Sonoma Housing Bubble

Pulling the cork out of Sonoma's bubbly housing foolishness

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Open Mouthed @ Open House- Update

Why does the word Fraud come to mind?

A reader last summer sent in some details about an open house he visited in Sonoma 660 East MacArthur

The house at that time was priced at $1,395,000 and apparently it is a 1950 cottage turn cliche. He said it was remodeled with all the cliches we have come to expect. The granite countertops, the pottery barn colors and yadda yadda yadda... but there certainly were no solid gold toilets or bathtubs and he said what he found most interesting is what Zillow had to say about it.

Zillow Sez:
660 E Macarthur St, Sonoma, CA 95476
Zillow Estimate:

660 East MacArthur's Market Value Change for 1 yr.

Sales History:
12/24/06: $1,200,000
07/12/2006: $1,258,000

hmmm... but in October 2005 this house was sold for $712k

Then sold in two months later for $600k. $112,500k LESS just two months later... WTF?

Then a mere 6 months later it was up for sale again, and with an asking price of $1,395,000 and it sold for $1,258,000...

... and then just 1 month after the $1,258,000 sale it was put up for sale again with the same realty company, (Morgan Lane) and wonder of all wonders only the listing agents and the price changed. This listing price was $1,284,500

Then reported by SFGATE in their December 24th Homes sold report 660 Macarthur again changed hands... going down $84,500

Homes sold week of: Sunday, December 24, 2006
660 East MacArthur Street$1,200,000,

Look at the zillow valuations...
January 2002 Value: $221k
January 2003 Value: $280k
January 2004 Value: $300k
January 2005 Value: $400k
August 2006 Value: $669,320

You have GOT to be kidding!!!

Tax Assessment History: 2004
Property tax: $2,218
Assessed value bldgs: $105,939
Assessed value land: + $44,606

Total assessed value: = $150,545

Something is not passing the smell test...

Sonoma House


At 5/28/2006 07:04:00 PM , Anonymous tom stone said...

athena that 12-05 sale may not have been arms length,be interesting to see the names,and check the relationships.the new price is insane,although bubbles at or just past the peak seem to bring out erratic behavior and pricing.enough people know about zillow now that they and their agent should get an earful.

At 5/28/2006 07:14:00 PM , Blogger marin_explorer said...

LOL! I drove by that on Friday, and wondered at the price, but $1.4M? Damn.

At 5/28/2006 07:16:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

The erratic behavior that will confound me is if someone actually BUYS it! I wouldn't buy it at $600k. $300k yes... but this house while perhaps it really is nice inside doesn't change the fact that it is a 1950's cottage in Sonoma. Criminy. It would fit in the closet of my aunt's house in Texas that she bought for $200k!

I think you are being optimistic about enough people knowing about zillow. I have a real estate appraiser friend and I told her about zillow a couple weeks ago. People in the industry don't know about the resources out there, and people in the market seem to use the usual suspects for their research due to their inability to employ basic critical thinking skills. Most of the people I know in Sonoma think the Internet and email exist solely to send chain spam to everyone they know every day, mutliple times a day. Many wouldn't know how to have a conversation in writing if their life depended on it, and it would never occur to them to actually do some research. I am starting to think the only people who search the Internet for real information, let alone read this blog or other blogs are those who are inclined to be intelligent in general and wise with money in particular. We are preaching to the choir I think.

At 5/28/2006 07:17:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

I'm going to have to take a drive by myself just to see what the deal is... $1,395,000? That just makes no sense at all! Good grief! More than double what the owner paid for it 6 months ago. What a flipping flipper!

At 5/28/2006 09:10:00 PM , Blogger moonvalley said...

My experience has been that even when one shows a potential sucker Zillow, Domania, etc they still will not believe their eyes. They cling tightly to their little Sonoma is special security blanket.
Great seeing you today Athena.

