What value a home? The $50,000 cup of coffee and the $100,000 view

Walk to coffee? Price: $50,000, according to some real estate agents who say a walkable neighborhood is the number one most sought-after factor for homebuyers. Photo: Andy Kauffman/Creative Commons

Everyone knows that a home’s price is affected by such things as its size and condition and the quality of nearby schools. But, in many parts of the East Bay, there’s also the $50,000 cup of coffee, the $100,000 view and the $50,000 Zen garden.

Amenities such as a café within walking distance, a striking view of the Golden Gate Bridge and soothing landscaping can make a big difference in the price of a home in the East Bay, real estate agents said.

Other elements that can add substantially to a home’s price include solar panels, updated kitchens and bathrooms, backyard “living rooms” and in-law units. All these things reflect core values of East Bay denizens: a strong commitment to preserving the environment, a search for serenity and a thirst for community.

At Number One: Walkability

The Number One element mentioned by every agent: Walkability, aka the $50,000 cup of coffee. While agents joke that a nearby café could add $50,000 to the price of a home, what this really refers to is easy access to coffee shops, restaurants, transit and shopping.


“It’s not necessarily just a café,” said Geri Stern, an agent with Pacific Union in Berkeley. “It’s being able to walk to downtown Berkeley, to Solano Avenue in Albany, or El Cerrito Plaza in El Cerrito. People don’t want to use their cars. They prefer to walk or take public transportation.”

The East Bay’s environmentally conscious populace strives to limit its carbon footprint, prizing access to BART or buses, she said.

Walkability corresponds with another value held by folks in the East Bay: community, said DJ Grubb, co-owner of The Grubb Company.

“It’s the intimacy of the village,” Grubb said. “People want to participate in their community.”

A prime example might be the lively groups of people at Berkeley’s Cheese Board in the Gourmet Ghetto at lunch and dinner times. “People want a sense of belonging. They want to feel like a part of their neighborhood,” Grubb said.

He declined to quantify the value of a home with a high walk score. But Stephen Bloom, a broker-associate with Marvin Gardens Real Estate in Berkeley, said he had narrowed it down to a block’s distance in one Oakland neighborhood.

“Let’s say you’re on Alcatraz and you cross Martin Luther King going east. That’s $75,000 to $100,000 in value that the house just went up,” Bloom said. “Then when you cross Telegraph, it’s probably another $75,000 to $100,000,” he said. “And then when you cross College, it’s $100,000 more.”

The agent added that such things as neighborhood schools also come into play here — a point made by other agents about all these estimates, which are nothing more than educated guesses that could vary widely depending on a host of factors.

Research from Redfin backs up Bloom’s claim. A single point increase in Walk Score — the walkability factor — adds $1,735 in value to an Oakland home, according to Redfin’s nationwide 2016 study of more than one million home sales. A single point in Walk Score raises the value of a San Francisco home $3,943.

Of course, Berkeley and East Bay residents aren’t the only one with these values. According to Redfin, 56% of millennials and 46% of baby boomers prefer walkable communities.

Serenity and water features

A peaceful, Zen-like garden, possibly with a water feature, can enhance the value of a home. This one is at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club. Photo, taken in 2015, by Melinda Young Stuart

A more uniquely East Bay value is serenity, as embodied by water features, according to Nancy Duff, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Berkeley.

“I recently put in an offer on a house with a Zen garden,” Duff said. “It has little ponds with fountains and lily pads floating in them. You walk up to the house and here’s this beautiful garden.” The house got 20 offers.

“Water features are meditative,” Duff said, estimating that such features might add $20,000 to the price of a home “depending on how they’re done.”

Victoria Lynn Curtis, an agent with Better Homes and Gardens, agreed that water features are important, noting, “I’ve met many clients who want their home to be a sanctuary because our lives have gotten so stressful. If you have a fountain in the courtyard or the front entry, it has a very soothing feeling to it.”

Solar panels are another popular amenity, reflecting the pro-environmental values of East Bay dwellers.

“The biggest thing all my clients are doing is solar panels,” Curtis said. “It’s so prominent now, it’s even in the legal template contracts.”

Duff estimated that solar panels would add $30,000 to a home’s price. With solar panels, a homeowner can charge their electric car and even shower more cheaply, she noted.

The $200,000 guest cottage

A nice backyard cottage can add a significant amount to the value of a home. Photo: Daryl Mitchell/Creative Commons

Pricewise, an in-law unit or a tiny home, another element growing in popularity in the East Bay, can boost a home’s value more than any other element, agents said.

“People love it when the house has a little separate cottage or in-law unit so they can accommodate friends and family who are visiting from out of state,” said Curtis.

Workers who telecommute can use such quarters as offices, and artists can use them as studios; double-income professionals can use them to house nannies or au-pairs. Or homeowners can rent them out, generating a tidy income, Curtis said.

If all other elements, such as size and location, are equal, Curtis gave a ballpark estimate of around $200,000 as the value an in-law or tiny home could add to the sale price.

Bloom agreed that in-law units and tiny homes could boost a home’s price by around $200,000.

“If you convert your garage, or put in an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit), it has a significant bump-up in value for homes,” Bloom said. “It’s a really big thing. Berkeley and Oakland are making the permitting easier.”

He was referring to the fact that in March, Berkeley’s City Council voted to make it easier to build backyard cottages in Berkeley. Additionally, new statewide laws have eased or eliminated the onerous off-street parking requirements and utility-hookup fees involved in creating a second dwelling.

A view to capture your heart

A view of the bay from your window is a wonderful, and potentially valuable, thing. Photo: Joe Parks

Another valuable feature: A view.

“A view can add $100,000 to the value of a house,” Stern said. “It depends, though. An unobstructed panoramic view is different from a partial view.”

Grubb said, “A view is much more valuable than $100,000. If it captures your heart, it’s priceless — and it creates premium pricing for a home.”

Curtis said, “I’m selling a property right now in the El Cerrito Hills, a tiny cottage, 779 square feet. We took out old overgrown trees and were able to ask the neighbors to trim their trees. It opened up a view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

“The house sold for $830,000. The view probably raised the price $130,000 to $150,000,” the agent said.

Of course, if you have a bay view, it’s likely you’re in the hills, and the view value might be canceled out by the lost walkability factor. It can be hard to have everything.

A gleaming, modern kitchen and bathroom have long been known to add value. Depending on various factors, Stern said an updated kitchen could add perhaps $50,000 to $75,000 to a home’s price, while a spiffed-up bathroom could add $15,000.

“The kitchen and bathroom are a big deal,” Duff said. She agreed with Stern’s kitchen estimate but said a modernized bathroom might add as much as $20,000. “It depends on what it looks like.”

A trend: The outdoor kitchen

An outdoor “living space” that may include a cooking and eating area, can boost the value of a home. Photo: Media Director/Creative Commons

Kitchens and bathrooms have had a big effect on prices practically since humans stopped living in caves, but Grubb mentioned a new trend: “The big item in the marketplace now is backyard landscaping — for example, an outdoor kitchen.”

Such landscaping might include a pizza oven, a grill, outdoor tables and chairs, creating a space where homeowners can entertain or relax.

Curtis agrees with Grubb: “People in the East Bay are really into indoor-outdoor living,” she said. “Outdoor ovens are really popular. Because we have good weather, people love to entertain outside.”

Agents said backyard landscaping might add as much as $50,000 to a home’s value.

“This is a lifestyle issue and value is driven more now toward lifestyle,” Grubb said.

He added, “Back in time, people would say, ‘Oh, I have a large, sprawling back lawn.’ Now it’s, ‘I have an outdoor living space.'”