Central Station

The Bay Area's Newest Destination

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why buy?

As confidence returns to the national economy, people are getting more comfortable about buying again and in knowledge-based economies like San Francisco, that shift looks like it will hit the real estate world hard and fast. A number of recent articles, from mainstream sources like yesterday's New York Times to self-interested sources like tons of articles within the real estate, development, and building sphere, all agree on one thing - people still think owning houses is important to their ideas of success (see article below), and to the strength of the national economy, so its just a matter of time until the attitude shifts and a lot of pent-up home-buying desire is released suddenly.

Yesterday's New York Times piece by a UC Berkeley Haas School of Business Professor stated, "By one recent estimate, the nation has about two million fewer households than under more normal conditions. Some of these potential buyers hesitate to take the risk of buying, even though their jobs and credit history may qualify them for mortgages. While near-record numbers of houses all over the country are empty, the sidelines are crowded with this huge 'shadow demand.”

The incredibly low prices and interest rates (which the Fed just promised to keep low through 2014) out there today are going to encourage people to jump back in, and its going to happen fast. In particular, as San Francisco continues to be able to only create a few hundred new housing units a year, but thousands of new high quality jobs a year thanks to CPMC expansion, the tech boom (especially SalesForce.com moving many thousands of employees to San Francisco and other Silicon Valley firms like Intel, Adobe, and Google moving more and more people to the City), and other job creation happening in the City, there simply will not be enough housing once people start buying again, and that is going to have an impact throughout the Bay Area. Places like PCL, which offer an easy commute to SF by car or transit are going to be the first place a lot of those new employees turn to buy their first homes. And smaller companies that can't find or afford San Francisco office space are also going to look to the likes of downtown Oakland, further increasing demand for convenient housing.

Poll Finds that Americans May Still Favor Homeownership
“Homeownership for these voters is more than bricks and mortar and a mortgage.” In fact, in regard to statements about homeownership, 79 percent of respondents say that homeownership provides a good place to raise a family (ranking this, on a scale of zero to 10, an eight or higher).

Other beliefs included:
  • homeownership helps create strong communities (67 percent);
  • homeownership is a key part of achieving the American dream (65 percent);
  • homeownership provides a stable, long-term investment (64 percent);
  • homeownership helps fund government services such as schools, roads and public safety (56 percent); and,
  • homeownership is key to achieving economic security for your family (53 percent).
Additionally, 72 percent of voters stated that now is a good time to buy a home. Meanwhile, 68 percent of those who rent or do not currently pay for housing (i.e. live at home with their parents) say that one of their goals is to eventually buy a home.

Housing demand is going to come back, and its going to happen fast. If you don't own, you would be wise to be ahead of the ball on this and pick up the great deals while they are still out there.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Oakland: West Coast Brooklyn?

Let's be clear. Oakland is the only Oakland. Brooklyn, similarly, is the only Brooklyn. I know Oakland is a wonderful City for all the reasons this video and its testimonials tell me. Am I to understand that this Brooklyn place is also as great? The funny thing about this video is that it lists a bunch of Oakland's best attributes: more affordable and more sunshine than San Francisco, great arts and food scene, nice parks and a lake, lots of great community; but it doesn't tell us anything about Brooklyn, even though it supposedly a comparison. Oh well, I'm certainly not moving THERE anytime soon. I'll stick with Oakland for all the reasons this video says.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Its finally snowing in Tahoe

Last year I bought new skis. They have yet to touch Sierra snow. Finally, FINALLY, we may get our chance. The snow seems oh-so-close until you are sitting in traffic on the Bay Bridge, thinking about how you left 45 minutes ago and aren't even to Oakland yet. Unless of course you live in Oakland. One of the nice things about PCL is that I can jump right on the freeway and be on my way. I've made it to squaw in under 3 hours, and Sugar Bowl in 2.5. Even in good traffic, its an extra 20 minutes from SF. In bad friday afternoon traffic, its an extra hour or more, just to get across the bridge!

Yes, Oakland really is closer!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Paen to Young, Artsy, Professional Life Oakland

Thanks to Kirstin Burghart for passing this along. Its a great story of why young folks love Oakland - the industrial, affordable, artsy, and plain old more livable City that is a lot easier to be proud of and thrive in.

