(This article was originally posted in Animerica magazine in 2003.)
(This article was ghostwritten and published on Diablomag.com.)
As the unofficial real estate adage goes, “spring flowers bring spring buyers.” While Contra Costa County saw shrinking home inventory as 2014 ended, we should see more properties hit the market in the first two quarters of 2015, as warmer weather and near-record-low mortgage rates bring homebuyers out of hibernation.
Contra Costa sellers who want to sweeten their homes’ appeals to these potential buyers should pay special attention to staging, which can increase foot traffic, lead to a quicker sale, and net a higher final sales price.
• Cleaning and de-cluttering the property
• Painting the home’s interior and exterior
• Fixing and cleaning flooring (hardwood refinishing, carpeting, and tile)
• Updating doors, fixtures, and plumbing
• Changing furniture
Creating a good first impression is important for home sellers who want to immediately wow shoppers. Only about 10 percent of buyers can fully visualize the potential of a home that hasn’t been staged, in part because almost every serious home seller spends the time and money on this crucial process.
“Staging is the norm, the expectation,” Danielle Cirelli, owner of Walnut Creek-based Designed to Sell, said.
Key staging benefits include:
• Showing the maximum amount of space
• Presenting the home as needing little-to-no renovations
• Increasing the property’s perceived value
• Raising visual profile for online listings, which is where 90 percent of buyers start their home searches
Staging can help sellers quickly unload a property for a higher price, according to Laney Nelson, Accredited Staging Professional stager for Walnut Creek-based East Bay Staging. Nelson’s process includes a home evaluation, assessing what needs to be removed and repaired, and framing the space.
Staged properties are more attractive and can sell roughly 40 percent faster and for between 3 to 20 percent above original price when compared with their non-staged counterparts. Staging costs less than the first listing price reduction – usually a minimum of 10 percent – so sellers that have their professionally staged should recoup the cost.
Contra Costa County homebuyers lean toward those who have or plan to have children, so local sellers should consider that demographic when staging. Kelly Wood, a buyer’s specialist and a former stager, noted that office space, play/bonus and living rooms, and a combination kitchen/great room are highly desirable to this type of client.
Contemporary and classic finishes are also currently popular with younger homebuyers, as are unfussy homes with simple colors and hardwood flooring. Neutral carpeting, hardwood floors, and simple fixtures tend to resonate with buyers of all ages.
Home décor and furniture selection are key pieces of the staging puzzle, both of which should complement the home’s style and draw positive attention to its features. Wood said that while you can mix and match pieces of various costs to match the home’s style, you shouldn’t combine extremes like “contemporary in a super-traditional home.” Cirelli agreed, saying that such combinations can leave buyers confused. She stresses the importance of furniture size, saying that a piece too large or small can “make a room look disproportionate.”
Contra Costa County sellers should also focus on staging outdoor spaces, which have recently become more important, Cirelli says. Landscaping, seating and lounge areas, barbecue sections and fire pits, and large yards all attract local buyers, particularly given the East Bay’s temperate year-round climate.
A booming economy is bringing more jobs and people to San Francisco. The county’s current population of nearly 850,000 is projected to increase by 8,000 to 9,000 residents yearly through 2017, according to Pacific Union’s recent San Francisco County Housing and Economic Outlook, authored by John Burns Real Estate Consulting.
But one big question facing San Francisco is where all of these newcomers will live and whether they will be able to afford a home in the city, even on large salaries. The supply of available housing in San Francisco has been severely constrained for the past several years, which has helped fuel large price increases.
Mayor Ed Lee hopes to address affordability and pent-up demand in a plan to introduce 30,000 new and rehabilitated housing units throughout the city. One caveat of Lee’s plan is that at least one-third of these homes would be permanently affordable for low-income (defined as those with a maximum $77,700 median yearly income) and moderate-income ($145,650 annual income) families, meaning that a buyer would pay no more than 43 percent of his or her monthly gross income on a mortgage payment.
NEIGHBORHOODS POISED FOR GROWTH
Approximately 12,000 of the mayor’s planned 30,000 new and rehabilitated units — almost all of which are condominiums — will be built in the city’s southeastern corner, according to Tiffany Bohee, executive director of San Francisco’s Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure. Two sections – the Hilltop of the former Navy shipyard and the Hunters Point – Candlestick Point development – are part of a mixed-use collaboration with Lennar Urban and will include new housing. The project will also include a rebuild of the Alice Griffith public housing development by vertical partner McCormack Baron Salazar.
