Right Along With the Grunge Look, the Housing Crisis is Over

May 28, 2008

Yes, for those of you gents who still may be holding on to the rather relaxed “grunge” look from the 1990’s, I’ve got a newsflash for you: grunge, along with the current housing crisis, is over.  

Articles about the housing crisis ending have been few and buried in their respective periodical, my favorite of which was in TIME magazine back in February titled, “Ignore the Headlines“.  But now we have the Wall Street Journal. claiming that the trough was reached in April with an article from May 6, “The Housing Crisis is Over“.

I agreed with Peter Lynch back in February.., and it’s becoming more an more apparent that the longer prospective home-buyers sit on the fence, the more expensive that home purchase will become.  And this is not just because I believe that home prices will rise, it’s also because I believe that both long and short term interest rates will rise.  The 10-year Treasury Note, for example, is up over 1/2% since the middle of March, and the 10-year Treasury Note is a decent barometer to use when you want to know what the trend in long term mortgage rates have been.

That written, if you really want to continue with the grunge look, might I suggest saving it for your next camping trip?

As always, kindly consult with your trusted real estate, tax and mortgage professional before seriously considering any home purchase.

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Introducing The World’s Most Internet-Marketed Property: Come Along for the Ride!

April 9, 2007

I've been waiting for the right opportunity to really push the envelope of online real estate marketing, and, well, it's here!

I'm working on a listing in San Francisco's Potrero Hill neighborhood that fits perfectly into this new online marketing world:  it's slick, chic, and contemporary, will likely attract a younger and web-savvy crowd of buyers, and the sellers simply love the idea of creating a buzz online.

We're passing on the normal full-color ads in traditional local media like the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, and we'll be spending that money online instead.  To hedge our bets, we will be placing open house display ads in print media.

I'll be collaborating with several real estate online marketing companies to promote this property.  They'll be showing me — and, by extension, my readers — how to get the full benefit of their products.  I intend to chronicle our adventures here and invite you to follow along.  If you have some ideas, feel free to join in!

I'll announce the first collaborator tomorrow.

In the meantime, as part of our adventures, let's see how high this site currently ranks for the search, "San Francisco Potrero Hill Real Estate" — I suspect it won't be that good, since I've never written about Potrero Hill before!

Sure enough, on Google, Yahoo, and MSN, I'm nowhere to be found, not even in the top 100.  :(


3Oceans doesn't rank at all in a Google search for



3Oceans doesn't rank at all in a Yahoo search for



3Oceans doesn't rank at all in an MSN search for

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Multiple Offers Up Again: Chiropractors Still in Business

March 20, 2007

Previously I reported that buyers appear to be more patient, less ready to pile on, and generally doing their best to avoid “buyer whiplash.

Turns out that was a blip in market activity for perhaps a week or ten days.  Feeding frenzies seem to be now be back in force.  Last week clients of mine were one of 21 — twenty one!! — offers on a property.  Alas, we didn’t get it.  Rumor has it that the winning buyer threw in a Hawaii vacation, naming rights for their next child, and a promise to run up and down the street naked on every anniversary of the sale, waving a banner singing the praises of the seller.

Looks like chiropractors in this area will continue to see a steady stream of business.

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Real Estate Buyers, Tired of Whiplash, Becoming More Sophisticated

March 12, 2007

The Spring sellers’ market here in the Bay Area’s Peninsula continues unabated, with no rest in sight for buyers.  Multiple offers are still de jour on many sales in the area, with most listings selling for more than the list price.

Home buyers in the Peninsula in the Bay Area are becoming more patient to avoid getting buyer's whiplashThis week marks a growing trend that could perhaps be called “buyer’s revenge.”  Tired of the constant whiplash inflicted on them by sellers hosting an offer presentation rodeo and then squeezing out every drop of blood they can (wow — three unrelated metaphors in one sentence!), buyers are backing off and becoming a bit more patient.

Anecdotes abound this week about properties that had a dozen offer “maybes” turn into only two real offers.  On some other transactions there were more offers — say, 6 to 10 — but the final price was only a few percentage points above the list.

