New Los Altos business adapts, moves art classes online

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Courtesy of Arezou Bahman
Arezou Bahman’s new Los Altos Wine & Design franchise offers virtual painting classes.

A new Los Altos business is following the trend of moving online during the coronavirus pandemic, providing people a creative outlet during these unprecedented times.

How has the pandemic affected the real estate market?

While real estate is technically classified as an “essential service,” to protect the health and safety of buyers, sellers and agents, restrictions are in place that limit what can and can’t be done.

Disclaimer: The rules and regulations related to real estate transactions change nearly every day, so the reality may be different by the time you read this column. Feel free to contact me with specific questions.

Q: How have the shelter-in-place restrictions impacted local sales?
A: Fairly dramatically. The number of houses/condos sold in Santa Clara County is approximately 50% less than it was at this time last year.

Q: Why did the numbers drop off so much?
A: Many buyers who had just gone into contract were worried that they had overpaid. Active buyers were unsure about the direction prices might be headed. The shelter-in-place rules made it virtually impossible to actually tour in person a house listed for sale. Therefore, the majority of the closed transactions in the first 30 days of the shelter-in-place were houses that went into contract before the lockdown.

Q: How have prices been impacted?
A: Not as much as you might think. In some areas, prices are down a bit, and in other cases, they have increased. Some of this effect is based more on the price mix of the homes that sold rather than actual price appreciation.

Q: Would now be a good time to try to get a good deal on buying a house?
A: That is a common question, but in reality, most sellers are not needing to reduce prices to sell their homes. I do see price reductions in homes that were overpriced to begin with or in need of a fair bit of work to get them livable.

Q: Would now be a good time to sell?
A: Actually, yes. The caveat is that I always advise my clients to sell when the timing is right for them rather than trying to predict the market.

Q: Why would now be a good time to sell?
A: Simple supply and demand. Buyer demand has remained strong and fairly constant, yet the number of houses on the market is low. We may see a spike in inventory later in the year if many sellers decide the same thing. But for the near term, there are more buyers chasing fewer houses.

Q: I hear a lot about virtual tours, virtual open houses and virtual staging. What is that?
A: To reduce the amount of exposure and contamination, many agents are encouraging the viewing of homes for sale online. Photos, videos, walk-throughs, floor-plan maps, drone views, and more, are posted virtually so that buyers can look at a house online without having to leave their homes. A virtual open house is a live event that buyers can join in on from home and actually walk through the house with the showing agent. Buyers can direct the camera and ask questions. Virtual staging is a way to show online what an empty house might look like with furniture placed virtually in the photos.

Owen Halliday manages the Los Altos Sereno Group office. Call or text him at 402-0062 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Restaurants cope amid lockdown – with varying degrees of success

Jan Unlu
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Jan Unlu, owner of La Scala on First Street in Los Altos, serves customers at his new “drive-thru” window. Unlu has been working to incentivize customers to choose his restaurant on their essential trips out.

Restaurateurs felt the immediate blow of loss of sales and the pressure to adapt to a new service model in the first few weeks that the coronavirus began to spread in Santa Clara County.

Now, they are experiencing varying levels of financial and emotional support thanks to customers, local leaders and federal aid.

When the county enacted its initial shelter-in-place order March 16, 1 Oz Coffee on Castro Street in Mountain View experienced a 90% sales drop, founder Yulia Kolchanova said. The shop quickly transitioned to online orders for pickup and delivery to stabilize operations, and Kolchanova applied for federal Economic Injury Disaster and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. She has yet to secure the funding, and said the future of her shop rests on how long the lockdown lasts.

“I think we can survive this way another month or two without generating profit,” she said. “This slow money bleeding is to keep our baristas employed and doors open for the community seeking ‘normal routine.’”

Sales at the Sandwich Spot on El Camino Real in Mountain View are down 50%, largely due to reduced foot traffic from surrounding businesses whose employees are now working from home, said the chain’s owners Vinny and Christina Ferrando. The Ferrandos applied for a loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and for other small grants, but so far have not received funding. They are determined to remain in business after the quarantine is over.

Maison Alyzee owner Laurent Pellet fears that some customers don’t even know his Castro Street bakery is open. Pellet applied for a PPP loan the day the portal opened and has yet to hear back.

“We definitely need more support and more customers to survive,” he said.

Adjusting to
the new normal

Sales are so low for La Scala owner Jan Unlu that he created a new to-go menu and installed a drive-thru window at his restaurant on First Street in Los Altos, an incentive for those who are not interested in curbside pickup. Unlu has applied for SBA and PPP funding and does not know the status of either application.

