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A Fair Oaks Castle

April 10th, 2007 · 3 Comments

Fair Oaks is one of my favorite Menlo Park neighborhoods, partly because of the unpredictable mix of properties. There is a sprinkling — but only a sprinkling, mind you — of McMansions, but the rest are a melange of cottages, Victorians, Craftsmen, bungalows, and small Ranches.

Today’s tour offered a surprise in the form of 655 14th Ave, brought to the market by friend and colleague Shelly Roberson, wife of 3Oceans contributor David Roberson. I’ve driven by the home many times and found the exterior square-castle look intriguing, but the inside is even more so.

Though 1900 sq ft in size — larger that most Fair Oaks homes — the inside has a warm, cozy feel, brought about by the owners’ artistic flair and Shelly’s own staging handiwork. (She’s one of a handful of agents who stage their own properties. Trust me, you don’t want me doing that for you!)

My favorite touch was the Tintin poster on the wall in the upstair’s kid’s bedroom, which brought back nostalgic childhood memories — which I suppose was the intent! (If you did not grow up in the UK, France, or a former colony of either, you may not be familiar with the Tintin series. Do yourself a favor and buy a couple comic books. While you’re at it, get some from the Asterix series as well.)

This listing looked like a good excuse to try out the Popup Image Gallery Wordpress plugin from Yellow Swordfish (not to be confused with Redfin).

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Tags: Fair Oaks · Menlo Park · Property reviews · Real estate · Shelly Roberson

To The New Owners of 730 Seale, Palo Alto: I Want to be Your Au Pair

March 30th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Every now and then you come across a home that’s just enchanting and has a story that’s simply begging to be told.  Suzie Provo — friend, colleague, and a top local agent — had one such property on tour this morning:  730 Seale in Palo Alto.

Come with me as we take a walking photo tour…


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Tags: Property reviews · Real estate · Suzie Provo

Fire Engine Red, A Proud Fixer Upper, and More Eichlers: All in a Day’s Palo Alto Real Estate Tour

March 23rd, 2007 · 1 Comment

Palo Alto housing inventoryChomping at the bit to go, I headed straight out of this morning’s broker marketing meeting to see what the new Palo Alto inventory looks like. The outcome? Inventory is definitely on the rise, with both statistical proof (the Altos Research chart on the left) and the general buzz and business of everybody touring around today.

With six homes on my list — scattered throughout town — and only two hours on my calendar, it was all about efficiency.

First up was 1045 Newell, an “original Barrett & Hilp home,” a Leannah Hunt (Coldwell Banker) listing in the Green Gables neighborhood. $1.25M gets you 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1500 sq ft, and a quick 5-10 minute drive on Embarcadero over to the 101. A trust sale home and not particularly updated — but well-staged, per Leannah’s custom — this home awaits the next generation of Palo Altan home owners.

1045 Newell Rd Palo Alto CA 943031045 Newell Rd Palo Alto CA 943031045 Newell Rd Palo Alto CA 943031045 Newell Rd Palo Alto CA 94303

Then it was across Embarcadero and Oregon over to South Palo Alto to see another Coldwell Banker listing — this one from Robert Lane — at 2898 Louis Road. “This one has charm,” says the listing, and it would be hard to argue with that. It has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths squeezed into just under 1000 sq ft, so the next owner will most likely want to expand — but since it’s a corner lot, the only way to do so and still keep in line with Palo Alto’s setback laws may be to go into the side yard.

2898 Louis Rd, Palo Alto, CA 943032898 Louis Rd, Palo Alto, CA 943032898 Louis Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303

Just south of this Louis Road listing was 770 Allen Ct, a fixer upper and proud of it. The listing agent, Steve Greenbaum from Keller Williams (another technophile like myself!) explained that a contractor actually lived in the property in its current condition — something I’m not sure I could have done even in my Peace Corps days — but simply didn’t finish the project. The bones of the home look good, and the yard is large, though in need of some TLC. An old fashioned pot-bellied stove in one of the rooms awaits the new owner.

