Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween for Kids in Your Neighborhood

Source: Mike Lanza, Playborhood

My neighborhood is either the Disneyland of Halloween or the Ivy League of Halloween for our area (our streets are called Yale, Princeton, Harvard, etc.!). I strongly prefer the latter. I should explain.

We have a reputation for being so fun on Halloween that lots and lots of trick-or-treaters come by who would never pass by our house the rest of the year. We handed out a few hundred treats last night, and we would have handed out a few hundred more if we hadn’t shut down at 8pm.

You “Halloween Tourists” know who you are. Well, I have a message for you:

First, I welcome you, provided you’re respectful to our neighborhood, and provided there aren’t too many of you. Last night was fine on both counts. Thanks for sharing in the joy of our neighborhood.

Halloween is the most outstanding indicator of the quality of life our neighborhood offers our children. Your attendance in our neighborhood last night helps us appreciate what a truly great neighborhood we’ve built with our neighbors.

We don’t charge you admission, nor do we attempt to screen you in any way. However, I’d like to ask you to ask yourselves some hard questions, now that that wonderful night you had in my neighborhood is behind you.

1.Why isn’t your neighborhood sufficiently interesting for you to spend Halloween night there?

2.Why aren’t you working with your neighbors to make Halloween in your neighborhood better for your kids?

3.Do you consider your visit to our neighborhood last night mere Disneyland-like entertainment for you and your kids, or do you consider it to be a learning experience that will help you make your neighborhood and its Halloween better?

4.If you feel like your neighborhood does not have the potential to be a great place for your kids on Halloween night, as well as the rest of the year, do you think you will make this your highest priority the next time you move? If not, why not?

I sincerely hope you came here because you want to learn, not because you want to be entertained. I want our neighborhood to be your Ivy League of Halloween, not your Disneyland.

I want you to soak up everything you can about why our neighborhood works for kids, and then I want you to go home and make your neighborhood better. I want you to spend next Halloween at home with your neighbors, making it a better place for kids.

Or, if you conclude that your neighborhood can never be a great place for kids, I want you to make the huge decision to move. In your new home search, I want you to make quality of neighborhood life for kids your top priority, above the quality or size of the home itself. Then, once you find that home, buy or rent it, and move in, I want you to join with your new neighbors to make it the best place possible for your kids.

If you do one of these two things, you’ll be taking important steps toward making your kids’ lives better. That will make our work in our neighborhood, on Halloween and all year round, far more fulfilling than it already is. And we won’t miss you next year. Really…

Monday, October 25, 2010

Home Buying Etiquette

1. Houses belong to someone even when they are on the market. Owners have a right to know who is asking about their home – wouldn’t you want to know? When you contact a real estate agent or call an office be prepared to give some basic information – name, address, phone number, and whether or not you are pre-approved for a mortgage.

2. If you are not pre-approved for a mortgage, don’t be offended if an agent won’t show you a house. Instead, ask who you can contact to get pre-approved. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and agents have a responsibility to show homes only to qualified buyers. If you’re not ready to get pre-approved, then you’re not ready to look at houses!

3. If you go to an open house be prepared to sign-in and give correct information. If you are under contract with a buyer agent make sure you write that on the sign-in sheet. If you don’t want the agent at house to contact you just write please do not contact next to your information. Refusing to sign-in is rude and sets a tone of distrust – what if you really like the house? You’ve already gotten off on the wrong foot. Giving false information is never ok. Remember, you’re in someone’s home!

4. Houses are shown by appointment, so plan aheadIf someone is living there, they need some notice to pick up and get out – very few people can keep their house ready for visitors with a moment’s notice – can you? Even new construction is shown by appointment – there might be workers at the house, etc.

5. Real estate agents have schedules too. It is not realistic to call an agent or an office from in front of a house and expect an agent come right out to meet you. Imagine calling your lawyer, dentist, hair-dresser, plumber, mechanic, financial planner, or anyone else … and expecting on the spot service!

6. The best thing for you is to set up a meeting with an agent at their office(or other convenient location) so you can talk about your needs and get to know each other. Buying a home is a big investment and can take several months – don’t you owe it to yourself to invest an hour upfront?

7. Buying a home involves the whole family, so it’s ok to bring the kids (although, you will certainly be able to focus better without them…) If you bring them, make sure they understand that they are visiting someone’s home. Keep them by your side at all times, especially in new construction where things are unfinished and may be dangerous. It’s for their safety and for the safety of the home-owners possessions – wouldn’t you feel awful if they broke something? And please don’t let them play with the home-owners’ kids toys – they wouldn’t want a stranger playing with their things.

8. Treat the house with respect. Of course you need to look in closets and cabinets, etc. but dresser drawers, medicine cabinets, personal belongings are off limits. Never sit on someone’s bed or use the master bath – sellers know they give up some privacy when their homes are on the market but again, put yourself in their shoes!

9. Relationships are about trust and mutual respect - loyalty matters. If you are under contract with a real estate agent, always contact that agent when you need information. People can get really impatient sometimes or they don’t want to “bother” their agent so they start calling offices or listing agents demanding information or pretending that they are going to be clients

Call your agent – he/she will call you back! If your agent doesn’t return calls and give you the information you need then find another agent. If you can’t stop yourself from calling an office or listing agent directly, make sure that you disclose that you are working with an agent right away and that you would appreciate some information.

10. Golden Rule/Common Sense – as with everything else, if you treat people (real estate agents) and property the way you want to be treated, the home-buying process will be efficient and the transaction will be a lot easier. If you’re not sure what the protocol is, just ask – we’re here to help!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sunset Magazine Speaks to Now and Then

The Original California Cuisine, Courtesy of Sunset Magazine

BEFORE Alice Waters picked her first Little Gem lettuce and Wolfgang Puck draped smoked salmon across a pizza, California cuisine meant something else.

The other California cuisine was being served on a million patios in the Golden State by relaxed cooks who grilled thick cuts of beef called tri-tip and built salads from avocado and oranges. They used red chili sauce like roux, ate abalone and oysters, and whipped sticky dates into milkshakes. It was the food of the gold rush and of immigrants, of orchards and sunshine.

And always, there was young, easy-to-drink wine that could be paired with salad or Mexican food, two staples of the patio table.

“It was California cooking before chefs got ahold of it,” said John Carroll, a West Coast food writer.

There to chronicle it — and help create it — was Sunset magazine, the stalwart regional publication that Southern Pacific Railroad executives began in 1898 to lure Easterners to the untamed West. Next week, Sunset has issued a collection of a thousand recipes, many of which helped define that other California cuisine. Although the magazine is Californian to its core, some of the recipes in “The Sunset Cookbook” (Oxmoor House, $34.95) are drawn from the other parts of the West that Sunset covers, like Hawaii and the Southwest. And any state in America might claim zucchini pickles. But laced throughout are some old-school California dishes like guacamole, grilled turkey, cioppino, barbecued oysters, Crab Louis and fish tacos.