“How are small businesses going to survive with no business, (soon expected to be) paying their rents or mortgages?” he wrote in an email to the Town Crier.

A few restaurants have found their footing amid the new normal.

Sales at Eureka on Castro Street in Mountain View are consistent, according to marketing director Alexia Penna. She said the eatery “really hopes” to stay open after the shelter-in-place restrictions are eased. The restaurant has not been able to secure small-business funding.

Lars Smith, owner of State of Mind Pizzeria and Public House on Plaza North in Los Altos, reported that business remains stable. He said he believes he will stay open over the long run and expects a PPP loan to be coming through soon from the second bank he’s worked with to obtain one.

“We have been brought to tears on multiple occasions during the (shelter-in-place) by the kind words and generosity of our customers,” Smith said. “We have put our hearts and souls into this business, and it is an incredible feeling to be appreciated by so many customers.”

Even though State of Mind is holding its own, Smith and his fellow restaurant owners are calling on local leaders to continue their efforts in securing more funding for the small business community as a whole.

“I hope city leaders have seen the value that small businesses add to the community and how fragile many are,” Smith said. “I hope moving forward that city governments and small businesses can have more amicable relationships and that when opening a small business, we may get more support (from) local leaders than we did before this.”

Many local restaurants are offering discounts and special promotions including family meals, new desserts, gift boxes and meal kits. For more information, visit the linked websites.

For the Town Crier’s lists of open eateries in Los Altos and Mountain View, visit our "Open for Business" box on the homepage at losaltosonline.com.

Fitness studios, gyms combine creativity with technology to keep students hanging on

 Vera Szepesi
Courtesy of Vera Szepesi
Esprit de Core owner and instructor Vera Szepesi watches her student for form during a Pilates session on Zoom. Szepesi has been offering one-on-one trainings during the lockdown.

Owners of local fitness studios and gyms face a loss of revenue during the pandemic while still expected to pay rent, overhead and maintenance fees.

Vera Szepesi, owner of Esprit de Core Pilates Studio in Los Altos, negotiated with her landlord while her studio is closed to defer April’s rent, but her other operating expenses were simply pushed to May.

“We have applied for (a Small Business Association) loan to help with those costs, but no funds have been distributed yet, so we are really on our own for now,” she said.

But Szepesi’s primary concern remains her clients. In addition to workouts, she and the owners of other fitness studios strive to instill a sense of community during a quarantine expected to last for at least another month.

Szepesi said personalizing fitness means no pre-recorded livestream classes, but she checks in with the 65% of her clients still receiving instruction via text, call or Zoom conference.

“Pilates is a great way for seniors and people recovering from injuries to stay active, and many of our clients are in those categories,” she said. “We believe that keeping classes small and interactive is important, both at the studio and in our virtual classes.”

Jen Donat of Transform Fitness in Mountain View said she tries to keep her clients engaged through impromptu services such as Zoom “Whine Wednesday” happy hours. She hosts games of quarantine bingo that feature fitness challenges to give people a sense of purpose while sheltering in place and encouraging activities like posting “quaran-scene” photos – shots that are real and messy, not posed to look one’s best.
Each Transform Fitness instructor has his or her own method for checking in with clients, such as posing a question of the day.

“I find our instructors and members are all feeling stress in a different way,” Donat said. “We are not in the same boat at all. Our experiences and how we choose to deal with them are all very different and very personal. … Instructors are here to lift us up and remind everyone to be kind to themselves.”

Keeping spirits up

Reena Vokoun, owner of Passion Fit in Los Altos and a Town Crier columnist, offers free Instagram and Facebook live classes for those worried about their finances and need stress-relieving strategies. In an Instagram Live session last week, Vokoun discussed feeling burned out during quarantine and offered tips for how to work through it in one’s personal and professional lives.

“This is a tough time for everyone, but you’re not alone and we’ll all get through it and come out stronger together,” Vokoun told followers on her social media.

F.I.T. owners Thom and Tracey Downing have created an entirely new website – Focused At Home – for customers during the lockdown that includes free online kids PE classes, guided meditations for anxiety, resources with new workouts, activities and ideas for uplifting tasks to do.

“Amidst everything going on, we want to ensure you have what you need to stay healthy and sane,” F.I.T.’s website reads.

The Downings are also holding virtual office hours, including a “hump day happy hour.”

Several other local studios are offering online classes, including Alkalign Studios, Barre3 and Yoga of Los Altos. Alkalign is conducting a four-week parenting program during the outbreak, and Barre3 is offering journal prompts so that students can maintain their mental as well as physical well-being.

Momentum Cycling in Los Altos remains closed.

