Tuesday, January 18, 2011

North Oakland and South Berkeley Continue to Be Hot Real Estate Markets

North Oakland and South Berkeley have a distinct advantage when it comes to location. From a transit perspective, they benefit from two BART stations, an abundance of AC Transit service along Shattuck, Telegraph and San Pablo and multiple access points to freeways leading to essentially every major destination point in the Bay Area. Culturally and intellectually, the area benefits from the vibrancy of  UC Berkeley, the College of Arts and Crafts, the Expression College of Digital Arts in Emeryville and the new Ed Roberts Campus in South Berkeley. Some of the best and most walkable neighborhood serving commercial districts in all of the Bay Area are within walking and biking distance of North Oakland and South Berkeley including Rockridge, Temescal, Piedmont, Telegraph Avenue and the Gourmet Ghetto. There are an endless list of excellent restaurants nearby including Oliveto's, Bistro 5, A Cote, Pizzaiolo, Chez Panisse, and Commis, not to mention an abundance of take away food options at Berkeley Bowl, Whole Foods, Market Hall, Trader Joe's and several farmer's markets. Neighborhood institutions such as La Pena, the Starry Plough, Lois the Pie Queen, the White Horse Bar, the Black Repertory Theater, and the Ashby Stage Theater provide ample opportunities for entertainment and relaxation. Pixar, UC Berkeley and the biotech industries in Emeryville and West Berkeley provide significant local job opportunities.

Given the diversity in North Oakland and South Berkeley, and the fact they are sandwiched between Rockridge, Temescal, Emeryville and Downtown Berkeley, all very desirable areas, it is no wonder North Oakland and South Berkeley are seeing significant investment, new land uses and demographic changes despite the so called "great recession".

Portions of the 94609, 94608 and 94703 zip codes have home prices that are bargains compared to surrounding areas, hovering in the low to mid $300,000. Like many parts of Oakland, there have been a significant number of foreclosures here. However, such properties in these areas are sold quickly to professionals, young families and hipsters seeking their first home purchase, or to contractors who are completely remodeling and flipping. The 94608 zip code was considered to be one of the hottest in the country at one point last year.
Because of the strict lending requirements, only those who have steady employment, income and reserves in the bank are able to purchase. These tend to be professionals who are rapidly changing the demographics of what once were predominantly working class neighborhoods.

North Oakland and South Berkeley provide potential opportunities for generating sweat equity--something that seems unheard of in this market--for those willing to find the bargain and make the investment. As well, there are opportunities to purchase completely remodeled homes for less than $450,000. Many realtors are predicting that the 94609, 94608 and 94703 zip codes will continue to be hot in 2011 and into the foreseeable future primarily because of their location.

Seeing the value of location, many long-term residents are also investing in new paint, roofing, foundations and landscaping, or are adding square footage via additions or lifts. Just drive through the 94609, 94608 and 94703 zip codes and you can see the change happening.

In essence, these areas are gentrifying because investors are seeing market opportunities and buyers are seeing value based on location. With gentrification and changes in the socio-economic base of these neighborhoods, new businesses such as Addie's Pizza Pie, the Actual Cafe, the Sacred Wheel, Tribu Cafe, Earthly Coffee and Tea, and Emilia's Pizzeria are following the income and opening up to respond to consumer demand.

However, with socio-economic changes also come potential conflict. The fight over the Nic Nak Liquors was a bruising battle, reflecting changes in community values and an unwillingness of many residents to support certain land uses they believed to be detrimental to their quality of life. Charges of racism flew fast and furious, as well as accusations that newcomers were trying to take away land use rights of long-standing property owners.

However, both newcomers and old timers do agree on one thing--an intolerance towards crime, gangs and blight. The work of the Shattuck Crime Prevention Council, spearheaded by Don Link, has been instrumental in tackling problem properties, addressing crime hotspots, and improving the quality of life in North Oakland. Their crime fighting efforts have been so successful that portions of south Berkeley have joined their efforts and have encouraged the new Berkeley Police Chief to seriously consider community policing in Berkeley.

Changes to North Oakland and South Berkeley neighborhoods, which are happening at both micro and macro levels, are now aggregating to such a point that a trend towards gentrification is evident. Some believe these changes are intentionally targeted at the less fortunate or those of color. On the contrary, these changes to the very fabric of these North Oakland and South Berkeley neighborhoods are a result of many individual economic and market decisions, the direction of which is not controlled by any one person, group, organization or governmental body. In fact, we would argue that these changes are happening in spite of the City of Oakland or the City of Berkeley who have not invested much in infrastructure or community needs. These changes are the cumulative result of each of us making our own individual decisions as to where and how to invest. But, there is no doubt such economic changes are both good and bad depending upon which side of the fence you sit and where your economic interests lie.

Some do not want to see such changes and view them as detrimental to diversity and to those who might be priced out of the neighborhoods. But change is inevitable. The challenge is to embrace change, while still maintaining the essential diversity that attracts new investment to these areas. The City of Oakland needs new investment both in its housing stock and in commercial areas. Such investment and revitalization generates new taxes that support important public services and improves our quality of life. The history of cities is one of change and prosperity, decline and decay, boom and bust. North Oakland and South Berkeley's time has come, again. Get ready. Change is happening...


Marie said...

I agree 1000% but you left out a number of other "reasons to live in O'Berkeleyville". Because we live on the border, our kids get the opportunity to choose from a number of schools. Want to go to Malcom X? Great! That frees up a spot at Peralta, and vice versa. Many of the young families moving to our neighborhood are doing so for the great Elementary schools.

{Watch out Jr. and High schools in our 'hood, you've got super bright and motivated students coming your way!}

With the *slightly lower home prices, when compared to Rockridge and the Berkeley Hills, families can often afford to have a stay at home parent. What a luxury!

In addition, many of our homes have not had the *lovely* home remodels from the 70s and 80s, which means you're buying an extremely well built home (with old growth redwood!) with charm and the opportunity to retain the warmth of the era.

Some are even lucky enough to have an old O'Keefe and Merritt or Wedgewood stove in the kitchen! (If you've ever cooked on one of these, you know what I'm talkin' about!)

Those benefits and an ongoing war of organic/healthy foods, have provided a great environment to raise a family in a comfortable, walkable, BEAUTIFUL neighborhood. Who could ask for more? (Oh, yeah, we also have amazing weather, with less fog (than North of University) and less blistering days in the Summer (than South of 51st).)

I've lived all over the world and truly found this "patch" on Earth to be the best of all worlds.

Fight Blight said...


Great comments and observations!