Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Help Me Help You--Part Two

Last time, I blogged about what sellers can do to "help me, help you" --and now it is the buyer's turn. I'm going to be doing a lot of work researching properties, putting together tours for us, creating offers, negotiations, scheduling inspections, and more. And, there is a lot that buyers can do to help make the search and the transaction go as smooth and effectively as possible.

Buyers, you can "help me help you" by doing the following:

Know what aspects of a new home are most important to you. Maybe you need at least 2 bathrooms, or would prefer a nice view. Some people want a walking neighborhood close to stores and public transportation. Or--who knows--maybe you want a fire pole to slide down in the morning. Know what is most important to help focus your search.

Know your motivation. Are you moving to be closer to work or family? Or perhaps this is an investment. Knowing your motivations is key to focusing on the right property.

Meet with a mortgage broker as soon as possible. This way you will know how much money you will have to work with, or if you need to spend a few months on credit repair. And, keep in contact with your mortgage broker as the market changes all the time. If you need help choosing a mortgage broker, check out my recent blog entry on the topic.

Dedicate time to looking at properties. If you are very focused on your home search, devoting your Sundays to open houses is a given. But, you might want to get a jump on the market by taking a day off work to hit a broker tour or to plan a tour with your agent.

Be patient and don't get heartbroken. You might put an offer in on a house you love and get blown out of the water by someone with a much bigger offer or by someone who did pre-inspections. This will help you understand what is necessary to get the type of home you want.

Read all of your disclosures thoroughly. I know they are long and boring, but you are signing your name and initials to every page. This is the time for you to review and ask any and every question that enters your mind, no matter how silly or stupid it might seem.

Plan your finances. The main number people plan for is the down payment, and in today's market you need 20-25% to compete for many of the more desirable properties. But, don't forget that you will also need money for closing costs, inspections, and eventually your moving day.

This is just a quick introduction. Of course there are many other things you can do to "help me help you" and if you are in the market to buy a home, please let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Help Me Help You--Part One

There is that great line in the movie Jerry Maguire where sports agent Jerry pleads with his only client Rod Tidwell to do things that will help him be a better agent on Rod's behalf. He tells him "Help me help you!" Well, as a real estate agent, I often have to ask my clients to help me help them. So, I thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts on what you can do help your agent do a great job on your behalf. Today's edition is for the sellers in the audience, and next time I'll focus on the buyers.

Sellers, you can "help me help you" by doing the following:

Create a list of all the improvements you have done to the property since you owned it. If possible include receipts and reports. Even if it is something small like having a new ceiling fan installed, put it on the list.

Make a list of any past or potential problems with the property. This will be very helpful with creating the disclosure packet. Any leaks, no matter how small? Are there any noise issues in the neighborhood? Have there been any insurance claims? The list should include anything and everything you can think of. And, if you still have the disclosure packet from when you bought the home, that might be helpful, too.

Plan time and money for necessary repairs and inspections. Investing some money to make your house shine will help your home sell faster, and getting inspections done will show the market that you have taken care of your home. And, make sure to consider putting money in the budget for landscaping and staging.

Know your primary motivation for selling. Perhaps your family is expanding (or shrinking). Maybe you would like a better commute. Is your company relocating you? And, finally, you just might be in to make a profit. Knowing your motivation helps pinpoint the emotions that might affect your decisions in the home selling process.

Gather your financial information so that we can do a "net proceeds" worksheet and figure out what you need to sell your home for. Remember to budget for real estate agent commissions.

Try not to compare your home sale to the one down the street last year or last month. The market is constantly fluctuating and every house is different (at least here in the East Bay). This market requires more patience than the boom times of the last few years.

And, if you can "help me help you", then it will be easier to say, "show me the money!"

There is a long list of great things you can do to help me help you sell you your home. If you have any questions, just let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net. And, next time we'll tell the buyers what they can do to get ready.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Choosing a Mortgage Broker

When you are getting ready to buy a home, one of the toughest decisions is choosing a mortgage broker to work with. This is especially true in today's rocky mortgage market where you don't know who to trust. These are confusing times, so you need to make sure that you are working with a mortgage broker you can rely on.

There are two main types of brokers to consider:
*First, there are mortgage officers associated with specific lenders, like Bank of America or WaMu or Countrywide. They will work with you to find the best deal from their company, and if you are already a customer with them, they will want to keep you as a happy customer.
*Second, there are independent mortgage brokers and they are able to run your profile with a wide variety of lenders to find you the best deal. They are not beholden to any one lender and will want to create a lasting business relationship with you.

Both type of mortgage brokers are fine, but I recommend getting a personal referral from a friend, family member or colleague. If someone has had a successful experience with a mortgage broker, there is a better chance that you will too. (I believe that referrals are the way to go for many personal decisions, from mortgage brokers to dentists to nail salons)

It is also wise to work with someone local, as they will know about special incentives and programs offered by local governments, such as first time homebuyer programs or special rates for certain professions like teachers.

Be careful using any mortgage contact you might get from the internet. While they might offer enticing introductory rates, they could be anywhere in the country and will most likely be more interested in getting you into a mortgage rather than finding the best mortgage for you. The personal connection is not there and probably cannot rely on them.