Collectively, they summon a way of life that flourished in the postwar boom, when Sunset was a coffee-table staple. In those years the magazine articulated for aspirational newcomers the relaxed, open way people on the West Coast gardened, traveled and ate.

“Instead of being formal like it was back East, where they were worried about china service and having all the right silver, here you could put your bread in a basket and you could eat food outside and you didn’t have to have a maid,” said Linda Anusasananan, who spent 34 years developing recipes for the magazine before she left it in 2005.

“Anyone could be a Californian if they read Sunset,” said Gingi Kinninger, a longtime reader who makes the occasional pilgrimage to the Cliff May-designed ranch house that anchors the Sunset compound in Menlo Park, Calif.

The book comes at a period in which Sunset is getting something of a new life. With the ascent of celebrity chefs, flashy cooking shows on television and online food media, the appeal of Sunset faded — especially among younger readers, according to several chefs and food editors in California.

But its extreme dedication to regional food, its reputation among readers for reliable recipes honed in a skilled test kitchen and its forays into the D.I.Y. ethos of backyard beekeeping and home vinegar making has helped with a rehabilitation. It is, in some ways, the Betty White of food magazines.

Since 2006, Sunset has experienced a 62 percent increase in readers between ages 18 and 34, according to GfK MRI, a media research company. Chefs who typically snap to attention when magazines like Food &  Wine call say they are now hearing from customers when a recipe of theirs appears in Sunset, too.

“I think it is hip again,” said Suzanne Goin, the Los Angeles chef whose restaurants include A.O.C., Lucques and the Hungry Cat. “People talk about it with a different tone in their voice now.”

Ms. Goin’s parents subscribed to Sunset for years, she said, and it influenced her childhood in Los Angeles, which subsequently influenced the way she cooks now.

Her cookbook “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” has a recipe for date shakes that is based on the rich, sweet drinks she used to have during pit stops on the highway to Palm Springs. She also substitutes tri-tip for a T-bone in a steak Florentine recipe. The tri-tip, a triangular cut from the bottom of the sirloin, can be hard to find outside California.

In the Sunset book, a recipe for barbecued tri-tip comes straight out of the traditional preparation found in the Santa Maria Valley, down to a suggestion to cook it over burning red oak.

“It’s very simply seasoned,” said Margo True, Sunset’s food editor. “They use garlic powder, for God’s sake, and dehydrated parsley. But it doesn’t taste right unless you use it.”

The book, like the magazine, tries to stay true to the origins of its recipes. It is by no means a historical book, although it does draw on the vast Sunset archives. (The magazine’s first enchilada recipe? A stacked New Mexican version in 1922.)

“The Sunset Cookbook” also reflects California’s changing demographics. Mexico is well represented, of course, and so is Vietnam and, to a lesser degree, the Philippines. Pho and the California roll even made it onto the list of 24 iconic Western dishes in Ms. True’s introduction to the book. It’s very much in keeping with the sensibility of Sunset and its longtime publisher, the late Lawrence Lane. He figured if you were adventurous enough to move west, you were adventurous enough to experiment and explore new foods — even if you needed a little encouragement.

“The first time they would ever see an artichoke was when they moved west,” said Ms. True, who noted that the magazine pushed readers toward new foods with a decidedly gentle hand. “There was this sweetness of tone, like don’t be afraid,” she said.

Still, the magazine and many of its earlier cookbooks were edited from a decidedly Caucasian — or at least well-assimilated immigrant — point of view.

“It was sort of Anglicized California,” said Jacqueline Higuera McMahan, who writes a long-running column for The San Francisco Chronicle about California rancho cooking. Rancho cuisine comes from the estates, or ranchos, of California’s early Spanish settlers, and is characterized by chilies and a perfectionist’s approach to barbecuing meat.

“That’s kind of what people wanted in many ways, and still do,” she said. “How can I make the real cooking of California but not go too deep into one culture or another?”
Of course, she subscribes.

“What Sunset has done really well is reflect the changes in the way people in the West live,” said Barbara Fairchild, who will retire as editor in chief of Bon App├ętit in November. “It’s a style of living and cooking that really is different.” She moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles with her family in the 1960s. It was the first time she had ever seen an artichoke or an avocado. Her father began grilling over the big built-in brick barbecue while the children cooled off in the above-ground pool.

Dinners, especially in the summer, were salads. Red meat gave way to chicken or fish — quite a radical departure for many family menus then.

Today, if you were to go to Ms. Fairchild’s house for dinner looking for a quintessential California meal, she would serve chili-rubbed grilled chicken, a pot of long-simmered pinto beans and a large green salad shot through with avocado and orange, and seasoned with red wine vinaigrette. There would be a pitcher of from-scratch margaritas. For dessert, fresh fruit and a lemon bar or maybe a brownie.

“The fresh with the indulgence — that’s very California,” she said.

What would Ms. True serve you if you wanted a quintessential old California meal? She would start with guacamole, move onto a Santa Maria tri-tip barbecue and end with a mini-date shake and either sopapillas or fortune cookies — a California invention and, she said, the most challenging recipe in the book.
But then again, it could be warm soba noodles, grilled ahi citrus salad and Mexican chocolate ice cream.
Sunset is now less for the wide-eyed newcomer and more for people who embrace cooking in a state varied enough to put kimchi in a taco or chorizo on a pizza.

“The whole point was to help people figure out how to live here, because everyone came from somewhere else,” Ms. True said. “Now it’s to remind them how lucky they are to live here.”

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Forbes Magazine List of Most Expensive Zip Codes

America's Most Expensive ZIP Codes
Francesca Levy, FORBES

2 94027, Atherton, Calif.

15 94022, Los Altos Hills, Calif.

15 94022, Los Altos, Calif.

18 94024, Los Altos Hills, Calif.

18 94024, Los Altos, Calif.

20 94010, Hillsborough, Calif.

31 94028, Portola Valley, Calif.

38 95030, Los Gatos, Calif.

41 94062, Woodside, Calif.

73 94301, Palo Alto, Calif.

83 95070, Saratoga, Calif.

84 95030, Monte Sereno, Calif.

92 94123, San Francisco, Calif.

151 94306, Palo Alto, Calif.

Friday, September 17, 2010

10 Reasons Why it's Good to Buy a Home

Enough with the doom and gloom about homeownership.

Sure, maybe there's more pain to come in the housing market. But when Time magazine starts running covers that declare "Owning a home may no longer make economic sense," it's time to say: Enough is enough. This is what "capitulation" looks like. Everyone has given up.

But it's not enough just to be contrarian. So here are 10 reasons why it's good to buy a home.