At 5/28/2006 09:15:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

It was great seeing both of you! ;-)

Well... I think the zillow valuations should be taken with a whole pound of salt at the very least, but I do find the house history data very informative. But then again, things like that are only informative to people who like to be informed prior to making decisions. Basic facts tell us the majority of the population loves ignorance, embraces ignorance, and whole industries exist and encourage the continuation of social ignorance.

If the population on the whole were rational and appreciative of information we wouldn't have infotainment instead of news. The major magazines would not have to write for an average 8th grade reading level. The real estate industry would not be consulted for accurate information regarding the real estate market.

People in our country like their politics and their money to be like their religions... they should defy all laws of logic, gravity and economics.

At 5/28/2006 10:05:00 PM , Anonymous tom stone said...

zillow is one of the information sources i give to people who are interested in buying or selling real estate.i feel that zillow is great for comparables and broad price/value trends but would give little credence to an individual value unless the property in question was located in a newish subdivision with a lot of recent get more individual with time.

At 5/28/2006 10:10:00 PM , Blogger marin_explorer said...

People in our country like their politics and their money to be like their religions... they should defy all laws of logic, gravity and economics.

Yes, and even around SFBay, educated professionals embrace what's best described as magical thinking, considering themselves exempt from basic market forces, economic fundamentals, and even common sense. Our self-referential lifestyle has created an illusion of superiority--that will be shattered.

At 5/29/2006 12:37:00 AM , Blogger moonvalley said...

Magical thinking regarding RE..I like that. That explains all the people burying statues of St Joseph in their front yards in order to guarantee a sale. Then there is the Fung Shui school of thought and the stories I've heard about in Socal, where people actually have had their house numbers changed to make them more numeralogically appealing to potential buyers.

At 5/29/2006 06:56:00 AM , Anonymous tom stone said...

magical thinking becomes more prevalent in times of fear.we have a federal govt. that is officially faith based and is officially faith based,and which has abandoned the rule of law,we have a frightened and ignorant populace that has a long history of anti wonder they turn to feng shui and statues of saints...there are few good choices and all of them are frightening in this uncertain world...i put my faith in murphy,personally.

At 5/29/2006 09:02:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not a huge fan of zillow. I don't think their secret formula takes into account the average salary for an area. If it did, then this house would be less than $300k.

At 5/29/2006 10:22:00 AM , Blogger Athena said...

I agree... Magical Thinking is the word of the day and is an apt description for why the great unwashed have turned to RE as their drug/religion of choice fully believing it will all be ok.

Anon... you are correct. Zillow doesn't factor in any of the economic demographics as far as I can tell. They simply take the comparable sales near an address and run an algorithm based on comparable sq. footage etc... and give a guestimate. It doesn't actually offer true appraisal value sans the bubble prices. That is one reason why I think it should be taken with a pound of salt. In my opinion Sonoma needs to give up their five years worth of 20% gains before I will consider the prices appropriate for the area. I look at the price of a house five years ago... give them 5% per year till now... and voila... that is an appropriate value in my opinion. I will not be paying for these flippers lifestyle and anyone who does I think is the greatest fool.

At 5/30/2006 12:24:00 AM , Blogger Athena said...

How did the buyer in 10-05 get this house past an appraiser?

If the market values at that time actually were closer to $400k, then who would give this person a loan for $300k above the valuations?

THEN... why would this person sell a mere two months later for $112k LESS than they paid?

Something is NOT passing the smell test here.

Not to mention the grossly inflated $1,395,000 price tag now... good lord I can hardly type that with a straight face.

This smells like money laundering.

DOJ...? You reading this?

At 5/30/2006 02:33:00 PM , Anonymous tom stone said...

athena,re your last comment...the title company would have the information and it may be available online.i would look at original 05 owner,then persons on title for the next two transactions,see what kind of loans were made and who made them.the earlier 05 appraisal was quite possibly a "drive by" appraisal,where all the lender wants is 3 comps,and an appraiser to "drive by" to ensure the property really exists.if there were no comps for near the absurd 712k price in the month or so prior to that sale,in the immediate area...say within a mile,then the inference of appraisal fraud would be very is usually not difficult to determine the relationships between the parties to these kinds of transactions unless they are at least somewhat practiced in the arts of the names check the addresses,basic background checks you can order online...and 95% of the time you have what you need,or have determined where to get it.frauds are a kind of patterned behavior,or dance...that always seem to share some elements of a formal seduction.

