Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Tabula Rasa in Mill Valley

A reader sent this one in to me. Thanks!

This 1074 sq ft PoS in Mill Valley (built in 1944), according to the realtor, is essentially a blank canvas for your domestic creativity -- "Make this house a HOME! A home can be a vehicle for self expression. Express Yourself!". In other words, pay the $791,000 selling price ($737 per sq ft, the "perfect" house for any high six figure income Marin resident these days), tear it down, and dump another three-quarters-of-a-million dollars or whatever to build something worth living in. Yeah, welcome to Marin.


Blogger marin_explorer said...

I'd like to mention these are some of the worst cases of seller optimism I've seen--rather than benchmarks for Marin housing prices. I think their realtor is doing a rather poor job at advising the seller on listing price.

By contrast, I've seen some decent homes here in the $800K range, but I generally I think prices are still too high. If I can move away, make 80% of my current income, where a comparable house costs 1/3, it becomes an intriguing option--despite how "special" Marin might be.

December 06, 2005 3:57 PM  
Blogger Marinite said...

I disagree somewhat. Yes, there are some very nice homes available in Marin. But these PoS form something of a "baseline" for all the rest. These show how little money buys in Marin. You have to pay porportionately more for anything nicer. I'm talking in general here; there are always the exceptions.

December 06, 2005 4:31 PM  
Blogger marin_explorer said...

I agree that homes such as this represent a "false bottom" in the market. Once such homes have corrected to more realistic pricing, the price spread upward must adjust accordingly.

December 07, 2005 8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to go with Marinite here. This has been going on for some time, and it is what realtors are using when asked to justify these outrageous asking prices. Given - this one is a pretty good example of the greed in the market, but it certainly is one that is not unusual to see.

Of course now, I think they will have a hard time.

BTW - Thanks Marinite for this blog.

December 07, 2005 9:35 AM  
Blogger VO5 said...

Funny, although the place has/had very bad curb appeal, it was actually considered a good buy if you can believe that. there were 11 bids on the place. I happened to have the winning bid of this POS. Its actually not as bad as the picture indicates. but stil qualifies as a POS.

December 07, 2005 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is much worse Marin POS props in Woodacre, Fairfax, etc. Up in the hills on stilts. That POS is quite good, you probably would live thru a big earthquake in it. Flood however is another story. I remember when folks were in row boats at the hub after the big flood.

December 07, 2005 12:39 PM  
Blogger VO5 said...

when was the big flood? I had a few water issues already , the place as all do in the area require a sump pump,

Are you refering to the flood in the early 80's? I heard there was 3 ft standing water there. Since they've done a ton of irrigation work, unlikely that would hapen again

December 08, 2005 9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You would have to be in serious denial and delusion to pay these prices for this POS. Simple as that. ;8-)

December 08, 2005 10:31 AM  
Blogger VO5 said...

yeah, do dought so were the 10 others that bid on it. Denial runs rampit in the area as another house around the corner just sold in over 900k similiar size. yikes. I think we're all part of the problem, that and the limited supply

December 08, 2005 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You see, that's my problem. There is not a limited supply. There is a perception of a limited supply. You just have to be hellbent to have to own in MV for some odd reason...school district? I believe the turn is around the corner when people see that prices are coming down and they don't want to be stuck with that property in the near 800k with their money in it.

December 08, 2005 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If your not bent on having a commute which gets heinous anywhere north of the first MV exixt comming from the city then yeah it would seem outragous to live there at these prices. That being said there is a somewhat limited supply of affordable(low end) housing in MV, unsure if its schools or what but national attention MV got as a result of an article where it was listed as one of top 20 cities to live didn't help matters. I have to agree it does seem redculous but for me as well as alot of others,what it offers as far as location is killer, although not enough to justify the price but being an outdoor person ie cycling /water sports this place makes it!

December 08, 2005 4:59 PM  
Blogger marin_explorer said...

"...a commute which gets heinous anywhere north of the first MV exixt comming from the city"

Actually, I think this is a bit of a misperception if you don't live north of MV and drive it for yourself. When we drive into SF (Financial District) from the Ross valley area, its averages us 35 minutes, door-to-door. Our return trip can be worse, but nothing heinous. Most days, we take the ferry, which is even more convenient. Still, there's that cach├ęt about living in towns near the city.

