Thursday, December 20, 2007

The New Cost vs. Value Report for the Bay Area

You just know that an updated bathroom would help your house sell, but you wonder if you will be able to recoup the costs of the renovation. I hear this question, and others like it, all the time from sellers. That is why the annual "Cost vs. Value" report is so helpful. It provides a snapshot of how much a renovation project might cost, and how much you might be able to recoup.

The annual report for the Bay Area was just released, and I wanted to share it with you. With this chart, you can look at an evaluation for about twenty common renovations, and about a dozen bigger projects. The charts give you a run down on the average cost of the project in the Bay Area, along with the projected amount of added value. You can then compare it to the national numbers.

For instance, the addition of a wood deck or a minor kitchen remodel should recoup your money and more. And, a home office remodel might not add that much value to the home.

Now keep in mind that these are just averages for the whole Bay Area region, and the values can be different for your city or even your neighborhood. If you would like more information on planning a remodeling project to get your home ready to sell, just let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Great Local Resource for Both Newcomers and Lifers



If you have been in the real estate business for awhile, you might remember the McCormack's Guides. These are terrific little books with everything you could possibly want to know about a geographic area, and more. And, I mean EVERYTHING, from school scores to history to the local zeitgeist. All of this information is now online, and I wanted to make sure that everyone knew about it. For Alameda County, just visit this link to the McCormack's website.

Want the 2007 school scores? Got it! Want to know how to read the scores? Got that too! Need information on topics ranging from garbage collection to property taxes? That is there too, of course! Have to go to the emergency room? Find out which hospitals are nearby! Ready to go have some fun? Look here for ideas! (Like all good things, you have to take the good with the bad, so that means you can also look up crime statistics.)

What I love is that all of this information is now free. So, bookmark it today. Of course, you can still purchase the hard copy books, but all the information will soon be completely and exclusively online. And, if you need information on other California regions, you can find it on the home page.

I am always happy to be a resource, but you will probably get a pretty good start with www.McCormacks.com. And, when you are ready for more detailed or up-to-date information, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quick Trips around the Bay


This holiday season, take some time out to have a little adventure with your family and enjoy all that the Bay Area has to offer. If you are here in the East Bay, plan some day trips to get out and enjoy something new. Set a destination and let the day unfold!

*Take the ferry to Pier 39 and be a tourist for the day. Stroll from Ghirardelli Square to Pier 39, grab some chocolate, have some lunch, stare at the sea lions, watch the cable car turnaround and just relax. For a quick virtual visit, check out the live sea lion webcam!

*The San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation is a fascinating for young and old alike. Located in Downtown San Jose, current exhibits include the eye-popping Body World display on anatomy and the progressive Green By Design displays. Make it more fun by taking BART to CalTrain or the Santa Clara VTA Train.

*Head north to visit the Charles M. Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa and re-discover the local genius behind Peanuts. Exhibits look at the history of the comic strip, its influence, and the art of cartooning. Save some time to go next door to the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, also built by longtime hockey enthusiast Schultz, for some wintry athleticism.

*Another fun day trip, though a bit further, would be to take the Amtrak train up to Sacramento to visit the California State Railroad Museum, a fascinating way to take in California history. Located in Old Sacramento, there is also a great deal of other state history around, as well as great shopping and restaurants. And, taking a relaxing train trip to get there is the way to go.

No matter where you choose to spend your holidays, have a great time enjoying this amazing region!

(Charlie Brown picture courtesy of http://www.schulzmuseum.org/)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Methods of Holding Title


Okay, students, time once again for a little Real Estate 101. Today's topic is methods of holding title. Many people begin by wondering, "What does holding title mean?" Well, when you own a house, there are many ways to own it, or, in other words, many ways to have the title in your name.



If only it was as simple as owning an iPod or even a car. But, there are many important issues at stake in how a home is owned, such as division of ownership or what happens to the property after an owner dies. Holding title is a very complicated issue, so remember that this is a just a brief overview.

