Shut Out of the Housing Market? First-Timers Dwindle…

The 1st time buyer is the cornerstone to the housing market.  Enjoy this article – I would love to hear your thoughts!  I added my 2 cents at the bottom.

Shut Out of the Housing Market? First-Timers Dwindle

First-time home buyers are particularly being hit hard by rising prices and tougher credit standards — and their decreasing market share proves it.

The National Association of REALTORS® reports that first-time home buyers accounted for 26 percent of purchases in January, down from 30 percent a year earlier. It’s also the lowest market share for first-time buyers that NAR has recorded since it began measuring it in 2008.

The falling number of first-time home buyers has the potential to slow the pace of the recovery, Bloomberg reports. The decline of first-time home buyers is hampering home sales, which dropped 5.1 percent in January compared to a year earlier, NAR reports.

“It’s a huge problem,” says Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Association of REALTORS®. “We have a ladder of home ownership and need first-time home buyers beginning the process of owning, building equity, and trading up to have a healthy housing sector.”

Some housing advocates are blaming investors for pushing out home buyers, particularly where first-time home buyers are being outbid by investors offering all-cash offers. Nearly 80 organizations are calling on federal regulators to address investors pushing potential home buyers out of the market, reports the California Reinvestment Coalition. They argue that federal housing agencies conducting bulk sales of foreclosed homes and distressed mortgages have heightened the problem.

“We’re ringing the alarm bell now and asking regulators to act,” says Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition. “Wall Street and other cash investors are making it harder for families to buy their first house, for renters to stay in their communities, and for neighborhoods to recover.”

The housing advocates are asking for greater oversight from federal regulatory bodies, such as with more oversight of new investor landlords and ensure that banks aren’t favoring investors over home buyers with FHA loans in REO purchases. The group is also asking for greater research on the disparate impact of REO properties on various communities, particularly the impact to minority communities. Read more about the housing advocates’ stance at the California Reinvestment Coalition website.

Source: “Americans Shut Out of Home Market Threaten Recovery: Mortgages,” Bloomberg Businessweek (March 5, 2014) and “80 Organizations Ask Federal Government to Address Investor Cash Flooding Into Neighborhoods,” California Reinvestment Coalition (March 4, 2014)

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Study: Student Debt Holds Buyers Back, But Doesn’t Need ToNew Low for First-Time Home Buyers

My 2 cents.  When prices were as low as they were going to go – I remember contacting all the buyers I met 10 years ago to let them know there were homes in their price ranges.  Sadly, offer after offer, the 1st time buyers, with loans, were being outbid by investors – or underbid, but out timed by cash investors.  I watched homes sell so darn low to investors, foreign and domestic, my heart hurt.  Here was the opportunity for 1st time buyers, who planned on staying put for 10 years and working on their home – and they couldn’t buy because of the competition.  Now there are plenty of rental properties, but here in the Bay Area the rents are just as high as the mortgages.  I’m sad to see 1st time buyers forced to move away just to buy a home.  And that is no good for growth or our area or our housing market.  Without a first time buyer – there is no second time buyer and so forth.  It will be interesting to see how this effects us.

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3 Costly Cases of Hot Market Wishful Thinking – Fabulous Article

I truly enjoyed reading this blog because I’ve been faced with this challenge in my own Real Estate career.  It’s one of the hardest conversations to have.  Please enjoy – and I added my 2 cents in italics.


3 Costly Cases of Hot Market Wishful Thinking


“Oh, how I wish. . .” started no wise real estate decision ever. There’s a reason they call it real estate, folks. That’s because we’re dealing with the most tangible type of property around – land – and the buildings that, formally speaking, represent improvements to that land.

Attempting to apply fantasy-realm wishes to real-life, real land situations is never a setup for success. But when the market is hot and you have a goal or a timeline, engaging in wishful thinking is not just foolhardy – it can be costly.