Lennar will build about 1,500 to 1,600 homes in the shipyard and Candlestick Point by 2020, Bohee says. A ramp-up of the additional 10,500 homes in the area should happen after that, according to Lennar Urban Vice President, Sales & Marketing Sheryl McKibben, who estimates that 88 homes will be completed by spring of this year. The company will complete close to 250 units by the end of 2015 and about 519 by 2016 at the Hilltop location. McKibben said that pricing on the units has yet to be determined.
For developing neighborhoods like Hunters Point, the goal is to apply the best of San Francisco neighborhood planning – walkable streets, plenty of open space, and extensive transportation options – says John Rahaim, planning director for San Francisco city and county, who estimates that 80 percent of development slated for the city will occur on 20 percent of its land.
“The advantage of that is that [residents are] closer to transit, the transit is available, and those services in those neighborhoods will improve because the density will allow for a certain market for a lot of the retail services and so on,” Rahaim says.
Other neighborhoods that will see additional housing – both new and rehabilitated – supply by 2020, include Pier 70, 5M (the section of SoMa centered around 5th Street and Mission Street), Mission Bay, Mission Rock, Park Merced, Transbay Redevelopment and Transit Center, Treasure Island, and Visitacion Valley. The city also hopes to repair public housing in Sunnydale and Potrero Hill.
NAVIGATING SAN FRANCISCO’S DEVELOPMENT HURDLES
The slow buildup in construction is typical for San Francisco, as planning and building regulations, along with collaborations with private developers (and their equity and debt), create more hurdles than in other cities. The mayor’s plan aims to not only spur new construction but also to streamline government processes – including land use, planning, and design processes as well as technical reviews – for the various agencies.
“It was really critical in terms of focusing and leveraging the city’s regulatory process because San Francisco is known for its gauntlet of rules and regulations – put in for good reason – but it’s very complex,” Bohee says. “I think the mayor’s plan certainly facilitated and has accelerated development for affordable housing.”
Rahaim and the planning commission worked with the mayor’s office to set the 30,000 number – a goal that was “reasonable but still aggressive” – through projects in various stages of completion (including those already approved and not yet approved).
“Land use and development in San Francisco is a pretty intense topic, and this is the only city I know where land use is high in people’s consciousness,” Rahaim says. Bohee notes that new developments can take as long as 30 years to play out behind city office doors, adding that plans for Mission Bay have been in the works since 1998.
Other plans by the city to increase affordable housing include a density-bonus concept that would allow builders on certain sites to surpass the size permitted by San Francisco code and to acquire and rehabilitate buildings once earmarked as rental units and turn them into more permanently affordable housing.
Another financial plan the mayor’s office touts is its Down Payment Assistance Loan Program. The 10-year initiative is designed to help first-time, middle-income buyers purchase a home in one of the country’s priciest cities. The mayor hopes to add $100 million dollars to the program.
“We usually fund people to the tune of $100,000 to 200,000 a household,” says Sarah Dennis-Phillips of the Mayor’s Office of Economic & Workforce Development. “It provides people an opportunity to invest in their future because it is through homeownership.”
OPTIMISM SURROUNDS PLAN
Dennis-Phillips acknowledges that while bringing down housing prices in the city is a tall order, the increased supply should eventually help temper appreciation and accomplish the mayor’s goals.
“The more housing we have out there, the less competition there is for each and every unit and the more prices start to level out a little,” Dennis-Phillips says. “I don’t think housing will ever be cheap in San Francisco, but if we can combat this rapid kind of price increase that we’ve seen over the last two years and get prices back to a somewhat reasonable level, then I think those 30,000 units will have done their job.”
Rahaim is similarly upbeat about Lee’s plan, noting that the housing supply and current urban trends toward city living will help drive the city to its goal.
“I have very little doubt that we’ll meet the mayor’s target,” he says. “I think the market is there for it. Even if the economy takes a turn or levels off, there is a big paradigm shift happening in the country … of people being much more interested in cities and in city living.”
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You’ve probably noticed the UAT-centric posts; they are plentiful because of my six-year-tenure with the company. I promise to add articles done for other outlets in the next few weeks.
Here is an article for my employer from several months ago.
