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The number of California homes that sold for a million dollars or more last year rose to the highest level in six years, and Silicon Valley neighborhoods continue to rank among the highest on the list of these high-end home sales.

A report from real estate information service DataQuick indicates a total of 39,175 California homes sold for a million dollars or more last year, up 45.1 percent from 26,993 in 2012. It was the highest number sold since 42,506 in 2007, according to DataQuick.

Hillsborough, Saratoga, Menlo Park, Cupertino, Los Altos, Woodside and Los Gatos, which are located in the five districts served by members of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR), were on the list of communities with the highest number of million-dollar home sales in the state. Hillsborough had 436 million-dollar home sales last year, with the most expensive home selling for $13.3 million; Saratoga, 332 million-dollar home sales, the most expensive purchased for $12.3 million; Menlo Park, 321 million-dollar home sales, the most expensive purchased for $5.5 million; Cupertino, 317 million-dollar home sales, the most expensive sold for $3.8 million; Los Altos, 267 million-dollar home sales, the most expensive purchased for $14.3 million; Woodside, 273 million-dollar home sales, the most expensive sold for $12 million; and Los Gatos, 243 million-dollar home sales, the most expensive sold for $4.8 million.

David Tonna, president of SILVAR, attributed the rise in high-end home sales in the region to a robust economy and rising home prices. “We are fortunate to have an economy that has made a comeback quickly, thanks to tech companies that are growing, some by leaps and bounds. The high demand for homes and lack of inventory has led to the appreciation of many homes,” explained Tonna.

Statewide, 840 homes sold for more than $5 million last year, an all-time high and up 20.3 percent from the previous high of 698 in 2012. In the $4-$5 million range a record 596 homes sold, up 29.3 percent from 2012. In the $3-$4 million range, a record 1,455 homes sold, up 31.3 percent from 2012. In the $2-$3 million range sales totaled 4,492, a record and up 37.4 percent from 2012. In the $1-$2 million range, 25,352 sold last year, up 42.5 percent from 2012.

The DataQuick report indicated the most expensive confirmed purchase in 2013 was a 15,355-square-foot, 8-bedroom, 14-bathroom beachfront Malibu mansion which sold for $74,500,000. The largest was a 25,447-square-foot, 16-bedroom, 18-bathroom mansion in Indian Wells that sold for $2,250,000.

According to the real estate information service a record 10,602 homes that sold for $1 million or more were bought with cash, up from 7,791 in 2012. Cash was used more frequently the higher up the price scale. Of those who did finance their purchase last year, the median down payment was 30 percent of the purchase price.

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It is expensive to live in the heart of Silicon Valley, but buyer demand for homes, including million-dollar homes, continues to be strong. Real estate information service DataQuick lists the following Silicon Valley communities among the highest ranked areas for million-dollar homes sales in California in the second quarter.

  • Hillsborough topped the list with 134 sales in 2012 Q2, up from 118 in 2011 Q2, with the most expensive home purchased for $5.28 million.
  • Saratoga ranked second with 126 million-dollar homes purchased in 2012 Q2, up from 93 in 2011 Q2, with the most expensive of purchased at $5.35 million.
  • Cupertino ranked fifth (after Manhattan Beach and Newport Beach in Southern California) with 105 million-dollar homes sold in 2012 Q2, up from 88 in 2011 Q2, with the most expensive home purchased for $2.45 million.
  • Los Altos ranked sixth after Cupertino with 102 million-dollar home sales in 2012 Q2. The most expensive home was purchased for $6 million. Los Altos had 81 million-dollar home sales in 2011 Q2.
  • In Los Gatos, the most expensive home purchased cost $4.66 million. There were 67 million-dollar homes purchased in the zip code of 95032, up from 44 in 2011 Q2. In the Los Gatos zip code of 95030, 62 million-dollar homes were purchased last quarter, up from 31 in the second-quarter last year.

Despite the hype over Facebook’s IPO, Menlo Park and Palo Alto made the list, but had fewer million-dollar home sales in second-quarter 2012 than the same time last year, according to DataQuick. Menlo Park had 100 million-dollar homes sold in second-quarter 2012, down from 124 last year, with the most expensive home purchased for $4.8 million. Palo Alto had 62 million-dollar homes sold, down from 69 in 2011 Q2, with the most expensive home purchased for $3.15 million.

Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR) president Suzanne Yost, who is an associate broker with Alain Pinel Realtors in Los Gatos, is not surprised that many of the communities located within SILVAR’s five districts made the list. “Silicon Valley’s economy is healthy compared with other parts of the state because it is the heart of innovation, with many successful tech companies,” said Yost.

Yost added, “Our members have reported a surge of foreign buyers. They are attracted to the region’s weather, diversity, excellent schools, good mix and proximity to shopping, entertainment, the arts and services. We’re not that far from San Francisco, close to the freeways and airports. Buyers know they can’t go wrong and they are willing to pay the price for these amenities.”

SILVAR has five member districts, allowing members to work closely with their communities. They are the Menlo Park/Atherton District (including Portola Valley, Woodside and East Palo Alto), Palo Alto District, Los Altos/Mountain View District (including Los Altos Hills), Cupertino/Sunnyvale District and the Los Gatos/Saratoga District (including Monte Sereno).

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.

There’s an optimism in the air. It’s quite evident in attendance at the different SILVAR district meetings. It’s also evident in the attitudes and points of view of the various speakers at each of SILVAR’s districts.

Left to right: Chris Trapani (Sereno Group), John Thompson (Intero Real Estate), Bill Lewis (Alain Pinel Realtors) and Fred Hibbert (Coldwell Banker)

The first 2011 Los Altos/Mountain View District tour meeting took place last Friday with a good attendance and a broker/manager panel, which included Chris Trapani (Sereno Group), John Thompson (Intero Real Estate), Bill Lewis (Alain Pinel Realtors) and Fred Hibbert (Coldwell Banker). 2011 District Chair Denise Welsh, who served as moderator, asked the brokers to share their greatest challenges, advice to agents for positioning buyers (and sellers) in 2011, and valuable traits they look for in an agent.

For Fred Hibbert, the greatest challenge is managing expectations of buyers and sellers.

Bill Lewis said it’s staying on top of the market. “Success is preparation and opportunity. You need to know the market,” he stressed.

John Thompson said knowledge and skills in the industry are important. An agent needs to be objective and focus on what he/she should improve.

Chris Trapani said it’s important for him as a manager to see growth in his office. His goal is to have his agents succeed. He especially wants to coach agents who have not yet experienced levels of success and guide them to a place of stability.

What is the panel’s advice to agents for 2011? Hibbert advised agents to study the information, be knowledgeable about the market, and know the stats.

“Stats are important and talking points are important,” confirmed Lewis. Armed with this knowledge, Lewis said agents can discuss real estate and show their knowledge to everyone, even while waiting in line in the supermarket.

“Have patience,” Lewis added. “You have to understand your clients and help your clients understand the market and manage their expectations.”

Thompson said there’s no excuse for agents to be operating without stats. Agents have access to the data and need to be able to explain the short and long-term impact on value in the different neighborhoods.

As for valuable traits the managers look for in an agent, Trapani said he looks at the agent’s track record, and most of all, he looks for a “culture fit” in his company.

Thompson looks for intangibles, especially personality. “If a person knows what they want to get out of this business, I can help them with a business plan. They have to know what they want,” Thompson stressed.

Lewis looks for a high level of honesty, integrity and fair dealing in an agent. It’s his foundation to building a culture in the office. The agent would need to get along with others in the office.

Hibbert wants the agent to have a game plan and goals.

A red flag to these managers is when the agent immediately wants to know what the deal is, and does not express much interest in the company’s philosophy.

The brokers are very optimistic about 2011. Enjoy the ride, be prepared, focus on what you want, but you have to work. Get out there, get the inventory, get the listings, they said.

“Housing affordability has never been better, but the high unemployment rate, slow job growth and difficulty in obtaining credit, especially for high-cost homes, continue to be stumbling blocks to a complete housing recovery,” according to Jeff Bell, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®.