770 Allen Ct Palo Alto CA 94303770 Allen Ct Palo Alto CA 94303770 Allen Ct Palo Alto CA 94303770 Allen Ct Palo Alto CA 94303770 Allen Ct Palo Alto CA 94303770 Allen Ct Palo Alto CA 94303770 Allen Ct Palo Alto CA 94303770 Allen Ct Palo Alto CA 94303

Then there’s the fire-engine red Eichler at 3924 Louis. Nancy Goldcamp (Coldwell Banker again — what’s with this? Did Alain Pinel go out of business?) brings us this $1.175M 3/2 1900 sq ft, adorned with a great kitchen, and with all the light you would expect from an Eichler. Great staging, though tragically not done by my friend Ann O’Connell. Oh well, we’ll give her a few more years to completely corner the market.

3924 Louis Road, Palo Alto CA3924 Louis Road, Palo Alto CA3924 Louis Road, Palo Alto CA3924 Louis Road, Palo Alto CA

Rounding out my tour today was another small property begging for a facelift or perhaps even a complete organ transplant. 3176 Emerson is, as the listing agent Richard Cottrell himself describes it in the MLS, a real fixer upper on a terrific lot in a great neighborhood. Folks living outside of this fantasy land we call the Bay Area may be shocked that a fixer-upper — and an 840 sq ft one at that — is not only on the market at $935,000, but will in fact probably sell with multiple offers, well above that price.

3176 Emerson Palo Alto3176 Emerson Palo Alto3176 Emerson Palo Alto3176 Emerson Palo Alto3176 Emerson Palo Alto

Tags: , , , Eichler, Green Gables, Leannah Hunt, Midtown, Nancy Goldcamp, , , , South Palo Alto

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Tags: 94303 · 94306 · Consumer · Eichler · Green Gables · Leannah Hunt · Midtown · Nancy Goldcamp · Palo Alto · Property reviews · Real estate · South Palo Alto

Fair Oaks, the Bastard Stepchild of Menlo Park? Not so Fast There!

March 20th, 2007 · No Comments

On today’s broker tour list were a few properties in Fair Oaks, sometimes considered the bastard stepchild of Menlo Park.  Fair Oaks residents naturally bristle at the description, brought about by the harsh reality of being a) unincorporated and, more importantly b) in a poor school district.  Menlo Park-ians (and their southward Palo Alto-an neighbors) are nothing if not school-obsessed.  Throw in streets that might politely be called “rustic”, generally small lots, and starter homes, and the image is complete.

You generally know what to expect when you see a Fair Oaks home:  a small, but generally cute and nicely done up place.  Nothing exciting, but certainly nothing shabby either.

As a sign of the neighborhood’s attempt to catch up with the rest of the city, I present two properties that were on tour today.

Picture of 657 10th Ave Menlo Park CA, a home for sale in the Fair Oaks neighborhoodFirst up was 657 10th Avenue, a Natalie Comartin (Coldwell Banker) listing.  Priced at just a whisker under $1.2M, the home looks respectable from the outside…but upon entering you have to stop and take a breath.  “Am I still in Fair Oaks?  Did I take a wrong turn and somehow end up in a small Atherton home?”  Its columned entrance leads in to an elegant tall ceiling, painted a bold but pleasing red, with shining-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life hardwood floors.  Even more striking is the high-ceilinged living room, with a fireplace and a skylight that gives the room a proper sun-drenching.  With 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2320 sq ft, and a lot size just over 6700 sq ft, this same home in Menlo Park proper would set you back an extra $250K — at least — money that would buy years of private education.
Picture of 657 10th Ave Menlo Park CA, a home for sale in the Fair Oaks neighborhoodPicture of 657 10th Ave Menlo Park CA, a home for sale in the Fair Oaks neighborhood
Pictures of another home for sale: 433 8th Ave, Menlo Park CANext up was Vincent Armando’s listing 433 8th Ave, a 3/2 with 1770 sq ft and a 5300 sq ft lot — standard in Fair Oaks.  The home was on the market last year during the doldrums and didn’t sell; the owner should have better luck this time.  Though quite modest from the outside, the inside was again a different story, with hardwood floors that may well have been done by the same craftsman as 657 10th.  Most surprising was the small pool in the back yard — a rarity in Fair Oaks — which unfortunately left not much of a back yard.

