Thinking of Remodeling?

What You Need to Know Before You Begin

Like many Peninsula baby boomers, my husband and I looked at our Menlo Park home, where we’ve lived since 2005, and decided that this was where we wanted to stay. Although our house was functional with a solid floor plan, it was also 60 years old, and there were some infrastructural details we needed to fix as well as a few areas we wanted to freshen up in the process.

I embarked upon this adventure not only to renovate my own home, but also to go through the experience in order to provide more valuable advice to my clients. And I learned a lot! Here are some of my important takeaways:

You need a designer — even if you have excellent taste.

You may know exactly what you like, from lighting fixtures to countertops, but what you may not realize is that all of those beautiful individual things may not work together to create a harmonious whole. Like the two friends you love but who can’t stand to be in the same room together. A good designer can help you incorporate your favorite choices into a consistent aesthetic.

Stay in close communication with your contractor and cross check all work in progress.

On a big project, you might assume you can leave some of the seemingly smaller decisions up to your contractor. Don’t. Stay involved in the day-to-day decisions and go to the site as often as you can to ensure the execution matches the plan – every day is not too often. You want to avoid re-work at all costs.

Beware of “scope creep.”

It’s conventional wisdom that when you embark on a remodel, you can expect it to cost twice as much and take twice as long as you originally expected. That wasn’t exactly true for us, but our timeframe and budget both increased as we decided to do more, and chose higher-end materials than we initially planned in order to make sure the whole house felt consistent. It’s easy to get caught up in the “while we’re at it, we might as well” syndrome so have reserves ready – some amount is likely to be needed.

Make sure you and your spouse/partner are on the same page.

You always hear about couples who end up divorced after going through a big remodeling or custom build project. After we decided on a general plan and budget, my husband and I agreed that I would take control of the process and make all the decisions. We stayed with that plan, and I’m delighted to report that we are still together, living happily under our pricey new roof.

If you are considering a remodel and would like to hear more, please give me a call. I’m happy to discuss!

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


Colleen Foraker, left, a Sotheby’s agent, and her client, Mukul Gupta, at his soon-to-be home in Palo Alto, Calif. Credit Gabrielle Lurie for The New York Times

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — 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.

Steve and Sue Zweig with their dog, Izzie, at their home in Nipomo, Calif. Credit Lisa Corson for The New York Times

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.

To entice people like the Sweeneys, who might sell under the right circumstances, some buyers and their agents are resorting to old-fashioned technologies: letters and phone calls.

“I live between an Apple person and a Google person. Real estate is really crazy around here,” said Jim Fenton, a tech consultant in Los Altos. “This morning I was cold-called by an agent who said he had clients who wanted to move into my neighborhood, and did I want to sell?” Mr. Fenton said he had no intention of going anywhere.

Joe Silva, left, a contractor, discussed renovations with Mukul Gupta, a home buyer, and Colleen Foraker, a real estate agent, in Palo Alto, Calif. Credit Gabrielle Lurie for The New York Times

Colleen Foraker, a Sotheby’s agent in Silicon Valley, prefers personal letters. “It acknowledges the formality and the importance of the request to a perfect stranger,” she said.

Her clients might have a particular neighborhood in mind, and perhaps a certain layout or yard size. Ms. Foraker sends letters to about 100 owners, describing her clients and exactly what they want. “They are looking for a spacious, newer, move-in-ready home that will accommodate energetic children, sports activities, hobbies and two large family dogs,” one letter said.

“In some parts of the country, you move into a house until your children are gone or you retire,” Ms. Foraker said. “People here look at their homes more as an investment. They think, ‘If the right number comes along, I would think about what I would do next.’”

Even in Silicon Valley, letter campaigns are still the exception rather than the rule. Ms. Foraker has done about eight in the last few years. Two succeeded. The more recent deal involved a $3 million house.

“The odds are low, but this is not a community that likes to wait,” said Michael Dreyfus, the owner of the Sotheby’s office in Palo Alto.

