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At this month’s Palo Alto District tour meeting, Palo Alto brokers said the market environment has greatly improved from a year ago. While inventory is still low, it has been slowly rising.

Keller Williams managing broker Bob Stelzer indicated demand is coming back strong, and there has been a significant rise in listings since April. His data showed Menlo Park with 52 current active listings compared with 26 in April; Palo Alto 51, compared with 29 in April; and Los Altos 45 compared with 24 in April. High-end property sales increased substantially in the first half of this year in comparison to the same time last year.

Sellers are becoming realistic, according to the brokers. Many sellers caught up in the hype of Facebook’s IPO and thinking they would strike gold by waiting for prices to skyrocket, now realize the phenomenon did not create the “super market” they thought it would. These sellers are now ready to sell.

Broker Tim Foy of Midtown Realty, however, believes inventory is low because people are still looking for stability. Despite the uptick, he expects low inventory for a while. “It won’t change overnight. It’s a market reality,” commented Foy.

According to Alain Pinel Realtors broker Bob Gerlach, it’s not the Facebook IPO phenomenon that is driving the market, but rather, it’s interest from Chinese and other foreign buyers. He said majority of transactions through his office are with Chinese cash buyers. Foreign interest in property in the area has created a “dramatic effect” in the market, said Gerlach.

Gerlach indicated an obstacle to the market rebound is a pocket of sellers who can’t sell because they don’t have better places to go. Buyers these days are more selective. “It is a discretionary market,” he noted.

The brokers said listing agents need to make their sellers aware that despite the high demand, not all houses are “entitled” to top market prices because today’s buyers are more informative. There is more discretion now regarding “housing with a blemish,” added Foy.

Joe Han, managing broker for Keller Williams Realty in Cupertino listens to a question before directing it to his company's panel of Asian REALTORS® (left to right) Harvey Young, Mimi Wang, Niru Pujare and Grace Pak.

According to 2010 U.S. Census 2010 data, Asian Americans were the fastest growing ethnic or racial group in California, rising 31.5 percent since 2000. In fact, Cupertino’s proportions of Indian and Chinese Americans are the highest in Santa Clara County. This is why Joe Han, managing broker with Keller Williams Realty in Cupertino, decided to introduce SILVAR members to a panel of Asian American REALTORS® from his office. At a Cupertino/Sunnyvale District tour meeting this month, the panel with Harvey Young, who is Chinese American; Mimi Wang, Vietnamese American; Niru Pujare, Indian; and Grace Pak, Korean American, shared their respective backgrounds, the role their culture plays in business, and practical tips to use when dealing with Asian American clients.

Han explained the Asian culture is probably the most difficult culture to understand because it has many subgroups. While the subgroups share some general traits, they also have their own distinct values and beliefs.

Traits shared by Asians are their sense of courtesy and hospitality. They value social relationships and form them before business relationships. Young said it’s a way of developing trust between business partners. In the Asian culture, trust means everything in business. With Indians trust goes so far that most Indian clients will only work with people they know, so referral is always best, Pujare noted.

Asians are very family-oriented; extended family is considered just as important. When a couple brings many family members to see a house, it is just as important to pay attention to them, especially the elders. It is also common for parents to financially contribute toward the purchase of a home for their children, said Wang. In some instances, the parents will have the final say.

Greeting clients can differ across the Asian subgroups. Pay attention to receiving and presenting business cards. Hand your business card and receive their business card with both hands while facing them. Never write on the business card or place the card in your back pocket.

Chinese Americans shake hands, but Vietnamese and Koreans bow to the elderly and make no eye contact. Pujare said Indian clients from the city may shake a woman’s hand, but if they come from a small town, they are more conservative and will not shake hands with a woman.

Young said when it comes to negotiation and decision making, among Chinese Americans the person making the most money usually makes the decisions. Wang said among the Vietnamese the husband makes the decisions, but the wife and parents have a big impact. Pujare said in the Indian culture the wife chooses the home, but the husband makes final decisions regarding money.