December 08, 2005 5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's why I only rent there. Same advantage of location, soft rental market. I rent a condo there, where I am seeing people buy 3 bedroom condo's for $750k that sold 2 years ago for $550k.

Money must not be an worry for some, or living "house poor".

December 08, 2005 5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am actually thinking about it, as it ($) is a worry and a much bigger one since stepping into a house in MV. I am definately house poor at the moment and all of my time is now spent on projects but at some point I may consider a second unit on the property to help reduce my cash burden so I can get out from the HP situation. I can certainly see your points regarding the commute times from other areas north. However I have made the commute from Novato a few times and was close to 1.5 hrs to MV! evening not as bad but combimning the 2 would certainly add valuable time to ones work day.

In the end it is a liabiliy. only an asset when its bringing in $.

Sadly it would be close to impossibe to have properties here in Marin be cash positive because of the huge devide in rent vs value, definately a difficult situation.

December 09, 2005 10:04 AM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...


Props for fessing up to buying this PoS. Good schools, short commutes, good access to Tam are all quality of life issues and are worth some extra money (not sure how much extra though). However, you can get all of that from renting at half the monthly nut.

Where did you move from? Were you a homeowner already or is this your first? Did you consider renting? What were the factors that led you to believe this was the right approach? Did you throw down the big down payment? These anecdotes always fascinate me so if you feel like spilling your guts, I would love to hear it.

December 09, 2005 5:12 PM  
Anonymous Not LIkely said...

Somehow, I do not believe Vo5 that he/she bought the place. Smells like a troll.

December 09, 2005 5:26 PM  
Blogger Marinite said...

not likely -

I agree.

December 10, 2005 11:41 AM  
Blogger VO5 said...

wrong. Its true. I am legit. no -troll action here

December 12, 2005 8:47 AM  
Blogger VO5 said...

rejunk, thanks for the props on the purchase ha, I would imagine the jokes on me ;) Anyway I wish I put down a chunk of$ for the place, I actually am sifting off another condo I bought here in MV a quite a few years back. I wanted more space and figured that I could barely afford the place but over time could decide to shuffle the deck a bit and peal off the condo and get into a more sustainable situation. Don't have kids just like the area and felt in order to get a place in MV I have no choice but to get a POS and get busy learning to fix things, the price point by many seems somnewhat rediculous especially from an outsiders point of view.

I definately took a leap on this one but only time will tell wehat happens in this crazy market.
I actually got into the market back in 89 w/ a few friends on a whim we bought a POS on the penninsula that turned into the nest egg, then into a few other POS purchases that eventually lead to this gem- So, I am not a newby to the game and to again reject the null, I am the owner of this POS.

December 12, 2005 10:34 AM  
Blogger fredtobik said...

It would seem that vo5 did the smart thing.

The real POS's are the 1000 sqft flipper specials. You pay full price for crap work and materials, the old saying silk hat pig thing. Maybe vo5 is going to do that to this POS?

December 13, 2005 1:51 PM  
Blogger Econ_101 said...

I've missed your posts. We like to read these at the office. You inspired us to do something similar in OC - cataloging outrageous flips in OC (Costa Mesa, HB). Same stuff going on here as up there - crappy little 1100 foot places being sold for $700K.


December 14, 2005 6:47 PM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...


Thanks for the details. I understand the (somewhat irrational) need to own a house in Marin at whatever cost.

I currently live in Novato, but I recently sold a rental condo to buy a house near downtown San Anselmo for $865k that is 1400 SF, definitely NOT a PoS (marble kitchen counters, Miele appliances, glass tile shower enclosures, mahogany-stained floors, all freshly done) for what any financial planner would consider dumb reasons: I HAD to live in San Anselmo because the schools are good; I am a die-hard a mountain biker and need to be able to ride to Tam from my house (a lengthy and tiring exercise from Novato) and dammit, it has a cute downtown and lots of old buildings -- not dissimilar, in a lower-rent kind of way, to Mill Valley's appeal. Plus, I work in the city and the commute is better than the trek from Novato.