1. You can get a good deal. Especially if you play hardball. This is a buyer's market. Most of the other buyers have now vanished, as the tax credits on purchases have just expired. We're four to five years into the biggest housing bust in modern history. And prices have come down a long way— about 30% from their peak, according to Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Index, which tracks home prices in 20 big cities. Yes, it's mixed. New York is only down 20%. Arizona has halved. Will prices fall further? Sure, they could. You'll never catch the bottom. It doesn't really matter so much in the long haul.

Where is fair value? Fund manager Jeremy Grantham at GMO, who predicted the bust with remarkable accuracy, said two years ago that home prices needed to fall another 17% to reach fair value in relation to household incomes. Case-Shiller since then: Down 18%.

2. Mortgages are cheap. You can get a 30-year loan for around 4.3%. What's not to like? These are the lowest rates on record. As recently as two years ago they were about 6.3%. That drop slashes your monthly repayment by a fifth. If inflation picks up, you won't see these mortgage rates again in your lifetime. And if we get deflation, and rates fall further, you can refi.

3. You'll save on taxes. You can deduct the mortgage interest from your income taxes. You can deduct your real estate taxes. And you'll get a tax break on capital gains—if any—when you sell. Sure, you'll need to do your math. You'll only get the income tax break if you itemize your deductions, and many people may be better off taking the standard deduction instead. The breaks are more valuable the more you earn, and the bigger your mortgage. But many people will find that these tax breaks mean owning costs them less, often a lot less, than renting.

4. It'll be yours. You can have the kitchen and bathrooms you want. You can move the walls, build an extension—zoning permitted—or paint everything bright orange. Few landlords are so indulgent; for renters, these types of changes are often impossible. You'll feel better about your own place if you own it than if you rent. Many years ago, when I was working for a political campaign in England, I toured a working-class northern town. Mrs. Thatcher had just begun selling off public housing to the tenants. "You can tell the ones that have been bought," said my local guide. "They've painted the front door. It's the first thing people do when they buy." It was a small sign that said something big.

5. You'll get a better home. In many parts of the country it can be really hard to find a good rental. All the best places are sold as condos. Money talks. Once again, this is a case by case issue: In Miami right now there are so many vacant luxury condos that owners will rent them out for a fraction of the cost of owning. But few places are so favored. Generally speaking, if you want the best home in the best neighborhood, you're better off buying.

6. It offers some inflation protection. No, it's not perfect. But studies by Professor Karl "Chip" Case (of Case-Shiller), and others, suggest that over the long-term housing has tended to beat inflation by a couple of percentage points a year. That's valuable inflation insurance, especially if you're young and raising a family and thinking about the next 30 or 40 years. In the recent past, inflation-protected government bonds, or TIPS, offered an easier form of inflation insurance. But yields there have plummeted of late. That also makes homeownership look a little better by contrast.

7. It's risk capital. No, your home isn't the stock market and you shouldn't view it as the way to get rich. But if the economy does surprise us all and start booming, sooner or later real estate prices will head up again, too. One lesson from the last few years is that stocks are incredibly hard for most normal people to own in large quantities—for practical as well as psychological reasons. Equity in a home is another way of linking part of your portfolio to the long-term growth of the economy—if it happens—and still managing to sleep at night.

8. It's forced savings. If you can rent an apartment for $2,000 month instead of buying one for $2,400 a month, renting may make sense. But will you save that $400 for your future? A lot of people won't. Most, I dare say. Once again, you have to do your math, but the part of your mortgage payment that goes to principal repayment isn't a cost. You're just paying yourself by building equity. As a forced monthly saving, it's a good discipline.

9. There is a lot to choose from. There is a glut of homes in most of the country. The National Association of Realtors puts the current inventory at around 4 million homes. That's below last year's peak, but well above typical levels, and enough for about a year's worth of sales. More keeping coming onto the market, too, as the banks slowly unload their inventory of unsold properties. That means great choice, as well as great prices.

10. Sooner or later, the market will clear. Demand and supply will meet. The population is forecast to grow by more than 100 million people over the next 40 years. That means maybe 40 million new households looking for homes. Meanwhile, this housing glut will work itself out. Many of the homes will be bought. But many more will simply be destroyed—either deliberately, or by inaction. This is already happening. Even two years ago, when I toured the housing slump in western Florida, I saw bankrupt condo developments that were fast becoming derelict. And, finally, a lot of the "glut" simply won't matter: It's concentrated in a few areas, like Florida and Nevada. Unless you live there, the glut won't have any long-term impact on housing supply in your town.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Brett Arends.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Newly Renovated Folger Stable in Woodside Opens to the Public September 19th

One of the jewels of the Peninsula’s Great Estate period of a century ago stood dying of benign neglect until a remarkable public/private partnership was formed. Now thanks to the efforts of the Folger Estate Stable Committee the barn built by coffee heir James Folger II has been restored to its glory days.

Read full story on   

Photo by Chris Gulker

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Menlo Park Named by Two Irishmen in 1854

It was in 1854 that Menlo Park received its official name when two Irishmen, Dennis J. Oliver and D. C. McGlynn, whose wives were sisters, purchased 1,700 acres (some sources say it was 640 acres) bordering County Road, now El Camino Real, and built two houses with a common entrance. Across the drive they erected a huge wooden gate with tall arches on which the name of their estate was printed in foot-high letters: "MENLO PARK", with the date, August 1854, under it.

When the railroad came through in 1863, this station had no name, it was just the end of the line, but it needed a designation. During a discussion about the choice of a name, a railroad official looked over at the gates and decided that "MENLO PARK" would be appropriate, and so the name was officially adopted. This station is now California State Landmark No. 955, the oldest California station in continuous operation.

Source: Menlo Park Historical Association

Friday, August 20, 2010

Death of the 'McMansion': Era of Huge Homes Is Over???

Source: Excerpted from CNBC August 19, 2010

They've been called McMansions, Starter Castles, Garage Mahals and Faux Chateaus but here's the latest thing you can call them - History.

In the past few years, there have been an increasing number of references made to the "McMansion glut" and the "McMansion backlash," as more towns pass ordinances against garishly large homes, which are generally over 3,000 square feet and built very close together.

What sets a McMansion apart from a regular mansion, according to Wikipedia, are a few characteristics: They're tacky, they lack a definitive style and they have a "displeasingly jumbled appearance."

Well, count 2010 as the year the last nail was hammered into the McCoffin: In its latest report on home-buying trends, real-estate site Trulia declares: "The McMansion Era Is Over."

Just 9 percent of the people surveyed by Trulia said their ideal home size was over 3,200 square feet. Meanwhile, more than one-third said their ideal size was under 2,000 feet.