A married couple usually owns their home as either Community Property or Community Property with Right of Survivorship. In both cases, the couple owns equal shares in the "community property" and cannot be divided by creditors. When it comes to survivorship, the home will automatically become the sole property of the surviving spouse under the Right of Survivorship arrangement. Without Right of Survivorship, each spouse can leave their share to someone else (in which case title would be held as a Tenancy in Common).

So, what is a Tenancy in Common, then? When a property is held as a Tenancy in Common, there can be any number of owners with equal or unequal interests. For instance, three people could own a home, with one person owning 50% and the other two owning 25% each. Each person can sell their share as they please, or will it to someone after their death. Any new owner would simply become a new member of the Tenancy in Common arrangement. Some married couples even choose to hold title this way.

Finally, there is Joint Tenancy, which allows any number of owners as long as all the ownership interests are equal. If there are three owners, they each own 33.33% interest. If one person sells their share, the property then becomes a Tenancy in Common. But, if one of the owners dies, they cannot will their share to someone because Joint Tenancy has Right of Survivorship. The interest of the deceased owner is shared between the remaining owners. So, if one of the three owners dies, the surviving two owners would then have a 50% interest each.

Now, remember, this is a just an overview. There are many twists and turns on the path to choosing the right method of holding title for your home. You can get great information on this topic and others from Placer Title, an escrow and title company that is terrific to work with. If you have questions about holding title, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Little Perspective on Today's Market

I just returned from a two-day real estate seminar that I regularly attend (presented by Buffini & Company), and wanted to share some of the statistics and information on the real estate market that were discussed.

Newspapers and the cable news networks continue to talk about the foreclosure mess. And, it is indeed a mess, but the singular focus on this story is distracting from some other fascinating numbers and stories. So, this is a healthy reminder to have a little perspective on the market, and to look past the alarmist reports out of the media.

Did you know that as of July 2007, right before the subprime problems began to emerge, that about 97% of all mortgages were current? And that about 30% of all real estate was owned free and clear, unencumbered by mortgage obligations? The real surprise is that those numbers have not changed all that much in the intervening months. As of November 30th, 95.1% of all mortgages are current.

Various forecasts predict that about 20-30 billion dollars are going to have to be written off because of foreclosures on subprime loans. That sounds terrible, but given that there are almost 10 trillion dollars in mortgages out there, that is less than 1 percent of all mortgages being affected by the subprime fallout.

It is a very complicated economic situation, so it is important to have some perspective on the big picture. But, keep in mind that the market is simply correcting itself. There are and will continue to be some negative results for some individuals and a ripple effect through some sectors of the economy. Yet, interest rates are terrific right now, There are some hot deals and motivated buyers out there, and it is a great time to invest in real estate for the future.

Next week, I will be mailing out to my regular clients a detailed look at the 2007 real estate market and a look ahead to 2008. If you would like information on the market from a trusted advisor, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The East Bay's "Green Corridor"

Four major East Bay cities--Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville and Richmond--have announced that they will work together to create what they call the "Green Corridor," a business region comparable to the Silicon Valley that will focus on Green technologies and solutions. This is a terrific commitment that should greatly benefit the local economy and, of course, the earth.

According to the Oakland Tribune, the cities will work together to "create programs and policies that promote energy conservation, green construction, a green industry and more. They plan collectively to seek state, federal and private money for research, job training and job placement targeting high school and community college students."

I hope to see this take off in the coming years, and it feels like we have a huge head start with so many leading edge eco-friendly developers and companies like the Alameda County Computer Resource Center, the City of Berkeley's new solar initiatives, and companies like EcoHome Improvement, Build It Green, and Bio-Diesel Hauling. These are just the tip of the iceberg, of course, and don't forget Lawton Associates own green condo development Gate 48 in the Temescal district!

Living in the East Bay, it is just so easy to go green, and I am happy to see the local city governments providing the incentives and vision to take us even further.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Berkeley's Golden Duplex Rule

Every town has obscure laws that can be confusing, and one to be aware of in Berkeley is the "Golden Duplex" rule. If you are buying a duplex with tenants in Berkeley, or if you are a tenant in a duplex that is being sold, it would be wise to find out if your duplex qualifies as a "golden duplex."

