Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dark and Dreary in Larkspur

This 690 sq ft Larkspur house has not only seen two world wars (built in 1913) but has also seen the sun. That's about the only nice thing the realtor who wrote this one up has to say -- "...but up a quiet lane with sun". The implication being that other Madrone Canyon houses are in the dark (which is fairly accurate). No "lifestyle upgrades" mentioned. And someone really ought to tell the realtor that using the light meter that comes with a camera is generally considered a good idea. This PoS will set you back $625,000. That's $906/sq ft in case you are wondering.


Blogger marin_explorer said...

The realtor also adds in the listing:

"Owners have working plans (not approved but have been working w/town) for a 1503 sf home. Check the comps and you will see the huge upside potential for this property."

So, possibly rebuilding a 1500 sf home on a tract totaling roughly 3500 sf (.08 acre) is "huge upside potential"? Adding a rather modest-sized home at possibly as much as $500 per sf (that is, if the city approves), and you're looking at a total close to $1.4M. What an upside!

December 20, 2005 5:54 PM  
Anonymous by_palladium said...

Is this over by dark park? If so, does the realtor make mention of the flood or landslide potential? Not too mention the wet and dry rot potential.

I guess it is a good neighborhood to watch salamanders.

December 20, 2005 8:22 PM  
Blogger sf jack said...

The exorbitant **itboxes just keep on comin' in Marin!

More of those around than greater fools, apparently, with house price listings presently undergoing an "adjustment".

December 20, 2005 10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People in Marin have no sense of value. Maybe a lot of people in Marin have inherited their wealth and so don't value it as much as someone who worked for it. maybe that's why such an abundance of crappy old houses sell for such exorbitant prices.

December 20, 2005 10:46 PM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...


I could not disagree more on your comment on value. People are coming up with the cash because they _do_ appreciate value. In this case it is the value of the natural setting, the proximity to San Francisco, the low crime rate, the weather, good schools and above all LOVELY people (sarcasm). If you want the other kind of value -- a nice house -- you have numerous options in Antioch, Pittsburg, Brentwood, Tracy, Fairfield, Vallejo, Vacaville, etc. Nicer houses with higher crime, poor schools and uh, no national parks or oceans in their backyards. RE is all about location and it is location, location, location that drives relative prices in an area.

Marin is the most desirable area in a very desirable part of the country. That is why we pay $900/SF for s***boxes. I will pass on the Antioch McMansion. (Or your Minneapolis/Kansas City/Dallas/Denver/Detroit McMansion).

December 22, 2005 12:00 PM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...

I have friends who have done it both with handouts and with equity from selling something else. And in one horrifying case, their 401k.

December 22, 2005 12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marin is the most desirable area in a very desirable part of the country. That is why we pay $900/SF for s***boxes. - rejunkie

Yes, Marin is desirable but not for me. I would not waste $1 million on a shack, which could not even protect you during the raining season. Believe me there is plenty rain here. Plus there are potential mold, and rotting foundation problems. This is not home. This is a poor condition that someone has to pay $1 million to endure. There are other ways to spend that $1 million dollars.

December 22, 2005 12:52 PM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...

Just in case you think Marin is "special" with its $900/sf POS's, take a look at what A$950k buys you in my old neighborhood in Sydney. It is 106 sq m. (about 1060 SF) or A$895/SF. I believe it is actually rusting! Salaries in Sydney are nominally similar to here. And there is no mortgage deduction in Australia:


December 22, 2005 8:57 PM  
Anonymous by_palladium said...

Yeah, the prices Sydneyside are crazier than marin, believe it or not. Salaries are quite a bit lower in absolute values (once high taxes, lower purchasing power and exchange rate are figured in).

But the weather and surf are so much better, I guess that makes up for it.

Just imagine is Marin had sydney's weather and beaches. We would then be trying to explain $2000 per square foot.

December 22, 2005 9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rejunkie -

What you describe are a constant in Marin and do not at all explain the run up in prices nor its foundation. Marin had all those things 4 years ago when prices were half. Your arguments do not change the fact that Marin houses are way over priced thanks to this bubble.

December 22, 2005 11:00 PM  
Blogger marin_explorer said...

Just in case you think Marin is "special" with its $900/sf POS's, take a look at what A$950k buys you in my old neighborhood in Sydney.

According to the latest issue of The Economist, I see home prices in Sydney fell 8% in 2005. Other articles have placed Australia in one of the most overvalued housing markets. What's happening in Aus could certainly happen here.

December 23, 2005 9:02 AM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...

