Moving to Marin? What can you afford to buy?

If you are considering moving to Marin County, trying to get a feel for what you can afford to buy in the different neighborhoods can be daunting, especially with some of Marin’s steep price tags. Fortunately, not every home in Marin is a multi-million dollar luxury home.

So what can you buy in Marin?

Mill Valley

Many first time home buyers moving from San Francisco start their home search in Mill Valley. It’s charming, close to the bridge, and has a lively downtown area.  Its proximity to the city also comes with a much steeper price tag then some of its counterparts.  The median list price in Mill Valley is $1,140,346.

Fortunately, not every Mill Valley home is over a million dollars.  Here are a few Mill Valley homes listed for sale under one million:

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View all Mill Valley Homes for Sale

San Anselmo

The town of San Anselmo is also known for it’s charming downtown area, proliferation of antique shops, and its proximity to hiking, biking and all of Marin’s fantastic scenery.  The commute times in San Anselmo are longer, but your house money will go a lot further as evidenced by the chart below.

Here are a few San Anselmo homes listed for sale under one million:

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View all San Anselmo Homes for Sale

San Rafael

Moving on to San Rafael, the county seat of Marin, we also see more affordable homes with a median list price of $702,045.

Here are a few San Rafael homes listed for sale under one million:

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View all San Rafael Homes for Sale

Learn More

These are just three of Marin’s cities. If you are interested in moving to Marin, please contact us to get a more in-depth look at where you can afford to buy.

If you are interested in learning more about Marin County price trends, supply and demand and leading indicators, check out our weekly Marin Market Trends Report By City.

“Fix” Your Loan & Cash In To Your Mortgage?

The new trend in mortgages appears to be “fixing” your loan – moving from adjustable rate mortgages to fixed rate loans.

Mortgage broker Dan Green, Author of The Mortgage Reports Blog says:

Between June-September 2010, Refi Boom participants “went fixed” 19 times out of 20.

That’s an astounding percentage. For several reasons, really.

The first is that the interest rate spread between the 5-year ARM and the 30-year fixed was historically large last quarter, registering 0.81% on average. By comparison, during the 12 months prior, the spread was just 0.66%.

Relative to recent history, therefore, homeowners had a large incentive to take the ARM last quarter, but chose not to.

Here is an interesting chart from Dan:

Image Courtesy of The Mortgage Reports Blog

My  friend and fellow real estate agent in Northern Virginia wrote about it on her blog, “Getting Off the Horse Before She Bucks You.”

Heather says:

The other interesting thing from the third quarter numbers is that 33% of homeowners who refinanced brought money to the table to do a “cash-in” refinance, and effectively bought more equity in their homes. That’s the second highest “cash-in” quarter since Freddie Mac began keeping records in 1985.

So, people are actually putting money into their homes.  They are looking for stability.  And, there is seems that would show some confidence in the real estate market long term.  These actions seem to echo the new study by Trulia and RealtyTrac which found that 58% of Americans believe the real estate market will recover after 2012.

Oddly enough, the study also showed 48% of people would be willing to walk away from their homes if they were under water, up from 41% in years past.  There is less of a stigma against those who choose to walk away because it makes financial sense.

So are home buyers looking at the home buying process as more of a business decision than in the past?  Not necessarily, because their desire for certainty does not necessarily make financial sense.  Perhaps what we are seeing is damage mitigation – a cutting of losses from past mistakes with a desire to avert risks in the future.

Regardless, it looks like there is a glimmer of optimism among Americans about the future of the real estate market.

Marin Market Update Part 2 – Now for the Nitty Gritty

While it’s interesting to look at trends in the county overall, you get a much more useful picture when you get more specific about just exactly what sort of property you’re talking about. Continuing with some more market stats, we can see there continues to be a dramatic disparity between areas and price segments in Marin County.

Here’s a look at the percentages of Marin properties that entered escrow the last two months by city/town. Convention says these percentages determine the state of the market in that segment, for example 10% or below is considered a strong buyer’s market, while 31%-35% represents a balanced market. Those designations are somewhat arbitrary, but they are useful. Towns like Corte Madera, Fairfax, and Greenbrae remain relatively active, with the supply of homes and demand from buyers somewhat balanced, while buyers in Belvedere and Kentfield are in a much stronger bargaining position since there is so much inventory compared to the number of sales happening.