Photo: Sharat Ganapati, courtesy of grist.org and Flickr

Published at http://grist.org/cities/2012-01-10-forget-about-san-francisco-second-tier-towns-are-where-action/

I grew up in Cleveland. Yeah, Cleveland. I know, hailing from a less-than-premiere address leaves me open to a certain amount of disdain from urban elitists. Being from the city that is widely regarded as the “Mistake on the Lake” is urbanism’s equivalent to being the fat kid in gym class, and it can leave one just as scarred as too many dodgeball hits to the face.

I don’t live in Cleveland anymore, but I didn’t leave because I wanted to be one of the cool kids. I was stricken with the burning need to explore, to go new places, and stake a claim for myself. And the more I travel, the more I find myself drawn back to my Rust Belt roots — not Cleveland per se, but some semblance of it elsewhere in the world.

When I graduated from Georgetown in 2005, social momentum seemed to offer two choices: Stay in Washington, D.C., or be a rebel and move to San Francisco. I chose San Francisco. It was — it is — architecturally beautiful and politically liberal; the weather was good and the vibe was exciting. It was expensive as hell, too — it would be a real challenge on my meager Americorps living allowance — but I figured that I’d get one of those fancy high-paying careers that all San Franciscans seemed to have, then settle in, build a family, and grow old.

It wasn’t long after I arrived, however, that I began to feel unnecessary. San Francisco is exciting, sure, but it’s because the city — like New York, or L.A., or other urban brands — churns along on its own rhythms, driven by the labors and commitment of the hundreds of thousands of people who have already established themselves. It seemed like every niche was filled, and usually by someone both richer and cooler than me. I moved around for a few years, bouncing between different addresses in the Bay Area, heading down to Southern California for a spell, and even revisiting Cleveland, a fancy high-paying career slipping further and further from reach as the worldwide economy imploded.

And then, in early 2009, I discovered a little patch of Cleveland in California, just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco: Oakland. Like my hometown, Oakland is ridiculed by those from posher zip codes and written off by most outsiders (and even some insiders). I came to Oakland for a non-fancy, low-paying job that I loved and found my own version of paradise, replete with affordable rents and restaurants without four-hour waits for a seat. It was just the kind of place where an urban-minded, broke-ass, fashion victim like myself could feel at home: Wearing sweatpants to the grocery store was socially acceptable, and I didn’t need an impressive job title or great condo to fit in.

Like Cleveland or any other down-and-out city across the country, Oakland is a fixer-upper kind of town, thirsty for young people, where elbow grease and commitment to place matter more than the state of one’s bank account. Since moving here, I’ve found the purpose I was lacking when I lived across the bay, and I’m gratified that my work has a real impact in the community.

Earlier this year, a friend and I co-founded Femikaze, a feminist sketch comedy troupe. (And if you don’t believe that “feminist” and “comedy” are natural allies, you should come to one of our shows!) We had our first independent production in October, a full-length show here in the East Bay that sold out three of our four nights. We’ve already scheduled three more shows for next year.

It’s the kind of thing that would have been exponentially more difficult in San Francisco, where any given Friday night offers thousands of entertainment options, including dozens of comedy shows. We’re only a few miles away from the frenzy here in Oakland, but it’s quiet enough that we don’t have to shout to get anybody’s attention. There’s room for two determined women, with no patron and no budget, to start something.

Many San Franciscans find my decision to quit the hip side of the bay befuddling. “There’s nothing there,” they say of Oakland. They’re not entirely wrong, either. There really IS less (although far from nothing) in places like Oakland and Cleveland — or Pittsburgh, or St. Louis, or Knoxville, or dozens of other underrated, underpriced, overlooked cities — than can be found in thriving urban centers like San Francisco, New York, or Boston. But that’s just their charm.

“Less” might be boring to some, but to those of us who strive to create and produce and make a difference, “less” also means fewer resources are required to start something new, and less competition comes from established entities. As someone perpetually short on cash but long on idealistic ambition, I’ve found more opportunity in a second-tier city like Oakland than I ever knew in San Francisco. And although some people out there like to use my address as the butt of a joke, I’ve found it to be a rich, fertile place to build a life on my own terms.

To recent or upcoming college graduates, I offer my own bit of meager counter-wisdom: Forget about Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and L.A. Look for a city that will value your presence and appreciate your efforts, a city that doesn’t think you’re disposable just because you’re young. It’ll be easier on both your wallet and your soul.