As evidence, here are three common, costly cases of wishful thinking that tend to arise in areas where the market is hot, offers are plentiful and prices are rising. Consider these red flags and take heed in the event you find yourself engaging in any of them:

1. Wishing the house you’re seeing was in a different neighborhood. You’ve seen 2 dozens houses, and put in offers on a dozen. No dice. And your agent keeps pushing you to look in a lower price range, assuring you that you can find what you want. And then they show it to you: safe neighborhood, good school district, good commute to work, just the house you wanted, really – but not in the tony hills or hot downtown district you’ve been trying to get into.

Wishing that you could “pick the place up and set it back down” in your desired neighborhood will not make it so, no matter how many times you say it. The reality is that when you have been outbid a double-digit number of times, something about your approach is not working. You either have to downgrade your specs in terms of the property you seek, maybe looking for something smaller, a condo instead of a single-family home or something in less-pristine condition or you need to shift your location criteria – and that can mean a neighborhood change.

Part of the reason this wish is dangerous is that the white-hot markets in many towns are hyper-localized in the Most Desirable Neighborhood in Town. That’s where the competition among buyers and bidding wars are the most intense. If you’re not prepared to house hunt for homes quite a bit lower than your top dollar to set yourself up for success, or if there simply are no homes in that neighborhood listed below your top dollar, you might need to face the reality check that you simply can’t afford to buy there now.

Stop wishing the home you can afford were in a different neighborhood, because if it were, chances are good you wouldn’t be able to afford it, either! Understand that you’ll be able to level-up your neighborhoods as time goes on and you buy your next home – and the one after that – and don’t let your inflexibility paralyze your house hunt so long that prices all over town rise even more.

A friend once told me – if wishes were horses – we’d all be riding.  Don’t be the buyer on the horse.  Buying in the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the hardest markets to get in to and catch up with.  If you cannot buy where you thought you wanted to live – look around – we’re still in the Bay Area and as prices increase – it will increase across the board.  Talk with your Realtor to find the next up and coming area.

2. Hoping that perfect house gets no other offers, even though every other house you’ve bid on has had 54. There’s a fine line between wishing something were true and denying the reality of what actually is true. Facing reality, even when it’s painful or means you can’t have what you want, allows you to make your own action plan for getting the best possible results with the resources you have – or a plan for getting more resources, whichever route you choose to go.

As a buyer in a seller’s market, actually as a buyer in any type of market, it’s ultimately up to you and only you how much you offer on a home. Your mortgage broker can try to get you qualified as high as your income will allow, your agent can get you the comps and give you strategic advice on the average list price-to-sale price ratio, but you are the be-all and end-all decision-maker on offer price, and that’s as it should be.

But if you wield your weighty decision-making power to make lowball or at-asking offers in situations where you are virtually guaranteed to run into high levels of competition, that’s a poor use of your powers. Not only do you set yourself up for failure, you do so at the near-certain likelihood of adding to the demotivating, depressing, discouraging momentum of the times when you get overbid despite giving it your legitimate best efforts. That frustration often leads to analysis and calling a house hunting time-out. And that, in turn, often leads to buying at a time when prices are even higher, and getting ultimately even less home for your money.

I have heard this exact comment and was speechless for a moment.  You cannot wish away the competition.  And asking your Realtor to find a house no one is bidding on – is nuts.  Stop wasting your time and that of the professional you hired and own the fact that you want to buy a home and so does everyone else.  Instead of beating yourself and your Realtor up – think outside the box.  The Caton Team has several offer strategies to set your offer above the rest.  

3. Wishing prices weren’t going up so fast. Here’s the deal: when prices were flat or falling, buyers were (understandably) stressed at the prospect of buying a depreciating asset. Now that they’re ascending, it’s not at all uncommon to hear buyers bemoan that, too. The fact is, the moment escrow closes and your Facebook status changes from house hunter to home owner the fact that prices are rising, and fast, will shift in your mind’s eye from curse to blessing, quick-like.

