East Bay real estate agent for middle class people!

We are looking to buy a home and have between $500-700K to spend. We have lived in the East Bay for many years, and have a good sense of where we would like to be based. We are looking in South and West Berkeley, El Cerrito/Richmond (the area closest to El Cerrito), and the following neighborhoods in Oakland: San Antonio, Bella Vista, Adams Point, Fruitvale, Korea/Northgate. But we are always open to learning about other areas as well!

Can folks with a similar price point on this list recommend agents who advocated for them, as opposed to their own commissions? I have purchased a home before, and had a great experience with a patient, motivated, and humble real estate agent, but I know they can be hard to come by, especially when the housing market has gotten so competitive.

Please advise!

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Gregg Lustig in Berkeley at Coldwell Banker. He's the best.

I really liked working with Mark Darfler, who we originally found through Redfin. He was fantastic, patient, looked at over 100 houses with me, flexible, responsible, and very friendly. I couldn't have hoped for someone better. We ended up buying in El Cerrito, which wasn't on our radar initially. He was good about looking all over the East Bay for something that met our needs and was in our price range. I wanted something that needed work thinking it would be a way to save money. He'd help us with back of the envelope calculations with what certain things would cost so that we could make apples-to-apples comparisons between houses needing work and those recently flipped and everything in between. Finally, while we could have afforded more, we wanted a super manageable mortgage. He was the only person in the real estate game not pressuring us to max-out. Also, he has good relationships in the industry, which helps... we got the second house we made an offer on. Our offer beat out an agent specializing in the El Cerrito market by just $1000. 

If you're willing to put in your own legwork (finding houses to look at), I highly recommend Redfin. There's no agenda, they give you unfettered access to the same listings that actual realtors have (whereas Zillow and Trulia get it secondhand). The redfin agents themselves are salaried (not on commission), and their pay is determined by customer satisfaction, so they're incentivized to make you happy. (The fact that redfin agents are not on commission and that you do a lot of your own research also means that they take a much smaller fee of the eventual purchase.) It's super easy to find out about open houses or to schedule a viewing of a listing using their website. We used redfin and got a house in your price range (in fact, as a proof of their customer service, our agent actually managed to get us a place that had been off the market and hadn't yet been relisted yet).

We HIGHLY recommend Karen Manuel out of Alameda. We recently bought our Albany home with her. She is trustworthy and knows the EB very well. She is very patient and took us out over many weekends to explore the East Bay (we relocated from peninsula). She has a great reputation which is one of the reasons we got our home. The listing real estate agent knew Karen and knew she would get everything done. While we were in a higher price range than you are, she helped our best friends a few years ago buy their first home. She helped them scour the market for a home they could afford. It has been a great place for them (they now have 2 kids and the neighborhood is up and coming so their home has appreciated) and she did an amazing job helping them get it. 

We bought our house in Foothill neighborhood of East Oakland 5 years ago (on a SERIOUS budget) and couldn't have been more happy with Wendy Graves. As first time home buyers we were clueless and she spelled everything out for us so we felt confident in our purchase choice. She is a real estate agent because she delights in seeing her clients happy. 

I recommend Kathie Longinotti, http://www.athomeeastbay.com/home/?ID=63618, with Coldwell Banker. Kathie works in all price points, as do most of the realtors around here. A realtor can only do so much in a crazed real estate market like ours, but I can say that Kathie is a very honest, very principled person. She'll advocate for you, but she'll also be realistic and give you her honest perspective. She's a very warm person and very sympathetic to the challenges of families looking to get a foot in the real estate market here. She worked with us on and off for years before we finally found our home. When we dropped out of sight in frustration after a few setbacks, she welcomed us back warmly when we were ready to try again. And she encouraged us to explore neighborhoods that we weren't familiar with - the area where we ended up buying isn't one I had considered before, and now that we've been here for 5 years, I can tell you that it's right for us. We love it. Kathie found the house, and we are very grateful. 

Karen Sanders Moss at Marvin Gardens in El Cerrito is a fantastic agent. She's knowledgeable, trustworthy and patient. She helped my husband and I find the perfect house, and we looked in Oakland, Berkeley and El Cerrito. S. Young.

karenmoss [at] marvingardens.com 


That was our price range for the East Bay. I feel your angst. Psychologically it's hard to hunt with that budget because the market is so hot, you feel like David against Goliath. You don't want an agent that will lose patience, or who will act as though you don't measure up because you're not rich. You need someone who gets you and how important this is to you.

I really think you'll be happy with agent Pam Oettel. http://www.eastbaymodern.com/pamela-oettel.php

What I liked about Pam was that she never tried to "sell" us or hustle us into any place in order to make a sale. She'll tell you what's good, what's bad, what the odds are, and if she thinks a place will meet your needs (we asked her to scout some houses before we drove to see them.)  She works super hard, loves what she does, and communicates that joy to you. Incredibly honest and looks out for you. Also knows the neighborhoods you've identified really well.

Be aware that inventory is extremely low in the East Bay, so it may take some time to find a place that is right for you.

You can contact me directly if you want more information.

We had a fantastic experience with Jeanette Lipari from Century 21. We just closed on our house in El Cerrito in December after several months of looking all over the East Bay in the same price range and throughout the process I felt she really advocated for us. She was diligent, flexible and an absolute joy to be around. 


You can contact Angela Xu.  She is a real estate agent who specializes in Richmond Annex, El Cerrito, Kensington, Albany and Berkeley areas.  She speaks fluent English & Mandarin Chinese.  Her tel: (510)-621-8100 All her customers are of the middle class.

Call Kate Tanaka at Red Oak Realty. Kate stuck with us for over a year and through six offers and was a dream to work with - patient, knowledgeable, and a lot of fun. We just moved into a great house in Oakland. It was an off market listing and we are sure that we never would have heard about it - let alone ended up with the winning offer - if Kate didn't have such a good reputation with other realtors. We had a similar budget going in; we did go over, but because we decided we could stretch (and needed to to be in the neighborhood we wanted), not because Kate pushed us. Kate was a partner in the process who truly wanted us to find a house that was right for our family in every way (location, size, price, and even our quirks about floors, basements, laundry, and more). Almost all of Kate's business (buyers and sellers) comes from referrals - and we are happy to join the chorus.

510.914.8355; kate [at] redoakrealty.com

I've worked with Janesta Downey at Berkeley Hills Realty and she's a gem. Everything you described and more.  She really knows the market and neighborhoods in Oakland where I was looking and the other east bay cities.

Her number is 510-301-5323

We LOVED Simon and Saraya Motley, who you can find at http://www.pacificunion.com/agents/11904-Saraya-and-Simon-Motley. They were amazing at working with us - honest, great advocates for us, worked with us on our financial limitations.  They continue to give us good advice on contractors, refi agents, etc.  I'm sure that if you talk with them they'll give you very clear and trustworthy advice on what's possible with your budget.  They also know many Bay Area/East Bay neighborhoods.

We found Redfin's free listing service to be super helpful, by the way, in doing our own research on the market and pricing.  It was useful to have done that before we found Simon and Saraya.  I wouldn't suggest going without an agent, but doing your own looking can definitely shorten the process.