What you describe are a constant in Marin and do not at all explain the run up in prices nor its foundation. - anonymous

You are absolutely correct, I was not trying to justify the absolute prices nor the recent runup, just the fact that relatively speaking, for roughly the past 20-25 years, Marin has been the most expensive county in CA and has commanded a price premium based on the value of its location. I was challenging the assertion that people in Marin have no sense of value when value is not all about $$$/SF.

December 23, 2005 9:13 AM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...

What's happening in Aus could certainly happen here. -reskeptic

Indeed, I made the same observation based on firsthand knowledge of the early part of the Sydney bubble (1999-2001) right here:


December 23, 2005 9:18 AM  
Blogger marin_explorer said...

Indeed, I made the same observation based on firsthand knowledge of the early part of the Sydney bubble (1999-2001) right here:

Ah...please excuse my redundancy!

Marin has been the most expensive county in CA and has commanded a price premium based on the value of its location.

Most expensive, really? While Marin is a nice location, I'd first like to see something tangible to substantiate its place as the "most expensive county". Thinking further, I recall median home prices are that indicator.

Just for the purposes of discussion, why would this be--because Marin has little housing affordable to median wage earners, producing a sampling bias? Or is all of Marin really that fantastic compared to elsewhere? Certainly, there's some nice neighborhoods in Marin, but there's just as many mediocre ones.

As an example, we happen to live on the water, with a wonderful environment, views, lifestyle, etc.--but most people here don't. They live in neighborhoods similar to many other locations in the bay area--but with that inexplicable price premium.

This is a topic that generates a lot of subjective discussion, and is worthy of an idependent article, one I hope to tackle post-holidays.

December 23, 2005 10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am new here and wondering why there is so much open space not developed. I do not mean to develop the whole open space but I see some areas that houses could be built. This might help the housing affordability.

One friend of mine works for a national home builder said that Marin is the most inward looking city he has ever known. Maybe he has different motivation but there is some truth to it.

December 23, 2005 10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It might have something to do with the fact that Martin prices have doubled 10 years since 1960? however as we know, past earnigns are no indication of future returns.


December 23, 2005 11:54 AM  
Anonymous outsider said...

Because no one in Marin is interested in seeing affordable development to occur. It's been that way for decades here. No more expansion.

Anyway outside of that, how much more can Marin's infrastructure handle anyway?

December 23, 2005 1:51 PM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...

As an example, we happen to live on the water, with a wonderful environment, views, lifestyle, etc.--but most people here don't. They live in neighborhoods similar to many other locations in the bay area--but with that inexplicable price premium. -reskeptic

It is not an "inexplicable price premium". There are some mediocre neighborhoods, no doubt. In fact, I live in south Novato which could be any 60s-70s tract development anywhere in California(I am not proud). But, taken as a whole (natural features, crime, schools, open space, proximity to the city, etc), on a county-by-county basis, not one of the remaining 8 Bay Area counties holds as much appeal as Marin. Berkeley has better streetlife and restaurants (if you don't mind being sandwiched between Oakland and Richmond), Palo Alto has a beatiful downtown area and shopping (if the occasional drive-by from East PA doesn't bother you), Walnut Creek is nice (aside from the oil refineries and their occasional accidents) but nowhere in the Bay Area is as desirable over such a relatively large area, as Marin. That is my opinion and I would suggest that the numbers back that up ("bad" neighborhoods are usually not expensive). You feel differently and you are entitled to your opinion but I would not say it is inexplicable.

How much of a premium should that command is open to conjecture but there is a pervasive NIMBY-ism climate in Marin that exacerbates the prices here. Look at St. Vincent's/Silveira in Marinwood -- I have witnessed the arguments over that plot of land for the past 10 years. Local politicians have created platforms around how that particular patch of land gets used (Hello Susan Adams), and nothing gets done. How many Marin citizens have ever set foot there? It is a cow pasture between a railroad and a freeway for crying out loud, not Muir Woods. It is no more special a place than the other side of 101 which is yet another mediocre residential neighborhood -- Marinwood.

We have our politicians and, by extension ourselves, to blame for it.

As a county and a state, we have collectively decided through the ballot box, that we will preserve open space and promote slow growth, or negative growth accord to our pop. stats, at the expense of decent public transportation and affordable housing. It has been that way here for decades.

Apologies for the thread drift.

December 23, 2005 3:05 PM  
Blogger marin_explorer said...

I could take the time to comment on points you made, but I suspect our core difference is one of opinion. After all, I wonder if we can exactly quantify, much less prove, why Marin is so much more desirable, or even on par with the nicer areas of Berkley, Los Gatos, Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills--many which also have nice scenery, engaging culture scenes as you note, and possibly better infrastructure. I've lived in a few of the above towns, and at least half this country strikes me as undesireable, or to be frank: seedy and shoddy. While I do enjoy living in Marin, and want to like the whole county, I'm simply underwhelmed.