Buyers seem to be getting more patient, more sophisticated, more value conscious.  They realize that if they pile on during a listing presentation and drive the price of a property up by 20%, that sets the benchmark on the next properties they bid on.

Anyone else seeing this?

(Image courtesy of www.necksurgery.com)

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What can a stager do for me? Part 1 of a 4-part series

March 5, 2007

By now, most of us have seen those HGTV shows where a staging team bursts into a property, and, in a whirlwind, transforms it into a buyer’s paradise in a matter of what appears to be a few hours. Usually the premise is either: a) stage this property for sale on a miniscule budget or b) stage this property for sale – the sky’s the limit! But these shows fail to reveal all of the behind-the-scenes labor and preparation put into staging a house. Let’s face it – loading inventory into trucks just doesn’t make for good TV. So I’ve written this four-part blog series to introduce you to what the “typical” stager looks like, along with the services generally performed by stagers. There are, of course, exceptions and variations on what I’m writing, and I’d love to hear what others’ experiences have been with stagers.

So, what does the “typical” staging business look like? Generally, it is a team of one or two staging professionals who do a good deal of the work themselves. Not all stagers have a team of movers, painters and handypersons at their command – although most will be more than happy to recommend such people to their clients. Some stagers do have full-time employees, although many will simply hire assistants and movers as jobs demand. I even know of stagers who bring in their family members and friends as free labor to keep their costs down.

Stagers are often happy to recommend what a client should do as far as remodeling is concerned, but I do not know of many who would handle a job like this themselves. If you are a seller and believe that your property needs major structural remodeling before sale, you should contact a contractor or an interior designer for these things, and call in the stager to put the finishing touches on the property before sale.

Some stagers carry inventory of their own, while others choose to rent furniture or only use the seller’s own furniture for staging. Those stagers who do own inventory often store it anywhere from an extra bedroom in their home to their own warehouse. One of the benefits of carrying inventory that stagers have capitalized on is the ability to stage with a specific style. For instance, some stagers specialize in Craftsman bungalows or modern high-rise condominiums.

A stager with a huge inventory and multiple employees is not necessarily any better than the solo stager whose assistant is her teenage son. Stagers perform a multitude of services – which will be discussed later in this series – and sellers should look for the stager who provides services which best meet their needs.

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Rain or Shine — What’s your preference? Depends if You’re a Buyer or Seller…

January 26, 2007


After a long spell of unseasonal sunshine, it looks like the rain may be back.  The forecast for this weekend gives us nearly 50/50 odds of being rained out.

Here’s the question — if you’re active in the market right now, which would you prefer:  rain or shine?  I’d say it depends if you’re a buyer or seller.

If you’re a seller, you definitely want good weather.  Bright sunshine and balmy weather triggers the release of home buying pheromones and gets you lots of weekend open house traffic.  The more interest in your home, the better.

If you’re a buyer, especially a really committed one, you definitely want bad weather.  Cloudy, overcast days, and preferably rain definitely dampens home buyer enthusiasm and reduces competition for that home you’re after.

This may explain the unusually early spring buying season we’ve been experiencing.  We often get Seattle-type weather this time of year, with week after endless week of drizzing rain.  As soon as the rain stops, the spring buying season starts.  Last year the rain stopped late, and so the buyers came out late too.  This year the rain stopped early — or so we thought — and the last two weeks have seen pretty frantic activity.

If my theory is right, and this rain persists, the market may taper off and wait until the rain really ends for the season.

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Just what exactly does the Lesotho Loti have to do with Palo Alto median prices?

December 5, 2006

Pat Kitano notes with his usual insight that spontaneity is both the joy and bane of blogging. In a rush of post-Martian Flu exuberance, I showed what looked to be a pretty neat correlation between the NASDAQ and Palo Alto median home prices. Alas, the spontaneity of that moment led me to not dig quite deep enough…

Enter reader Greg, whose facility with numbers and patterns has led to previous interesting discussions. He suggested running some regression analysis (for those who missed Stats 101, “regression analysis” is simply finding relationships between different groups of numbers.) I did that and came up — surprisingly — empty-handed: it turned out there was actually very little correlation, mathematically speaking, between the NASDAQ and Palo Alto median home prices. Puzzling, puzzling indeed, because the graph showed at least a rough correlation.