At least one real estate company thinks letters have an application far beyond Silicon Valley.

“We decided low inventory is also a permanent condition in Denver, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, Seattle,” said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin, an online real estate company based in Seattle. With more wealth in those areas causing an influx of people, along with low interest rates, “there’s no place for them all to live,” he said.

To shake inventory loose for its clients, Redfin will start this month to use letters to reach out to potential sellers in Denver. Local agents will work with buyers to craft targeted queries, just as Ms. Foraker does in Silicon Valley.

Mr. Kelman, who says the goal is to approach 10,000 potential sellers, is frank about this being an experiment. Perhaps, as often happens during booms, the sellers might get an inflated sense of their property’s worth.

One Denver buyer’s recent experience illustrated both the promise and the peril of these new solicitations. Charles Bogenberger, a software marketing manager, wanted to buy a condominium in the complex next to his office. His Redfin agent sent letters to the five people who owned units with four bedrooms, which was the floor plan Mr. Bogenberger wanted.

Two responded. One said he would sell for $560,000 — far more than Mr. Bogenberger could pay. The other unit had been on the market but was now going to be rented. Those owners wanted $400,000. The deal will close this month.

“Without the letters, I might still be a renter,” Mr. Bogenberger said. And if the sellers, like their neighbors, had demanded too much? “I might still be a renter.”

Why Prints?

Earlier this year, Dreyfus Sotheby’s International Realty hosted their first gallery event; Why Prints? in partnership with Sotheby’s Auction House. The soaring, light-filled space on Oak Grove Avenue in Menlo Park offered the perfect backdrop for stunning artwork by famed printmakers Nathan Oliveira, Chris Ofili, Laura Owens, Ed Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud and Charline von Heyl.

Along with the gallery-quality display of prints, the event featured a discussion of the history of printmaking by speakers Kathan Brown, founder of San Francisco’s world renowned Crown Point Press, Mary Bartow, Sotheby’s New York’s Head of Prints, and Karin Breuer, Curator in Charge at Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

Printmaking as an art form

Printmaking as a technique started in the 4th century CE and was used to reproduce religious texts and manuscripts. Over time it became much more than a medium to preserve texts and became a new and original art form.

Just as da Vinci used a paintbrush and Rodin used a chisel, printmakers use a matrix (typically a copper plate) to transfer ink to sheets of paper. Although multiple prints may be made from each matrix, every print is considered an original rather than a copy. This is because each print varies to some extent due to the printmaking process. Multiple impressions printed from the same matrix form an edition. Artists generally sign and number individual impressions from the matrix to form a limited edition; the matrix is then destroyed to insure the integrity of the pieces.

Fine art collectors often start their collections with print due to their relative affordability (thousands of dollars compared to perhaps millions of dollars). And prints created by established artists tend to be safe investments.

The Alpine Inn

Burgers, brew, and the birth of the email

Silicon Valley is full of technological landmarks, like the “HP Garage” in Palo Alto, or the Mountain View residence where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built the first Apple Computer. But did you know that Portola Valley is also the birthplace of a historic technological development, one that most of us could not even imagine living without? It’s true – just inside an unassuming beer garden on the corner of Alpine and Arastradero, technological history was made. This beer garden is called the Alpine Inn, and it was the site of the first ever Internet transmission.

From the outside, it would be impossible to guess that this modest “roadhouse,” which originated in the days of the California Gold Rush, would be the site of such an illustrious technological accomplishment. Yet on August 27, 1976, scientists from SRI International in Menlo Park drove a van containing a mobile radio laboratory to the beer garden, which at the time was called Zot’s. The group then sat at one of the outdoor picnic tables with a computer terminal and successfully sent an electronic report – the first email – to SRI offices, and then all the way to Boston.

