Look Who’s Buying

Young professional couples are buying up Alameda’s limited housing stock.



Diana Wyman said prepare to spend $1 million if you're looking to buy a home in Alameda.

Photo by Pat Mazzera

More than five years ago, in 2011, the median sales price of a single-family detached home in Alameda was $555,750, according to the multiple listing service Bay East Association of Realtors. In 2016, that median went up to $934,500, a jump of 68 percent. Prices for condos and townhomes soared even more, by 78 percent, from $375,000 to $667,500.

“It’s demand. We don’t have enough homes for the amount of people that are migrating into Alameda,” said Dianna Wyman, an agent and co-owner of Bayside Real Estate in Alameda.

With those prices, who’s buying?

Buyers tend to be young, professional couples in their 30s or 40s with “high-powered” executive jobs in the technology or health industries, according to Wyman. Employees of Kaiser, Genentech, Pandora, and smaller tech startups are common, and some commute to Silicon Valley regularly, Wyman said.

Tim D., 34, and his wife, Paola, 33, moved to Hayward from Boston when Tim’s company relocated him to the Bay Area. He’s a biomedical engineer and she’s a researcher. They’re currently renting but searching for a home in Alameda to move into in June.

“We would like to insulate ourselves from rent increases,” Tim said.

Ideally, the couple would like a three-bedroom, single-family detached home in the Bay Farm neighborhood or the southeast portion of the main island below the $1 million mark near the water.

That might be stretching their price range, but they’d be happy with a fixer. The search will likely be tough. For-sale inventory in Alameda is scarce. Toward the end of January, there were 28 active listings, ranging from a $369,000 one-bedroom condo to a $2.25 million five-bedroom Victorian.

Only four were over $1 million, but the competition for homes is fierce, according to Wyman. Properties will often receive four or five offers and buyers that lose out quickly learn to “get more aggressive” the next time, pushing prices up further, Wyman said. In 2016, the median number of days a home stayed on the market was a 13 days. Back in 2011, it was 31 days.

With these conditions, a two-income household making more than $200,000 annually is virtually a requirement to afford the popular three-bedroom, two-bath home. “If you don’t have a million dollars [to spend], it’s hard to get a home. I’ve been saying that for over a year,” Wyman said.

Couples sometimes buy in advance of having a child or may have children in tow, she said. Tim and Paola, for instance, despite their ideal wants, really have one requirement: three bedrooms, to accommodate children they want to have.

Some Alameda buyers are first-timers or move-up buyers. Former San Franciscans are often among those buying their second home. They sell their first home in that city and buy “big, beautiful homes here,” Wyman said.

Many are fleeing the high cost of living in San Francisco, casting their eyes to Alameda’s safe, walkable, bikeable streets; good schools; and comparatively affordable real estate.

Tim said it was the “community sense of the neighborhoods” that pulled him to Alameda.

Alameda’s diversity is also attractive, Wyman said. “People ask, ‘Is it diverse?’ They feel at home here because the community is open to all kinds of people,” she said. According to the latest census figures, Alameda’s population is 45 percent white, 31 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic, and 7 percent black.

San Francisco refugees are more likely to snatch up homes near busy Park Street, according to Wyman. Such buyers like being able to walk to everything, whether it’s the local coffee shop or their kid’s ballet class, according to Bri Wilson-Mattke, another Bayside agent. “I like to describe Alameda as a small town in a big city area,” she said.

Wyman also considers Alameda something of a resort town with its beaches, bike paths, and restaurants. Two couples from Ithaca, N.Y., have contacted her recently about buying in Alameda. At least one has family in town, and the couple is willing to rent out the property until they retire. “They fear they’ll be priced out” if they wait, she said.

 

Published online on Feb. 28, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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