The summer real estate season officially comes to end on Labor Day, Sept. 5. It’s been a long one, with a significant part of the Berkeley market mostly in the doldrums. Lots of houses that came on the market in late spring are still available, or were taken off due to lack of activity and are slated to return this fall. If history is any indicator, buyers can expect a large uptick in the inventory starting Sept. 6. That is one meaning of my use of the term “Big Fall" — fall will be big.
Another meaning of "Big Fall" is the stunning house that just came on the market at 506 The Alameda, a 4Br/3Ba, approx 2,740 sq ft, built in 1968. Check out this recent sales history: it came on the market in May 2007 as a fixer-upper with an asking price of $799,000. But the market was still hot then and it received a healthy $123,000 overbid and sold as-is for $922,000. I presume it was purchased by a contractor/developer because just ten months later, after a major remodel, it came back on the market with an asking price of $1,980,000. Alas, the market did not agree with this price and it sat on the market a very long 174 days. After several price reductions, it sold for $1,575,000 in Sept 2008. Now, just three years and some questionable "improvements" (astroturf?) later, it is back on the market, for……..$1,095,000, or $480,000 less than what they paid for it. That’s what I call a “Big Fall.”
Yet another “Big Fall” is the house at 830 Santa Barbara Rd, which started out at $1,055,000 before quickly dropping to its current $975,000 asking price. The big fall here is how the house has been allowed to decay over its 97 years of life, designed and built by noted architect Carr Jones. Built mostly of presumably old-growth redwood timbers, framing, siding, shingles and interior panels, it must have been truly stunning in its day. But you know how you sometimes hear of an old and historic house that “hasn’t been touched” and that is meant as a compliment? In this case, “hasn’t been touched” is an indictment of severe and sad neglect. Much of the wood has not been cared for and dry rot is everywhere. Doors and window frames and many projecting roof beams just crumble to the touch. The foundation has at least one huge crack and settling is evident in most rooms. The electrical is mostly from 1914, with bare light bulbs hanging from cords out of the ceiling. I imagine the plumbing is similarly original. There is also a fascinating outbuilding — a combination of enclosed and large open-air rooms housing some an antique woodworking lathe, driven by a motor and wide leather straps!
The one and only element of the property that has remained fantastic over its lifetime is the VIEW. So if you are looking for a major fixer-upper project (one can easily spend $500k and more in renovations) and already have a cool million dollars in cash to buy it outright (no conventional lender would finance its purchase due to its condition), and you want a killer view, than this one is for you. You’ve got a long way to go to make up its “Big Fall”, but I think in the end, you could have a really fabulous property.
Brett Weinstein is broker and co-founder of Realty Advocates, a full-service lower commission brokerage serving Berkeley since 1986. Brett is also a Berkeley mural hunter, and has found over 100 examples within City limits. Click here to see his collection.