Tuesday, September 6, 2016

No ‘For Sale’ Sign? Silicon Valley Buyers Aren’t Deterred

Swell-looking home you’ve got here. Ever think about selling it? How about to me, right now?

That is increasingly the approach the house-hungry are using in Silicon Valley, where the number of homes on the market is so small that would-be buyers are driven to desperation. Their solution: seek out homes that are, in theory at least, not for sale.

Sue Zweig grew up in this working-class community, back when people said it was for the newly wed and the nearly dead. Not long ago, when she was out walking her dog, she began to realize things were different. A woman pulled over, asked about houses for sale in the neighborhood and ended up spending 45 minutes poking around Ms. Zweig’s living room and kitchen.

Her four-bedroom house was not on the market then, and it was not on the market a year or so later when another eager buyer showed up. This time, Ms. Zweig, a nurse, and her husband, Steve Zweig, made a deal for $1.375 million, a seven-figure profit over what they had paid in 1987. They moved out of the house last year.

Buyers in Silicon Valley must be aggressive and innovative as well as well-heeled, especially as housing inventory here hits its lowest point in at least 20 years. In San Mateo County, which includes Redwood City, the number of homes for sale in August was 1,184. That is a drop of 62 percent from a decade ago, even as the population increased more than 70,000.

It is a microcosm of a growing national problem. The number of homes on the market in the United States has fallen on a year-over-year basis for the last 14 months, the National Association of Realtors says. When adjusted for population, the inventory of homes for sale is the lowest it has been since modern records started being kept in 1982.

Flushing out people before they are officially ready to sell — by a few weeks or a few years — has obvious benefits for buyers, but sellers say they can profit, too. It streamlines an expensive process that traditionally consumes many months.

“We probably left money on the table,” said Mr. Zweig, a retired digital printer. “But we didn’t have to list it, didn’t have to do open houses, didn’t have to stage it.”

There is a long history among Silicon Valley’s elite of buying houses that are not for sale. Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire chief executive of Facebook, found a place he liked near San Francisco’s Mission District in 2012 and paid the owner at least twice what it was worth.

People of much more modest means are now echoing his tactics, even if they cannot extend his lavish terms.

“Technology is making people impatient,” said Steve Korn, a retired forklift facility manager who is now a real estate agent here. “No one wants a six-month slog anymore to get a new place or move on from an old place.”

Technology is also fueling this boom in a more direct way. Tech companies, especially Facebook and Google, have plans to build new campuses and hire even more workers.

That means even places like Redwood City, a longtime also-ran to neighbors like Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto, are now hot. That’s a windfall for longtime residents like the Zweigs, who moved to a coastal town 220 miles south and built a new house.

Prices in their old Redwood City development have continued to soar, prompting some wishful dreams among those who remain.

Michele and Mike Sweeney put a “make me move” notice on their 2,060-square-foot house last year. That is a feature that the online real estate company Zillow offers to let owners solicit interest. Their demand was $1.9 million, significantly more than their house was worth.

“We used to say around here, ‘If it hits a million, we’re all selling,’” said Ms. Sweeney, who works for a hospital. “That was not too long ago.”

They were flooded with inquiries but did not make a deal. Now, according to Zillow, their house is rapidly approaching the price they wanted. “I asked my son, ‘Do you want to finish high school in Italy?’” Ms. Sweeney said.

by David Streitfeld, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Gabrielle Lurie