Don't take this as a slam of Marin, but for me it's simply too easy to compare our previous homes here or outside the state, and find a distinct disparity between cost/value over what's available in Marin.

However, I have to admit, these differences are perceptual, and almost impossible to quantify. Don't take this personally, but I'm rather dubious to the idea the Bay Area real estate is a cut above many other metro centers. Despite so many people saying how great this place is, my personal experience tells me otherwise.

Just my take, for what it's worth. And, thanks for your points, as it helps me detect any personal bias. I'll address this subject further by contributing an article to this blog.

December 23, 2005 3:55 PM  
Blogger LarkBark said...

Can you imagine with this Dark Park gem would sell for with approved plans? The owner has working plans? I wonder if they include a couple hundred thousand for civil engineering? And why-oh-why aren't those plans approved? Value of so-called working drawings? About zip. Do they include a funicular? Carrying groceries and every other damn thing up flights of stairs to an upbuilt house? In the rain? God, I hope they're young. They can look forward to carrying kidlet's first tricycle up and down the stairs for every trip to Dark Park.

December 23, 2005 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It might have something to do with the fact that Marin prices have doubled 10 years since 1960? - anonymous

It also means that the overall purchasing power has declined by the same ratio. You are only better off if you sell your houses, move out of California and be quick about it.

Some economist said that the rise of housing prices reflects more of the inflationary environment we have been facing than other indictors such as CPI or PPI suggest. The government data is not complete since housing prices are not included in the calculation. Instead, rents are included in the calculation and rents have been declining for the past several years.

If inflation is not contained and keeps on rising the same rate it has had for last 10 years, one day a cup of coffee would cost $2 million. When that happens, it does not mean much for being a billionaire not to mention a millionaire.

Paper money is a relative term. When there is too much of it, inflation would occur and inflation cuts into our living standards. An article by Chris Waltzek on the Financial Sense today has the following words:

"During inflationary periods, wages tend to lag far behind price hikes. Higher prices without an incremental rise in personal income places considerable pressure upon fixed income as well as lower to middle income families:" and "Although the world is beginning to reject the U.S. dollar, the nation is not doomed to a hyper-inflationary spiral."

December 24, 2005 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

reskeptic, rejunkie,

Much of the Bay Area is not particularily nice. Compared to much of the rest of the Bay area marin is a little better and so given the crappy context it finds itself in it stands out. it's like if you are doomed to work in the bay area then you might as well try to live in marin as that is about as good as it gets. it's a contrast effect and after a while people will make up all sorts of crazy rationalizations to justify it to themselves.

December 24, 2005 12:54 PM  
Blogger BROMEO said...

Marin as a whole is the nicest county in the Bay Area. I think that the only crappy areas of Marin County are Marin City and a few parts of San Rafael. The fact that there is practically no new development and a decent amount of open space is desirable to a lot of people. That being said, the prices out here are ridiculous such that it is hard, even for people who make a real nice living, to afford a decent house out here. The shortfalls of our infrastructure out here can not be understated as well. The traffic out here is ridiculous for most of the day and public transportation out here is mediocre, although I do not know how many Marin county snobs would actually take it if it wasn't.

December 24, 2005 4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marin as a whole is the nicest county in the Bay Area.

I suppose that's because Marin, as a county, has this particular identity unto itself. Elsewhere, people identify with a town and not a particular county. People reside in a town first, a county second. I'm not going to slam Marin here, but I could name plenty of marginal areas, and not just the "ghetto Marin". However, it's true that the shoddy areas of Marin may be slightly better than shoddyness elsewhere--but is that really a compliment? These crumbling areas are still not worth the "premium", which effectively maintains a false bottom on the market, keeping homes in median neighborhoods higher. Are these artificial market dynamics, or driven by real economic realities? I have my suspicions; you're free to make your own.

December 24, 2005 9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh! Marin's new motto... "It's not as bad here".

December 27, 2005 11:22 AM  
Blogger INVESTORDUDE said...

Why live in a Marin treehouse that looks like it was built by a 13 year old and will cost you your life savings?

And Marin does have its dirty little ghettos. There's CRIME there folks. The canal in San Rafael isn't immune from crime. You get shootings ever so often. And Marin City isn't a nice place either. Oh, let's not forget all the damn ILLEGALS that are hanging out in San Rafael for work.

I find it interesting that I can get a house over here in Hiddenbrooke (Vallejo) on an Arnold Palmer designed golf course, 2500 square feet, huge driveway, with little crime going on, no mudslides, no f***ing woodsy surroundings, fairly educatedand FRIENDLY people that drive BMW's and Mercedes, and nearly brand spanking new construction for 500K-800K.