Pictures of another home for sale: 433 8th Ave, Menlo Park CA433-8th-ave-menlo-park-ca-picture-3-custom.jpgPictures of another home for sale: 433 8th Ave, Menlo Park CA

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Tags: Consumer · Fair Oaks · Home reviews · Menlo Park · Property reviews · Real estate

Lingering Appeal

March 12th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Friday tour in Palo Alto wasn’t necessarily a big tour numbers wise (seems sellers aren’t moving or they’re still waiting to put their houses on the market) but it was a tour in which I felt like I wanted to linger.

293-bryant-street-pic-2.jpgFirst I wanted to linger at 293 Bryant Street ($839,000), a sophisticated 2Bedrm/2.5Bth Townhouse I knew was perfect for my traveling client. Freshly painted with an open floor plan – perfect for both everyday living and entertaining – this unit has an updated gourmet kitchen, fireplace and patio lined with mature trees and a beautiful camellia. It definitely felt like the Townhouse for “jet set lifestyle.” Check it out now, cuz it will be gone by Wednesday!

hopkins.jpgThen my touring companion and I moved on to 1319 Hopkins Avenue ($1,695,000) ($1,195,000 — ed; apologies to Ken DeLeon, the listing agent), a property situated down a long driveway and set next to a charming two story unit with two one bedrooms. I remember when this property went on tour last fall. It felt like an artist’s enclave to me. “Who,” I thought, “wouldn’t want to live here.” The home, over 1300 sf, has 2 bedrooms and 2 full updated bathrooms. The dining area overlooks the courtyard as does the gourmet kitchen with two windows that open out onto a bar perfect for spring, summer and fall yard parties. With hardwood floors throughout, the elegant living room has a fireplace for cozy gatherings. This house feels like a place where creative types and intellectuals might gather for wine tastings and dinners with delectable delights. Sadly we had to press on.

webster-2.jpgBut gladly we arrived at a stunning Villa situated on 2061 Webster Street ($4,295,000). Pack my bags, I’m movin in. The colors… the flow of the floor plan. Oh my God! Standing in the entry way I slowing turned 360 degrees, imaging how the architect had imagined lines folding into lines.webster.jpg From the attention to detail from the curve of the staircase to the view from the tub in the master bedroom to the au pairs bedroom window in the basement, which looked out onto a square courtyard. No need to travel if you lived in this house.

santa-rita-2.jpgOnward! We arrived at 514 Santa Rita Avenue ($2,295,000) – a meticulously maintained English Tudor home where care has been taken to preserve its original character. Memories… this house is all about creating memories and one’s own fairytales. I could barely make myself leave the upstairs with its three charming bedrooms and 2 baths. The front bedroom’s windows were opened out onto the front lawn and as I stood there, I imaged myself as the teenager of the house being courted by some handsome Romeo… And the bathroom with its tub – long enough for someone of my 5’11 stature to luxuriate in while looking up and out through the window framed by a tree and the rooftop next door, which at night might be covered with starlight.

barron.jpgAlthough not our final visit, the tour ended for me at 776 Barron Avenue ($1,495,000). Make an offer quick. Gone by Wednesday as well I’m sure. This 4 bedroom 2 bath home has wonderful interior and exterior lines for instant curb appeal. While there, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to stand in the remodeled gourmet kitchen, which opened into the family room and looked out through French doors to the pool and yard. Or should I stand in the master bedroom, which felt like I was away on vacation in France somewhere. Double French doors open out onto a secluded courtyard and I imagined myself sipping my Sunday morning coffee of Graffeo and ambling through the New York Times in a comfy bathrobe and slippers.

