Limited Inventory Ups Prices

Red Oak Realty's top seller, Deidre Joyner talks inventory and pricing strategy.

Red Oak Realty’s top seller, Deidre Joyner talks inventory and pricing strategy.

By Ramona d’Viola

The old real estate mantra of “location, location, location” has been replaced locally by “inventory, inventory, inventory.” Or more specifically, in the Bay Area, the lack thereof.

With limited inventory comes higher prices, especially for those looking to buy in walkable or luxury neighborhoods of the coastal East Bay. Yet with the right strategy, savvy timing, and some seriously local knowledge, the dream of Bay Area real estate is still attainable—for some.

Access to an assortment of online tools allows prospective buyers to do a lot of the legwork before working with an agent. But with so little inventory, Red Oak Realty’s Deidre Joyner believes it is essential to work with real estate agents and lenders who understand the hyper-local microclimate of East Bay real estate.

“Working with an experienced agent, one who understands all the moving parts—what’s available, the pricing strategy, how many offers are in play, buyer desire, and necessity—are the ingredients needed to successfully put a buyer into a home that fits their budget and needs,” Joyner said.

Across the state, sellers routinely underprice their listings by 5 percent, according to the California Association of Realtors. But here in the East Bay, due to paltry inventory, low interest rates, and heightened demand, sellers discount the price of their homes by upward of 20 percent. This strategy instigates bidding wars and ensures 100 percent turnout on pre-qualified buyers.

“Pricing a home is a balancing act and an art,” Joyner said. “If you overprice your home and only get one offer, you have nothing to negotiate against.”

Consequently, many homes throughout the region are selling substantially above their asking price, often with multiple offers in the hard-to-resist cash variety.

“An appropriately priced home in today’s market will get multiple offers and provide the leverage needed to close the deal,” Joyner said. “List price means nothing; it’s part of the marketing plan. It’s like a starting auction price.”

One of Joyner’s lenders recently referred to her a couple who had been working with an out-of-area agent. With little understanding of the nuanced differences from house to house, or even block to block, the couple’s agent wrote offers on several homes to no avail.

“Without taking into consideration the newer pricing strategies and lack of quality inventory in the area, their original agent was putting in offers on homes they couldn’t afford,” Joyner said. “Had I worked with them from the beginning, I could have saved them a lot of time and money and gotten them into a home months earlier. I don’t mean to sound cavalier, but it’s all part of the game.

”This is no idle boast. Joyner’s reputation as one of the area’s most successful agents has been rightfully earned. The well-respected real estate saleswoman holds the 2014 Top Producer title at Red Oak’s Montclair location and has held the title companywide since 2010.Joyner recently closed a sale with almost 10 offers in play, but she knew her buyers could make a cash offer, so she asked them to come up a bit.“

If you know your cap is $650K, you start looking at homes priced closer to $500K,” Joyner said. “I knew how many offers and for how much. This knowledge gave me the leverage to come in at a fair price for everyone.”

Reprinted from Oakland Magazine, July 2015

Small is the New Big in Bay Area Home Design

Small is the New Black

Conscious Design for a Cozy Craftsman
By Ramona d’Viola

Indoor outdoor integration

Indoor outdoor integration

When one has the good fortune of partaking in the American dream — especially in the Bay Area, where even the smallest homes fetch upwards of $500K — maximizing your economy of space is key to living in a densely populated area.

After trying LA, the South Bay and SoMa on for size, Ashley Turner and Cliff Williams found the perfect fit for their low-impact lifestyle in the form of a tiny, 750 sq ft Berkeley Craftsmen. Soon to be parents, the couple knew they would need more space for baby, but designed their home to purposely, and ingeniously, utilize every area within – while adhering to a strict “no clutter” code.


The diminutive facade belies a surprisingly spacious interior.

No easy feat with a newborn.

“We added approximately 300 additional square feet to the interior of the house, and lots of livable outdoor space,” said Turner, architect and principal/founder at Berkeley-based Workshop 30. “This indoor/outdoor aspect gives us flexibility in where and how we spend our time at home.”