I'll grant you the City of Vallejo isn't the greatest place in the world, but Hiddenbrooke is slightly outside the city. And guess what, for security, we have a dozen CHP officers surrounding the place because it's their favorite hang out to trap speeders on 80.

Marin is surreal. Why anyone is STUPID enough to pay for it is beyond me. You just get people with attitudes who have no sense of value and insist of feeding their own delusions. I'll grant you that many people are wealthy in Marin, but many also fake it. When you examine their finances, you find that their rich on paper and cash poor. If their treehouse ever loses value, they'll be sleeping in the sandbox for awhile.

December 28, 2005 2:45 AM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...


I have a friend who lives at Hiddenbrooke and that place gives me the creeps. Bland McMansions in the middle of a treeless nowhere that requires getting in a car to get anywhere at all. Oh, that and the 35-40 mile trek to the city with no public transit to your development whatsoever. And those EXCELLENT Vallejo schools currently under state administration.

Good times.

Again, value is not always about $$$/SF. There is a reason why Hiddenbrooke is a "value".

Many people, like myself, would prefer to spend that 500-800k on a condo in Marin than a big stucco and tile bland beast in Hiddenbrooke.

Yes, there is crime in Marin, but it is laughably low compared to the rest of the Bay Area. We have, on average, 2 murders a year. San Francisco has 2 per week. Even adjusting for population, that means the rate is 16.7x higher in SF. I frequently (although accidentally) leave my car unlocked at night and nothing happens. The last time I had a car broken into was 1990. The various places I have lived in since 1971 have NEVER been broken into, despite the absence of alarms and the relatively low police presence here. Aside from the one car break-in, I have never been beaten, threatened, carjacked, mugged, raped or robbed in 34 years of living here. I am sure bad luck has befallen others here, but your odds are very low of being a victim of crime in Marin -- violent or otherwise.

To each his own.

December 28, 2005 9:56 AM  
Blogger INVESTORDUDE said...

Regarding the Hiddenbrooke comments. That's not quite true. We have plenty of open space. Nice green mountains and wildlife. I've seen everything. Not trees that obscure your view. Ok, they give you privacy, but they also fall on your POS house eventually, unless you're up in the trees--then you become "ocean front" property.

The Vallejo school system sucks, but if you're living in Marin, you ought to be able to afford a private school on the other side of the bay. They're also building an elementary school in the development.

McMansions? Hey, I like my McMansion. And I like a very tough NICE Golf Course nearby. It's better than an old rotting, mold infested shack, with a tree waiting to fall on it.

No public transportation? Wrong. The ferry leaves from Vallejo to SF every day with frequent runs. It takes you awhile to get there, true, but hey, you can snooze, read the paper--all the things you Marin people already do.

December 28, 2005 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Investordude -

You are not alone. Solano County has a much higher growth rate than Marin. People realize they don’t have to spend $1.5 million in Marin for a mediocre house.

I have met people moving from Solano, and Orange to Marin. The common reaction is frustration. They all have decent jobs but they are disappointed at the poor housing and less quality of life in Marin.

December 28, 2005 12:33 PM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...


Shall we agree to disagree on what different people value in a house? You like your McMansion surrounded by bald brown hills and your long commute -- I will stick to my 50s house with bus service 100 feet away (not a 10 mile drive to the ferry), easy access for mountain biking on Tam and top-notch schools.

There are all but 250,000 Bay Area residents who must agree that living elsewhere is better than Marin. And bless you for it, because God's County would be jammed (and even more expensive) if you valued the same things in a location that we do.

I am not debating the merits of one location versus another, just the definition of "value".

December 28, 2005 1:39 PM  
Blogger INVESTORDUDE said...


8.7 miles to the ferry. About 13 minutes. (13 minutes is a horrible commute!)

The bald brown hills tend to appear in summer when it's hot, they are balanced by the nice green golf course. The hills are currently green and quite nice.

I don't take the bus as I don't enjoy bus culture and sanitation.

God's Country? Don't make me puke.

December 28, 2005 2:48 PM  
Blogger VO5 said...

Salano county vs MArin -
give me a break dude, there isn't anything to compare except both have humans living there.

Anywhere in the east bay is a pit compared to Marin.

Salono county -come on dude get real

January 11, 2006 3:07 PM  
Blogger marin_explorer said...

Anywhere in the east bay is a pit compared to Marin.

LOL...that's a bit of an exaggeration. There are numerous neighborhoods that meet or exceed much of Marin--not to mention more culture.

January 15, 2006 5:12 PM  
Blogger VO5 said...

ok, parts of berkley,Moraga, Lyfyette, Orinda

black hawk/ danville cheese pits
no taste very similiar to south san jose regards tackiness..aero culture

January 17, 2006 2:42 PM  

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