Greg ran a regression of his own comparing Palo Alto median home prices vs. the number of months since January 1997…and found a reasonably strong correlation, an R-squared value of 75% for those who care about such things.

Here’s a graph:

The wavy blue line indicates Palo Alto median home prices; the straight pink line is the prediction, based simply on the number of months since January 1997.

Fortunately, all was not lost, as it turns out that while the NASDAQ alone was not a very good predictor, adding it to the mix turned out to increase the accuracy of the predictions, resulting in an R-squared value of 85%. The chart:

Again, the blue line represents Palo Alto median home prices, while the pink line represents the predicted median home price, based on both the number of months since January 1997 and the NASDAQ.

What does this all mean? In a nutshell, this entire analysis proved what we all already know to be true: Palo Alto real estate prices in the last 10 years have tended to go up. The key predictor of prices is simply time; adding in other variables like the NASDAQ improves the predictive power, but the main indicator — by far — is simply that of time.

Which brings us back to the Lesotho Loti. Just for the fun of it, I ran one more regression, this time between Palo Alto median home prices and two variables: the number of months since January 1997, and the exchange rate between the US Dollar and the Lesotho Loti. (Yep, I’m the kind of person who “just for the fun of it” runs regressions. For other like-minded people, the R-squared for this regression was 75%.)

The graph:

So does this mean that the exchange rate of the US dollar vs. the Lesotho Loti is an accurate predictor of Palo Alto median home prices? Not at all…it simply means that adding in that variable doesn’t really detract from the predictive power of the time factor.

Geek out.

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Stop press: Palo Alto housing crash delayed by one more week…bubblistas left fuming again

December 4, 2006

Once again, the big news in Palo Alto real estate this week is what didn’t happen. Prices thishousing-bubble.jpg week did not melt down to 1870 levels. Over-leveraged Palo Altans have not been foreclosed on and are not pushing shopping carts along El Camino Real in search of some cheap Ramin noodles. Traffic along the 101 is still clogged by our local high-tech work force. Entrepreneurs are still making the pilgrimage to Sand Hill Road in neighboring Menlo Park to get funding for their start-ups. Google’s stock is still above $100 $200 $300 $400 $450.
The Palo Alto transactions announced in our office this morning included:

~$1.1M — 4 offers
~$2M — 3 offers
~$? — 1 offer

and the winner of this week’s “Why won’t the sky just fall already?” Palo Alto real estate competition was a property listed around $800K that sold with 23 offers. 23 offers!

I’m reasonably confident none of these offers came from our friends Patrick, Keith,
or Ben.

Image courtesy of grubbykid.com

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Back from the dead…courtesy of Altos Research

November 30, 2006

Though temporarily put out of commission by a mild form of the Martian Death Flu that recently afflicted Kris Berg — and perhaps an overdose of Thanksgiving Tryptophan, not to mention a stronger-than-expected Q4 — I came to life upon seeing Mike Simonsen’s insightful post on the relationship between Palo Alto home prices and the NASDAQ.

I thought I’d take myself up my own challenge (posted on Mike’s blog) of seeing how well that pattern fits going further back. The result? Broad-stroke parallels useful for thinking about large trends, but (alas) no neat regression-based formula that would help you to predict, say, next month’s median prices. (Of course, if I had found something like that, trust me, I would not be posting it on my blog! I’d run as fast as my legs could carry me over to Sand Hill Road and hit up some VC’s for a few billion dollars to buy and sell Palo Alto real estate!)

Here’s the chart comparing Palo Alto median home prices with the NASDAQ; both numbers are indexed to 100 = February 1997.