Rising prices and a recovering market might be what emboldened you to buy, empowered you to sell a formerly underwater home, and certainly have been inextricably intertwined with the increase in jobs. If prices weren’t rising, many of these other things might not be materializing, either, and that wouldn’t be so great.

Wishing prices weren’t going up so fast contributes to a costly form of denial – denial of the reality that they are. This can cause buyers to persist in making lowball offers and wasting their precious time on homes they can’t compete for within in their budget range, all while their smart targets are appreciating rapidly – and that’s how people get priced out of the market, right under their noses.

Don’t let your home buyer dreams fall prey to this costly wish-based pitfall. Work with your agent to stay in the loop about how prices are trending throughout your house hunt, and use that knowledge to power your decision-making about what price range to house hunt in and what price to offer for target properties.

Prices rising means recovery is in full swing.  I totally agree with Tara, it was interesting to watch buyers hang on the fence instead of buying during the bust.  Homes were so cheap – low competition – and there was so much inventory.  But it was scary for some people.  Me, I was born and raised on this blessed peninsula – so I always knew we’d recover.  Jobs, culture, weather – all the factors are here.  So, if you want to buy a home, give your Realtor a call – don’t have one?  Call The Caton Team.  We’ll sit down and review your plans and help you come up with a path to attain your goals.  650-568-5522.  

ALL: What are your real estate wishes, and how do you ground yourself in reality?

Thank you Tara for another great read!

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Negotiate Your Best House Buy

Negotiate Your Best House Buy

I love to share articles I find interesting – I’ve added my 2 cents in italics…

Keep your emotions in check and your eyes on the goal, and you’ll pay less when purchasing a home.

Here are six tips for negotiating the best price on a home.

1. Get prequalified for a mortgage

Getting prequalified for a mortgage proves to sellers that you’re serious about buying and capable of affording their home. That will push you to the head of the pack when sellers choose among offers; they’ll go with buyers who are a sure financial bet, not those whose financing could flop.

This is so much the first step towards home ownership – any Realtor worth their salt won’t even take a buyer out until they are pre-approved and understand their budget and constraints.  In the San Francisco Bay Area – don’t bother writing an offer until you have a pre-approval in hand – or proof of cash.

2. Ask questions

Ask your agent for information to help you understand the sellers’ financial position and motivation. Are they facing foreclosure or a short sale? Have they already purchased a home or relocated, which may make them eager to accept a lower price to avoid paying two mortgages? Has the home been on the market for a long time, or was it just listed? Have there been other offers? If so, why did they fall through? The more signs that sellers are eager to sell, the lower your offer can reasonably go.

The Caton Team also finds out the big picture so we can tailor each offer for the best fit.  When faced against multiple offers – information is key and structuring your offer is imperative. 

3. Work back from a final price to determine your initial offer

Know in advance the most you’re willing to pay, and with your agent work back from that number to determine your initial offer, which can set the tone for the entire negotiation. A too-low bid may offend sellers emotionally invested in the sales price; a too-high bid may lead you to spend more than necessary to close the sale. 

Work with your agent to evaluate the sellers’ motivation and comparable home sales to arrive at an initial offer that engages the sellers yet keeps money in your wallet.

The Caton Team will provide a buyer with a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) when we sit down to write the offer.  We take into account the current state of the market, what homes have sold for in the recent past, what they are going for now, and the amount of competition for each home.  Try to maintain an open mind when writing your offer. 

4. Avoid contingencies

Sellers favor offers that leave little to chance. Keep your bid free of complicated contingencies, such as making the purchase conditional on the sale of your current home. Do keep contingencies for mortgage approval, home inspection, and environmental checks typical in your area, like radon.

Contingencies are what protect the buyer.  Talk closely with your Realtor on which contingencies should stay in and which you can omit to improve your offer.  Each client and offer is different.  That’s why it is so important to work with a Realtor you trust. 