Since Friday’s tour I’ve pondered: what makes one want to linger – to remain or stay (as it is stated in the dictionary) on in a place, as if from reluctance to leave? I think it’s in part because homes have their own souls and essence. After all, they were made by people for people and it’s wonderful to walk into a home where I can feel the thought that has gone into creating good and peaceful energy. And to see the care that has been taken with the angles, color and design. You know when someone has loved their home; taken great care while they have dwelled there. And you can feel when an owner has made every effort to present their home in a way that will attract the next person who wants to take up residence. So here’s the thing with lingering; when putting your house on the market, don’t forget to consider Lingering Appeal.

Note: Images courtesy of mlslistings.com

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Tags: Home reviews · Ken DeLeon · Local information · Palo Alto · Property reviews · Real estate

Today’s Palo Alto homes review: Bait ‘n Switch, Bad Staging, Unresponsive Contractors, and Other Rants

March 2nd, 2007 · 2 Comments

Normally I take care of my daily frustrations through a vigorous workout at 24-hr fitness, but this time I thought I’d let my blog take the brunt of it.

You see, I spent a good part of this morning touring the new crop of properties available in Palo Alto (all of which will likely sell in a flash, with multiple offers, well above list price). You’d think that if I and dozens of my colleagues are going to take the time to go see what’s out there, the listing agents and sellers would give us something good to look at!

Alas, one of the first properties I went to, 797 Mayview in Palo Alto, was a “bait ‘n switch.” Looked good on paper, perhaps was good in reality…but the listing agent and her lockbox were AWOL, and the street sign said, “Don’t disturb.” Ok…you’re gonna put a property on the MLS, you’re gonna post the tour date…and then you’re gonna make the property inaccessible? Grrrr…. It was a shame, too, since this one has some potential: a large lot — big enough for two homes, in fact — and a great location with easy access to highway 101.

At least three properties were clearly competing for the Solstice Staging “Yikes, get these sellers a stager!” award. See for yourself the photos of this property:

Another example of bad stagingAnother example of bad stagingAnother example of bad staging

For the other two, the listing agent (wisely, I think) chose not to post shots of the interior, and by a stroke of luck for the sellers, I had forgotten my camera.

Thankfully all was not lost, however. 281 Parkside (Charlene Geers of Coldwell Banker) and 1103 Stanford (Judy Levin and Lisa Blair, Alain Pinel Realtors) were both delightful, and well-presented to boot. The first is a bright, upgraded Eichler, adorned with skylights, and richly landscaped. The second is small and cozy, done up to the 9’s, but unfortunately garage-less since it was converted into an additional living space.

281 Parkside…

281 Parkside, Palo Alto CA -- a delightful contemporary Eichler281 Parkside, Palo Alto CA -- a delightful contemporary Eichler

and 1103 Stanford

1103 Stanford, Palo Alto CA 94306 -- Small, cute, and very tastefully done up1103 Stanford, Palo Alto CA 94306 -- Small, cute, and very tastefully done up

And now, back to my rant…

Will somebody please teach these guys how to answer a phone? Palo Alto Concrete is a local, well-respected construction company with a reputation for good work. Alas, neither I nor my clients will have a chance to test that bit of their reputation. You see, we asked them for a quote for some foundation work about, oh, 2 months ago. Took them nearly one month, plus innumerable phone calls to every number I had available for them, before we got the quote. Then it took another month to retrieve the plans they had borrowed — again, only after numerous phone calls. Guys, you might be busy, you might not have really even been interested in getting the gig…but at least GIVE ME A CALL DAMMIT!

There, I feel much better now.

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Tags: 94303 · 94306 · Contractors · Open houses · Palo Alto · Property reviews · Real estate

Today’s Palo Alto and Menlo Park Properties: A Guard Tower to Ward off Marauding Athertonians

February 16th, 2007 · No Comments

What better way to spend a balmy, sunny, spring day than viewing the new crop of homesInventory of homes for sale in Palo Alto, CA to hit the market in Palo Alto? Come along for the ride as we explore the inventory, which, per our friends at Altos Research, is still tight, but improving.