Strictly speaking, a Golden Duplex must meet two criteria. First, back in 1979, one of the two units must have been occupied by the owner at that time. Second, one of the units must now be occupied by the current property owner. The property is allowed to have changed owners (and tenants) during this time, but if these two criteria are met, then the property is a Golden Duplex.

Why is this important to know? Because properties that qualify as Golden Duplexes are generally exempt from Berkeley's strict eviction protection laws. Normally, tenants have a lot of protection from the City of Berkeley, but tenants in a Golden Duplex can typically be given a standard 30-day eviction under almost any circumstance.

This seems like quite an arbitrary rule, but there is a logical history. Duplexes are generally considered to have tenants who have a more familial relationship, especially when one of the units is occupied by the owner, so strict eviction protections should not be necessary. The rule does not apply to all duplexes in the city out of concern that all duplexes would become owner-occupied and there would be fewer rental units available. So, the dividing line was drawn at 1979, which was the year that rent control was introduced in Berkeley.

Obviously, this can be a complicated matter, and a lot of research and lawyers might be necessary. But, having a duplex confirmed as a Golden Duplex can be done. If you have questions about Golden Duplexes or other Berkeley rent control issues, just let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Getting Ready to Move

So, you have sold your house and bought another one. You thought that was challenging, but now comes the hard part--actually moving all of your stuff from one home to another. Whether you are moving across town or across the country, moving has the potential to be one of the most stressful events in your life. Here are some tips to help make moving day a little bit easier.


Make your moving van reservation two to three weeks ahead of time, and call to confirm regularly. For a standard two or three bedroom house, you will probably need at least a 20-foot truck. Consider reserving a dolly to help you move your larger items.

Get your boxes ahead of time, and consider spending a little more money on "auto bottom boxes." These are standard-sized moving boxes that pop into place and have an easy folding mechanism to close the box. No tape needed, and the box is securely closed in seconds.

Other supplies to have on hand include marking pens, strong packing tape and a tape gun, strong scissors, bubble wrap or other padding material for dishes and small fragile items, and blankets or furniture pads for protecting larger items.

You will need to keep some necessary possessions unpacked until the last minute. Keep a few changes of clothes and a toiletry bag handy, as well as a few towels and sheets. With all this activity is recommended to keep a first aid kit handy, too. Keep some disposable kitchen items around for simple meals, plus some activities to keep kids and pets happy. And, make sure to leave all of your cleaning materials easy to access.

Moving with pets can be very stressful for them. On moving day, keep them confined to one room, so that they will be the last members of your family to go into the car. When you get to your new home, take care of them first by placing them with love and attention in a room while the truck is being unloaded.

There are so many complicated aspects to moving, and everyone's situation is unique. If you have questions, or would like a complimentary Moving Tips guide, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rumor Control--Foreclosures

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry on the basics of the foreclosure process. With so much in the media about foreclosures almost every day, people have a lot of questions about foreclosures and how they work.

In addition to sharing this information, I would also like to help put an end to the rumors that buying foreclosures is an easy way to make money and get deals in real estate. It is possible to get deals and make money, but it is definitely not EASY, and there are many many pitfalls to watch out for.

I worked in foreclosures for about seven years throughout the 1990s, so let me share some tips and information from my experiences.

First, there are not that many foreclosures in the more desirable neighborhoods of Oakland and Berkeley. In fact, most of the East Bay foreclosures are in cities like Antioch and East Oakland, so finding a foreclosure that you might like will be difficult from the get go.

Second, buying foreclosures on the courthouse steps can be a tricky business. First, the bank wants to get their money back, so the opening bids may not be as low as you would hope. They will also require buyers with all cash. Plus, there are some very experienced players there who know how to game the system to their advantage. Buyer beware!

Third, it is very, very difficult to know the condition of the house in foreclosure that you are buying, since you probably won't be able to go inside before you buy it. It could be a neglected property in disrepair, or the person losing his or her home might be upset and cause intentional damage. Also, make sure you know exactly which deed of trust you are buying.

If you are looking for deals in foreclosures, it is probably best to wait until the bank has to sell it on the open market. At that point, the banks might be willing to make a deal. After all, they are not in the homeowning business. But, bear in mind that the sales will likely be on an "as is" basis and excellent credit is necessary.