5. Remain unemotional

Buying a home is a business transaction, and treating it that way helps you save money. Consider any movement by the sellers, however slight, a sign of interest, and keep negotiating. 

Each time you make a concession, ask for one in return. If the sellers ask you to boost your price, ask them to contribute to closing costs or pay for a home warranty. If sellers won’t budge, make it clear you’re willing to walk away; they may get nervous and accept your offer.

This strategy works great when you are the ONLY offer.  So much time is wasted by buyers who think they hold the reigns in negotiations.  In the San Francisco Bay Area we have low inventory right now and high demand.  Setting the stage for a Sellers Market. Each listing will entertain multiple offers.  So it is best to write your best offer up front because chances are you will NOT get a counter offer or the chance to change your offer once submitted.  It is imperative you work closely with a Realtor you trust.  Each offer opportunity is unique and will require a new strategy. 

6. Don’t let competition change your plan

Great homes and those competitively priced can draw multiple offers in any market. Don’t let competition propel you to go beyond your predetermined price or agree to concessions—such as waiving an inspection—that aren’t in your best interest.

Great advice.  The Caton Team will not push our clients to do anything they are not comfortable with.  I would rather change our purchasing strategy and shop in a different market or price point than overextend our clients reach just because the housing market is competitive.

Buyers must be aware that they cannot control the market or the volume of competition.  All a buyer can do is educate themselves on the market, understand their budget and their max and shop within their parameters.  Nobody said it would be easy – but The Caton Team does strive for a smooth overall experience. 

By: G. M. Filisko

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Rational Home Buying – Great article I Had to Share – Let Me Know Your Thoughts Too!

I love it when friends and clients come across a great real estate article and think of me!  Sophie sent me this interesting article about rational thinking when buying a home.  I found it most interesting and had to share.  Please enjoy – and of course I added my 2 cents in italics!  Would love to know your thoughts too – please leave comments!

Rational Home Buying

My parents are considering moving house. I’ve had a front-seat window to their decision process as they compare alternatives, and sometimes it isn’t pretty.

A new house is one of the most important purchases most people will make. Because of the sums involved, the usual pitfalls of decision-making gain new importance, and it becomes especially important to make sure you’re thinking rationally. Research in a couple of fields, most importantly positive psychology, offers some potentially helpful tips.


People so consistently under-count the pain of commuting when making choices that the problem has its own name: Commuter’s Paradox. The paradox is that, although rational choice theory predicts people should balance commuting against other goods and costs, so that one person might have a longer commute but a nicer (or cheaper) house and so be just as happy overall, this doesn’t happen: people who have long commutes are miserable, full stop. A separate survey by Kahneman and Krueger found that commuting was the least enjoyable of nineteen daily activities mentioned, and other studies have found relations between long commutes and poor social lives, poor health, high stress, and various other problems.

Psychologists aren’t entirely sure why people so consistently under-count the pain of commuting. Maybe it’s because it’s viewed as “in-between” time rather than as an activity on its own; maybe it’s because it comes in relatively short and individually bearable chunks repeated over many years, instead of as a single entity. In any case, unless you are mentally atypical you will probably have a tendency to undercount commute time when buying a new home, and may want to adjust for that tendency.

I loved this part – Commuter Paradox!  Finally a name for the epidemic I see when working with buyers.  Prices can push any buyer far from their place of work.  And commuting takes time, money and lots of energy.  I would rather see a client live closer to work and maybe change the list of wants in order to have time to actually enjoy their lives, instead of driving for hours to that perfect home, only to have no energy to enjoy it!


One of Kahneman and Tversky’s famous bias experiments went like this: imagine you’re buying a new shirt. It costs $40 at a nearby store, and it costs $20 at a store that’s fifteen minutes away. Do you drive the fifteen minutes to save twenty bucks? Most people would.

Now imagine you’re buying a new TV which costs $2020 at a nearby store, and $2000 at a store that’s fifteen minutes away. Do you drive the fifteen minutes to save twenty bucks? Most people wouldn’t.