First up was a stray Menlo Park property — “stray” because Menlo Park properties are normally on broker tour on Tuesdays, not Fridays — namely, 1026 Menlo Oaks in the Menlo Oaks/Flood Park neighborhood of Menlo Park. A retired fireman’s residence, this classic old 3/2 home sits on a 9000 sq ft lot, a size more commonly found south of Bay Road than north of it. The listing agent, Jeanne Wangsness of Coldwell Banker, has it listed at $1,047,000, and in this market it’s anybody’s guess what the winning bid will be, despite how close it is to the charming sounds of highway 101. Look at it this way: you’re paying $100,000 for the home, another $2000 for the quaint (but gas-burning) stove, and $945000 for the land.

1026 Menlo Oaks, Menlo Park, CA 940251026 Menlo Oaks, Menlo Park, CA 940251026 Menlo Oaks, Menlo Park, CA 94025

From there it was on to Palo Alto and 2297 St. Francis, listed by local Coldwell Banker superstar Brendan Leary. Tragically close to highway 101 and Embarcadero — and priced accordingly at $925,000 — is a definite candidate for the cute award, with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and 1120 square feet. Detracting from its charm, however, is a somewhat unkempt back yard.

2295 St Francis Drive Palo Alto CA 943032295 St Francis Drive Palo Alto CA 94303

After popping by Intero Real Estate’s Lana Raltson’s listing at 290 Iris Way in Palo Alto, I mosied on over to see fellow Alain Pinel-er Arti Miglani’s listing at 3055 Stelling. Showing my softer side, I took time to coo over an adorable little 8-month baby whose mother was busy looking over the property. Listed at just under $1.2M, this 3/2 Eichler home has been well-looked after and nicely remodelled, maintaining some of the original charm. Typical of this style home, there is a partial wall separating the kitchen from the living area, but the kitchen has been redone with tasteful tiles, cabinetry, and appliances, and is well lit from both the large windows and door leading outside and the track lighting. Arti had thoughtfully provided a coffee cart service — a wonderful way to keep Realtors lingering longer at the property.

3055 Stelling Palo Alto 943033055 Stelling Palo Alto 943033055 Stelling Palo Alto 943033055 Stelling Palo Alto 94303

Then it was two quick stops at 3934 Nelson (Pat Miller, Alain Pinel) and 2590 Bryant (Tim Anderson, also Alain Pinel) — the latter a small home on a big yard, whose nearly-certain fate is to be torn down and built into a McMansion like the one currently being built 2 houses down.

Today’s pièce de résistance was definitely the last property I saw: 345 Lincoln Ave, a grand century-old Professorville home listed by the Carol/Rosemary/Nicole team (again — Alain Pinel!) For just under $5M, you get a 21000 sq ft lot (pretty rare in Palo Alto), an elegant 4000+ sq ft home, 6 (or more) bedrooms, two stories plus an attic — and thought I can’t speak for the listing agents, they would probably be happy to throw in a GPS so you can find your way around. The nicest touch of this property was undoubtedly the “guard tower” perched above the back of the house, extending up to a four-story house, surrounded by a wall of glass. A perfect place for a sundowner or a late afternoon nap, one imagines this tower would have been perfect for spying on those marauding Athertonians in the old days before peace broke out between the two neighboring towns.

345 Lincoln Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Curious about the route I took? I didn’t think so…but here it is anyways.


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Tags: Alain Pinel Realtors · Brendan Leary · Coldwell Banker · Flood Park · Intero Real Estate · Menlo Oaks · Menlo Park · Palo Alto · Professorville · Property reviews · Real estate

Today’s Palo Alto Real Estate Gems

February 9th, 2007 · 4 Comments

Undeterred by the light rain — and well-protected by bright yellow rain gear — I ventured out to sample a pick of today’s properties.
First up was a listing from the local real estate triumvirate of Carol, Rosemary, and Nicole of Alain Pinel at 1428 Hamilton Ave.  The home’s ranch-style exterior gives an undeserved first impression of blandness, an impression completely undone once you see the inside.  The living room, presumably an addition, uses skylights, light paint, recessed lighting, and the natural sunlight coming in from the French doors to give a large, warm, welcome feel.  A little office cottage in the back went unvisited, alas — I had left my shoes at the front door — but I did take the time to check out the basement, an unusual enough feature of Bay Area homes that they always warrant a visit.