Story by Trevor Green
UAT alumni Jessica Lang, Parish Regn-Stillwaggon and Russell Sakolsky have formed game development company Blue Void Studios, along with former UAT student Nicholas Pfisterer. Their first full game, Blink, is a first-person, puzzle platformer that puts gamers in control of a character suffering visual extinction, a neurological condition where a person cannot interpret two stimuli at the same time.
Blink is being created on Unreal Development Kit (UDK). Lang and Pfisterer are in charge of game design, level design and 2D/3D art duties. Pfisterer is also tasked with audio (music, sound effects) and programming in UnrealScript. Regn-Stillwaggon does scripting, level design and other tasks, using Hydra Development Kit to work with UDK.
Lang’s goals for Blink are for the game to be released and challenge design conventions, giving players “a fresh and immersive experience.” The visual extinction aspect affects gameplay, as players switch between two versions of the world to see different realities-though the game takes fictional liberties with the disorder.
“Unlike real-life visual extinction, what players cannot see really isn’t there. In one version of the world, you might see a platform on which you can stand, but in the other is a gaping crevice leading to your death,” says Lang.
The group launched a Kickstarter online fundraising campaign to raise money for development costs. The effort raised $14,580, beating their $10,000 goal. (Their backup financing plans include a PayPal option on their website, soliciting Indie Fund for assistance and (worst case scenario, according to Lang) finding a publisher.) She notes that they want to turn their hobby into full-time work.
“Game development is what we’re passionate about. Isn’t that why we attended UAT?”
Blink originated with this year’s Global Game Jam (a 48-hour contest to create a playable game), but its roots were established several years prior. The team formed in 2009 with two members (Lang and Pfisterer) dedicated to create a game for the Gamma 4 one-button design challenge.
While they did not finish in time for the contest, the endeavor inspired them to accomplish several goals by creating a full-fledged horror game that players could enjoy. Regn-Stillwaggon, a horror game fan, came onboard as programmer.
“[Pfisterer and I had] been talking about independent development for a long time and it’s what we both want for ourselves, so it became a natural fit to become a part of Blue Void,” says Regn-Stillwaggon.
A meeting with motion controller developer Sixense at the 2010 Game Developer’s Conference netted them a development kit and a second programmer in Sakolsky.
The team works from both coasts, using Skype and Google Calendar to coordinate work and schedules, a challenging feat for the members. Regn-Stillwaggon uses a set schedule to stay on task and remain refreshed.
They are shooting for a March launch on Steam and Desura digital distribution platforms, with Mac App Store availability being a possibility.
This is a game review for MyGamer.com from 2004. Do check it out!
For a few years now, there has been a hole in my gaming heart that has gone unfulfilled. It has been nearly a whole system generation since I could say I was emotionally complete. Back then, there was no PS1 or PS2 — just some thing called a PlayStation. And that gray contraption housed some of the finest arcade racers since the glory days of the arcades (you remember those, right?). Recalling the giddy thrill of no-limits, physics-be-damned joyrides such as Outrun, Pole Position and Race Drivin’, Namco’s Ridge Racer series was a stunning import to the console scene. The great graphics, tight controls, stunning techno soundtrack and drifting madness were pure bliss. But Namco tried to mature and modernize the series, neutering its fun factor in the process. Heartbroken, I tried to fill the void with the usual vices: food, Smirnoff Triple Black, Crusin’ USA on N64… nothing medicated my wounds, and one had me kissing porcelain (guess which one?).
But little did I know that developer Criterion was feeling my pain. Almost like a love letter delivered in secret, they snuck an arcade racer onto store shelves called Burnout. Despite a few flaws the game had enormous potential, as did its fantastic sequel. It was arcade racing, but with an edge- leaner and meaner than the point A-to-point B racers of old. But there was a spark missing, almost as if the developers were holding something back. And with Burnout 3– the inevitable sequel- it appears that the catalyst was being acquired by Electronic Arts. EA’s limitless coffers seemed to be that extra spark Criterion needed, crafting an utter masterpiece of arcade racing. The breathtaking graphics, licensed soundtrack, and deep game play all speak volumes of a big budget. Not to say that it doesn’t have its faults, but you can see past those when there’s so much to love, right?
