Noe Valley Voice April 2007

Store Trek

By Laura McHale Holland

Store Trek is a regular feature of the Voice, profiling new stores and businesses in Noe Valley. This month, we introduce two businesses in the real estate sphere: an escrow and title company and a newly renovated real estate brokerage, investment, and management firm.

Financial Title Company
816 Diamond Street between Jersey and 24th streets

A community asset of a different ilk moved in when Natural Resources vacated its storefront at 816 Diamond Street and moved to the Mission District, after 19 years of providing services to young families in Noe Valley. The women working at Financial Title Company talk escrow instead of in utero and closing instead of crowning, but just like the women of Natural Resources, they have a midwife's passion for bringing dreams to life.

Judina "JuJu" Trade is branch manager and senior escrow officer. And Jacqueline "Jax" Weber is associate escrow officer. Walk through the front door of their homey office any weekday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and you'll find both of them at their red mahogany desks...smiling. "This is not a job, this is our career," says Trade, who has been in the title and escrow business since 2001. "And we love coming to work. It's rare to hear that, but we love what we do."

What they do is make it possible for home sellers and buyers to close transactions by providing title and escrow services. "Escrow is defined as a neutral party holding funds and documents until all parties to the escrow have performed," Trade notes. "Title insurance involves a one-time premium, which insures against previous actions resulting in the compromise of the integrity of real estate ownership."

Trade says the business is fast-paced, and that no two escrows are the same. "It's stressful. You have to be able to multitask and be very detail-oriented in this business," she says. "There are always challenges, from minor complications to large complications. Getting through those hurdles in a timely manner and closing is really rewarding, getting everything resolved so that everybody's happy at the end of the transaction."

Trade added that property owners sometimes come to her in times of need. For example, someone may have been dealing with a health crisis and not been able to stay on top of his or her affairs. Trade can do a search on the property and provide a report disclosing anything recorded that encumbers the property, such as an impending foreclosure.

Financial Title Company is part of Mercury Companies, Inc., and has offices throughout California. It has five San Francisco locations. Trade's office joined the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association. It also is a sponsor for Rebuilding Together, a San Francisco nonprofit that endeavors to preserve and revitalize homes and communities.

"I've been volunteering for the past few years," Trade says. "We find families that are in need, and we take a home that's not in the best living condition, and we turn it around for them." Volunteers paint, clean, gut, garden, build fences, fix windows, repair plumbing, and even go to the dump to get the homes they take on in ship shape.

"Rebuilding Together ties in with our business because we're all about helping people," Trade says. "Stop in and say hello, and come get to know us."

Murphy O'Brien Real Estate Investments
4153 24th Street between Castro and Diamond streets

March 28 was a day of celebration at Murphy O'Brien Real Estate Investments: Partners Mel Murphy and Luke O'Brien hosted the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association meeting that evening. And they showed their colleagues and neighbors their newly remodeled Victorian building at 4153 24th Street. The firm had been temporarily displaced during construction.

The two-story office (management upstairs) boasts inviting hardwood floors, peach-hued walls, and custom-built wooden office furniture, stained a deep brown, in a variety of configurations from small desks with minimal accoutrements to fully appointed workstations with plenty of storage space for important documents above and below the desks. And in keeping with 21st-century technology, all computers, phones, faxes, and the like are wireless, so there are no cables twisting and curling underfoot.

Murphy has over 35 years' experience in many aspects of real estate, including property development and management, and real estate brokerage services. He and O'Brien, a real estate agent, joined forces in 2004. They founded their company with an expansive view.

"We didn't want to be just another brokerage company where we look for people in the market to buy a house and sellers that are in the market to sell property and do transactions, make commissions, and move on," O'Brien says.

"We didn't want to limit ourselves. We wanted to create relationships and bring investment opportunities to the attention of clients who are interested in investing capital in real estate, either in partnership with us or in having us manage their investments."

To that end, the partners complemented their new space with a conference room that comfortably sits six to eight people and is fully equipped for presentations.

Adding to a sense of ease, the office is lit with a combination of natural light coming through windows and soft-glow lighting fixtures spaced throughout the rooms, as opposed to having one or two large old-fashioned fluorescent lights in the center of the ceiling.

While their official office hours are 9 5 p.m., O'Brien says he's often working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., or later. No matter. His job, he says, is satisfying even when the market is going through a slower period. "The market's actually healthier now than it was when it was going up 15 to 20 percent annually, because that's not sustainable," he says.

Does that mean now is a good time to invest in real estate? According to O'Brien, yes. "The best time to invest in real estate is now, and it always is now," he says. "The overwhelming pattern for the longest time is for property values to go up. You may see a dip every once in a while, but the trend for many, many years has been upward. Real estate should be a major anchor around every financial portfolio. It's the American way to invite people to take risks and invest in the future. That's what made this country what it is."