"That's something that would've been unbelievable just a few years back," said Pete Flint, CEO and co-founder of Trulia. "Americans are moving away from McMansions."

The comments echoed those made in June by Kermit Baker, the chief economist at the American Institute of Architects. "We continue to move away from the McMansion chapter of residential design, with more demand for practicality throughout the home," Baker said. "There has been a drop off in the popularity of upscale property enhancements such as formal landscaping, decorative water features, tennis courts, and gazebos."

"McMansions just look and feel out of place today, given the more cautious environment everyone's living in," said Paul Bishop, vice president of research for the National Association of Realtors.

And homebuilders are heeding the call: In a survey of builders last year, nine out of 10 said they planned to build smaller or lower-priced homes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mortgage Rates Sink to Lowest Level on Record

WASHINGTON – Mortgage rates fell this week to the lowest level on record, giving consumers added incentive to lock in low payments for home purchases and refinanced loans.

The average rate for 30-year fixed loans sank to 4.69 percent, from 4.75 percent last week, mortgage company Freddie Mac said Thursday.

That's the lowest point since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971. The previous record of 4.71 percent was set in December. Rates for 15-year and five-year mortgages also hit lows.

Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to an average of 4.13 percent. That was the lowest on records dating to September 1991. It was down from 4.2 percent a week earlier.

Rates on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages averaged 3.84 percent, down from 3.89 percent a week earlier. That was also the lowest on Freddie Mac's records, which date back to January 2005 for such loans.

Average rates on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages fell to 3.77 percent from 3.82 percent. That was the lowest average since May 2004.

Mortgage rates have fallen over the past two months as nervous investors have shifted money into the safety of Treasury bonds. The demand for Treasurys has caused Treasury yields to fall. And mortgage rates tend to track the yields on long-term Treasurys.

Yet the falling rates have yet to spark a home-buying boom — or energize the economy. New-home sales collapsed in May after homebuying tax credits expired. The economy also remains under pressure from high unemployment. And many people don't qualify under tightened lending rules.

Source: Associated Press, By ALAN ZIBEL, AP Real Estate Writer

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Menlo Park Atherton Education Foundation -- Record Grant of 2.35M$

Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation announced a record grant of $2.35 million to the Menlo Park City School District for the 2010-2011 school year. This gift will fully fund 17 teachers, including full time elementary music, art and library specialists. More than 1,100 families, teachers, district staff and community members supported the Foundation’s fundraising campaign this year.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Prices Dropped Most Everywhere Except California

Prices Dropped!

Now let's dig into the data! As we expected, the Case-Shiller index of real estate prices published data about March home prices showing a decline across all of our markets except for Seattle, Boston and most of California.

Location                  Month over        Change
                              Month Change   from Max

Phoenix Area                 -0.5%            -51.8%   
LA Area                        -0.7%            -37.7% 
San Diego Area               1.5%            -36.0%   
Bay Area                         1.5%            -37.4%
DC Area                        -0.7%            -30.2%
Atlanta Area                   -1.8%            -24.0%
Chicago Area                 -2.3%            -29.0%
Boston Area                     0.0%            -17.0%
New York Area              -0.7%            -21.5%
Portland Area                 -0.1%            -23.0%
Seattle Area                     0.1%            -25.3%
20 City  Index                 -0.5%            -30.6%

The U.S. market has now lost seven years of appreciation, with homes selling for the same prices as in July 2003. The eye-popper here is that the Phoenix market has lost 52% of its value from the peak, and still builders are finding new aquifers and paving new developments. Crazy. Nation-wide, housing starts for single-family homes increased 10.2% in April, so many developers now believe prices have stabilized.

Monday, May 24, 2010

House of the Week

Best West Menlo -- Bay Laurel

West Menlo's most sought after street!
Exceptional 4 bd/3.5ba ONE level home -- rebuilt 9 years ago.
Elegant formal living & dining rooms, incredible gourmet kitchen, 3 fireplaces.
Huge lot w/gorgeous landscaping & built in BBQ.

For more information, or to view other quality homes, please call

Barbara Slaton, Realtor®
Alain Pinel Realtors
1550 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, California 94025

(650) 543-1215 DIRECT
(650) 888-6628 CELL
(650) 462-1199 FAX

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Just Joey -- My Favorite Rose

The Roses are spectactular this year, perhaps due to all the rainfall.

My favorite rose of all, Just Joey, is going nuts and producing blooms as fast as I can cut them. This rose is fragrant and absolutely lovely!

They are available right now at Roger Reynold's Nursey in Atherton and Wegman's Nursery in Redwood City.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Multiple, Multiple Offers!

Offers, Offers, and more Offers...

1. 97 Stevenson, Atherton listed $5,999,000 had 3 offers

2. 506 Edgecliff Way, Redwood City listed $899,000 had 14 offers

3. 717 Oregon, Palo Alto listed $998,000 had 3 offers

4. 740 Layne Ct, Palo Alto listed $888,000 had 7 offers

5. 191 Lyndhurst, San Carlos listed $1,298,000 had 3 offers

6. 323 Santa Rita, Palo Alto listed $3,875,000 had 2 offers

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

House of the Week

New on Brokers Tour today --
420 Sherwood Way, Menlo Park

Tastefully remodeled suburban ranch house in desirable Linfield Oaks neighborhood.
2,400 Square Feet of living space with plantation shutters, top-end appliances, recessed lighting and more.

For a tour of this home, or to view other quality homes,
please call –

Barbara Slaton, Realtor®
Alain Pinel Realtors
1550 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, California 94025

(650) 543-1215 Direct
(650) 888-6628 Cell
(650) 462-1199 Fax

Friday, April 30, 2010

Multiple Offers!!!

WOW! Things are heating up...

4127 Wilkie Court          Palo Alto                         12 Offers

740 Layne Court            Palo Alto                           7 Offers

210 McKendry               Menlo Park                       5 Offers

266 Lowell                     Redwood City                   2 Offers

1347 Sierra                    Redwood City                   2 Offers

2033 White Oak             San Carlos                        3 Offers

Thursday, April 29, 2010

House of the Week

New Listing on Broker Tour this Week --
1111 Middle Avenue in Menlo Park

Stunning contemporary home in West Menlo Park.

For more information, or to view other quality homes, please call

Barbara Slaton, Realtor®
Alain Pinel Realtors
1550 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, California 94025

(650) 543-1215 DIRECT  
(650) 888-6628 CELL  
(650) 462-1199 FAX

Monday, April 26, 2010

Get ready for a runaway recovery?

Source: Excerpted from Inman News

SAN FRANCISCO -- The financial crisis is over and the economy is growing at a fast enough clip that the Federal Reserve and other policymakers have already fallen behind the curve in preventing the next asset bubble, economist Ken Rosen said today.

