Sound Off: What tech innovation has been the biggest help for real estate transactions?


Published 2:11 pm, Friday, February 19, 2016

A: Property search websites like Zillow and Trulia, as well as an agent’s personal site, created the most profound impact on real estate transactions during the last decade.

These websites have revolutionized the way buyers search for property. They make home information available to everyone. According to Inman News, 90 percent of people use a property search website when shopping for or selling a home.

When searching for properties, it is better to use your agent’s home search website. A good agent will have a website that allows their clients to search for homes. These websites share the client’s search history with the real estate agent, providing insights about that client’s needs and wants for their next home.

My property search website ( allows you to search for timely and accurate information on all the homes listed in the Bay Area, including Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and Marin County.

Devin Ratoosh, Marvin Gardens Real Estate, 510-848-8888,,


Bay Area home sales great for sellers, tough on buyers


POSTED:   06/12/2014 11:28:47 AM PDT

The Bay Area’s housing market stumbled in May — prime home-buying season — as high prices and low inventory held real estate sales well below normal levels, according to a report Thursday.

Sales of single-family houses were down from the same month last year in the East Bay, Peninsula and South Bay, while prices were up, according to real estate information service DataQuick, which released the report. Prices for all types of homes were at their highest since November 2007 in the nine-county Bay Area.

“There is still some pent-up demand out there, but we can’t muster enough sales to beat last year,” said Andrew LePage of DataQuick. “Inventory remains one of the key reasons, but affordability has cropped up as one of the reasons as well.”

A sold sign is posted in front of a home for sale on July 30, 2013 in San Francisco.

Some potential buyers say they’re either priced out or worn out from the competition for a relatively small number of desirable homes for sale.

Anurag Singh has decided to take a breather from home shopping. The Silicon Valley engineer said he started looking in November and December, when houses he liked were priced within his reach. But his offers kept getting trumped by higher offers.

“Then I realized it is hard to get a house in this market,” Singh said.

Now, for the same type of house he was looking for late last year, prices have risen $50,000 or more, he said. “I’m still looking but not as actively as I was earlier.”

His agent, Gina Saporito of Clickhome Realty in Santa Clara, said, “We still need more inventory. There’s a lot of buyers out there.”

But even with sales slowing, there are still enough buyers making multiple offers for what’s available to keep prices rising.

“It’s a great time to be selling real estate in the Bay Area area right now,” said Devin Ratoosh with Marvin Gardens Real Estate in Berkeley. “It really makes it easy for sellers when there’s this much competition lining up for a house.”

DataQuick reported that Contra Costa County’s median sales price gained 13.8 percent from May 2013 to $479,000, while Alameda County was up 25.8 percent to $644,000.

Santa Clara County, which surpassed its peak price for existing single-family homes in April, saw a gain of 6.7 percent to $800,000, and San Mateo County was up 14.2 percent to $925,000.

Marilyn Cunningham, president of the Contra Costa Association of Realtors, said that two weeks into June, she’s seeing an increase in listings of homes for sale, but they’re being snapped up so quickly that inventory remains low. And prices keep rising, she said.

“It’s good for sellers,” she said. “They are getting their equity back. And buyers are coming out, but it’s getting more difficult for them because prices are going up.”

May usually sees a big boost in sales as the home-buying season gets in full swing, but the tight market and high prices have sales of all types of homes — including condos and townhomes — in the nine-county Bay Area down 7.5 percent from a year ago, and 17.4 percent below the May average going back to 1988, DataQuick said.

The price gains are leveling off, however, as they near their previous peaks and as buyers drop out. The year-over-year gains between May 2012 and May 2013 were much larger in all but Alameda County, according to DataQuick.

“Buyers for whatever reason are not willing to line up for a mortgage to buy a house,” said Richard Calhoun of Creekside Realty in San Jose.

Some buyers just can’t find their dream house at affordable prices, and prefer to wait. “I want to fall in love, I don’t want to compromise,” said Shawn Clark, a chip company engineer who is content to continue renting his two-bedroom home in Sunnyvale.

