For the June 30th edition of the San Francisco Chronicle Sound Off column, this was my contribution, plus some additional comments:

With in-person open homes still prohibited in the East Bay, agents are instead scheduling Virtual Open Houses, advertised at set times. Instagram Live, FaceBook Live and Zoom are all platforms in use for these fairly quick—usually half hour or so—walkthroughs with the agent at the property, sharing a narrated tour. For a more engaging method, I will be partnering with a colleague, with him filming at my listing, while I fill in details and share some of the back-story, as well as answering questions from viewers.

Virtual opens are mostly still on weekends, though any day is now an option. There is talk within our real estate community of standardizing the times, in an attempt to make them easier to find by potential buyers. Social media is a key means of advertising these e- events, and we are also discussion the option of using consistent hashtags within those posts such as #EastBayVOH. Stay tuned!

Now a very high percentage of listings have some manner of video available to help buyers narrow down to just a few homes they could imagine being seriously interested in, and want to visit in person. Online 3-D walkthroughs, a professionally produced video tour, a narrated slide show, or an agent-produced casual tour are all currently being used. It’s exciting to see how quickly our industry has adapted creatively, while still ensuring that our sellers’ homes receive excellent exposure.

Before we schedule a physical walk-through of the property, keep in mind, per California Association of REALTORS and OSHA guidelines, you’ll need to sign a Property Entry Advisory and Declaration (PEAD), bring your own masks, diligently wash or sanitize your hands, avoid touching anything, and only two people from the same household are allowed at one time – if you are bringing others or a child(ren) under 12 they’ll need to wait outside. I will need to acquire the disclosures, and ask that all potential buyers skim through those and sign off on the cover sheets. I will also need to send each listing agent a copy of your preapproval letter, documenting your financial capabilities. Obviously you will only want to go through these procedures, and possibly incur some risk, for homes in which you have serious interest.

If the home is “the one,” let’s talk about what would make a strong offer!



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I was asked to respond to the following question by our publicists, Lion and Orb, and thought I’d share my (lengthy…) response with everyone. Most of the answers really apply to all buyers right now. 

What are some ways the pandemic could make it an easier time to buy for first-time buyers? What factors will benefit first-time buyers right now?

It’s an interesting question! The key factors that my first-time buyers are experiencing are in two main areas:

  1. Financing: Interest rates have hovered between very low and record low rates during this period! That means buyers have more buying power, assuming they are among the fortunate ones whose incomes and assets have not seen a significant downturn.
  2. Buying process: 

Several aspects of the buying process have shifted in ways that can benefit first-time buyers:

More information available on line

While casually attending weekend open homes is no longer an option, we as listing agents are now motivated to provide increasing amounts of information online. Video tours have existed for some time, but now a very high percentage of listings have some manner of walk-through available to buyers from the comfort of their homes. That can be a 3-D walkthrough, a professionally produced video tour, a narrated slide show, or an agent-produced video tour. In addition, agents are now scheduling Virtual Open Houses at set times. Instagram Live, FaceBook Live and Zoom are all platforms in use for these fairly quick—usually half hour or so—walkthroughs with the agent at the property, sharing a narrated tour, and answering any questions from the viewers.

Reduced Competition

Restrictive new requirements to physically view properties has limited the showings, and thus reduced competition.

In our highly competitive East Bay market one of the most daunting factors for first-time buyers is accepting just how much competition they may face to acquire their first home. This shows itself in three ways: numbers of offers, percentage of sales price over list price, and the actual sales price.

Lower number of offers

Before SIP, the average number of offers received per listing was around five. But some of the most attractively priced, well-located and desirable properties would occasionally receive 15, 20 or more. Number of offers on average has been reduced to three, and a recent poll of active local agents showed that while the majority of listings received multiple offers, it was a small majority. Pre-SIP, a very high percentage of properties received multiple offers.

Reduced overbidding rates

Pre-SIP sales prices often exceeded list price. Behavior has always depended on the city and neighborhood, but 10% overbidding was common in the East Bay as a whole, and in Berkeley 20-25% was expected. But in some of the most desirable, and especially walkable neighorhoods, overbidding of 50% or more was extreme, but not unprecedented. Now on average prices are selling 7% over list, but changing week-to-week.

