Million Dollar Babies
By Scott Brassart
While the real estate market in general appears down for the count, Coachella Valley luxury home brokers and agents are bucking the trend.
“At The Hideaway in La Quinta, we had 15 sales in two months,” says Janine Stevens of Discovery Land Properties. “The average sale price has been $2.5 to $3 million. It’s been very active.” In the first six months of 2008, Stevens closed on $42 million in sales.
Dyson and Dyson Sotheby’s agent Valery Neuman, who has been selling luxury real estate for almost two decades, reports that she’s having one of her best years. “Deals may be harder to put together, but they are going together,” she says. “The high end is selling. People are buying lots, and they’re buying high-end homes. I just sold one for $8.5 million in The Vintage that was on the market a very short period of time. You have to be more creative, and it’s tougher, but there are buyers.” Neuman works with lenders to secure financing in nontraditional ways and has even negotiated property trading.
When you present creative deals in an uncertain economy, it helps to turn to experienced brokers and agents for advice, suggestions, and comparisons. That’s why 20 brokers and agents selling luxury properties meet regularly as members of Desert Estates Network.
“We’re able to talk frankly about what’s going on,” says Chris Gilfillin of Gilfillin and Gilfillin. “We can spot trends and learn from each other. Each of us brings something individually in terms of our expertise, and we also bring something from whatever entity we’re attached to. That’s very helpful when you’re dealing in million dollar and above properties.”
Reading: An Invaluable Gift
By Jeffrey Crider
Seen right: Linda Bianco of Palm Desert helps students sharpen their reading skills at Mecca School.
Photo by Clay Klein
With the help of nearly 200 volunteer readers from throughout the Coachella Valley, Mecca School scored a 79-point increase in its annual performance index this past fall — the highest gain of any school in Riverside County. Many of the school’s students live at or below the poverty line and have Spanish-speaking parents who do not know enough English to help them with their studies.
“These volunteers are making a difference,” says Tut Pensis, Coachella Valley Unified School District superintendent.
The effort began four years ago when Clay and Roberta Klein, retirees from Rancho Mirage, recruited friends and business associates to contribute funds so that a school bus could transport volunteers from Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert to Mecca School. The bus leaves at 8:20 a.m. and returns at noon, Monday through Friday from November through May.
“This program is mutually beneficial,” says Manuela Silvestre, Mecca School’s principal. “The students get one-on-one instruction that their teachers are often unable to provide. And the volunteers get love and affection from our students. Many of the volunteers see our students as their own kids.”
Some volunteers have developed social relationships with students and their families, inviting them to their homes or out to dinner. One couple took two students and a teacher on a trip to San Francisco. Other volunteers bring small gifts to the students.
“These kids live in a different world, and they are being exposed to people they may not otherwise come into contact with if it weren’t for this volunteer program,” Silvestre says.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s the highlight of my week,” says Linda Bianco, a retired secretary and computer operator from Palm Desert. “The children are smart and funny. They really perk up my day. We learn a lot from each other.”
Vince Finocchiaro of Rancho Mirage has a similar perspective. “I’ve been doing this for four years; and for the little bit of effort it requires, it is extremely rewarding,” he says. “I feel like I’m getting far more than I give. The kids are neat and polite. They’re just marvelous, and I feel like I’m doing something good.”
Roberta Klein says the program also re-energizes teachers and administrators because the volunteers demonstrate that people across the Coachella Valley care about them, respect them, and understand the challenges they face.
Donors who support the reading program have formed a philanthropic organization called Mecca Angels and have raised more than $100,000 during the past four years to pay for use of a school bus, as well as equipment and supplies needed by Mecca School teachers.
Klein says she hopes to establish a similar program for Las Palmitas Elementary School in Thermal, which has the same demographics as Mecca School. “We already have sufficient funding to pay for a school bus to take the volunteers to Thermal,” she says.
“All we need is more volunteers and another church or organization to serve as a pickup and drop-off point.”
To help support a volunteer reading program, contact Roberta Klein at rnelsonwalker@ aol.com.
Local author Roccie Hill’s debut novel, Three Minutes on Love (Permanent Press), hits stores this month. Hill’s firstperson narrative follows David and Rosie as they fight through the destructive excess of the burgeoning rock music world and, eventually, through one of the greatest tragedies imaginable. Hill is executive director of Guide Dogs of the Desert.
The Frontline of Nutrition (WingSpan Press) by Amit Katz, owner of Lifestyles Nutrition Center in Palm Desert and La Quinta, offers a practical guide to addressing 50 specific health issues through nutrition and the use of supplements. The book is sold at both of Katz’s stores and on his Web site, www. thefrontlineofnutrition.com. Borders in The River at Rancho Mirage will host a book signing on Oct. 4 from 4 to 6 p.m.
Palm Springs’ Cheryl Crane (with Cindy De La Hoz) has written a book about her famous mother, Lana Turner. Crane will sign copies of Lana: The Memories, the Myths, the Movies (Running Press) on Nov. 1 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Just Fabulous, 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. The event also includes a slide show and refreshments in The Corridor courtyard.
A 24,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Health Sciences Center opens this month at California State University San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus. At this new training ground for healthcare professionals, a canyonlike space, inspired by the landscape, separates the two wings (academic and nursing). Within this canyon courtyard is a Cahuilla healing garden with native medicinal plants to reinforce the center’s wellness-education mission.
Green Gem On The Pearl
Rancho Mirage Architect Narendra Patel aims to create the world’s greenest five-star hotel: the Mayland Seaside Hotel in Guangzhou, China, scheduled for completion by 2011. Patel’s zero-carbon design includes wind turbines on the upper tower, photovoltaic panels covering the south façade, and a fuel cell power generator. The sail-like façade will become a landmark along the Pearl River.
Companies can book "Green" meetings at Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort and Spa in Palm Desert and other Marriott hotels, which provide 100 percent post-consumer fiber paper writing pads, BIC Ecolutions pens made from recycled plastic, recycling bins in meeting rooms, locally grown and organic foods, and other eco-friendly measures. For meetings booked through 2009, hotels will contribute — in the groups’ names (in an amount equal to 5 percent of the total cost of guest rooms they use) — to sustainable development in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.
Walk The Walk
Walking is one of the Greenest ways to get around. This month’s Desert AIDS Walk takes the concept further. In addition to a partially solar-powered registration/rally area, the Oct. 25 fundraiser includes water stations instead of bottled water, recycling bins, promotional materials printed on recycled paper and distributed in recycled folders and bags, “green” exhibitors, and food vendors who will use eco-conscious containers and utensils.