In both cases, the tradeoff is the same – drive fifteen minutes to save twenty bucks – but people were much more willing to do it for the cheap item, because $20 was a higher percentage of its total cost. With the $2000 TV, the $20 vanishes into the total cost like a drop in the ocean and seems insignificant.

Nice homes can cost $500,000, $1,000,000, or even more. There doesn’t seem to be a big difference in price between $710,000 and $745,000 houses; perhaps if the second home looked even a little nicer in an undefinable way you might be prepared to take it. But $35,000 is $35,000; if those minor advantages don’t provide $35,000 worth of value, when measured on the same scale on which you measure the value of of movie tickets, shoes, and college funds, then you should buy the first house and keep the cash.

I find purchasing decisions easier when I think about them like this: which would you rather have, the second house, or the first house plus a two-week luxury vacation to anywhere in the world every summer for the next five years? The second house, or the first house plus a brand new Lexus? The second house and dining at home every week, or the first house and eating out at your favorite restaurant every weekend for the rest of your life? (EDIT: gjm points out that it’s easier to resell houses than other types of good, so if you expect to resell your house you should really only be considering the extra money involved in the mortgage)

This is a hard one, and truly each house has it’s own pros and cons and value.  So we’d need to tackle this – one house at a time. 


The availability heuristic says that people overcount scenarios that are easy and vivid to imagine, and undercount scenarios that don’t involve any readily available examples or mental images. For example, most people will assert, when asked, that there are more English words ending with “-ing” than with “-g”. A moment’s thought reveals this to be impossible – words ending in “-ing” are a subset of those ending in “-g” – but thinking specifically of “-ing” words makes it easier to bring examples to mind.

The real estate version of this fallacy involves exciting opportunities that you will rarely or never use. For example, a house with a pool may bring to mind the opportunity to hold pool parties. But most such plans will probably fall victim to akrasia, and even if they don’t, how often can one person throw pool parties without exhausting their friends’ interest? Pool parties may be fun to imagine, but they’ll probably only affect a few hours every couple of months. Other factors, like the commuting distance and whether your children end up in a nice school, may affect several hours every day.

(a classic example here is the “extra bedroom for Grandma” – visits from Grandma are easy to imagine, but if she only comes a couple of days a year, spending tens of thousands more dollars for a house with an extra bedroom and bathroom for her is probably pretty stupid. You’d save money – and make her happier – by putting her up in the local five star hotel.)

I have come across this moment many times.  It truly depends on each person’s lifestyle.  Candid conversations about what a buyer wants in their home and their budget can help work through this dilemma.    


Good illumination and a view of natural beauty aren’t just pleasant luxuries, but can make important practical differences in your life.

Light, especially daylight, has a strong effect on mood. There are at least fifteen controlled studies showing that bright light reduces symptoms of seasonal and nonseasonal depression by about 10-20% over placebo. This is about equal benefit to some antidepressant drugs, and sufficient that light therapy is a recognized medical treatment for depression. Bright light leads to self-reported better mood even in subjects without a diagnosis of depression, and also leads to better sleep and more agreeable social interactions.

Light and nature have positive effects on health. Some of the most compelling data comes from hospitals, which have long realized that their patients near windows do better than their more interior counterparts. In one study, surgical patients near windows recovered faster (7.9 vs. 8.7 days), received fewer negative comments from nurses (1.1 vs. 4 notes), and needed fewer strong painkillers (1 vs. 2.5 doses) than matched controls without a view. Other studies have compared recovery of physiological indicators of stress (for example, blood pressure) in subjects viewing natural or artificial scenes; the subjects with views of nature consistently have healthier stress reactions. 