I drive by the Alpine Inn all the time and, though aware of its legendary status, I realized I’d never actually been inside. So I decided to stop by for an early dinner the other day to check it out for myself – and it did not disappoint. The Alpine Inn is quintessentially Silicon Valley – extremely casual, with a down-to-earth selection of burgers and grilled sandwiches, along with a clientele that could easily be a mix of incognito Facebook millionaires, local ranchers, and motorcyclists passing through the area.

The parking lot gives you a hint of what to expect in terms of its patronage, and on any given day you might see expensive racing bicycles, Harley Davidsons, Bentleys, and even horses, coexisting as effortlessly as their owners inside.

The setting is rustic, with picnic tables surrounded by big redwood trees and a creek babbling in the background. The menu is very basic, and probably contains the best bargains in all of Silicon Valley, with nothing costing more than ten dollars. The pub offers a wide range of both domestic and imported beers, with several on tap. I ordered the tuna on a grilled bun, served with a juicy tomato slice and fresh lettuce, and my husband had the BLT with thick, crispy bacon. Having taken into account the dive-bar sort of ambiance (which is part of the charm!) we kept our expectations in check, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that our meals were not only large, but also tasty.

My final thoughts? The Alpine Inn is a fun, casual neighborhood hangout, steeped in local history, where you can go for comfort food by yourself or with friends. It’s a place where there is no pretense and no one cares if you’re a high-tech mogul or a local retiree. As demonstrated by its long history, the Alpine Inn has been an important part of the community from the earliest settlers to the leading technologists of today. Stop by sometime to get a slice of Silicon Valley history, and a pretty good BLT.

This beer garden is called the Alpine Inn, and it was the site of the first ever Internet transmission.

The Alpine Inn
3915 Alpine Road, Portola Valley
Open 11:30a–9p

It Really Is Better to Give Than to Receive

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) is best known for the thrift stores it operates, but less well known for the important safety net it provides to the neediest in our communities. Founded in 1833 by Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam to serve the poor on the streets of Paris, SVdP has grown into an international network of charities active in 142 countries. Its primary mission is person-to-person outreach to address the needs of the impoverished
and marginalized.

Through its five thrift stores, three Homeless Help Centers, a Family Resource Center and a Restorative Justice Ministry, the San Mateo County SVdP is working to meet basic survival needs and to help break the cycle of poverty. Everyday necessities are provided to the homeless such as meals, bus tokens, showers, haircuts and sleeping bags. Those precariously housed are served by home visits arranged through the Family Resource Center. Volunteers go out in teams of two delivering groceries, vouchers for the thrift store and rent or utility assistance. Both victims of crime and the incarcerated receive support from the chaplains in restorative justice. Employment opportunities and re-entry programs are also in place to provide guidance to those coming out of incarceration.

I began volunteering for home visits with SVdP a couple of years ago. In addition to food and clothing, our conference decided that transportation was another need we could fill, so we organized the first ever SVdP Bike Drive.

People from all over the local community took the opportunity to clean out their garages and brought us their bikes. We collected 117 bikes of all shapes and sizes that were distributed to day laborers, farm workers and families with children. All were thrilled to receive them. Some even learned to ride a bike for the first time!

If you are considering a year-end donation of any kind, financial, clothing, furniture or household items, please join me in supporting SVdP. Go to and decide how best you can give. Help us help others. We appreciate your generosity.

Upcoming: Books 4 Hope Drive

Our local SVdP conference will be collecting books in the spring for online resale to raise money for all SVdP programs and for distribution during home visits. Text books, business books, self-help/motivational books, children’s books and biographies are especially welcome. Please email me at for more information.

Crown Point Press: Where Everything Old is New Again

The art we display in our homes is a powerful form of self-expression. Even if we hand over the reigns to an interior designer, the art we choose is personal. From a child’s fingerprint painting to an original piece by a renowned artist, art transforms a house into a home.