I said it before and I will say it again--foreclosures are a tricky business. If you have any questions about buying foreclosures, let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Guide to East Bay Farmer's Markets

If you live in the East Bay and live for fresh locally-grown produce, then you are in luck. There are more Farmer's Markets in our region than you could ever believe. You can get fresh lettuces and peppers and berries and oranges and almost anything your heart desires at a local Farmer's Market every day of the week (Except Mondays...the farmers need a day off, too!).

Here is a quick daily guide to East Bay Farmer's Markets. Maybe you can run out on your lunch hour and pick up some fresh produce for tonight's dinner!

TUESDAY: Alameda (Taylor & Webster), Berkeley (Derby & MLK), Concord (Todos Santos Park), El Cerrito Plaza, Union City (Kaiser), Walnut Creek (Kaiser).

WEDNESDAY: Hayward (Kaiser)

THURSDAY: Berkeley (Shattuck & Rose), Concord (Todos Santos Park), Fremont (Kaiser), Livermore (Carnegie Park), Martinez (Court & Main), Martinez (Kaiser), Oakland (Fruitvale).

FRIDAY: East Oakland (73rd & International), Fremont (Nummi), Oakland (Kaiser Piedmont), Old Oakland, Richmond (Civic Center & McDonald), Walnut Creek (Rossmoor).

SATURDAY: Berkeley (Center & MLK), Brentwood (2nd & Maple), Castro Valley (BART), Danville (Railroad & Prospect), El Cerrito Plaza, Fremont (Centerville), Hayward (Main & B), Oakland (Grand Lake), Oakland (50th & Mandela), Oakland (Millsmont), Oakley (City Hall), Orinda (Avenida de Orinda & Orinda), Pinole (Pear & Fernandez), Pittsburg (Railroad & 6th), Pleasant HIll (City Hall), Pleasanton (W. Angela & Main), San Leandro (Bayfair), San Ramon (Forest Home Farms), Union City (Old Alvarado), Vallejo (Downtown).

SUNDAY: Crockett (Pomona & 2nd), Oakland (Jack London Square), Kensington (Arlington & Amherst), Martinez (Main Street), Oakland (Montclair), Moraga (Moraga Rd & Moraga Way), Newark (Newark Mall), Oakland (Fruitvale), Oakland (Temescal), Walnut Creek (N. Broadway).



Please keep in mind that some Farmer's Markets are seasonal and might be interrupted due to rainy weather. For more complete information and regular updates, please visit the terrific East Bay food website EdibleEastBay.com.

If you are looking for great resources around the East Bay, just let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Safety Measures for New Homeowners

Oh, it is so exciting to move into your new home. So much new space to explore and discover. Buying and arranging new furniture and decor. Having your friends and family over to see the new home. But, before you get too comfortable, there are some simple safety measures you should take make your home the haven it should be.
  • Introduce yourself to the neighbors and exchange contact information. In the event of an emergency or natural disaster, these will be the people you rely on.
  • Install an automatic gas shut valve. This is especially crucial in earthquake country.
  • Secure water heaters. And while you are at it, make sure that cupboards and furniture won't tip or fall if there is an emergency.
  • Re-key all the locks to the home. You never know who the previous owners provided keys to.
  • Keep vegetation trimmed to prevent fires.
  • If there is extra reason to be concerned, install a home alarm and outdoor lighting.

There are many ways to make your home safe. If you would like more ideas, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

2007 Toy Drive for Toys for Tots


Join Me and Lawton Associates in supporting the annual Toys for Tots drive to help gather toys this holiday season for underprivileged boys and girls. Just bring an unwrapped toy (or 2 or 3 toys!) to the Lawton Associates office in Rockridge, and then join us for holiday treats.
We will be accepting toys Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm, until Friday, December 14th. Don't Delay! The Lawton Associates office is located at 3160 College Avenue (at Alcatraz) in Suite 201. We are right above Noah's Bagels...just come up the stairs.

Happy Holidays, and thank you for supporting Toys for Tots!

Monday, November 19, 2007

If it is a Buyer's Market, Why Aren't They Buying?