Rosen, the chairman of the University of California, Berkeley's Fisher Center for Real Estate, said, "The financial crisis is over," but the Fed appears to be committed to keeping short-term rates at or near zero for at least six months. "I think short-term rates should be 2 to 3 percent today -- we are encouraging asset bubbles in the stock market, bond markets and global real estate."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Downsizing in Menlo Park?

People are downsizing. There are many reasons for this; the kids have grown and moved away, your large home has gotten to be too much maintenance-wise, or you're spending more time at the place in Carmel, Scottsdale or Tahoe...perhaps you have divorced or lost a spouse. Whatever the reason, many people are looking for smaller homes but are not willing to give up the proximity to friends, family and amenities.

This home in Menlo Park is charming and gracious, private, homier than a condo and well-priced at $799,000. Check out 940 Timothy Lane in Menlo Park.

For a tour of this home, or to view other quality homes, please call –

Barbara Slaton, Realtor®
Alain Pinel Realtors
1550 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, California 94025

(650) 543-1215 Direct 
(650) 888-6628 Cell 
(650) 462-1199 Fax

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dog People

Time to admit it...I am an incorrigible DOG person.

My little 19 1/2 year old dog has only been gone for 2 weeks and I find myself looking with envy at people with their dogs (especially puppies)...

Let's admit it, a house is really a home with a DOG in it -- WOOF!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Great Pick-up in Inventory for Area Homes

Oh my goodness, I saw 17 homes today on Brokers Tour and many of them were great! What a relief to have more inventory and realistic pricing.

I had FOUR favorites -- all quite different from one another!

710 Lemon Street, Menlo Park
Great home, great yard, great West Menlo neighborhood. Priced at $2,799,000.

2170 Ashton, Menlo Park
Nice 3 Bedroom home in West Menlo with Heritage Oak and fabulous azelias. Priced at $1,095,000.

285 Catalpa Drive, Atherton

Gorgeous Estate property in Lindenwood (Lindenwood has changed since my childhood!). Priced at $7,600,000.

48 Campbell Lane, Menlo Park
Wonderful 4 Bedroom home in Stanford Hills, priced attractively at $1,650,000.

For more information, or to view other quality homes,
please call me

Barbara Slaton, Realtor®
Alain Pinel Realtors
1550 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, California 94025

(650) 543-1215 DIRECT   (650) 888-6628 CELL   (650) 462-1199 FAX

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday Open House at 2405 Sharon Oaks Drive in Menlo Park

Stunning contemporary Townhome with a serene vibe --

This beautiful home combines comfort, convenience, elegance and impeccable style. The Floor Plan is spacious and flexible, accommodating children, guests or a home office with equal ease. There is an ultra-private garden area ideal for alfresco entertaining and offering Zen-like privacy and serenity.

Effortless commute to Stanford Medical Center, Stanford University and the famous Sand Hill Road Venture Capital Community.

Close proximity to both SFO and SJC for business and pleasure travelers alike.

Award-winning Las Lomitas School District.

Less than 1/4 mile from the new 4 Star Rosewood Sand Hill Resort, a world-class hotel. Dine at Madera or indulge in pampering at Sense, the Rosewood Spa.

Close to superb golf courses, tennis facilities, riding stables, parks, hiking and biking trails.

Steps away from numerous stores, services and restaurants…

For more information, or to view other quality homes, please call –

Barbara Slaton, Realtor®
Alain Pinel Realtors
1550 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, California 94025

(650) 543-1215 DIRECT   (650) 888-6628 CELL   (650) 462-1199 FAX

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Most Expensive Home in Menlo Park?

This lovely home on Hermosa is no longer for Sale...
The Selling price will remain a mystery until the Close of Escrow!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Menlo Park to Hire High-speed-rail Lobbyist

Source: Sean Howell, Almanac Staff

The city of Menlo Park has hired a lobbyist to make the city's case to Sacramento when it comes to the California high-speed-rail project, and has devoted $200,000 for the upcoming fiscal year to rail issues.

The expenditures highlight the importance of the issue to city officials, as Menlo Park strains to balance its budget following the economic recession. The upcoming year will be a particularly crucial one for the rail system, with a decision pending on how high-speed trains would make their way through the city.

Ravi Mehta, the lobbyist in the city's employ, also advocates for Palo Alto on the issue. He works on a retainer of $5,000 per month, plus expenses. Mehta will represent the city to the rail agency board and to legislators, and will report to city officials on new developments, according to Mayor Rich Cline.

"It's not really equitable," Cline said. "The High-Speed Rail Authority has the ability to call a public hearing pretty much whenever they want. ... We have to schedule who's going to Sacramento, and most of the time it ends up being a resident. It's a great disadvantage for the city."

City officials spend a lot of time drafting and revising letters to the rail agency that end up going "straight into a file" once they reach Sacramento, Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson said, adding that the city needs an advocate who's present at the meetings if it wants to be heard.

Fergusson sits on the city's high-speed rail subcommittee with Cline, who chairs a regional advocacy group made up of representatives from five Peninsula cities. Cline estimates that he spends 15 to 20 hours per week in his role on the committee, almost as much time as he devotes to other city business issues.

Part of the city's rail-related budget will go to hire experts who will help to interpret technical documents released by the rail agency. It's scheduled to publish an analysis in April of how the Caltrain corridor would accommodate high-speed trains.

Opportunity Exists at the Moment to Take Advantage of up to $18,000 in Tax Credits

Californians have a brief window of opportunity to receive up to $18,000 in combined federal and state homebuyer tax credits. To take advantage of both tax credits, a first-time homebuyer must enter into a purchase contract for a principal residence before May 1, 2010, and close escrow between May 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010, inclusive. Buyers who are not first-time homebuyers may use the same timeframes to receive up to $16,500 in combined tax credits if they are long-time residents of their existing homes as permitted under federal law, and they purchase properties that have never been previously occupied as provided under California law.

Under the federal law slated to soon expire, a first-time homebuyer may receive up to $8,000 in tax credits, and a long-time resident may receive up to $6,500, for certain purchase contracts entered into by April 30, 2010 that close escrow by June 30, 2010. Additionally, under a newly enacted California law, a homebuyer may receive up to $10,000 in tax credits as a first-time homebuyer or buyer of a property that has never been occupied. The new California law applies to certain purchases that close escrow on or after May 1, 2010 (see Cal. Rev. & Tax Code section 17059.1(a)(4)). California law generally allows buyers of never-occupied properties to reserve their credits before closing escrow, but buyers seeking to combine the federal and state tax credits will not be able to satisfy the timing requirements for such reservations (see Cal. Rev. & Tax Code section 17059.1(c)(1)(A)). Other terms and restrictions apply to both tax credits.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mortgage Rate Update -- Wells Fargo

Weekly Rate Update

All programs quoted are with zero points.