1428 Hamilton, Palo Alto1428 Hamilton, Palo Alto1428 Hamilton, Palo Alto

Bob and Lori Ann Wolff of Coldwell Banker’s entree at 1295 Wilson, also in Palo Alto, is one of those classic “they just don’t build ‘em like that any more” Victorians with a 112-year old history.  The inside is as true to form as the outside, with wooden staircases, a charming attic, storage nooks, a jack-and-jill bathroom.  The original owner took a picture of the home in all its Palo Alto farmland glory which has remained with each subsequent owner, and will pass on to the next lucky owner as well.


After seeing a few other properties, my last one was a contemporary listing in downtown Palo Alto by Alan Dunckel (Alain Pinel Realtors).  Situated at 334 Hawthorne and designed by local architect David Solnick it is sleek and well-lit, with all the creature comforts of a contemporary:  recessed lighting, open plan granite-counter kitchen, and snazzy bathroom fixtures.  If you’d like a look, drop by this afternoon (Feb 9, 2007) from 5pm to 7pm for Alan’s cheese and wine soiree.

334 Hawthorne Palo Alto CA334 Hawthorne Palo Alto CA

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Tags: Alain Pinel Realtors · Alan Dunckel · Coldwell Banker · David Solnick · Palo Alto · Property reviews · Real estate

Typewriters and Water Towers — Amazing What You See on Palo Alto Broker Tour

February 2nd, 2007 · 2 Comments

One of the fun traditions in this biz is the “Broker Tour” — explained here by Pat Kitano — in which recently listed properties are made available to the local Realtor community to preview on behalf their clients as well as simply to stay abreast of the market.  It’s also a great opportunity to kibbitz with your fellow Realtors, find out how many offers there were at 123 Main Street, and sample some delicious home-cooked soup made by the more culinary-skilled Realtors.

During a typical tour, most agents will see around a dozen properties; the more ambitious and well-organized ones might see as many as 25 to 30.  I had to cut my tour short today because of a meeting but nonetheless managed to see some interesting things.

First on my list was 1068 University Ave, Palo Alto, listed by Mary Gullixson of Alain Pinel, Menlo Park.  At a tidy $3.5M, this property is nonetheless at the lower end of Mary’s current inventory, which includes some 8-figure listings; it’s not hard to see why she was the #2 agent nationwide with over $200M in transactions.  But back to the house itself, which was as elegant as it was grandly appointed…


The home was built in the 1920’s, and I’m sure there’s a magnificent story behind the original owners.  It’s got that old classic hardwood floor feel to it, with updated touches like a modern kitchen.  Though right on tony University Ave, it boasts a 17000 sq ft lot, with the two-story Mediterranean-style home squarely in the middle.  You don’t get many back yards this size in Palo Alto!


Next on my list was 957 Channing, also in Palo Alto, but the similarities ended there.  I’m not one to throw around the word “cute” lightly, but this one definitely deserved the title.  An ideal starter home for a single person or a couple with no kids, this property’s lot size was only slightly bigger than the home on University!  Weighing in at 810 square feet with one bedroom and one bathroom, co-listing agent Greg Stange informed me that he already had an offer in hand, and with the market going as it is now, that doesn’t surprise me.


On the driveway leading up to Channing, there’s an old water tower:


Later in the tour I visited Kirsten McLeod’s listing at 200 Lowell Ave, still in Palo Alto, another old, elegant home on a large lot.  Thankfully for the architecture and history of this area, neither this home nor the one on University are likely to be chopped up and subdivided, thanks to an abundance of both wealth and strict zoning laws.

The typewriter?  Oh yes — that was in the office cottage in the back yard.  I have a fond memory of those things.  This particular model is electric, but one of the reasons I and my siblings can type a zillion words a minute is that mom taught us to type when we turned 14…with a manual typewriter.  Here it is (the one in the cottage at Lowell, not the one I used growing up!)

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Tags: Mary Gullixson · Palo Alto · Property reviews · Real estate