Once construction got started some serious structural problems were discovered forcing the couple to reengineer and rebuild from the “studs up.”

“The only thing we retained from the original building was the façade,” said Williams, a UX designer for “It was important to us to maintain the house’s relationship to the neighborhood.”

Fortunately, the savvy couple anticipated the worse case scenario and set aside 10% of their budget for contingencies. They would end up using every dollar.

“A lot of money gets eaten up in mistakes,” said Andrew Gregor of Blue Dog Construction and Renovation. “Once we knew how extensive the foundation issues were, it was important to slow the whole process down and be very deliberate in our approach.”

Gregor also minimized costs through his long-term relationships with subcontracting teams who all “pitched in.” Or “worked his magic” as Williams put it.


Galley kitchen with modern appliances


Vaulted ceilings and Nana folding doors expand the living space up and out.

The new floor plan, drafted by Turner, but collaboratively conceptualized by the couple, divides the home into physical halves. Entering the home’s bright orange portal, the small landing opens to an unexpectedly expansive and modern galley kitchen. Vaulted ceilings gives the room visual and physical height, and Nana folding glass doors open on to 300 sq ft of decking and provide an unobstructed view from front door to backyard.

“When the weather’s nice we move the dining room table outside,” says Turner. “The area becomes a play space for our daughter.”

A strategically placed pantry/laundry room/garage was central to the redesign. “Our goal was to have one location within the house for things we didn’t want to see. It was a big lifestyle decision to stay small, and this design makes us commit to that way of life,” said Willliams. “We didn’t give ourselves a way out for storing more stuff.”

Tidy and remarkably spacious, the pantry allowed for the subtle omission of eye level kitchen cabinets, which minimized visual clutter in the sleek kitchen, and showcased vaulted ceilings and accent lighting. It also serves as a laundry room and garage for tools and bicycles, while foodstuffs, linens and other necessities are neatly displayed on wire shelves for easy access and — clutter accountability.

Asian-inspired bathroom.

Asian-inspired bathroom.

The other half of the home is divided between two bedrooms – a master bedroom and the nursery; an Asian-inspired bathroom (where the couple admits to indulging themselves on costs); and a comfortable, sunny, living room at the front of the house. There are no closets in these rooms. Storage areas amount to dressers, bookshelves, and a modern industrial clothing rack for the couple’s wardrobe in the newly added master.

Modern industrial wardrobe in newly added master bedroom.

Modern industrial wardrobe in newly added master bedroom.

With all the deliberation and addressing the minutiae for the interior of their home, the couple was embarrassingly baffled at what to do with their yard. “It was uncomfortable being so clueless about our landscape options,” said Williams. “We knew we wanted a water-wise, natural plant scape. A little feral, nothing too organized or tidy.”

They turned to friend and neighbor Andrea Hurd of Mariposa Garden & Design who specializes in permaculture and habitat gardens to attract pollinators. She’s also a master stone artist who creates sublime garden sculpture and fountains from stacked stone. The pieces are left rough, or hand shaped to smooth, Golden Mean proportions.

In the backyard, the couple wanted to blend their outdoor “bistro” with the landscape. Hurd incorporated an existing apple tree into the overall design by connecting various “rooms” with stone pathways and various sitting areas throughout the spacious backyard. A Hurd stonework sculpture doubles as seating and surrounds a pebble-filled fire pit. In the front yard, nestled among low-maintenance greenery including meadow grasses, shrubby citrus and colorful quince, a Hurd sculpture anchors the home to its environs.


The home’s tiny footprint belies its roomy interiors, but provides proof positive that with conscious design, less can truly be more, and small might just be the new black.

Architect: Ashley Turner, Workshop 30
Contractor: Andrew Gregor, Blue Dog Construction & Renovation
Landscape Design: Andrea Hurd, Mariposa Garden & Design
Photography: Ramona d’Viola – ilumus photography & marketing

Reprinted from Oakland Magazine, May 2015

Reverse Mortgages Explained

Reverse Mortgages Explained
Reverse mortgages may help Baby Boomers through retirement.
By Ramona d’Viola

With an average of 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age daily—many without significant retirement savings, or hit hard by the economic downturn—the ability to tap into accrued equity in the form of a reverse mortgage is a boon to an aging population. Equity is the endgame to homeownership. Or as James Brown put it, “The big pay back.”