BUT, I am currently in a 2000 SF townhome that I paid 450k for in 2002 that is NOT near the best Novato schools but is otherwise more than adequate for our needs.

So, let's say my current domicile is worth 640-ish (it is big and has lots of upgrades). Basically, I have upped the ante 200k and change in exchange for a loss of 600 SF, the garage (yeah, forgot to mention that -- no garage in SA, 2 car carage in Novato) just so I could enjoy the holy grail of a detached home in San Anselmo.

It is behavior driven by wants, not needs -- I was seduced by the lifestyle. It is nuts (I don't label myself 'rejunkie' for nothing). I freely admit it. And it is my behavior replayed over and over again that contributes in part to the upward march in prices. Although, in my defense, I was the only offer and they were asking 875... (yeah, I know, I got lucky)

December 14, 2005 7:56 PM  
Blogger Marinite said...

Well, I've been focused on other things. Besides, the number of new listings here have slowed...there's still a ton of houses on the market but not much new. I expect a lot of PoS candidates in the Spring.

That's so cool that the PoS blog idea is expanding to OC. PoS offspring? More power to you.

For me, a PoS isn't necessarily something that looks like crap. It's a question of what you get (or how little) vs. how much you have to pay for it tht makes it a PoS.

December 14, 2005 7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It is behavior driven by wants, not needs"

The only reason why people can be so careless with their finances and so spoiled in their attitudes is due to the lax lending standards and easy credit and flood of liquidity ala Greenspan.

December 14, 2005 8:12 PM  
Anonymous rejunkie said...


I would not exactly call it careless with the finances because I can actually afford it -- I did throw a $300k down payment on it after all. And I guess my actions could be perceived as being those of someone spoiled (though that usually implies someone else is paying for the lifestyle) but I lived with my parents until I was 29 and drove crappy old used cars until very recently to get to be able to buy a home like this and absolutely no one gave me a handout ever.

I would be more comfortable with the term self-indulgent than spoiled, although only in Marin would a 3bed/2bath 1400 SF house on a 5500 SF lot with no garage, be considered indulgent.

It is careless only in the sense that someone buying a Mercedes is careless -- why do it when a Honda does the job at half the price (which is my point after all, only in this case, the "Honda" is a Novato townhouse)

I do agree that low interest rates and relaxed lending rules help encourage this behavior as well as favorable tax treatment such as 1031 exchanges, 250/500k exclusions from capital gains, etc.

December 16, 2005 4:14 PM  
Blogger fredtobik said...

"It is behavior driven by wants, not needs"

It is behavior driven by ignorance, lack of education. I think people eventually will learn the hard lesson, but wait 20-30 years then the ignorant people will have raised more ignorant people.

I went and got bitter! UGH!
Damn Marin Brew Co. and their fine ales!

December 17, 2005 11:01 PM  
Blogger VO5 said...

It is rediculous that everyone I seem to speak with is "investing"
and buying RE these days, the curent senario in some ways reminds me of the dot com deal, buying in fear that they'll get priced out soon because of the last 5 years rediculous price gains and yes the lending enviornment dosn't hurt the situation any. it will be interesting to see how things pan out in the spring. Lenders are tightening rules a bit but hopefully more of the wacky loans will be available which alo helps people afford the current prices, for me if refiing isn't an option I'll go the way Reskeptic did and sell the condo so I can legitamately afford my "wanted MV POS"

December 22, 2005 3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is ridiculous that everyone I seem to speak with is "investing"
and buying RE these days, -

Was that past tense? If not, where are these people from? Mars? Don't they see the market is softening and there are lots of inventory.

December 23, 2005 10:33 AM  
Blogger VO5 said...

Actually over the last few years not many recently.

But, unlike that group I know experienced investors that have bought smart and over the last 25-30 years but their stratigy hasn't changed like that of the recent group I refered to where they're buying on the wrong principles and may get pinched out of even their primary homes or worse if there's a severe or even moderate correction.

Bottom line there are always uneducated buyers that get caught up in the hype and get burned in the end.

And yes they may be from Mars-

December 23, 2005 11:50 AM  

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