Uneven Recovery, but Sales Clearly “Off Bottom”
The National Association of REALTORS® reports today that sales of existing homes in October declined 2.2 percent to a 4.43 million annual rate from 4.53 million in September. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $170,500, down 0.9 percent from October 2009.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said the recent sales pattern can be expected to continue, but he believes sales will steadily improve to healthier levels of above 5 million by spring of next year. “The housing market is experiencing an uneven recovery, and a temporary foreclosure stoppage in some states is likely to have held back a number of completed sales. Still, sales activity is clearly off the bottom and is attempting to settle into normal sustainable levels,” he said.

Overly tight credit is making it difficult for some creditworthy borrowers to qualify for a mortgage. “A return to common sense loan underwriting standards would go a long way toward achieving responsible, sustainable homeownership,” said NAR President Ron Phipps.

Home Builder Confidence Up, but Obtaining Credit Is a Problem
Home builders are also complaining that tight credit is getting in their way. Nationwide housing starts declined 11.7 percent to an annual rate of 519,000 units in October. Despite the decline, the National Association of Home Builders reports builder confidence is up slightly, as builders are starting to report some improvement in buyer demand and quality of buyer traffic.

“The great concern is that this positive momentum will be stifled due to builders’ inability to obtain financing for new construction at a time when inventories of completed new homes are very thin,” NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said in a press release.

In addition to tight credit, worry continues about the high unemployment rate, slow job growth and looming shadow inventory. Distressed homes accounted for 34 percent of sales in October, according to NAR. There’s also the threat of foreclosures mounting as a growing amount of homeowners remain out of work and those who have borrowed against their equity default on their mortgage.

GDP Growth Better Than Anticipated
On the upside, the Commerce Department reports the economy grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate in the third quarter, more than previously calculated, due to increased shipments abroad and business spending for equipment and software.

Santa Clara County October Median Up Slightly
Although October home sales fell, Santa Clara County saw a slight year-over-year gain in its October median home price. According to a California Association of REALTORS® report released today, the October median price for a single-family home in Santa Clara County was $637,750, was up 8 percent from the same time a year ago. October sales of single-family detached homes in the county were down 24 percent from October 2009, when the first-time home buyer credits was available.

C.A.R. reports DataQuick statistics, which are based on county records data rather than MLS information, ranked the Silicon Valley cities of Los Altos, Palo Alto, Cupertino and Los Gatos among the top 10 cities with the highest median home prices in California during October 2010. The October median home price in Los Altos was $1,700,000; Palo Alto, $1,050,000; Cupertino, $1,022,500; and Los Gatos, $1,000,000.

In an effort to be in compliance with federal case law and to have an enforceable sign ordinance, the Los Altos City Council unanimously approved two new sign ordinances this week. The ordinances dealing with signs on private and public property will be enforced starting December 30. A final version of the ordinances will be released shortly, but here’s a view of the draft ordinances.

There are changes included in the new ordinances that impact REALTORS®. The biggest change is when it will be permissible to place an open house sign on public property. These amendments were necessary to ensure that the sign rules had reasonable time and place restrictions for open house signs to prevent a legal challenge similar to what occurred in Menlo Park and led to a citywide ban of all signs on public property.

Here is a brief overview of the new rules for real estate and open house signs for Los Altos:

Residential on-site signs:
• One non-illuminated for sale sign allowed per property.
• For sale sign can be no taller than six feet in height and the sign face no larger than four square feet.
• Up to 12 square feet of real estate signage is allowed per property, which allows for both an A-frame open house sign and a for sale sign to be placed on private property at the same time.
• There are no day or time restrictions for real estate signs on private property.

Residential off-site open house signs:
• Size: A-frame signs no larger than four square feet per face, plus two riders, can be no taller than 32 inches.
• Location: Only on sidewalks where it does not obstruct pedestrian or bicycle access, cannot be placed on any medians or on the expressway right-of-way.
• Number per intersection: A single open house can only have one sign per intersection.
• Time restrictions: Signs will only be permitted during the following days and times:
o Friday: 9 AM-1:30 PM
o Saturday, Sunday and Holidays: 11:30 AM – 6 PM

A final version of the ordinance will be distributed to members once it is available.

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