And here’s a look at activity by price range, where we continue to see a big difference between the entry level segment and higher end luxury homes. For example, only 1 of the 48  listings priced at $5,000,000 or more went into escrow in October, while more than a third of those listed at $500,000 or below found buyers. This is why there has been some stability in prices in the lower ranges, while luxury properties continue to take a hit.

These stats bear out what we’re experiencing anecdotally in the lower price segments. Accurately priced, well prepared homes in desirable areas are selling, and the inventory is drying up as we head into the holidays. This may be a tough time to sell that $8,000,000 mansion in Belvedere, but maybe not such a bad time to sell a charming $800,000 home in San Anselmo or Fairfax.

Marin Market Update

With the holiday season approaching it’s a good time to take a look at what’s happening with the housing market in Marin County.

It was a pretty slow summer, but as you’ll see in the chart below there was a nice uptick in homes entering escrow in October, the most new pendings since the little run of activity that peaked in April. Inventory is ticking down and we would expect it to drop off dramatically in November and bottom out in December as it typically does as homes sell without being replaced by new inventory and sellers pull their properties off the market for the Holidays.

We saw a bit of a glut of inventory overall through the summer, but as you can see from this chart of months supply based on pending sales, supply and demand are closing. And this fits with what we’re seeing, as there have been few homes coming on the market the last several weeks, while buyers are still buying. Inventory could get pretty slim over the winter, which could be a good argument for sellers to buck the conventional wisdom that says you should wait for spring to bring your home on. A desirable, well-priced home can attract a lot of attention in a period with very little competition.

And here’s a look at price in dollars per square foot. I’ve limited it to homes under $3 million, since higher end luxury properties tend to skew the numbers and have been more volatile.

As you can see, Marin residential properties (under $3 million) on average have been bouncing along between about $400 and $440 per square foot for a while now. In fact if we look at a five year graph you can see the big drop in 2008, but then relative stability over the last two years.

Marin & California Housing Market Forecast

2011 Housing Forecast *Mildly* Optimistic

The California Association of REALTORS® released its housing forecast for 2011 earlier this week. As we expected, predictions show very mild improvement overall.

“A lean supply of available homes for sale will drive prices up at the low end, but larger inventories and limited, less attractive financing will cause continued softness at the high end. There’s some indication that lenders will accelerate the number of foreclosures coming on market, further adding to the housing supply, but we do not anticipate that lenders will flood the market with distressed properties,” said Leslie Appleton-Young, CAR’s Chief Economist.

We anticipate that recovery to be very location and price specific in Marin. In September 2010, the number of Marin homes on the market was up 16.6% over September 2009, while sales were down 11.6%. Sales were down almost 15% from the same time period two years ago.

All County Marin County Sales

As we drill down into price ranges you can see the numbers shift pretty dramatically, as we look at homes sold under one million dollars versus above one million.

Marin County Home Sales Under One Million

Marin County Home Sales Over One Million

We don’t expect to see a major shift in these trends as we head into 2011. Homes under one million continue to move as buyers move in to the county, taking advantage of low interest rates. Many homeowners who would traditionally move up to larger houses are staying put. We are starting to see more pre-foreclosures in the upper end, and expect more in 2011. CAR’s predictions are in line with what we expect–sluggish prices and more options in the upper end with continued movement in the lower price ranges.

What does this mean for home sellers? Well, that depends! We hate to say that, but it really does depend on your area, home condition, and how you price it.  We are still seeing the occasional multiple offer situation. Home buyers are picky and expect homes to be in prime condition unless they are a foreclosure situation. Proper preparation and pricing are crucial.

What does this mean for home buyers? Historically low interest rates and low home prices can make it a great time to buy for people with the means to do so, especially those buying for the long term. And for the first time in many years we’re seeing some possible “deals” where numbers actually make sense for investors to buy in Marin.

Considering making a move? Contact us to discuss the best options for you.