The key observation seems to be that, very roughly speaking, NASDAQ’s movements are followed several months later by corresponding movements of about half the magnitude in Palo Alto prices. In other words, when the NASDAQ starts trending upwards, Palo Alto prices start doing the same a few months later. If the NASDAQ’s climb ends 50% higher, Palo Alto’s ends about 25% higher. Observe: (Numbers refer to chart below.)

  • 1 to 2 The NASDAQ , as we’ll all recall, had a glorious run, peaking in February 2000 at a level more than triple its February 1997 level; Palo Alto prices also had a glorious run during that time, though the peak took place a few months later and was “only” 2.5X higher than in February 1997.
  • 2 to 3 The NASDAQ’s initial plunge from February 2000 to May 2000 shaved roughly 30% off its value; in response, Palo Alto prices dipped 13% from June to September 2000.
  • 3 to 4 The NASDAQ’s brief rally from May to August 2000 was followed by a brief home price rally from September to December of the same year.
  • 4 to 5 Following its brief rally, the NASDAQ went into free-fall from August 2000 through September 2001, during which it lost over 60%. Palo Alto’s corresponding price drop started a good 6 months later and ended in December 2001 30% lower.
  • 5 to 6 The NASDAQ had another brief rally through November 2001; Palo Alto waited till December and climbed for a good half year.
  • 6 to 7 Unable to sustain itself, the NASDAQ dropped 40% from January to September of 2002; Palo Alto prices fell 18% from July 2002 through January 2003.
  • 7 to 8 With a few brief interruptions, the NASDAQ has been marching slowly upward from September 2002 through now, slightly more than doubling during that time. From February 2003 through now, Palo Alto prices have climbed by about 50%.


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Part 3: There’s always a story in the numbers…creating FUD from that story is the media’s job; making sense from it is mine

November 8, 2006

A previous post of mine generated an interesting series of email exchanges between myself and reader Greg. Part statistics, part epistomology, and part real estate, I thought the discussion — a tribute to liberal arts education — worth posting on its own. The end state, alas, was inconclusive.

Readers who cringe at memories of college stats classes are excused from reading this entry. :)


Kevin, I am dying to know how the Palo Alto medians you report compare to sales volume during that period. While the median is decent summary statistic, I think it would be even more interesting and helpful to look and the distribution and number of sales on the graph directly. Could you plot all Palo Alto sales on a day by day basis, so we could see what the cloud of points actually looks like? (BTW, you may need to toss a couple of outliers out so they don’t compress the scale on the other points).


I want to make sure I understand what cut of the data you’re intrigued by. Is it something like the attached [following] PA scatter diagram? If so, I’m happy to post it, along with any insightful comments that either you or I come up with. At first glance, this data doesn’t tell me a compelling story one way or the other; I’m assuming by your comments that one would expect a declining volume of sales during the time that prices were declining, and an increasing volume of sales during the time that prices were increasing?


Thanks for the attachment. I’ve attached it [following] back with one new sheet which shows trailing 2-week sales volume. What I’m trying to get at is this: what distribution of sales prices are responsible for each of your median calculations?

My line of thought is this: there is a real population of home prices/values out there, but we’re limited to looking at a small sample, i.e. the prices of homes that transacted. As the number of sales goes down, the confidence interval we have around our population mean estimate should go up. I am trying to figure out how to calculate this confidence interval, and interpret what it means for home buyers.

I’m over in China right now on a project, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to figure this out to my satisfaction in the immediate short term.. but I do look forward to thinking about it more and hearing your thoughts on it as well.


First, your diagram: I’m not sure that I’m pulling any real insights from it, apart from it partially reflecting the natural cycle of real estate sales, which tend to peak in the spring.

Secondly, I’m not sure I agree with your paragraph on the “real population of home prices.” This may be more of an epistomological argument than a real estate one, but the way I look at it is that value is conferred only through an arms-length transaction between two willing parties. Homes that haven’t sold obviously also have a value, but it’s an unknowable value (though estimatable) until they go on the market and sell as well. Thus the universe of homes that have sold is not, in fact, a sample set from which we can figure out a confidence interval about the “real population”; instead, the universe of homes that have sold is, for all practical purposes, the real population.

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