There’s no real story to speak of in Burnout 3. There is the anonymous racer travels the globe, racking up cars and accolades angle, but it feels a little impersonal. I guess I’m a sucker for knowing the face behind the racecar, but it’s nothing to complain about. I mean, look at the character development of the female protagonist of Spy Hunter 2.
One thing that isn’t a source of embarrassment is the spectacular visuals. The graphics of Burnout 3 took a giant leap forward in technical prowess- not to say that the previous two were slouches. The photo-realistic backdrops will make you swear that you’re tearing up highways, battling along scenic mountainsides and power sliding through picturesque forests. Little details tucked away like realistic lighting effects-especially the insane sparks and explosions- and shadows only enhance to overall visual punch. The sensation of speed- and burring graphical touches- is remarkable; most other games can’t touch it in this department. The car models leave a little to be desired- one coupe looks like a Subaru Impreza with the rear doors magically erased- but look sharper than the candy-coated vehicles of the past games. Car damage looks realistic, and pieces of metal flying off crumbling racers are equally impressive. With all the spastic action onscreen, it’s amazing that the game’s frame rate stays rock-solid (except in Team Crush mode and, oddly enough, in the menu screens). One problem with the remarkable visuals is that while everything is so detailed, certain objects blend into the background. Imagine the surprise of colliding with a fencepost that pops out of nowhere or a yellow taxi blending with the guide arrows (and the cursing afterwards).
In the audio department, Burnout 3 benefits most from EA’s purchase. The most noticeable inclusion is undoubtedly the “EA Trax” soundtrack- a hodgepodge of scrappy bands and rock greats. Everything from the Ramones to Yellowcard is open game and provides some entertainment. Too bad that most of the newer groups sound similar, leading to a pop-rock blandness that sedates rather than energizes. It is an improvement over the synthetic cheese-rock and techno of the previous games (although it still lingers on the start screen). The sound effects pop from the speakers, with every fender-bender, friction of metal on metal and the engine roar plop you in the thick of the action. Speaking of action, there should be a lawsuit against “extreme” announcers such as Burnout 3‘s Striker. The knowledge he provides is only occasionally helpful, and his “too cool” demeanor was eye-roll inducing. Good thing you can turn him off.
Another noteworthy achievement is the game’s presentation. Receiving some tutelage from Electronic Arts, the menus and other front-end screens are crystal clear and of high quality. Throw in the major-label musicians with the stellar visuals, and Burnout 3 comes out looking like the highly polished gem its predecessors strived to be.
Showing its arcade influences, the controls in Burnout 3 are deceptively simple. Car movement is assigned to the digital pad/left analog stick and brake and gas designated to the face buttons. The R1 button handles the turbo boost and impact time (more later). The basic control structure works well here, and is very accurate. Strategies like takedowns and turbo-boosted drifts are a snap with a few effortless button presses.
The game play of Burnout 3 is the main draw here, with a sizable pedigree to live up to. Criterion wisely tweaked the various modes and play mechanics, making a fun series an all-out thrill ride.
Before you can attack the game modes with panache, you have to learn the driving essentials. Techniques like managing your turbo boost and drifting are basic in nature, but need to be mastered to shave time off your score. Your turbo boost meter is affected by the way you drive. Racing in oncoming traffic, avoiding crashes, drifting and tailgating opponents are a few ways you can increase your turbo thrust. Your opponents won’t take kindly to you finishing first, so you’ll also have to learn to drive defensively- and offensively. Sliding along walls and other cars won’t sap your speed like more technical racers. This is good for avoiding wrecks and obstacles. You engage in combative play by one of several methods including battling, rubbing against your foe, slamming and shunting (hitting the enemy from the back). The most important aspect of slowing your opponent is the takedown. With your rival against a wall or railing, sideswiping or shunting at the right angle and speed will send them airborne and out of contention for a few seconds. Special- or signature- takedowns are rewarded with extra points. Takedowns net you a huge increase in your boost meter, so taking out the competition can put you ahead in several ways. It’s all about puttin’ your life on the line, baby!
There is a whole new stable of racers to play with in Burnout 3. Starting out with the compact cars- i.e.: hatchbacks- you work your way up to more powerful vehicles. Coupes, muscle cars, sports cars and off-roaders are just a few choices to toy with as you go along.