My love affair with art collecting began in the 90s during my prior life as a banker, when Crown Point Press joined my commercial portfolio. Crown Point Press is located in a dramatic, light-filled building on Hawthorne Street in San Francisco’s SoMa district. I was immediately energized by the space, the old-world presses and shining copper plates, jars of vibrant colored pigments and, oh, the art! Surrounded by work from Richard Diebenkorn, Chuck Close, Ed Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud and Nathan Oliveira, I quickly recognized I was in a special place.

Founder Kathan Brown gave me a tour of the press and a demonstration of the printmaking process, explaining how ink is transferred onto paper from an inked copper plate. The press forces the paper into depressions engraved or etched into the plate and pulls the ink out to make the print.

Crown Point Press is widely credited with sparking the revival of etching and intaglio printing as a viable art medium in the Bay Area while encouraging new work and ideas by renowned artists. Crown Point Press exhibits and sells the prints it produces in curated shows in the gallery that adjoins its studios and bookstore at 20 Hawthorne Street in San Francisco. Check their website,, for special events.

Kathan founded Crown Point Press more than 50 years ago after spending two years in London studying etching, a traditional form of printmaking. Armed with a working knowledge of that skill and an antique printing press she found abandoned in the backyard of a rooming house in Edinburgh, Kathan returned to the United States on a slow freighter bound for San Francisco.

While Kathan founded Crown Point Press as a printmaking workshop for herself and her friends, its reputation grew as she also began to invite renowned artists from Europe, Japan and throughout the United States to work with etching in her studio. Each year, Crown Point works with just three to four of today’s most established artists. Assisted by Crown Point Press master printers, the artists typically each create four or five original copperplate etchings, which are then hand-printed in limited editions of 20 to 50 original prints. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist. A proof of each work is sent to archive collections at both the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. The copper plate is then melted down to insure the integrity of the piece.

The creative process, from sketches to copperplate etching to finished print, is painstaking, but, as Kathan explains, “The artists are delighted with the results. Because the printing process physically embeds ink into the paper, rather than letting ink sit on the surface, there is a vibrancy, texture, and physicality to the finished work that doesn’t exist with modern printmaking methods. Also, artists have freedom to play with color in this medium, which can be a lot of fun.”

The art of collecting

Since my first foray into Crown Point Press in 1993, Kathan has introduced me to some of my most cherished possessions, including Order & Disorder by Francesco Clemente, Steep Street by Wayne Thiebaud, and 1990 l by Gary Stephan. I in turn have with total confidence introduced friends and clients to Crown Point Press. In terms of fine art by established artists, their pieces are affordable (thousands rather than hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars). Because the artists are already known, I don’t feel I’m rolling the dice that they will maintain their value. Crown Point keeps meticulous records of purchased pieces, every piece is catalogued, and proofs are maintained in the archives of two major museums, so are easily authenticated.

Most importantly, the artwork I have purchased speaks to me. It may sound corny, but I really do believe that I was meant to have each piece. When I mentioned that feeling to Kathan, she didn’t flinch, “That’s really the most important criterion, that there is a connection between you and the piece. It’s not enough to ‘like’ it, or to know that a famous artist created it. You need to want to look at it every day. The art can become a long-term partner.”

What You Get For $3,000,000 in Woodside, Palo Alto, and Los Altos

Housing options on the peninsula are as diverse as our geography and as diverse as the people who make up our community. We can accommodate a wide variety of preferences and lifestyles. Whether your definition of what constitutes home is a remote woodland retreat with acreage in the mountains, a modern turnkey pied-à-terre close to freeway commute routes, or a traditional Colonial, walking distance to a charming town center—we’ve got a home that will work for you.