30 Year Fixed

To $417,000 - 5.000%
To $729,750 - 5.125%


Jumbo to $2,000,000 - 5.625%

5 Year Fixed

To $417,000 - 4.000%
To $729,750 - 4.375%
Jumbo to $2,000,000 - 5.250%


Rates have stabilized over the past few weeks and remain extremely buyer friendly. Fears that the Feds pulling out of the mortgage backed securities markets have been unfounded. Investors have not reacted to losing the largest purchaser on mortgage backed securities the way the markets had predicted. There is some sense of comfort to the markets that there are buyers waiting in the wings to pick up where the Feds leave off. Good news for buyers who are still on the fence. It appears that the markets will remain range bound for the next few weeks until the real impact of the Feds ending the MBS purchase program can actually be felt.

Economic News

Three economic releases this week—industrial production, the Philadelphia Fed index and the leading economic index—all support the view of continued economic growth. Meanwhile the housing starts data suggest that this recovery will be more modest than other recoveries.

Inflation remains low as measured by the Consumer Price Index. The details of this report highlight the slow pace of inflation, which partly reflects the ongoing housing correction. Medical price inflation continues to outpace the overall price index.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nab a Deal!

Source: CNN Money
Nab a real estate deal – while you still can

The combination of affordable home prices, low interest rates, and the federal tax credit for home buyers have created an opportune time for many buyers to purchase a home. Many real estate analysts also believe that most housing markets have stabilized, but that some markets may decline further.


Buyers should keep in mind that housing markets are local and can vary greatly from one neighborhood to the next. Working with a REALTOR® familiar with the area in which the buyer is searching can help the buyer select a house that best suits their needs.

California’s housing market has shown signs of stabilization since early last year. Sales of existing, single-family homes bottomed out in August 2007, and the median home price reached its trough in February 2009. In January, California’s median home price was 17.2 percent above the low for the current cycle.

The federal tax credit for home buyers was extended and expanded late last year. Qualified first-time buyers may be eligible to receive a tax credit of up to $8,000 on homes purchased before April 30, 2010. Repeat buyers may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $6,500. Visit,,id=187935,00.html for more information about the federal tax credit for home buyers, including eligibility requirements.

The Federal Reserve has helped maintain low interest rates, which, in turn, has assisted home buyers. However, the agency plans to stop purchasing mortgage-backed securities at the end of this month, which likely will increase rates on 30-year fixed mortgages. Buyers may be able to lock in a low interest rate by working with their lender.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mortgage News -- Updated 3/8/2010

Source: Peter Pham, Private Mortgage Advisors


People are talking. The Fed's have been know to be very accommodative to the markets sentiment. As we learned with Chairman Greenspan, surprising the market, good or bad can lead to wild speculation and mood swings in the markets behavior. The "market" assumed last fall that rates would be rising in 12 to 18 months. This is still within line of the expectations. This article from the Washington Post summarizes where economist predict rates will go in the next six months.

Most U.S. business economists expect the Federal Reserve to raise benchmark interest rates within six months by between a quarter and a half percentage point, according to a survey released on Monday.

A majority of economists in the National Association of Business Economists' semiannual survey found the Fed's current stance of rates near zero percent is appropriate. A growing number, however, believe the U.S. central bank's policy's are too simulative, according to a poll of 203 members taken February 4-22.

"A majority believes that a rise in interest rates is both likely and appropriate in the next several months," said NABE President Lynn Reaser.

The Fed has said continued high rates of unemployment and low inflation warrant holding rates exceptionally low for an extended period. Still, reports show the economy is recovering gradually, and some policy makers believe the Fed should begin to prepare markets for the beginning of the process of tightening financial conditions.

Economic News

Employment and consumer spending are important indicators as the market looks for signs of recovery.

Employment losses have steadily declined over the past six months. In fact, private sector jobs (ex-construction) have risen over the past two months. There is a cyclical recovery in private sector jobs while the structural problems in real estate limit the recovery. Job gains have also appeared in manufacturing sectors such as machinery, primary metals and electrical equipment. Meanwhile the index of hours worked has risen over the last three months, consistent with sustained economic growth. Combining hours worked and average hourly earnings, our income proxy has broken into positive growth territory. This suggests positive income and therefore spending gains in the months ahead.

Retail sales continue to post respectable gains, considering the continued drag on household spending power due to high unemployment and slowing wage growth. Consumer balance sheets, while healing, remain severely impaired from continued high debt levels and reduced wealth, while access to affordable bank credit remains difficult for many. Still there appears to be real pent-up demand for necessities like clothes since many consumers delayed purchases of these items during the worst of the recession last spring. Moreover, stabilizing employment and steady stock market gains have helped more fence sitters to go ahead with their purchase plans, especially among the higher income bracket households. We expect February retail sales to advance another 0.2 percent following a 0.5 percent increase in January. Retail sales less autos could advance even more, rising 0.6 percent in February.

First Time Homebuyers Tax Credit

The first-time homebuyer tax credit of up to $8,000 and the move-up homebuyer tax credit of up to $6,500 expire at the end of April. The home has to be under contract by the end of April, and the deal has to close by the end of June. The maximum home price is $800,000 according to the link below. As a reminder for clients who want to take advantage of the tax credit before it expires, I have provided the link with answers for your clients.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The State of the Markets

Source: Cirios Real Estate

This post first appeared in the March edition of: Cirios Trends: In Search of Real Estate Opportunities.

Last month, we discussed the role confidence plays in the housing market. The better Americans feel about the economy (using the stock market as a barometer of the country’s economic fortunes), the more likely they are to go out and buy a house.

Sticking with the theme of market psychology, let’s now examine the other side of the transaction: Sellers.

In today’s market, sellers basically fall into two categories: Those who can, and those who can’t. In other words, if you still have equity, you can sell. If you are underwater on your house, you can’t.

The decision for the latter of whether to sell is, unfortunately, pretty simple. So let’s consider the former, those fortunate homeowners who still have equity left in their homes.

Selling into a weak market is a drag. With so many homes to choose from, buyers can drive a hard bargain. And thanks to unrealistic expectations and bad advice from Realtors trying to win clients with lofty promises, thousands of sellers over-listed their homes and subsequently chased the market down throughout 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Very few voluntary sellers dipped their toes into the market because it was just so bad. The only true sellers were those who had to sell for some reason or another.

So what now? Housing isn’t nearly as bad as it was this time last year, and in many markets the worst of the price declines are likely over. Stocks rallied fiercely last year, rebuilding many damaged nest eggs. And even though there are looming threats out there to our nascent - and very governmentally influenced - economic recovery, things are not nearly as dire as they once were.