At 7/10/2006 11:55:00 PM , Blogger Out at the peak said...

What a joke. If this place sells above a million, I'll wag my finger.

At 8/30/2006 08:57:00 PM , Blogger Rob Dawg said...

This smells just like a mortgage churn fraud scheme. Sell, extract, leave a bagholder, repeat before the bookkeeping catches up.

At 8/30/2006 09:09:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

I've been seeing the Feds and the county offices snooping around the blog. Perhaps they should be snooping around the purchase records and see about the realtors and mortgage brokers affiliated with this house.

At 8/31/2006 11:16:00 AM , Anonymous tom stone said...

what is the past tense of "stinks out loud"? somebody is going to be seriously embarrassed,and hopefully indicted...isnt it amazing how brazen some folk's are?i may have time to call a title co next week on this one just for giggles,if i do i'll let you know the results...any realtor friend could do the same.

At 8/31/2006 11:30:00 AM , Blogger sf jack said...

"Yes, and even around SFBay, educated professionals embrace what's best described as magical thinking, considering themselves exempt from basic market forces, economic fundamentals, and even common sense. Our self-referential lifestyle has created an illusion of superiority--that will be shattered."


skeptic -

Where have you been?

In any case, you outline what I have spoke of in the past... namely, "The San Francisco Bay Area - worldwide home of the financially self-delusional!"

At 8/31/2006 11:35:00 AM , Blogger sf jack said...

Since cognitive dissonance still remains quite entrenched in much of SF, I guess I'll deliver some "local" news here. I have to tell somebody.

I hope athena and all of you others don't mind this...

I looked at MLS for my very average SF neighborhood yesterday, and perhas for the first time in several years, there was not one overpriced POS condo or loft condo listed for more than $1 million.

There are still many just below that figure, but none above. Perhaps it was one of those typical MLS one day kinda "meltdowns"?

Once again, time will tell.

At 8/31/2006 11:37:00 AM , Blogger Athena said...

Tom... definitely let me know what you find out. I wonder if we will see peeps doing the perp walk on this one? Can't wait to see if there is an innocent explanation for it. Not sure I can call in the realtor favor on this one, might be dicey...but will do what I can to try... :-/

At 8/31/2006 11:44:00 AM , Blogger Athena said...

Keep us posted SFJack.

I have been noticing listings above $699k being scarce lately in my daily emails of new listings. That is the local Sonoma phenomenon... This time last year there were few under $600k and most tried to get into $700k... but times are a changing.

There are still very few houses in Sonoma even worth paying $500k for... so I will wait, and hopefully so will every other smart person out there.

Remember the formula is to give them 5% per year since 1999. When the sellers get it then it will be time to buy. When sellers are pricing at that level... it will be time to buy. not before. hopefully a few good perp walk parades will put the fear of the Feds in some flipping idiots.

At 8/31/2006 12:07:00 PM , Anonymous ben said...

Previous post seems lost
Anyway, I'm beginning to wonder as well as things seem mighty fishy lately.
Saw a place in Kenwood sold 8/8/06 for 2.4 mill. (320 adobe canyon rd)
On 3/5/04 it sold for 1 mill.
Zillow's est. 1.6

At 8/31/2006 01:14:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the 05 sale was not bona fide, it will be easy enough to find out. The mortgage and appraisal fraud of the mid-80s was successful (for a short time) due to the speed and sheer volume of the transactions and lack of scrutiny.

At 8/31/2006 03:33:00 PM , Blogger sf jack said...

You guys should check out Lander's work over at his blog.

