Ultra-luxury buyers return to Peninsula market

After a holiday break, the first sales of the new year give pricing hints for spring

A photo illustration of 54 Mulberry Lane in Atherton
A photo illustration of 54 Mulberry Lane in Atherton (Getty, 54 Mulberry Lane)

In the Bay Area’s most expensive Peninsula towns, ultra luxury buyers appeared to be on a holiday break, with only one sale of more than $10 million in December. But the first weeks of the new year have seen several closes above that price point and provide valuable comps to luxury agents in a quickly changing market.

“Buyer demand in the $10 million-plus range is strong,” Compass luxury broker Sia Glafkides said via email. “However, buyers are not willing to pay an inflated rate as their stock portfolio has been reduced in value in the third quarter and the fourth quarter. It happened quickly and is taking the real estate community by surprise and shock.”

Glafkides experienced the shock firsthand when a French-country-inspired Atherton estate she co-listed with Rich Bassin of Compass for $16.5 million in October took a price chop to $14.9 million one month later. A comparable property had sold off market for about $16.3 million during the summer, but the market had “changed abruptly” by the time their listing debuted a few months later, she said. Based on agent and buyer feedback, Glafkides and Bassin knew they would have to drop the price considerably and the $1.6 million drop did the trick. In less than 15 days, they had received multiple offers and sold to an international buyer for $13.75 million, all cash.

The sale of 54 Mulberry Lane closed Jan. 10, according to public record. The buyer was Dayone US Inc. and was represented by Wei Huang of DL International Realty. The seller was robotics executive Bruce McWilliams, according to public record.

The main home, built in 2016, has five ensuite bedrooms plus a private office with an ensuite and two additional half baths. With 7,500 square feet, mostly on one floor, the property traded at just over $1,800 per square foot. It also has a one-bedroom, one-bath guest house, pool, spa and outdoor pavilion with a fireplace.

“The buyer loved the architecture and ease of casual living in understated elegance,” Glafkides said, as well as the privacy afforded by its stone walls, security gates and over an acre of flat land in Atherton, the most expensive zip code in the country.

The property was designed and custom built by the seller for his growing family, said Glafkides. It was “difficult to let go and stressful,” but the seller was downsizing and relocating so it was time to move on. He wisely chose a quick close rather than waiting out his original $16.5 million price point, she said.

“We were fortunate and strategic to position the home to sell quickly,” she said, pointing out that even with the drop the home was still in contract six weeks after it listed in what is typically a slow quarter, with this year even slower than usual.

Year-over-year December sales were down 42 percent in San Mateo County, according to Compass data, but higher-priced home sales were even more sparse. There were only 138 sales above $3 million in the last quarter of 2022, a 56 percent decrease from the year before.

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Michael Repka of DeLeon Realty, who recently listed a $50 million Atherton estate, said he has recently seen a “resurgence in demand from foreign buyers, and affluent people looking to move out of San Francisco.”

Glafkides agreed that international buyers are back in “significant numbers,” a trend she first noticed last spring. She spoke to many at the open houses she hosted at the Atherton estate in October and November, and said several offers on the property came from international buyers.

January sales

The first Peninsula sale to close above the $10 million threshold in 2023 was another custom build. In Hillsborough, 121 Bella Vista Drive sold for just under $15 million on Jan. 5. The new custom home from architect Leonard Ng went for half a million under its asking price, or just over $1,900 per square foot.

The view home has six bedrooms, 7.5 bathrooms, and a two-story entry with a catwalk mezzanine level and large skylight. The kitchen is open to the great room, which leads out to the infinity pool. The lower level has a home gym, theater, wine cellar and three-car garage.

Geoffrey Nelson of Coldwell Banker Realty represented the sellers, 121 Bella Vista LLC, which bought the property for $2.5 million in 2019, according to public records. Joan Zhao of Dydx Realty represented the buyers, Bella View Holdings LLC. They did not reply to a request for comment.

One day after the Hillsborough sale, a nearly $18.2 million sale closed in Woodside. The 1986 home on more than 3 acres had listed for $19.5 million at the end of October with Mary and Brent Gullixson of Compass representing the seller, Parkfield Properties Holding LLC. The same LLC bought a $19 million Atherton property built by the founder of Mervyn’s department stores in February last year, according to public records.

The sellers had overhauled the property inside and out since buying it for $12 million in 2016, including replastering and tiling the pool, replacing the driveway and patios, adding a solar power system and putting in an underground propane tank, according to permits for the home. Listing notes also mention a bocce court and fire suppression system.

Helen Miller, also of Compass, represented the buyer, the 1015 MHR Trust, which is associated with the Rosemary B. Sears Trust, according to public records. The trust paid about $2,400 a square foot for the four-bedroom, 4.5-bath. Neither the Gullixsons nor Miller replied to a request for comment.

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