Real Estate

Real Estate Matters: Local homebuyers headed downtown

No fear of noise or busy streets

As more people move to the Bay Area to take advantage of the region's high-octane job market, traffic has gotten predictably worse.

According to a November 2015 article in the San Francisco Business Times, traffic on the San Mateo Bridge grew by 81 percent since 2010 while increasing by 61 percent on the Dumbarton Bridge.

Traffic congestion, along with the growing popularity of walkable neighborhoods, is prompting some buyers -- especially younger ones -- to seek out lifestyles that will keep them out of their cars as much as possible. A look at a few recent home sales in our local communities underscores buyer desire for centrally located homes, along with their willingness to pay substantial premiums for them.

• A single-family home on Palo Alto's Loma Verde Avenue sold for nearly 139 percent of original price in January, the largest first-quarter premium in the city. The Midtown home -- described in online listings as a fixer-upper -- benefits from a large corner lot but also a location that is less than a mile and a half away from the California Avenue Caltrain Station.

• Pacific Union real estate professional Michael Hall relayed the sentiments of potential buyers who recently viewed a condominium in downtown Palo Alto. Mostly under the age of 40, these home shoppers were keen on the unit due to its central location: within strolling distance of dozens of restaurants, the Palo Alto Caltrain station, and a Whole Foods Market.

Interestingly, downtown Palo Alto is particularly attractive for transplants from New York City and San Francisco, who are accustomed to urban walkable neighborhoods with public-transportation options.

• In Menlo Park, a single-family, bungalow-style home on Evelyn Avenue fetched 125 percent of original price in early April, thanks in part to its location less than two blocks from the bustling, vibrant business district on Santa Cruz Avenue.

• In late March, a new home on Cornell Road in Menlo Park's Allied Arts neighborhood just north of Stanford Shopping Center sold for 103 percent of original price despite its relatively small lot.

"Local buyers are willing to accept a smaller lot in exchange for walkability," Pacific Union real estate agent Nathalie de Saint Andrieu said.

Proximity to work is likely also driving location-based buyer trends in Silicon Valley. In Mountain View, a single-family home on Hamwood Terrace built in 2007 sold for 135 percent of list price in late March, also the largest premium paid in that city in the first quarter. This home sits adjacent to Highway 101, traditionally not a particularly desirable location. But it is also within walking distance of Google's Quad Campus and a short drive from the search

giant's Googleplex Campus. And while Pacific Union wasn't involved in that particular sale, its not a huge stretch to speculate that the buyer has a connection to Mountain View's most famous tech company.

Regardless of neighborhood preference, prospective Palo Alto and Menlo Park buyers who are planning to hit the open-house circuit this spring will likely find no shortage of competitors if last spring was any indication. In the second quarter of 2015, single-family homes in Palo Alto sold for 109 percent of original price, while their Menlo Park counterparts got 108 percent of list price.

Given those numbers, local home shoppers should be serious about putting their best offer on the table right away and finding the means to counter-offer in the event of a bidding war. As always, a real estate professional with expert knowledge of individual neighborhoods and current market conditions is instrumental in advising buyers as to the most effective offer strategy.

Katharine Carroll is a vice president at Pacific Union in Palo Alto.

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