He's got charts showing Sacto has passed San Diego in the race to the bottom (came ahead recently in Y/Y declines and in other charts):

"Meet the new canary in the California coal mine: Sacramento"

At 8/31/2006 04:12:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

cool... will go check it out. I love his blog.

At 9/01/2006 01:41:00 PM , Blogger marin_explorer said...

Something else to check out:
the "map of misery," which details "the percentage of new and refinanced mortgages into loans with payment options."

Interesting to note: several "unbustable" places with supposedly "unique" conditions or a "strong" economy are high on that list, notably San Jose, Santa Barbara, Orange, and San Diego. (Santa Rosa is way up there too.)

At 9/01/2006 04:40:00 PM , Blogger Lisa said...

On the West Coast, it's not just California but also the CA feeder markets that are dependent on the equity exodus and "investors" - Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington.

Good luck to those states -);

I think it's great that the MSM is finally calling a spade a spade. Later than they should have, but at least it's happening.

At 9/02/2006 04:40:00 PM , Blogger marin_explorer said...

As an aside, here's a reduction in "prime" eastside Sonoma:
690 Charles Van Damme:
DOM: 311
6/7/06: $2.35->$2.1
Despite the hype, I imagine there's a small market for this home.

At 9/03/2006 02:20:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

Marin Explorer... you should take a drive through the armstrong estates.... they are trying to pull the wool over someone... because there are a TON of listings in that hood. But they have taken to not putting up the balloons and the signs on all the corners anymore. Trying to make it look like there are no flippers or a mass exodus taking place. The houses are pretty much empty. But for sale nonetheless.

So while there may in fact be very well off people who would purchase a home in this price range regardless of the market... it is interesting that the armstrong neighborhood has a bunch of lights on... but nobody home. Literally.

At 9/04/2006 01:00:00 AM , Blogger moonvalley said...

Has anyone noticed the house on 2nd Street East. Sold a few months back for 650k, just relisted, for asle again this time for 1.2 million. My husband lost a bet today when he guessed that it would sit,sit ,sit. Well it sold last week for 1.195m! Insane you say? A freind asked the realtor, what pray tell caused the house to more than double in value in about three short months. The answer, a fence and granite counter tops. Go figure.
oh, and I almost forgot, they tunred a walk in coat closet into a "home office". Sheeesh.

At 9/04/2006 12:20:00 PM , Blogger moonvalley said...

My sister just informed me that my 21 year old nephew has opted out of the police academy. His fiancee is afraid he'd get hurt or killed if he followed that profession. What's her new choice for guessed it, Realtor. Talk about getting killed. I come from a family of cops and CHP, no realtors, also they're all still alive .Yikes

At 9/04/2006 12:32:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

MV... how did they get that new valuation appraised? That just doesn't sound like a legal appraisal. I am telling you... I think the arrogance has reached heights to unmeasurable heights and can't say I will be surprised when the perp walk parade comes to town.

from cop to realtor? you know something I don't get? Why in the world would a guy let a girlfriend pick his profession for him?

At 9/04/2006 06:34:00 PM , Blogger marin_explorer said...

Talk about getting killed

Right--I was just thinking that! Guess which job is more secure in an economic downturn? A beat cop can always move into forensics; what can one do as a washed-out realtor?

Anyway...that's surprising about Armstrong Estates; it doesn't show up on ziprealty. But what a surprise: build a decidedly upscale nabe without a market of buyers? Poetic justice.

At 9/04/2006 08:44:00 PM , Anonymous tom stone said...

i plan to go by the assessor's office before noon tomorrow and pull the info on 660.i don't want to call the title co and get rumours started "why do you want the info" far as getting an appraisal to fit,well...they call them "skippies" on the appraisal forum become an appraiser you take some courses,get a background check,pass a 4 hour exam (it took me an hour last friday) and put in 2000 hours of supervised work for little pay to end up making about the median household income for sonoma county.or you get your license,churn out values to order with lots of poorly supervised trainees and make 4-5 times the median.many loan brokers and lenders prefer the latter kind of shop,low price,fast turnaround,always enough value to justify the loan.appraisals on an sfr run about $250 now,maybe $300,if you consider the overhead and time involved in doing it right,and the lack of demand for honest appraisals it makes more sense when we see garbage like this pos for $1 mil plus

At 9/04/2006 09:15:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

Let us know what you find out Tom.