If prices are rising in middle-income parts of the Bay Area, they’re through the roof in the wealthiest enclaves of Silicon Valley.

Wendy McPherson of Coldwell Banker in Menlo Park said recent tech company public offerings and acquisitions are creating wealthy buyers at a brisk pace. “We just had a buyer buy a $20 million property who was living in a $900,000 house,” she said.

Ken DeLeon of DeLeon Realty in Palo Alto said demand is so brisk for luxury real estate that one home in Atherton sold for $14 million in three days.

“I believe we are probably hitting affordability limits,” said Brett Jennings of Keller Williams in Los Gatos. His said his typical buyers are a husband and wife in tech, making a combined $240,000 a year, who still can’t afford a basic home in some parts of the valley.

“When the median home price is no longer supported by the median income, we’re near top,” he said.

Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419. Follow him on


A Family’s Struggle to Keep, Then Sell, Its Home



One day, more than three years ago, Suzanna Wertheim lost her job as a hospice nurse and learned she had terminal cancer. To cover chemotherapy and other health costs, she dug into her savings and unemployment benefits and quickly fell behind on paying the mortgage for her three-bedroom home in Oakland, Calif.

I first wrote about Wertheim for the investigative reporting newsroom ProPublica in August 2010, when she was on the brink of foreclosure. She described the year and a half she had spent trying to get Wells Fargo & Co. to modify her loan as “Kafkaesque,” an endless runaround of lost documents and mixed messages that many struggling borrowers know all too well. As the process dragged on, Wertheim kept accruing fees and falling further behind.

After the story ran, The Rachel Maddow Show interviewed Wertheim and within days, Wells Fargo offered her a modification that lowered her monthly payments to something she could afford. When I caught up with Wertheim at the end of 2010, shesaid it was a “godsend” to have peace of mind, knowing she wouldn’t be forced out of her home in her final days—which she knew were numbered after her cancer spread to her spine, cervix, and brain. A few months later, in March 2011, Wertheim died at age 50, leaving her home to her three kids.

The three-bedroom house is about 2,200 square-feet, “a whimsical tree house with a view,” says Rebeccah Wertheim-Knapp, the middle child. None of the kids were living there, so Wertheim’s eldest daughter, Kaiya, began figuring out how to sell it. They put it on the market last June, asking $664,000. Almost no buyers expressed interest. In December, they brought in a new realtor team and lowered the price to $575,000. One of their realtors, Devin Ratoosh, says hundreds of people looked at the house, but none made an offer. After lowering the price to $475,000, they got one promising bid—an all-cash offer for $450,000.

If it had been up to them, the three would have accepted the offer immediately. But it’s not. That’s because the mortgage debt on the house exceeds $535,000, so—like the properties of one in five homeowners nationwide—it is underwater. The Wertheims needed Wells Fargo to approve a short sale, by which the home is sold for less than what’s due on the mortgage. The bank rejected the request for a short sale, saying it valued the home at $675,000, an amount Ratoosh calls an “obscene unrealistic valuation.” He says Wells Fargo wouldn’t entertain a challenge to the pricing, including a report showing $60,000 of termite damage to the home.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Vickee Adams says that under the valuation the bank made, the offer was too low. Adams says Wells Fargo did a drive-by appraisal; from the curb, the property “looked well-cared for,” so the bank assumed the house was occupied. That assumption ended up dinging the Wertheims because it’s easier to get short sales approved when a home is vacant, Adams says. The drive-by valuation also didn’t take into account such internal problems as the termite damage. Adams says the bank will re-examine the appraisal.

Short sales usually fetch more money than foreclosures, according to Lender Processing Services, a Florida company that handles defaults for mortgages lenders. The average foreclosure is discounted 29 percent, while a short sale typically goes for only 23 percent less than a comparable non-distressed home. Only recently have short sales begun picking up.

The Wertheims hope to be part of this growing trend. They could let the home go into foreclosure—financially, it wouldn’t make a big difference—but it takes about a year to process foreclosures in California. Wertheim-Knapp, who works 50 hours a week as a nanny and has no savings, hopes she and her siblings can move on. “It would be nice if everything just finally stopped,” she says.