Sure, you might catch some flack for moving to a place where “there’s nothing there,” but take it from me — I came from the Mistake on the Lake, and to my mind, “there’s nothing there” is just another way of saying “there’s nothing in my way.”

An earlier version of this essay appeared in Rust Wire.

Isa Hopkins is a writer and comedian in Oakland, Calif. She blogs about items both funny and serious and occupies Twitter with the codename @isahops.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Oakland Marathon: How are your New Years resolutions going? Getting that exercise?

Did you make a new year's resolution to get in shape? Be more disciplined about exercise? Sign up for a race? Run your first 5k or half marathon?

This year's Oakland running festival will be March 24-25. Now is probably a good time to start training (if you haven't already). The full and half marathon courses pass near PCL as runners go up Mandela Parkway from 7th to 32nd. If you do the full course, its a great tour of all of Oakland's neighborhoods. The half marathon stays in the really central neighborhoods and just hits downtown, Jack London Square, West Oakland, and Lake Merritt - a pretty fantastic tour of the best parts of the City.

And if you're not a runner, you don't have to go too far to at least see the event - have brunch at Brown Sugar Kitchen or find a spot here in West Oakland to enjoy watching 1000s of people run by (great option if your new year's resolution was to watch other people exercise, or to drink more in the mornings, or something else backward)!

Oakland: #5 Top Place to Go in 2012 (New York Times)

The New York times just rated Oakland among the top 5 places to go in 2012!
It's a pretty stiff competition and a big win for Oakland, placing us right behind #4 London and immediately ahead of #6 Tokyo, #7 Tanzania, #8 Patagonia, #9 Tibet and #10 Havana. Yes, Oakland is just behind the 2012 Olympics host and ahead of great global cities Tokyo and Havana and lifetime outdoor destinations Patagonia and Tibet.

5. Oakland, Calif.
New restaurants and bars beckon amid the grit.

Tensions have cooled since violence erupted at the recent Occupy Oakland protests, but the city’s revitalized night-life scene has continued to smolder.

The historic Fox Theater reopened in 2009 and quickly cemented its status as one of the Bay Area’s top music venues, drawing acts like Wilco and the Decemberists. Meanwhile, the city’s ever more sophisticated restaurants are now being joined by upscale cocktail bars, turning once-gritty Oakland into an increasingly appealing place to be after dark. James Syhabout, the chef who earned Oakland its first (and only) Michelin star two years ago at Commis, followed up in May with the instant-hit Hawker Fare, a casual spot serving Asian street food. Big-name San Francisco chefs are now joining him. Daniel Patterson (of two-Michelin-star Coi) opened the restaurant Plum in late 2010 and an adjacent cocktail bar later, and another restaurant, called Haven, in the recently renovated Jack London Square last month. INGRID K. WILLIAMS

Other Recent NYTimes Coverage
Truth is, the New York Times has been showing Oakland a lot of love lately. In November they gave the Uptown area a great review for the music and food scene. A year ago they covered the food scene with this article and slideshow highlighting Oakland's evolving restaurant offerings, and the beer scene.

Photo Credit: Craig Lee for The New York Times

What's Around PCL? A lot!

One of the things people like most about PCL is the great community of people here. That extends to west Oakland too, it’s a pretty cool community of artists and young first time home buyers mixed into a really active and historic working class neighborhood. As a result, there really is a lot going on here in West Oakland, from good public resources (parks, libraries and the like) to entrepreneurial and creative stuff (The Crucible, restaurants). This list just scratches the surface.

Here are some of the great amenities in the neighborhood:

  • Parks: The nearest park, Willow Park, is just a 3 block walk and is a quiet green place with nice lawns and trees to hang out. A few blocks further to Raimondi Park, there is a bigger more active park, including a baseball field.
  • Pool: If you swim, like me who uses public pools for exercise or to train for triathlons, deFremery Pool, at 18th and Adeline is less than 5 minutes by bike or driving and offers great outdoor lap swimming.
  • Community Center with Classes: deFremery rec center is in a beautiful 100-year old Victorian mansion. They offer cooking, sewing, math fun, tennis, swimming, camping, basketball, drama, arts & crafts, games, trips, shows, geography, jewelry making, gardening and so much more.
  • Library: Our west Oakland neighborhood branch library is less than a mile away and offers over 35,000 books and DVDs (plus you can request anything from the whole library system for pickup), family reading time a few evenings a month, a big community meeting room available for community use, chess classes and other special events.
  • The Crucible: One of the most unique resources we have, the Crucible offers classes in welding, woodworking, jewelry making, glass blowing, blacksmithing, and on and on. (I took a wood working class and build a cool bedside table!)