New to Burnout 3 is the impact time. As with most games of the post-Matrix era, impact time is a slow-motion play mechanic. Unlike most games, it isn’t purely for show. Impact time can have an influence on the race itself. Crashing your car starts the impact time, in which you can slow the game down and do one of two things: take in the sights and sounds of destruction, or maintain some control over your car ala crash aftertouch. In crash aftertouch, you can send your careening car towards oncoming vehicles. If used effectively, you can perform takedowns with your mangled wreck and knock out the nearest rival for a bit. It is a useful technique for advanced play.
Another major addition is within the Crash mode itself. Brought back from Burnout 2, there are a few new tricks to learn to have success. There are several parts to the Crash mode: regular Crash (one player), Double Impact, Party Crash (two to eight players) and Team Crush (two players working together for the best score) modes. The objective is still to crash and rack up expensive damage, but part 3 takes a more complex approach. Power-ups now add boost, increase the cash and multiply the total score. Crash aftertouch plays a major role, as well as the exclusive “Crashbreaker” feature- earned after hitting several cars. The crashbreaker is literally a self-destruct for you car, sending it skyward. Used in tandem with the crash aftertouch, you can hit multiple cars and grab otherwise unreachable power-ups- which will send your score skyrocketing. This adds a ton of strategy, but also requires memorizing every nook and cranny of the crash site for the best crash point. This is a change from the car go boom, watch cars fly now tactics of part two, which had its own merits. I wish there was an option for playing both types, as I kind of missed the simplistic- but by no means easy- nature of old.
There are four main modes of play: Burnout 3 World Tour, Single Event, Multiplayer and Online. World Tour is undoubtedly the time-waster, packed to the gills with a diverse selection of events and tracks to conquer. Spanning three parts of the world- the U.S. of A, Europe and the Far East- there are more than one hundred and seventy different events. These are spread out over several categories: the standard race (up to three laps with five opponents), Road Rage (getting a set amount of takedowns before time runs out/totaling your car), Faceoff (you and one rival battling on one lap), Grand Prix (two or three consecutive races), Preview Lap/Special Event (one lap fighting the traffic), Eliminator (five laps, with the loser of each lap exploding), and the various Crash events. These modes are spread out over different racetracks, which branch and overlap within the same layout cleverly like Ridge Racer. The Single Event loses the career mode aspects of World Tour, but still has most of its events. Multiplayer houses the Race, Road Rage, and the three buddy-friendly Crash modes. Online mode puts you and up to five other racers on numerous tracks. Either playing solo or with some friends- in the same room or across the globe- is equally a blast. You can track your progress, stats and even how much damage you cause- a plus for stat-freaks and completists.
Placing in the top three of each event nets you a gold, silver or bronze award. Netting an award unlocks cars and events, as does earning a set amount of points and takedowns. There are dozens of cars and hundreds of events to unlock, greatly adding to the replay value. To earn the better cars and novelty rides, be prepared to put in a few dozen hours of play. The more advanced rides are better equipped at handling the gradual challenge of the game, but never get to the point of overexerting yourself on either end.
I did have a few small gripes with the game play. When performing some of the actions (drifts, shunts), seeing it highlighted in big letters onscreen was distracting at first. Eventually, I learned to squint past it. I also didn’t like having to redo the training modes when entering a race or crash event (in single event), and there should have been a marker in my profile to prevent that. I also wished there was a damage meter, as the visible car damage is a little deceptive. The rubber band AI of the opponents- keeping them in the game no matter how far back they are- isn’t bad for an arcade racer such as this, but having them pop out of nowhere (after being assured that they are seconds behind) is a little annoying. And why in the heck isn’t there an onscreen map? I can’t be the only one that wants to know where the opponents and finish line are. Again, these are minor setbacks, and can easily be corrected for…Burnout 4!
Burnout 3 is, without a doubt, one of the best racing games to grace the current generation of consoles. EA’s acquisition has paid big dividends in the qualitiesBurnout 3 exudes, as well as exposing the critically acclaimed series to a wider audience. The Burnout series always captured the essence of action-packed racing, and the third installment ups the ante in almost every aspect. The already great arcade-bred game play is tweaked to near-perfection, making for a enthralling and addicting experience. The superb graphics, sharp audio and precise controls make the time spent that much better. Everything comes together in a way that only Namco’s best could accomplish. They always say that the third time is the charm, and Burnout 3 has made me fall head over heels. I guess you could say that hole in my heart has finally been filled.
Review by Trevor Green on 15 Sep 2004
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