I suppose when people start wearing cuffs for fraud there may be a return of demand for honest appraisals... ya think? :-/

At 9/04/2006 10:00:00 PM , Anonymous trailer trash said...

By Stephen G. Bishop

"While supply and demand may play a role in real estate market prices, one needs to consider what creates extraordinary demand when no other factors change significantly. A dramatic runup in prices, when incomes are flat, supply is sufficient, consumer credit is overextended, the cost of living rises constantly and prosperity lies in the hands of the elite, can only be attributed to one primary cause. Inflated appraisals. If an appraiser doesn’t hit the number, they don’t work. The fundamental relationship between an appraiser and those who employ them guarantee it."

At 9/05/2006 09:13:00 AM , Anonymous tom stone said...

thanks trailer trash,however,i think the appraiser for this property may have a problem,the uniform standards of appriasal practice state that an appraiser MUST analyze any sales of the subject property within the last 3 years...with a sales history like 660 e macarthur's any appraiser areeing with a value over $1m had better be a fast talker(roll over)

At 9/07/2006 08:05:00 AM , Anonymous trailer trash said...

tom stone said " appraiser MUST analyze any sales of the subject property within the last 3 years...with a sales history like 660 e macarthur's any appraiser agreeing with a value over $1m had better be a fast talker(roll over)"

Thanks for this information. It will be interesting when the next appraisal is done on a house that is for sale in a city near where I live.

A pair of wannabe power flippers leveraged themselves into this house in early August for $849 thousand and put it back on the market three weeks later for $1.1 million. They did NOTHING to the house but stage it with a load of furniture, throw rugs and wall hangings.

This house was on the market 10 months before they bought it. Nearby comparables indicate that it finally sold for about what it was worth. But, a Realtor has convinced these "investors" that they can make a quick $250 thousand flipping the house, even as the market is going down.

At 9/07/2006 12:26:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

something tells me when they have their particular brand of financial meltdown they won't be thinking of that realtor as much of a friend anymore.

I have a feeling there will be many friendless realtors and mortgage brokers in the coming years. :-/

At 9/08/2006 07:28:00 AM , Anonymous trailer trash said...

"Athena said... something tells me when they have their particular brand of financial meltdown they won't be thinking of that realtor as much of a friend anymore."

"I have a feeling there will be many friendless realtors and mortgage brokers in the coming years. :-/"

Apparently, these "investors" have already started to panic since they listed the house on 08/23/2006 for $1.1 million.

Last night, the listing disappeared from the MLS and came back this morning priced at $990 thousand. After only 15 days, they have dropped the price by $110 thousand.

My guess is that any offers they might have received have been below the $849 thousand that they paid -- that is, if they received any offers at all.

At 9/08/2006 09:21:00 AM , Blogger Athena said...

wow... sounds like they are in a world of hurt.

So from preliminary snooping on 660 e. macarthur it looks like a series of quit claim deed sales from trust to trust and some sketchy sounding corporation have taken place. It is starting to smell real bad now.

At 1/27/2007 11:03:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

It ain't over til it's over apparently.

Looks like 660 macarthur has sold again for a million dollar price tag.

this one smells worse than sardines sewn into curtain linings.

It stinks to high heaven and probably time the FBI Fraud investigators take a look at how many times this property has changed hands in the last two years alone.

At 1/27/2007 11:16:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

Homes sold week of: Sunday, December 24, 2006

660 East MacArthur Street
$1,200,000, 3 bdrms, 1878 sq. ft., 1950

At 9/22/2007 05:55:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9/22/2007 11:46:00 PM , Blogger Athena said...

(sigh) so sick of the costa rica spam!

At 9/24/2007 02:21:00 PM , Blogger Omar Cruz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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