A reverse mortgage is a “loan” of sorts, available to homeowners over the age of 62 to be used for just about anything—except stock market investment or speculation. Simply put, the traditional mortgage payback stream is reversed, and the lender pays the homeowner one lump sum at closing; a line of credit with a growth factor; or monthly installments of up to $625,000 over a specified period, depending on equity accrued.

“Reverse mortgages were conceived as a means to help retirees with a limited income,” Saleem Attaie of C2 Reverse Mortgage said. “It allows them to use the accumulated wealth in their homes to cover basic monthly living expenses, health-care expenses, and remain in their homes as long as feasible.

“Reverse mortgages have gotten a bad rap, mainly because of the dissemination of incorrect information,” Attaie said. “They’re a complex product, but they are not a scam. You’ll hold title to your home as long as you live in it, and there are no additional monthly payments towards the loan balance. However, you’re required to remain current on your property tax and homeowner’s insurance.”

Being administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and being insured by the Federal Housing Administration lend credibility to reverse mortgages, also known as Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, or HECM.

There are some downsides to a reverse mortgage, mainly in the fee structure, which can be higher than a conventional mortgage, and some lenders charge the maximum allowable origination fee for their time and trouble. This fee varies based on the value of your home, but is capped at $6,000.

And, like a traditional mortgage, expect third-party charges like appraisal and recording fees, title searches, and inspection costs, to name a few. You should also be prepared to pay a mortgage insurance premium at closing. However, the good news is all these fees can all be financed into your loan. It is your money after all.

Reprinted from Oakland Magazine, April 2015

Border Crossing – Rob Quigley in Baja

The Architect’s Newspaper – images by ilumus photography

Where to stay on your way

Hotel Andaluz Reopens in Albuquerque

Hospitality Design Magazine – Hotel Andaluz Reopens in Albuquerque, NM
Photography by ilumus photography.

Hear It! 123RF’s Photographer of the Month

Ramona d’Viola – 123RF’s Photographer of the Month interview

Hear It!

Ramona d’Viola (user name rdviola)

What a pleasant opportunity to be finally featuring Ramona d’Viola a.k.a. rdviola in this issue of Hear It! Look through her portfolio closely and you’d swear you see the soul and characters of each picture comes alive! She’s definitely gifted with the ability to see things differently, and the camera, conveniently allows her to paint the perfect picture!

Photographer: rdviola / Ramona d’Viola
Country of Origin: United States

1. Production Equipment: Please list the production equipment that you use on a regular basis (eg. Cameras, lenses, flash & lighting, photo editing software).
As a digital pioneer, I was an early adopter in the high-resolution digital revolution. I shoot using state-of-the-art 21.1 mega-pixel, full-frame Canon 5D Mark II cameras, 580EX flashes, and crystal-clear L glass. My studio is equipped with enough Macintosh firepower to keep Steve Jobs in German cars and new livers for years. I use Calumet lighting equipment and beautiful natural light. I know Photoshop like Stephen Hawking knows the cosmos…

2. What do you think of photography these days?
I bought my first digital camera in 1999 to shoot an assignment in Australia. I took it along with my traditional film equipment. After playing with it at the airport, I decided to leave my heavy cases at the hotel and shot the whole event with this fantastic 3.2 megapixel “happy snap.” I was able to upload images to the major Australian dailies without the hassle of film processing, scanning, etc., and saw my photos on the front pages of Sports sections the next morning. When I got home, I bought a Canon 10D and haven’t shot a single roll of film since.

