing lewd acts on 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, between 2005 and 2010, despite complaints that date to two decades ago. No complaint was filed by that school’s principal.

The Moraga school district is being sued by former student Kristen Cunnane, who claims two middle school teachers sexually abused her in the 1990s. Again, Buchanan said, the principal filed no complaint.

Buchanan said districts will be required to have a policy regarding mandated reporting, make sure all personnel are aware of the requirement, and will have to review the policy every year.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Pleasanton school district. “It’s hard to understand that it hasn’t been required.”

Buchanan also discussed Gov. Brown’s proposal to give poorer school districts in California more money.

“It’s hard to go from a convoluted formula to a straightforward one on one sweep,” she said. “The problem is that every one of the districts has been cut by 21 to 23%. It’s going to be hard to put into place next year. Whatever we do, it’s going to change education for the future.”

Buchanan has also co-authored legislation that would require districts to inform voters if they want to use an interest-only bond. Those bonds, known as Capital Appreciation Bonds, became a hot-button issue recently when it was discovered that a $105 million CAP issued in Poway will cost the district nearly $1 billion to repay.

A day after her meeting with school officials, Buchanan and State Controller John Chiang met in Pleasanton with officials from the Contra Costa Council to talk about the state budget.

“Today we have slow growth but a better economy,” Chiang told the group.

Buchanan noted that young people now have more student loan debt than credit card debt.

“My concern is what is the engine of growth? My belief is it’s education,” she said. “If we don’t have a more educated workforce, we’re going to be in real trouble.”

Buchanan noted that future manufacturing may move back to the U.S., and that manufacturing will require more educated employees to operate sophisticated equipment.

Chiang said Proposition 30, the voter-approved tax increase, with money targeted for schools, will stabilize things, but only for the next seven years.

“Then, we’re going to lose $6 billion,” he said, adding that could mean California becoming insolvent. Chiang added that California has already dropped from 47th to 49th in per-pupil spending.

In terms of revenue, Buchanan said California “seems to be a state that rides a bubble, each bubble as it comes along.” She pointed to the savings and loan bubble, the dot-com bubble and the real estate bubble as examples.

The good times, she said, meant the state could offer better pensions to workers, which led to the problems with CalPERS, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, and CalSTRS, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

While she’s pushing for pension reform, she said courts have ruled that the state cannot renege on promises made to employees.

“We need to come up with a plan that will raise these funds up over time,” she said.

Bay area looking to better times…

Bay Area leaves housing crash behind

Pete Carey | Mercury News | March 14, 2013 | link

The Bay Area’s single-family home market is leaving the darkest days of the housing crash behind, a report from housing information company DataQuick showed Thursday.

For six months or more, median single-family home prices have gained by double digits on a yearly basis in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, DataQuick said.

Foreclosures are edging closer to normal levels and sales of midpriced homes are increasing. While there are too few houses on sale to meet the demand, the market is looking up, real estate experts say.

“Everybody’s forgotten where we were,” said Jennifer Branchini, president-elect of the Bay East Association of Realtors. “It wasn’t a great place.”


Alameda County, the median price of $402,000 in February was up 15.5 percent from February 2012; Contra Costa County’s $305,000 was up 25.8 percent; San Mateo saw a 22.6 percent gain to $692,500, and Santa Clara County’s $625,000 was up 27.6 percent.Median sales prices for existing single-family homes in the Bay Area have climbed back 44.6 percent since they hit bottom in March 2009 during a wave of low-end foreclosure sales and a dormant mid- to high-end market.

Year-over-year prices have been increasing for months through a combination of market forces, including too few homes for sale and a gaggle of free-spending investors, many of them paying premium prices in cash. Investors include hedge funds, foreign buyers drawn to

what are relatively low prices compared with real estate in their home countries, and mom-and-pop buyers of one or two homes for retirement income.”There is quite a bit of excitement out there,” said Carl San Miguel, president of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors. “But there’s a new battle because of the limited inventory, with frustration from buyers making offers and coming back empty-handed.”

Sales in Santa Clara County dropped 15.1 percent from a year earlier; San Mateo County was down 23.8 percent; Contra Costa County fell 6.1 percent and Alameda County was down 2 percent.