WHAT A craftsman style retreat in the forested hills above Woodside
HOW MUCH $2,990,000
HOME SIZE ±4,920 sf / ±1,000 sf cottage
LOT SIZE 10 acres
OPPORTUNITY Completed in 2008, this handsome 5 bedroom / 5 bath custom home features rustic hardwood floors and craftsman style architectural details throughout. Built on a gentle slope and arranged on three levels, almost all of the rooms enjoy beautiful woodland views. Eco-friendly technologies maximize this home’s energy efficiency. Majestic redwoods line the winding road up the hill to this remote Woodside property that enjoys total privacy. The location is 1 mile from Alice’s Restaurant, and 6 miles from Robert’s Market.
LISTED BY Stephanie Nash, Alain Pinel Realtors, 650.995.3820

WHAT Brand new contemporary style home
HOW MUCH $2,995,000
HOME SIZE ±2,459 sf
LOT SIZE ±3,629 sf lot with shared driveway
OPPORTUNITY The vibe is chic and urban, yet inviting in this 3 bedroom / 2.5 bath home. Clean lines and sleek finishes are balanced by natural woods and soft hues. The floor plan is open and multi-functional with high ceilings and oversized windows throughout. The small, low maintenance lot affords an entertaining patio and a small garden area. Its location, two miles from downtown Palo Alto and close to the 101 Freeway, means a convenient spot for commuters.
LISTED BY Nathalie de Saint Andrieu, Pacific Union, 650.804.9696

WHAT 1929 Monterey Colonial close to downtown Los Altos
HOW MUCH $2,988,000
HOME SIZE ±2,255 sf
LOT SIZE ±6,525 sf
OPPORTUNITY Located in the town’s most desirable neighborhood, this classic 3 bedroom / 2 bath Monterey colonial home retains its period charm. Its rustic hewn beams, built-in cabinetry and original architectural details have been lovingly maintained. The kitchen and baths are updated. French doors to the patio, balcony and roof deck invite outdoor enjoyment. Its location on University Avenue, a tree lined street that boasts a beautiful mix of architectural styles, puts the home a few short blocks from the village center.
LISTED BY Jo Buchanan and Stuart Bowen, Coldwell Banker, 650.949.8506

The Good Agent Checklist

Much like a great hairstylist or mechanic, an outstanding real estate agent is hard to find. Authorized to act on your behalf, a real estate agent has a fiduciary duty to faithfully represent you and to put your interests first.So how do you know you’ve found the right agent you can trust to keep that promise?

You Talk, They Listen

If you can’t get a word in edgewise, your agent has an agenda, and it’s not yours. As the client, you should initially be doing most of the talking so that your agent understands your needs and desires. The right agent will ask you questions, and then simply listen. As the relationship builds, your agent will learn your priorities and how you like to communicate. They won’t leave you a voicemail if you never check voicemails. If you’re actively looking for a home or have a transaction underway, they will be in close touch. If not, they may only reach out with periodic market updates or pressing news. You never feel ignored nor inundated. Your agent “gets” you.

They Know The Market

An outstanding agent knows how much your neighbors bought and sold their home for and the time frame of each transaction. They know the best schools and the fact that the neighbors recently voted to install speed bumps. They’ll show you historical trend data to give you a sense for how the neighborhood has performed through previous real estate cycles. You can make confident, fully informed decisions based on the detailed market knowledge they provide.

They Stop at Nothing

The best agents go the extra mile. If you have your heart set on a neighborhood where few homes come to market each year, they’ll write personalized letters to the existing homeowners and source that needle-in-a-haystack home for you. Or, if you’ve lived for decades in the same home and dread the prospect of sorting through accumulated belongings in order to prepare your home for sale, they’ll manage every step of the sales preparation process with as much, or as little involvement on your part as you prefer. Whether it’s booking an estate sale specialist or meeting with a color consultant to choose the new interior paint palette, they’ll handle all of the details from start to finish with their team of proven contractors, gardeners and designers.

You Hear Great Things

Believe the rumors, both good and bad. A good agent has a stellar reputation for being honest and professional and is respected by their network. They take their role seriously knowing that whatever they do will affect whether or not you get what you want.

If you can check these four boxes, then pat yourself on the back for being a fabulous judge of character. If you are currently choosing an agent, keep this list with you along with a big red pen, and only sign up if you’ve made four enthusiastic check marks!