We wrote back in May 2009 that “Willing and able buyers are pouring back into the market. And as they do, sellers - buoyed by newfound confidence - are prepping their homes for the market.” Although inventory remained constrained throughout 2009, the percentage of distressed sales relative to regular sales is slowly dropping.

Recent data is seeping out that supports our view, and the trend is picking up steam so far in 2010. The graph below, courtesy of SocketSite, shows active listed inventory in the city of San Francisco. Notably, the black line representing 2010 has reached to the orange 2008 line … and check out that slope!

Anecdotal evidence supports the data. Sellers are trying to get in ahead of the summer buyer season, particularly with the (latest) expiration of the homebuyer tax credit just around the corner in June.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Brookside Orchids in Menlo Park -- Hiding in Plain Sight

A hyper-local Blog by Chris Gulker, Linda Hubbard and Associates

There they sit, row after row – the boarders whose owners have put them under the care of Mark Pendleton, manager of Brookside Orchids Boarding Department. “We have about 250 boarding customers,” says Pendleton. “We take care of the plants year round, delivering them to their owners when they bloom. How much of the year they’re in our care depends on the plant and the customer.”

Brookside Orchids is a Menlo Park enterprise that’s been hiding in plain sight for almost 30 years. Its seven greenhouses, packed with every orchid variety imaginable, sits on an acre of land behind the Webb Ranch produce market on Alpine Road. The business, founded by Jim Heierle in 1981, was the main supplier to Smith & Hawken, the specialty garden store that recently went out of business. That prompted Brookside to put on a more public face, including a new sign on Alpine Road welcoming visitors (Monday-Friday from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm and Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm). An e-commerce website is also in the works.

Brookside grows popular orchid species as well as a few rare flowers outside of the orchid family, including Bat Lily and Ornamental Ginger. Every flower is hand-cultivated, and special care goes into ensuring the plants receive the perfect balance of water, fresh air, and indirect sunlight. Orchids are grown in a mixture of fir bark, charcoal, and perlite and treated with a synthetic fertilizer.

In addition to his boarding manager duties, Pendleton is Brookside’s hybridizer – there are currently a half dozen or so hybrids on display – and resident orchid expert (with a caveat). “There are a lot of orchid experts,” he notes with a smile.

He lends his service to orchids in distress, brought in by their worried and anxious owners. “I can resuscitate an orchid but I can’t resurrect one!” he says.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kepler's Mentions My Niece's Book in Their Blog

Source:  from Kepler's Books in Menlo Park

So the book I've just read about and want, really want to read right now is

Prophecy of Days by Christy Raedeke

Here's what the back cover says about it:

When her safe-cracker mom and code-breaker dad inherit a Scottish castle on the Isle of Huracan, sixteen-year-old Caity Mac Fireland is the only one in the family who's not happy about it. Ripped from her comfortable life in San Francisco, taken away from her best friend Justine whom she's known since preschool, and relocated to the dreary island fortress, Caity's secret fantasy of being discovered by a Hollywood agent, talent scout, or even just a pageant coach seems more unlikely than ever.

But when Caity stumbles across a hidden room in the castle, its walls covered in strange symbols, her life takes a bizarre turn. She finds herself center stage in an international conspiracy involving warring secret societies (complete with their own scouts, double agents, and assassins), the suppressed revelations of the Mayan Calendar and the year 2012, plus the fate of humanity. With the help of her friend Justine back home, and Alex, the mysterious and gorgeous boy next door, Caity must rely on her own courage and creativity as she races to decipher the code and reveal its message to the world before time runs out.

Sounds a book worth waiting for.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Borrone's is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Menlo Park

Our beloved Cafe' Borrone now has it's very own Facebook page

Go to Facebook and Search for Borrone's and click on the tab to join.

Call me at (650) 888-6628 if you would like to meet there for a coffee in the heart of Menlo Park!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Menlo College Named a “Best in the West” College by the Princeton Review

Source: Excerpted from the Princeton Review

Menlo College, "Silicon Valley's Business School," is one of the best colleges and universities in the West according to The Princeton Review. The education services company selected the school as one of 123 institutions it recommends in its "Best in the West" section on its website feature 2010 Best Colleges: Region by Region that posted July 27, 2009. The Princeton Review, reported that students are "roundly positive in their summation of academics at Menlo, students prize Menlo's "incredible faculty" and say that, "the student to teacher ratio is awesome." The "small class sizes" and "close-knit community" work in conjunction to "provide a unique experience that wouldn't be possible at a larger university."

Says Robert Franek, Princeton Review's V.P., Publishing, "We chose Menlo College and the other terrific schools we recommend as our 'regional best' colleges primarily for their excellent academic programs. We also work to have our roster of 'regional best' colleges feature a range of institutions by size, selectivity, character and locale. We choose the schools based on institutional data we collect from several hundred schools in each region, our visits to schools over the years, and the opinions of independent and high school-based college advisors whose recommendations we invite. We also take into account what each school's customers—their students—report to us about their campus experiences at them on our 80-question student survey."

"Menlo College is riding on a positive wave of great news," said President G. Timothy Haight upon hearing of The Princeton Review recognition. "With our three new majors in accounting, finance, and marketing, reaffirmation of WASC accreditation, plus the addition of several highly qualified—academically and professionally—faculty, we are producing the next generation of business leaders.

Monday, February 22, 2010

At Filoli, Opening Celebration — Daffodil Daydreams

Friday and Saturday,
February 26 and 27, 10:00 am – 3:30 pm
Sunday, February 28, 11:00 am - 3:30 pm

Delightful and dreamy, daffodils are the first to bloom and lead the floral parade each spring. From the smallest to the largest, whether planted in a formal flower bed or naturalized in a field, their cheerful annual display brings enjoyment to all. They are one of the easiest and hardiest of the garden flowers, giving you more with each passing year.

This year Filoli has planted more than 50,000 additional daffodils throughout the grounds and has been named an American Daffodil Society (ADS) Display Garden. An ADS Display Garden displays a wide variety of daffodil cultivars and educates visitors about daffodils and how the bulbs can be used effectively in the landscape.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mortgage Update

Source: Ken Mason, Mortgage California

Wednesday’s bond market has opened in negative territory following slightly stronger than expected economic data and a positive open for stocks. The stock markets are extending yesterday’s afternoon rally, but to a much less degree. The Dow is currently up 44 points while the Nasdaq has gained 12 points. The bond market is currently down 9/32, but we may still see a slight improvement in this morning’s rates compared to yesterday’s morning pricing due to strength in bonds late yesterday.

This morning’s first piece of economic data was January's Housing Starts. It revealed a larger than expected increase in starts and an upward revision to December’s starts, hinting that the housing sector may be stronger than thought. Rising starts of new homes indicates more sales or stronger levels of optimism by builders. But, this data is not considered to be highly important to the markets or to mortgage rates. It is the week’s least important data and has not had much of an influence on this morning’s mortgage pricing.