Prices closer to market value

Prices are not following a clear course yet, but agents are reporting that they are expecting prices to be 1-5% lower now than pre-SIP. We are seeing more price reductions compared to pre-SIP, which is often an indication of some change in the market. Significantly, more agents are pricing their homes “transparently” which generally means a price at which the seller would accept an offer, should there be only one. That does not preclude sellers wishing for more, and sometimes scheduling offers to be heard on a set date as before, hoping to receive multiple offers. But at least for this immediate period, we are seeing more sellers giving an indication of their pricing strategy, and that information alone is a major benefit to first-time buyers who were previously left feeling that they were tossing darts at a dart board when deciding on what price to offer! Pricing more transparently is good for the credibility of our industry, as well as helping limit the number of buyers moving through homes at this time when we want to limit exposure to COVID.

Shorter time period for review

The new restrictions for viewing, including the most recent requirements imposed over this past week for listing agents to wipe surfaces between every showing, and provide “thorough cleaning” at the end of each showing day is also encouraging a shortening of the review period. Pre-SIP the standard schedule was to have two weekends of open homes once the property was on the market, followed by a set date to hear offers. Now some sellers are stating they will hear “offers as they come.” While the majority of sellers are still setting an offer date, it is now considerably shorter: either waiting a few days after a weekend, or giving a property one full week of exposure, but rarely two.

Increasing inventory

While the initial response to SIP was a pause in our market, inventory is increasing as we speak, and we now are at levels slightly higher than a year ago. That benefits all buyers.

For my first-time buyers the longer wait period was an added source of stress. Both having somewhat clearer expectations around price, and a shorter window within which to respond are welcome changes.

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Celebrating Earth Day, the 2020 at-home version

April 21, 2020

Honoring the Earth as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day! The Earth has responded to the Great Lull with clearer air, cleaner waters, and the return of many kinds of wildlife. While we can’t gather physically together, there are many wonderful ways to celebrate Earth Day everyday by taking care of ourselves, each […]

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Museums, Aquaria and Zoos to Virtually Visit while Sheltering in Place

April 16, 2020

Museums, aquaria and zoos from around the world have opened their collections to enjoy online, in tours and interviews, both in video and streaming live. The Louvre: You don’t have to book a ticket to Paris to check out some of the famous pieces in the world’s largest art museum. The Louvre has free online tours of three […]

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Changes to Marketing Properties during SIP

April 15, 2020

I answered this question in Sound Off on Sunday, 4/12/2020. Below is an enhanced and updated version of my response that was printed in the SF Chronicle, and is online at SF Gate: “How has the COVID-19 outbreak changed the way you market listings?” A:  Residential real estate was defined an “essential service” in California […]

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Tips for Sustainable Shopping this Holiday Season

December 17, 2019

With gift-giving and all of the holiday parties, Americans throw away an estimated 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than at other times of the year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It adds up to an additional one million tons per week! If crowded malls, tedious travel and impersonal gifts […]

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Strategic Pricing in this East Bay Market

October 24, 2019

I occasionally answer questions in the real estate section of SFGate, participating in a column called Sound Off. When I started several years ago, one agent per week had an opportunity to respond to a question with enough space to give a fairly thorough answer. As demand to participate increased, they changed the format and now […]

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Enchanting Retreat in Sylvan Setting

April 20, 2019

It’s been my pleasure to have several listings in North Berkeley this year, the current one being a very charming cottage in the woods at 1470 Campus Drive in the Berkeley hills. The initial response has been excellent, with many requests to review the disclosures. I always actively market my listings, especially to other agents. […]

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Tremendous Coverage for a Terrific Property! Open St. Patrick’s Day 2-4:30 PM

March 16, 2019

I am always excited to represent a listing, especially one in my own North Berkeley neigbhorhood, and especially such a beautiful property. But my current listing is special to me in many ways. I have known Barbara, one of the three siblings selling this home, since 1976 when we were both active Scottish dancers. I […]

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The 2019 Market Begins…and the importance of Kitchens!

March 3, 2019

The daffodils are blooming, and they have always been my harbingers of the beginning of the real estate market. After what felt like a very mixed but mostly sluggish fall market, 2019 appears to be off to a strong start. But we may see some subtle (and some less subtle!) changes. At least for January, […]

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