Time to invest in Marin Real Estate?

If you are unable to see the video above, please click here

According to the the National Association of Realtors®, “distressed homes” represented nearly 2 of every fifth home sold in January 2010.  Clearly, real estate investors in Marin County and around the country are taking advantage of good deals on inexpensive property.  But there’s risk involved.

This NBC Today Show interview first ran in March 2009, featuring real estate expert Barbara Corcoran. Despite its age, the message remains relevant. Today may be a terrific time to buy a bank-owned home — just make sure you do your research first.  There’s plenty of ways for investors to get burned.

Some of the tips in the video include:

  • Buy in your own backyard
  • Start small, then build to a bigger portfolio
  • Watch receipts — rent rolls don’t matter if tenants aren’t paying rent

Corcoran also gives pointers on how to evaluate a prospective tenant.

Foreclosures may represent a significant number of 2010’s total Marin County home sales and will offer interesting opportunities to bona fide real estate investors.

Remember, the stats and the data are from 12 months ago, but the advice stays meaningful.

California Real Estate/Economic Forecasts

In this video, California Association of REALTORS economist Leslie Appleton Young speaks to agents but it is good information for everyone.  A couple of takeaways:

  • Median home price in California has plummeted because of foreclosures.
  • The California real estate market bottomed in 2007.  Sales have increased dramatically in the last two years.
  • The dollar volume of sales will have bottomed this year.  It will be flat in 2010.
  • Statewide numbers aren’t as important as local data (Follow my Marin market statistics!)
  • If the government does not put more policies in place to put people to work and fuel job growth, the recession will go on for quite some time.

If you are unable to see the video, please click here

Interested in Marin market data? Sign up to receive very detailed real-time market reports in your email. Learn about Marin County price trends, supply and demand, leading indicators and more.  Download a sample report.

Marin County April Closed Sale Statistics



Marin County Homes Sales Statistics, April 2009

Marin County Home Sales Apr 08 Apr 09 % Change
For Sale 833 900 8%
Sold 141 104 -26.2%
Pending 142 141 -0.7%

*Marin County Single Family Residential Home Sales

Are you a Marin real estate junkie? Sign up to receive very detailed real-time market reports in your email. Just register and let me know which neighborhoods you are interested in. Download a sample report.

*Report published May. 2009, based on data available at the end of Apr. 2009. Data provided by Bay Area Real Estate Information Services, Inc. Neither the Associations nor their MLSs guarantee or are in anyway responsible for their accuracy. Data maintained by the Associations or their MLSs may not reflect all real estate activities in the market. Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

A Gloomy Moment in History

This is reprinted with permission from an email sent to my company, Alain Pinel, by Alain Pinel Owner/CEO Paul Hulme

Did you read the editorial in yesterday’s paper?


It is a gloomy moment in history. Not in the lifetime of any man who reads his paper has there been so much grave and deep apprehension; never has the future seemed so dark and incalculable.

In France, the political cauldron seethes and bubbles with uncertainty. 

England and the English Empire is being sorely tried and exhausted in a social and economic struggle, with turmoil at home and uprising of her teeming millions in her far-flung Indian Empire.

The United States is beset with racial, industrial and commercial chaos – drifting, we know not where.

Russia hangs like a storm cloud on the horizon of Europe – dark and silent.

It is a solemn moment, and no man can feel indifference, which happily no man pretends to feel in the issue of events. 

Of our own troubles, no man can see the end………..

This editorial sounds pretty gloomy, doesn’t it? The writer evidently was weighted down by present problems and quite ready to sell our Nation short.  Did I say “present problems”?  Excuse me, please.  No, far from it.  This editorial appeared before 9/11, Vietnam, before the Korean conflict, before World War II, before the Depression of 1929, before the First World War in 1914, before the Panic of 1891, before the Civil War in 1865.

It was an editorial in Harper’s Weekly – October 10, 1857. One hundred and fifty-two years ago!  Yes, our country is going through difficult economic times, but hang in there. And remember, “The race goes not always to the swift nor to the strong, but to those who endure to the end.” 

This, too, shall pass.