Also posted this morning was January's Industrial Production data. It showed a 0.9% increase in output at U.S. factories, mines and utilities that exceeded forecasts. That indicates a level of manufacturing sector strength that is considered bad news for bonds and mortgage rates. However, this data is considered only moderately important, so it has not hurt mortgage rates this morning.

The third event of the day will be the release of the minutes from last FOMC meeting later today. Traders will be looking for any indication of the Fed’s next move regarding monetary policy. They will be released at 2:00 PM ET, therefore, any reaction will come during afternoon trading. I am expecting some volatility in the markets after the minutes are released.

The Labor Department will post January’s Producer Price Index (PPI) early tomorrow morning. It measures inflationary pressures at the producer level of the economy and is considered to be an important measurement of inflation. There are two portions of the report that analysts watch- the overall reading and the core data reading. The core data is more important to market participants because it excludes more volatile food and energy prices. It is expected to show an increase of 0.8% in the overall reading and a 0.1% rise in the core data.

Good news for bonds would be a decline in both readings, particularly the core data. Also tomorrow morning will be the release of the Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) for January. This Conference Board report attempts to predict economic activity over the next three to six months. It is expected to show a 0.5% increase, meaning that economic activity may rise in the near future. A smaller than expected rise would be good news for the bond market and mortgage rates.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mortgage Update

Source: Ken Mason, Mortgage California

Tuesday’s bond market has opened in negative territory following strong gains in stocks. The stock markets are on the rebound with the Dow up 126 points and the Nasdaq up 23 points. The bond market is currently down 9/32, which will likely push this morning’s mortgage rates higher by approximately .125 of a discount point.

There was no relevant economic data scheduled for release today, so look for the stock markets to be the biggest influence on bond trading and mortgage rates the remainder of the day. If the major stock indexes remain near current levels, expect the bond market and mortgage rates to follow suit. If they give back this morning’s gains, the bond market may improve, possibly improving mortgage rates this afternoon.

The first economic report of the week comes tomorrow morning, but it is the least important of the three scheduled. December’s Goods and Services Trade Balance data will be posted early tomorrow morning. This report measures the U.S. trade deficit and can affect the value of the U.S. dollar versus other currencies, but it usually does not cause enough movement in bond prices to affect mortgage rates. It is expected to show a $35.5 billion trade deficit.

The two important Treasury auctions come tomorrow and Thursday when 10-year Notes and 30-year Bonds are sold. The 10-year sale is the more important one as it will give us an indication for demand of mortgage-related securities. If the sales are met with a strong demand from investors, we should see the bond market move higher during afternoon trading the days of the auctions. But a lackluster interest from buyers, particularly international investors, would indicate a waning appetite for longer-term U.S. securities and lead to broader bond selling. The selling in bonds would likely result in upward revisions to mortgage rates.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Flegel's Fine Funriture has long been a fixture in downtown Menlo Park. I think they have done a marvelous job of adapting to the needs and face of the community over the years. Below is an article from the hyper-local Blog, InMenlo, authored by Linda Hubbard Gulker. The photograph is by Chris Gulker, co-creator of InMenlo.


It’s nearly impossible to visualize downtown Menlo Park without including one of its most enduring fixtures, Flegel’s. That the furniture store has survived 56 years, including a major fire in 1983, is due in large part to the tenaciousness and vision of the Flegel family.

“My father was in the furniture business in San Mateo when he decided to go out on his own,” says Mark Flegel (pictured), who’s been running the business since 1984,
“He looked at different Peninsula communities and settled on Menlo Park. There was lot of construction going on and a lot of young families moving in, so it seemed like it had good potential.

“There were also 13 furniture stores within a five-mile radius! Advisers told him that he’d last only six months, that he was under-capitalized. History, of course, has shown otherwise. Flegel’s is the only one of the 13 left.”

To meet changing needs, Flegel’s has adapted over the years. As the surrounding community prospered, the store elevated the caliber and quality of the furniture lines it offered. It also innovated.

“My father introduced interior designers into the furniture store business,” recalls Mark. “Before that designers and furniture were always separate. He sensed that offering both in the same place is what the community wanted. That turned out to be very true.”

Flegel’s the store and Flegel the family are both such Menlo mainstays there is little that’s not known about them. But here are a couple of nuggets, courtesy of Mark: “Most people don’t know we have clients all over the world. We furnished the Chancellor of Education’s palace in Stockholm, which is located next to the King’s palace.

“There’s also a version of our store in Yokohama thanks to the interest of a Japanese businessman who came in one day. We have no interest in it but I think of it as a kind of branch office!”

Photo by Chris Gulker

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The State of the Markets

If someone were to wake up from a 5-year coma and ask about the state of our country’s economy, the chart below pretty much sums it up.

The past five years in the housing market, the financial market and the economy have been anything but boring.

With respect to the housing market, we are at a critical juncture. Pundits and so-called experts are lining up on opposing sides of the recovery debate. Optimists will point out that after historic price declines, affordability is at all-time highs and government support for the housing market has helped mitigate the negative effects of tightened credit and mounting foreclosures. The bottom, they say, is in.

Meanwhile, pessimists urge caution. Foreclosures continue to rise, more borrowers are falling behind and the government is considering removing some of the programs that have kept interest rates low.

Ultimately, both arguments have merit. But they both miss the point.

Take another look at the graph above. It’s no coincidence that during the time of most uncertainty in the stock market (2008), the housing market experienced its steepest declines. It’s also no accident that the recent bottom in stocks (March 2009) matches almost exactly with the turning point in housing.

The answer to the riddle is simple: Confidence.

In a new book called This Time is Different, economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart dissect hundreds of years of financial crises and try to assess how societies keep getting themselves into the same mess over and over again.

A common thread in the discussion, specifically surrounding debt crises like the one we experienced (and indeed are still experiencing), is the notion that confidence plays a far larger, and far less understood role in economic panics than most people think. According to Rogoff and Reinhart: “Economists do not have a terribly good idea of what kinds of events shift confidence and how to concretely assess confidence vulnerability.”

Since most people equate the stock market with the economy, swoons on Wall Street send the message that all is not well with our economic future. Accumulate enough of these swoons and confidence gets punctured to the point where people start acting differently. As risk aversion grows, consumers delay purchases, businesses delay expansion and banks stop lending.

In March of last year, the housing market was beyond bleak. Liquidity dried up and buyers were terrified. Ditto on Wall Street. But as stocks recovered through the spring, hope emerged that maybe the worst was behind us.

Now, as the recent surge in stocks is tested, so too will the surge in home buying: The two are far more linked than most understand.
This post first appeared in the February edition of: Cirios Trends: In Search of Real Estate Opportunities.