THE GREAT NORTH BAY
Real estate in Marin is seeing unprecedented demand and buyers are in search of amenities that combine home, work, school and play — but how far north are they willing to go and how much are they willing to pay to have it all?
By Casey Gillespie
Since the pandemic struck, we have all been watching and waiting as the Bay Area real estate market is being reshaped.
The most drastic shift is happening in San Francisco, where for the first time in recent memory housing sales are cooling. The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that finalized sales in the city have dropped by more than 16 percent, a 40-year low. Pre-Covid, San Francisco had the highest building occupancy rate in the country, but now things are looking very different.
Domm Holland, CEO of tech start-up Fast, had been living with his wife and two small children in San Francisco since 2019, and they knew that eventually they would want to find a place outside of the city with more space, but when the shelter-in-place order was issued there was a sudden urgency.
“Our number one goal for our next home was more space, both inside and out. More room for our children to be able to play in their rooms and a backyard where we could have grass, a trampoline and room to run around,” he says. While there have been endless reports of people deserting the Bay Area altogether, agents in Marin are seeing a huge spike in interest in the North Bay from people leaving the city, with Marin sitting at the top of the list.
Marinites have long been aware of the benefits of the county’s generous green spaces, hiking trails, beaches, schools and homes with enough land to enjoy the indoor-outdoor lifestyle.
And with so many of us working from home for the last six months — with no foreseeable return to office life — urban dwellers are feeling the pull of the suburbs and all that life outside the city has to offer.
“Being in a remote location is not the deal breaker that it once was for many buyers,” says Compass agent Deborah Cole. “Many of the buyers leaving San Francisco think nothing of driving way up in the hills of Marin and even pretty far out Shoreline Highway because now they don’t have to go to the city every day.
They are used to coming to Marin for recreation and excited about the prospect of being able to go right out their door onto trails and being surrounded by natural beauty,” she adds.“All of Marin is busy. We are seeing more activity and higher price points than we have in the past for West and Northern Marin. And there is a bias toward houses that are move-in ready,” Vanguard Properties agent Jennifer Bowman adds.
According to Redfin, the average selling price of a house in Marin was $1.33 million in July, up 17.3 percent since last year. And the Marin Independent Journal reported that data from the county’s assessor-recorder’s office documented the median home price was $1,550,000 (an increase of 24 percent over 2019).
And for that price, people want more than location, location, location — they want amenities as well. Corcoran Global Living agent Kimberly Hering says, “Everyone wants a pool right now as well as more space, which means something different to every buyer. It can be lot size, home size or the number of rooms in the home so they can create 'zones’ to accommodate school, home office, working out, play and living areas.”
However, a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too market this is not. Location paired with the most desirable design aspects has driven prices far higher than those aforementioned average and median sale prices.
“To get a pool, views, living zones, move-in-ready home in Marin you will be paying well over $2 million unless you are looking in Novato and some parts of San Rafael. I have a buyer who is willing to spend up to $4 million and even with that we have had a difficult time finding a home with all of those in-demand qualities,” adds Hering.
With interest rates at record lows (under 3 percent), Marin is undoubtedly experiencing a seller’s market, but what measures are people taking to secure one of the county’s coveted properties?
“You would have to have all cash, no contingencies and be prepared to pay 20 percent over asking to secure a ‘desirable home’ with all of the most-wanted features,” says Hering. Buyers may be feeling the sting, but that is great news for locals who have been contemplating a move themselves. “With demand high, inventory low and commute being a less significant factor, now is the time to sell if you have been wanting a new adventure,” adds Bowmann.