Finally, no matter who you choose to work with, make sure to get everything in writing, especially any fees associated with the transaction, and get a complete copy of the transaction paperwork. And, if you ever need a mortgage referral in the East Bay, just let me know. I work with many professional and experienced mortgage brokers. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Top East Bay Restaurants

The San Francisco Chronicle just came out with its annual list of the Top 100 restaurants in the Bay Area. Of course, most are in The City itself, but they included 14 East Bay restaurants. Of the 14, several are old favorites of mine and others are now on my list to check out. Plus, they left off one of my favorites!

Of course, standard-bearer Chez Panisse is on the list, as well as other favorties like Oliveto and Bay Wolf. Here in Rockridge, they also included the wonderful A Cote and new kid on the block Wood Tavern. Both are great! Another favorite--Pizzaiolo over in the Temescal district--also made the list. One I will need to check out is the brasserie-style restaurant Flora in Oakland's up-and-coming Uptown district.

Now, over on Piedmont Avenue, they include one my favorites--Dopo. What a great place to stop in for a wonderful little pizza!

Also on Piedmont Avenue, they should have included the terrific Park Avenue Bar & Grill. Owner Chris VavRosky cooks up one of the tastiest burgers in town and mixes some mean drinks! Make sure to check them out!

Over on Berkeley's Solano Avenue, I was glad to see Latin small plate specialist Fonda was highlighted, as well as Mediterranean spot Rivoli. Down on Fourth Street, I will need to check out Japanese/California cuisine restuarant O Chame, as well as nearby Indian joint Vik's Chaat Corner.

Through the Caldecott Tunnel, it looks like I will need to go check out Va De Vi in Walnut Creek and Bo's Barbecue in Lafayette.

I love to eat out, so if you ever need a restaurant recommendation, just let me know. Perhaps I'll join you!

(photo courtesy of SFGate.com!)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lock Bumping--Home Security Concern or Urban Legend?

I've recently come across the phenomenon of "lock bumping" (also known as "key bumping") as a method used by thieves to break into locks. At our friendly, local locksmith, they even had handouts about lock bumping and what you can do about it. A quick internet search demonstrated, however, that it might be more urban legend than widespread problem.

Lock bumping is real, but the question is how prevalent is it. But, you are probably wondering first what the heck lock bumping is. It is a method that allows a lockpicker to easily crack nearly all common door locks. They just figure what caliber of key a lock takes, and then get a "bump key" or "999 key", which is locksmith lingo for a key with all the notches cut to the maximum depth of 9. The lockpicker inserts the key and taps it in a certain manner with a mallet to crack the lock and enter. Videos demonstrating the ease of this method have flown across the internet and local news stations like wildfire. You can check one out right here.

But many officials claim it is impossible to know whether a lock has been bumped or not and whether this is a widespread method. Few thieves have been caught i the act, and it leaves little evidence. In fact, a door that has been bumped and a door that has simply been left unlocked will look almost the same. The excellent urban legend website Snopes.com has a great report on lock bumping. They say it would cause a lot of noise, which would stop most thieves from using the method.

Should you be overly worried about lock bumping. Perhaps, if there has been a proven pattern of lock bumping in your neighborhood. Home security is always an issue, though, and you can always consider a a more secure lock. And, of course, if you have a home alarm system, you are already one step ahead. Consult with your own friendly local locksmith. Or let me know if you have any questions. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Moving Day Tips

Today is the big day--moving day--are you ready? Moving is one of the most stressful things a person can endure. But, some planning ahead can help make things go smoother.

Before the big day, make sure you have taken care of changing your utilities, changing your bank accounts, and submitting an address change to the post office. Drop off your keys with your Realtor and make sure to get the keys to to your new home.

Some things to plan for moving day:

  • Make sure you have enough cash to cover expenses, such as the moving van, gas, food, and even tolls if you might be crossing a bridge. Plan for more expenses than you anticipate.

  • Make sure your pets are happy. Limit them to one room and move them out last. And, make sure to "unpack" them first when you get to your new home.

  • Plan your route. Think about traffic patterns. If you are moving to an area with a lot of traffic, it might be best to avoid rush hour.

  • Check in with a friend or relative along the way, and select someone who might be able to help you out of a jam should one arise.

  • Don't rush the unpacking. Take care of your family and pets and enjoy the first night in the home.
If you need help preparing for a move (or finding the right home to move into!), let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Spring Cleaning Tips

Spring has sprung, so let's get that house of yours looking beautiful for that first gathering or party of the season! I'm not talking about vacuuming and doing the dishes. I'm talking about those little things you always think you should do someday.
  • First of all, get yourself organized and de-clutter your living space. Recycle the old magazines laying around. File away your important mail and paperwork. Organize your photos. You know what to do!
  • Clean your blinds and windows. You don't even need that blue window cleaner. Just a few drops of white vinegar and dishwashing liquid to a bucket of water. Try using newspaper instead of paper towels--it often works better.
  • Wash the walls, too! Use a mop head with a gentle cleanser. Don't apply too much pressure so you don't hurt the paint or wall treatment. It is usually best to start at the top and work your way down. Better to clean the whole wall than to do spot cleaning, which can lead to an uneven appearance.
  • Clean around your fridge. Most of us just clean the inside, but make sure to clean off the top of the fridge, which gets dusty. Pull the fridge out and clean the floor around it. Make sure clean those coils, too, to improve the energy efficiency. And, clean out the drip tray.
  • Flip that mattress. But, vacuum it first. And, it wouldn't hurt to flip the box springs, as well, if you can. If you can't find a washing machine big enough for your comforter, find a friend and shake it out vigorously.
Those are just a few to get you started. Is there anything special that you do each spring? Share your tips as well.