Many move-up buyers are still on the fence, said Jennifer Hatter of Empire Realty in Danville.

“Move-up buyers are afraid to put their houses on the market without knowing where they’re going to go,” she said. “They’re afraid. What if they can’t get another house?”

Steve Wilner, a sales executive and client of Hatter’s, just sold a Pleasanton home with six offers, five of which were above asking price. “I wouldn’t want to be a buyer in this market,” he said. “As a seller, we held all the cards.”

“Everything that gets listed is going into contract very quickly,” said Bob Barrie of Keller Williams in Campbell. Barrie said the number of Santa Clara County homes and condos put up for sale has been growing this month, however.

“In a month or two, I think you’ll see sales explode,” he said.

The drying up of foreclosures was evident in a shift from sales of low-priced homes to more expensive homes in Contra Costa County. Total sales of all types of houses there that were priced under $300,000 fell 28.8 percent from the previous year, while sales between $300,000 and $800,000 were up 34.7 percent, according to DataQuick.

Across the nine-county Bay Area, condo prices were almost unchanged from January but up 35.4 percent from February 2012 to a median of $325,000.

Buyers paying all cash accounted for a record 31.9 percent of all sales in the nine-county Bay Area in February, compared with a monthly average of 12.9 percent going back to 1988.

Absentee buyers, which the company said are “mostly investors,” purchased 28.2 percent of all Bay Area homes, also an all-time high in data going back to 2000.

Sales of distressed property — mostly foreclosures and short sales — made up 35 percent of the market for existing homes. Short sales predominated, as foreclosures, which peaked at 52 percent of the market in February 2009, have dropped to 13.6 percent of sales, closer to average levels. The average over the past 17 years is about 10 percent, DataQuick said.

Pleasanton at its best…

Community Presents Pleasanton Family With New Home

When a fire devastated the home of April Martinez, community members came together to help her get back on her feet. | February 27, 2013 | link


From Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty’s Office

Many local businesses and city and county agencies came together last week to raise enough money to buy April Boag Martinez and her family a new (gently used) trailer, which was presented in a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday.

April Boag Martinez is a jockey and horse trainer, who works on the Alameda County Fairgrounds and also lives there in the R.V. South trailer park with her two young children.

Due to a devastating fire, which took place the family’s trailer on Monday, February 11, Martinez and her children (ages 12 and 5) have been staying with a friend in same the R.V. park with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing the day of the fire.

Martinez, a Pleasanton resident of nearly 12 years, said the fire began
in the bedroom of her 32-foot trailer, and then consumed the entire trailer within only a couple of minutes.

Luckily, she, her 5-year-old son, and the family dog were able to escape unharmed with only the clothes on their backs, and no shoes. Martinez’s 12-year-old daughter was not home when the fire started.

When asked what she thought of all of the people and organizations who came out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and those who made the new trailer possible, Martinez was gracious.

“This is incredible! I am at a loss for words,” Martinez said. “The amount of support we have received from the community and the race track is amazing. We are just normal, everyday people, and after such a devastating turn of events, this is like winning the lottery.”

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said of the fire and the trailer presentation, “I’m just glad that nobody was hurt. I am happy to help, and I wish April and her family the best. Welcome to [their] new home!”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place in the field across from the R.V. South trailer park located on Road 8, near gate 12 on the Alameda County fairgrounds.

During the presentation, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty addressed Ms. Martinez and the crowd of contributors and supporters, “All that has taken place following this unfortunate event is a direct reflection of the strength of our great community. This has truly been a community effort, and one which I am beyond proud to be a part of. This is what happens when people get together to make things better.”

Frank Imhof of Imhof Tractor Services, who worked for 10 days to coordinate much of the donors list and facilitate the purchase of the trailer said, “It was a sad story of a single mom in need. She needed help, and I could, so I did.”

“It’s our community, and it’s the right thing to do. It is my pleasure to help the family get back on their feet, and to be associated with so many others who feel the same,” said Jim McGrail of McGrail Vineyards.

If any member of the community wishes to contribute to Martinez family as they begin to put together the pieces of their new lives in their new home, a bank account has been set up at the Fremont Bank-Pleasanton branch located at 6654 Koll Center Pkwy., suite 345 in the name of April Boag Martinez.