Asians have a strong sense of faith, but are also superstitious and pay attention to numbers, colors, and the principles of Feng Shui. When presenting a gift, a practice in many Asian cultures, do not give knives, a clock or scissors because these items signify death, cautioned Wang. Pak said Koreans will say no when initially presented with a gift, but continue to offer until the client takes it. Also, when dining with clients, Koreans take the lead from the eldest in the group.

Colors do not have the same meaning to all Asians. To the Chinese, the color red means good luck; to Koreans, it means mourning or death. White for most Asians signifies death and is worn at funerals, while black can be worn to weddings. The color purple is not worn to happy events because it is a sign that happiness “won’t last.”

The numbers 3 and 7 are lucky for Koreans and 9 means long life, so pricing an item $99.99 is good, said Pak. Young said the Chinese believe 8 is a lucky number and 4 is an unlucky number because the pronunciations of these numbers sound like words that mean wealth and death, respectively. He said many Chinese avoid the digit 4 in their phone number and home address, so don’t be surprised if they ask you to change a house number or a document that has this page number.

Pujare said Asian Indians don’t attach meaning to colors and numbers, but they are particular about direction. Don’t bother showing Indian clients a house that faces south; if it faces east then that’s all right, she said. Pak said Koreans are amenable to having a living area in the south, but they will not like a home if the stairway is by the bathroom, or if the stove is across from the sink because “fire and water don’t mix.”

See more tips in Han’s presentation “Better Understanding of Asian American Cultures.”

The Cupertino First-time Home Buyer Seminar held last Saturday was well-attended.

The City of Cupertino and SILVAR’s Equal Opportunity Committee partnered to present a First-Time Home Buyer Seminar at the Cupertino Community Hall last Saturday. SILVAR members served as panelists in discussions focusing on credit information and tips for first-time home buyers. A third segment of the seminar was presented by The Housing Trust of Santa Clara County.

Presenting advice on credit, Richard Miller (Proficio Mortgage Ventures), Kenneth Chan (HSBC), and Jimmy Kang (Bank of America) stressed now, more than ever, your FICO score is very important. Miller recommended that potential buyers check their FICO score at least once a year to make sure their credit report is accurate; six credit cards are ideal; and make sure debt on each credit card is no more than 30 percent of the allowed credit. Chan informed international buyers of requirements for buying property here in the U.S. Kang talked about the different loans available for buyers.

A panel of REALTORS® with Chris Alston (Keller Williams Realty), Nina Daruwalla (Coldwell Banker), Grace Keng (Re/Max Real Estate Services), and Moise Nahouraii (Referral Realty) informed prospective home buyers that these days, in addition to having a good credit rating and history, they need to get pre-approved by a lender before they start looking at homes or contacting a real estate professional. They differentiated between a REALTOR® and a real estate agent, stressing REALTORS® pledge to abide by a Code of Ethics. They reminded buyers there is no “perfect home,” but with the help of a REALTOR® who is knowledgeable and employing good negotiating strategies, one can find the best property for the best value and clinch the deal.

Dan Lachman, program manager of The Housing Trust of Santa Clara County, then shared information on programs that provide financial assistance to first-time homebuyers, including the Closing Cost Assistance Program (CCAP), the Mortgage Assistance Program (MAP) and Equity Share Co-Investment (ESCO).

“Almost 80 percent of all home searches today begin on the Internet. With just a few clicks of the mouse, home buyers can search through hundreds of online listings, view virtual tours of neighborhoods and homes,” said Tess, Crescini, chair of SILVAR’s Equal Opportunity Committee. “Many prospective home buyers don’t realize a lot of preparation is needed before their search. We hope we were able to educate them about these important steps, so their home buying experience can be successful.”

Crescini moderated the SILVAR panels, along with Sue Bose, who is also a member of the committee. The weekend seminar was held in observance of Affordable Housing Week. Also represented at the event were credit counselors from SurePath, West Valley Community Services, Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley, Project Sentinel and Habitat for Humanity.

See article and more photos on here.

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