Woman-led AI startup makes songwriting easy

WaveAI
Courtesy of WaveAI
WaveAI’s chief technology officer David Loker, from left, CEO Maya Ackerman and vice president of engineering Christopher Cassion have teamed up to create ALYSIA, the local startup’s song-writing app.

Research has shown that music reduces stress, stimulates memories, eases pain and soothes the soul. During this challenging time with COVID-19, music is an effective way to help people cope with the stress and anxiety that come with the lockdown. For some, it’s becoming an essential, therapeutic tool in keeping calm, activating the happy dopamine in the brain that brings relief to stressful moments in life.

WaveAI is a startup whose product, ALYSIA, integrates music into our lives and makes it easier for us to create our own music with lyrics, top-line melodies and vocals, blending with audio background of our choosing, all using artificial and machine intelligence.

ALYSIA originally began as a research project brought to life by Maya Ackerman, co-founder and CEO of WaveAI. Together with her team of artificial intelligence and machine learning researchers, who are also trained musicians, they hatched ALYSIA in the consumer space.

Ackerman was first exposed to music through singing and playing piano at a young age. She is an artificial and machine intelligence expert in addition to being an opera singer and producer. During her doctoral computer science studies, she began studying voice and tried to create original songs. Because of her own struggles with songwriting, Ackerman saw that creating ALYSIA would help not only herself, but also others who experience similar struggles.

Launched three years ago, ALYSIA to date has generated more than 30,000 songs by users mainly in the U.S. and U.K., with more California users than any other state, including users in Mountain View and across Santa Clara county.

Game changer

ALYSIA is currently the only platform providing assistance with the creation of vocal music through WaveAI’s one-of-a-kind AI technology. It’s a game changer both technologically and in the self-expression songwriting marketplace. Music is now more readily accessible to all. Music lovers everywhere can express themselves through their own original songs, without needing years of musical and vocal training.

“When a user enters the type of song that he or she likes, the app provides suggested lyrics for users to choose from. The melodies are generated in real-time, on demand, not from a database. Only background music is human-made,” Ackerman said. “Other software in the space focuses on creating backing tracks, with no lyrics or vocal components. No other songwriting software enables you to write lyrics with fitting melodies.”

According to Ackerman, ALYSIA started out by catering to novice songwriters with no previous musical experience. The app made it easy for users to write lyrics and add the top-line melody to existing audio tracks. By definition, a top-line melody is the main melody of a song that rides above the chord progressions, creating a through line that helps connect all the various sections of a song together. The top-line melody is also the vehicle that carries the lyrics. Users can either employ ALYSIA’s auto voice or record their own voices to go with lyrics in the song.

“Existing tools create music sheets without words. Our focus, creating music with words, is much more challenging,” Ackerman said.

After users create their songs, they can share their them on YouTube, Facebook or any other social media channel. In the future, ALYSIA hopes to partner with known entities and encourage contest participation to pick the best album of the year, for example.

“Recently, a song created with our technology was named “Song of the Day’’ by the French publication Liberation,” Ackerman said.

She added that with a proven consumer version of ALYSIA, WaveAI is working on its next phase, focusing on professional songwriters and releasing a beta version of LyricStudio in May that will be available at no charge for a limited time.

For more information on WaveAI, visit wave-ai.net.

 

Transactions for the week of May 13

Los Altos
808 Carmel Avenue, Hanley Trust to K. & K. Bagby for $2,330,000
2245 Deodara Drive, Shodiss Living Trust to T. & H. Truong for $2,650,000

Los Altos Hills
10520 Sundown Canyon Way, Rutner Trust to A. & R. Mohajer for $3,475,000

Cupertino
22104 Clearwood Court, Viola Trust to S. & A. Zhang for $2,350,000
22136 Dean Court, Rehbein Trust to M. & A. Kapur for $2,128,000
20140 Merritt Drive, Ke & Xie Family Trust to Y. & F. Liao for $2,320,000
20336 Northbrook Square, Lee Trust to Y. & D. Ved for $1,218,000
1373 Poppy Way, B. Yu to S. & M. Lin for $2,150,000
10325 Prune Tree Lane, Connell Trust to V. & S. Gopinath for $2,200,000
20065 Somerset Drive, A. Srinivasan to D. & S. Bommakanty for $2,200,000

Overall

Los Altos
Total sales: 2
Lowest sale: $2,330,000
Highest sale: $2,650,000
Average sale: $2,490,000

Los Altos Hills
Total sales: 1
Average sale: $3,475,000

Cupertino
Total sales: 7
Lowest sale: $1,218,000
Highest sale: $2,350,000
Average sale: $2,080,900

– Cal REsource


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