Marin luxury real estate market holding its own

An aerial view of Locksley Hall in Belvedere. The house sold for $47.5 million. Mike Jacobsen photo

Marin’s luxury real estate market is holding steady with sales essentially unchanged from last year, held back by a dearth of homes on the market, experts said.

Forty-eight homes valued at more than $4 million sold between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2015, while 49 such homes sold during the same period in 2014, according to Bay Area Real Estate Information Services, a North Bay multiple listing service.

“We still have a lack of inventory,” said Marcus Robinson, an agent with Coldwell Banker. “The supply is really down. In all of Marin, in every price range, we only have 318 detached single-family homes for sale (at present).”

“I have four buyers looking for something in the $6 million to $7 million range and I can’t find anything for them. I’ve been trying for a year,” said Marilyn Rich, a Pacific Union agent.

Eric Gelman of Bradley Real Estate said, “Right now the luxury market is a seller’s market. It’s a good time to be a seller.”

Complicating the short supply of homes for sale is the tendency of upscale buyers to be finicky about what they purchase, agents said.

“Each of my luxury buyers wants a particular town, or two towns, and has particular needs,” Rich said. “They are very discerning and very particular. They know exactly what they want and are willing to wait for it.”

“If they are going to be spending $3 million or $4 million, they want it to be move-in ready,” Robinson said. “Buyers are thinking twice about buying a house and having to redo kitchens and baths. A lot of buyers don’t have the time to go through that — the permit process, hiring an architect, a contractor. Some of these people are high-powered, they have demanding careers.”

“They want to move in and put their coffeemaker on and their toothbrush in the toothbrush holder,” said Carey Hagglund Condy, a Pacific Union agent. “Women are running companies, just like their husbands.”

High-end buyers “want land. They want a nice flat piece of property,” Rich said. “They want to be able to put in a swimming pool if they want to. The $8 million and above (buyers) want a guest house on the property.”

According to Robinson, when selling an upscale home, “What’s very important is photos that are on the Internet, because 85 percent of buyers go to the Internet first. Your house had better show well in pictures. If it doesn’t, buyers are not going to call the listing agent to see it.”

“In general, it’s important for sellers to make the best effort. You need to present your house well and price it right,” Gelman said.

Several high-profile luxury sales have closed in Marin recently. Locksley Hall, an 1895 Belvedere mansion, sold in August for $47.5 million, smashing price records in the county. Also, Barry Zito, the former San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics pitcher, sold his Kentfield mansion for $8.15 million.

A price of $1.5 million or more is often used by real estate information services to designate luxury homes. However, with Marin’s median price hitting $990,500 in July, this number is deemed too low in the context of Marin County, agents said.

Rich Benson, Marin County’s assessor-recorder, concurred.

“That ($1.5 million) is not much when you’re comparing it to $47.5 million,” Benson said, referring to the sale of Locksley Hall.

As it happens, the market looked much the same when the numbers were run for sales valued at $2 million or more.

Two hundred and sixty-nine homes valued at $2 million or more sold in Marin County between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2014. And 276 such homes sold during the same period this year, according to the multiple listing service.

Looking to the immediate future, agents were crossing their fingers.

“We’re hoping for more inventory after Labor Day,” said Kate Hamilton of Coldwell Banker. “Things seasonally slow down in August, but we’ll sometimes see a flurry following Labor Day weekend.”

The experts felt the outlook for the long run was positive, saying that the technology boom in San Francisco and the South Bay has affected not only those areas but the surrounding areas as well, boosting prices at all levels.

“We are one of the hotbeds of the U.S. economy,” said John Zeiter of Decker Bullock Sotheby’s International Realty. “Google has $65 billion in cash and Apple has $155 billion in cash. They have employees who are making money — and small companies making a product and selling it to Google and Facebook. These employees are getting big buyout numbers and that money is turning around and going into real estate.”

“I don’t think we can help but reflect what’s happening in the Bay Area in general,” Assessor-Recorder Benson said. “Marin is a very desirable area.”

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