Nature may have special benefits for children. Experiments with subjects of all ages and levels of mental health have shown nature increases mental functioning and concentration, but some of the most cited work has been in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Children who live in greener settings also (independently of wealth) do better on schoolwork and show greater ability to delay gratification. Large studies find with high certainty that students who take standardized tests in better lighting do up to 25% better than their literally dimmer schoolmates, and progress through lessons 15-25% faster.

You don’t have to live in the Amazon to get a benefit: even children in a concrete building with a tiny “green island” boasting a single tree did better than their peers in a building without such an island.

Yes!  Light has such an affect on us and our moods.  No argument here.  My only 2 cents.  If you cannot find a home with the right light, it’s time to talk paint and art!  My first place was a sandwiched condo, we didn’t have much natural light – so paint and great lighting was key to my sanity!


Brains generally encode variables not as absolute values but as differences from an appropriate reference frame. That means that to really appreciate your wealth, you’ve got to be surrounded by people who are poorer than you are.

This seems to be empirically the case: a US study found the happiest Americans were rich people living in poor counties. However, this was true only of rich people living in rich neighborhoods of poor counties. As the study puts it, “individuals in fact are happier when they live among the poor, as long as the poor do not live too close”. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should move to Somalia for eternal bliss. There are community-wide benefits to living in a wealthy neighborhood, like better schools, and you may be better able to socialize with people from a similar class background as yourself. But given the choice between a neighborhood at the top of your price range and one at the bottom, you may find yourself more satisfied living in an area where it’s the Joneses who have to try to keep up with you.


It’s easy to confuse “rationality” with a tendency to turn all decision-making over to conscious general-purpose reasoning, and in turn to assume that whoever ruminates about a decision the most is most rational. But there are at least two reasons to think that within reason it may be better to worry less over important decisions.

One is the finding that “comparison shopping” usually leads to less happiness in whatever you buy. Imagine being pretty sure you’re going to buy House X until you look at House Y and find out that this one has a granite fireplace, and a pond in the backyard. It may be you don’t like House Y at all – but now every time you go back to House X, you’re thinking about how it doesn’t have a granite fireplace or a pond, two features which you never would have even considered before. Whether you find this explanation plausible or not, the research generally agrees: too many choices result in less satisfaction with whatever you finally buy.

The second is the discovery that attempts to make your reasoning explicit and verbal usually result in worse choices. This includes that favorite of guidance counselors: to write out a list of the pros and cons of all your choices – but it covers any attempt to explain choices in words. In one study, subjects were asked to rate the taste of various jams; an experimental group was also asked to give reasons for their ratings. Ratings from the group that didn’t need reasons correlated more closely with the ratings of professional jam experts (which is totally a thing) than those who gave justifications. A similar study found students choosing posters were more likely to still like the poster a month later if they weren’t asked to justify their choice (Lehrer, How We Decide, p. 144).

The most plausible explanation is that having to verbalize your choices shifts your attention to features that are easy to explain in words (or perhaps which make good signaling value), and these are not necessarily the same features that are really important. In a telling experiment under the same protocol as the ones listed above, people asked to reflect upon their choices were more likely to choose the house with the extra room for Grandma than the house with the shorter commute times, because the extra reflection gave more opportunity for the availability heuristic to come into play.

Sometimes we cannot put into words what we like about a home.  Sometimes it is just a feeling.  And believe it or not – if you feel like you are standing in your home – you are!  Go with your gut!  I know I’ve walked into homes that on paper didn’t fit the bill – but I felt it was “the one” and when my clients walked in – they did too!  Sometimes you just need to throw out the list, open your eyes and look around.


Buying a house is one of the biggest decisions a family faces, and so has extra opportunity to be improved by rational thinking. Try to buy a house with good illumination and nearby green space in an area close to your workplace where you’ll be relatively high on the social ladder. Carefully consider whether special features have genuine utility or are just highly available small details, and justify the relative differences in cost in absolute, not just relative terms. And, um, try to do all of this while following your gut instincts and not overshopping.

Easier said than done!  But The Caton Team is here to help every step of the way.  How can we help you?

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