And the best local restaurants get a category of their own:

  • Brown Sugar Kitchen (2534 Mandela Parkway): If you haven’t waited in line for it, read about it in the local and national news, or even heard about it, go there now. The food is incredibly delicious and its great to support a really cool great local entrepreneur (Tanya lives in the neighborhood, but to be fair, she trained in France and worked in New York restaurants before coming out to West Oakland).
  • Pretty Lady Diner (1733 Peralta St): is a convenient and cheap little neighborhood diner. This place is classic. Big u-shaped counter, nothing for more than $10, and all kinds of combo items ordered by number, and a never-ever ending cup of coffee.
  • Revolution Café (1610 7th St): Cheap coffee, decent food, awesome ambiance, and budding revolution. This place is all about the activism and happens to serve some coffee and food too, which makes for a cool spot, though don’t have your hopes too high for food and drink.
  • Comalapa (1498 7th St): serves great Salvadorean food like pupusas and tamales and a menu of Mexican items too (though Salvadorean is what they are great at).

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Is it cheaper to buy than rent? Yes. Really? YES.

Recently, news reports and friends have said its now cheaper to buy than rent in some places. Hard to believe. But is it true? Yes. Absolutely.

2011 was a brutal year for real estate sales. As a result, there are a lot of incredible deals out there. Sure, there are foreclosures, auctions, short sales, and all of that, but frankly, war stories of 6 month processes only to be outbid at the last minute and the general uncertainty around all that make it a pretty unappealing way to go about buying a home. I’d rather buy a home that’s new and go through an easy and clear process. The good news is that right now, prices in places like PCL are so good and mortgage rates are obscenely low that you can pay less for a mortgage than you would to rent the same place.

First, let's look at a couple of PCL units currently listed on Redfin:
  • Unit 335 is a 1 bed, 1.5 bath, 1169 square foot loft, showing up on Redfin at $269,000.
  • Unit 358 is a 1 bed, 1 bath, 750 square foot flat, listed for $235,000

Using CNN Money's Mortgage Payment Calculator with a totally conservative standard 20% down payment and 4.125% interest rate (you will definitely beat that today, and PCL sales people can point you to loans where you pay as little as 3.5% down):
  • Unit 335, the monthly payment, including insurance and taxes, is $1418 per month. (All in, HOA dues and higher rates on a mortgage with only 3.5% down, its more like $1700, but still, CHEAP)
  • Unit 358, same mortgage terms, taxes and insurance included, is $1245 per month.

Comparing to renting (apples to apples, keeping it to 1 bedroom 1 baths, utilities are not included in these rentals either):
  • The Uptown is currently charging $1750 for a 725 square foot 1 bed 1 bath (and you have to pay insurance!). Compare that to unit 358, and its $500 more per month TO RENT!
  • Avenue 64 in Emeryville is in a similar industrial mixed use area, and they are charging $2040 per month for a 735 square foot 1 bed 1 bath; that's $800 (65%) more!
  • Prometheus' Icon at Doyle, which was built as condos for sale and went on the rental market when no one was buying is charging $2150 per month for a 1050 square foot 1 bed 1 bath. Compare that to unit 335, which is 100 square feet bigger, and again you'd pay $750 less per month to own!
  • Case in point, someone is renting a PCL unit (on craigslist): an 850 square foot 1 bed 1 bath, for $1700 a month. You'd probably pay about $1300 a month to buy the same unit today.

A good average figure for units at PCL right now is $300k, which more than covers most of the 1 bedrooms and gets you pretty close to a 2-bedroom. For the same mortgage, taxes and insurance, you could buy a 300k unit for less than $1600 per month right now! Or shoot, buy unit 335 or 358 and spend the rest of that money making your new home incredibly cool with upgraded finishes and really nice furniture. While you're at it, buy yourself a nice thank you trip to Hawaii.

Oh, and let's not forget, that when you buy, your mortgage payments (unlike rent payments) are tax deductible. That means you'll pay taxes on about $20k less of your income - that's probably a few thousand dollars. Think about that on April 15th.