3. What did you want to be when you were younger?

4. Tell us about the time when you first got started in photography.
I received my photography education while serving in the United States Marine Corps – prior to that I was a certified tom boy and unharnessed talent. Photography has afforded me an exciting life! For the past three decades I’ve traveled extensively, covering and participating in noteworthy events such as the 1985 Women’s Tour de France (I rode for the US National Cycling Team), the 2001 Australian Paddleboard World Championships, and the 2003 World Record setting Women’s Full Moon Paddle from Cuba to Key West.

5. In your opinion, what does it take to become successful in this industry?
Passion, talent, follow-through and the ability to play well with others.

6. What was your biggest challenge coming into this industry?
Competing against people who work for nothing, after all, who can compete with free? I tell younger photographers to never work for a by-line alone. If a magazine is going to print, they have advertising dollars to spend – so at least have them give you a half page ad if you’re doing a week’s worth of work. I try to instill a sense of value in my work with my clients. With over 30 years of experience, I know how to get the shot with a minimum of headaches – having fun the whole time.

7. What are the best perks as a Photographer?
Travel, adventure, great subjects, and the opportunity to meet and collaborate with other talented people – from art directors to athletes, celebrities, kids, and wild animals (which some might classify in the same category).

8. How do you plan for your shooting sessions?
It depends on the assignment. For architecture – timing is critical. Morning and sunset light only lasts for 10-15 minutes, so scoping out the site beforehand is necessary. Bring a good book while you wait for the golden moment and take plenty of test shots to study your compositions. For food – you have to work quickly. I try not to fuss too much. I trust the chef in creating a wel-plated and presented dish – all I need is a naturally lit location, some candles, flowers and a 50mm 1.2 lens. Et voila!

9. How would you describe your work to first time viewers?
The majority of my portfolio is focused on architecture and food – both distinctive disciplines. For food – shallow depth of fields create painterly images, with a truly appetizing appeal. With architecture – precise, but edgy angles with lots of sparkle and crisp compositions.

10. Do you shoot to what your heart tells you or do you go through a complex check list in your mind when you produce your work? Describe the feeling/check list.
I’m half and half – when I’m hired to do an architectural shoot, I produce a shot list for the client, but always opened to inspiration when I’m on location.

11. From your experience, what subjects gives you the greatest satisfaction? Any examples?
Taking photos of my 84 year old father and my 1.5 year old mutt. They are the most honest beings I know.

12. From your experience, what subjects are the hardest to work with? Any examples?
Self-conscious young people. An overly ambitious soccer mom hired me to photograph her son for some head shots. He was a good looking young man but with no interest in becoming a model. I’ll leave fashion to the rest of y’all.

13. What is your philosophy when it comes to your work?
Do what you say you’ll do, show up when you say you will, deliver the highest quality product on time (and on budget) – o, and have fun – you’re doing what you love. As a female professional, I’ve also overcome my issues about discussing costs. I have rates and fees for all my services. Never be loosey-goosey about your costs. If you don’t value your work, no one else will either.

14. Describe who/what inspires you, tell us why?
I’m continually inspired by fellow photographers, artists, nature, beauty in urban settings, skill, craftsmanship, babies, animals, and people who exhibit kindness and compassion. With that, a shoot always comes together.

15. What do you do when those creative juices just seems to evade you. How do you “get creative”?
I jump on my bike and rip a ride through Florida Canyon and clear my head, but I take my Canon G9 just in case.

16. Tell us about a time when inspiration just hits you, and you felt the insatiable urge to create. What did you do with that energy?
When does it stop?

17. What have you discovered about yourself through photography?
I’m a frustrated painter – but the camera is just a different brush. I’m grateful for my gift of being able to create beautiful imagery from an innate ability to see things differently.

18. Whose work do you admire the most? Why?
I love Annie Leibovitz. Her highly stylized tableaus are always compelling, if not intriguing. Her last body of work however, is the antithesis of her renown, highly crafted style. She offered an intimate look into her famously reclusive life with partner Susan Sontag. I think she is one of the most iconoclastic artists of our time.

19. Do you have any advice for those who are just getting in to stock photography?
Remember to catalog and key word everything in your work flow – saves tons of time so you can get out and shoot more.