Everyone keeps saying that it is a buyer's market. And, it sure looks like one. There is a lot of inventory on the market, sellers are dropping their prices, and good loans are still available. Well, someone better tell the buyers that it is a buyer's market, because a lot of them are still holding back.

Why are buyers being so reticent in this market that appears to be working in their favor? After years of multiple bid offer situations and paying astronomical prices for modest homes, one would think that buyers would be jumping at the chance to get some of the deals that are out there now. I have a few ideas.

Buyers are unsure about the mortgage market. A lot of people still think that good mortgages are not available, but the mortgage market has come back after a brief period of crisis. Sure, the crazy sub-prime loans to people with questionable credit may not be available. But, if you are a solid buyer with good credit, there are plenty of attractive loans available.

Buyers are unsure about the long-term value of a home purchase. Real estate is almost always a good long-term investment. If you are looking at a quick flip investment, right now might not be the best time, especially for amateurs. But, if you are planning on being in your home at least 5 to 10 years, you shouldn't be worrying too much about value.

Buyers are worried that prices will go down. There is a fear among buyers that they might be getting a good deal, but that if they hold out they might get an even better deal. But, if you find a home that you love and you are willing to make a deal on it, that is the right value for you. And, if you can get a good loan and plan on staying in the home for 5 to 10 years, you have nothing to worry about. Plus, if you wait, you might miss out on the home of your dreams.

The real estate market is a living breathing animal that changes all the time. If you have questions about the market, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It is the Market, Not the Marketing

As the market continues to correct itself after these turbulent months, most houses are taking longer to sell. It is a good time to remember that in most cases, it is the market, not the marketing.

Many sellers are still in denial that their house won't cause a bidding war. They still think that they can list their house higher than the market will bear, and that they will get offers over the asking price. This is becoming a rare occasion, limited to the nicest homes in the best neighborhoods.

Buyers are also becoming more fickle. They know they have the upper-hand in most negotiations, due to the amount of inventory on the market and the slowing market activity. Many buyers are taking their time, making sure they have good financing, implementing all contingencies, and doing lots of inspections. And, they should.

I keep hearing from other Realtors about all of the effort they are putting into their listings, and frustrated that they aren't getting offers. They build elaborate websites, have multiple open houses and broker tours, send out fliers and postcards, and more. Even though they might get hundreds of potential buyers and agents through the property, they are no takers.

No matter how many people visit the home, you just need to get that one buyer who is perfect for the home. That is what can be frustrating about real estate marketing. Most marketing, such as for consumer products or movies, is geared to sell as much as possible. Whereas real estate marketing is all about getting that one perfect buyer.

So, remember that when it comes to the real estate market, it is usually the market and not the marketing that affects sales. When the market is hot, you can do very little marketing and get multiple offers. When the market is slow, you can market your heart out and still get nothing. The market at large sets the pace and the price.

If you have questions about the real estate market, especially here in the East Bay, let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Giving Thanks--Housing Consortium of the East Bay

Thanksgiving seems so early this year, so we better get a jump on thinking about what we are thankful for. My mind always turns to community organizations and non-profit groups, and I would like to give thanks and a big shout out to the Housing Consortium of the East Bay (and I hope you will consider supporting them as well!).

The Housing Consortium of the East Bay creates affordable, accessible housing for persons with developmental disabilities in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. HCEB's supporters include family members of persons with developmental disabilities, professionals who provide funding, coordinating and direct services, advocates and other interested community volunteers. Activities include housing development, planning, resource development, training, technical assistance, and coalition building.

I have worked with Darin Lounds, who heads up HCEB, to acquire 15 properties in the last 18 months, allowing the developmentally disabled people they work with to live in comfortable home environments instead of large-scale care facilities.

So, join me in giving thanks to HCEB. And, stayed tuned for an announcement about our brokerage's upcoming community support program for the holidays.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What to Expect During Escrow

The escrow process is a mystery to many real estate consumers, especially first time home buyers. What happens during this period, and what should you expect? If everything in the transaction goes according to plan, it should be smooth and seamless. But, as they say, always expect the unexpected.

The escrow process is basically taking this very complicated financial transaction involving large sums of money and property and then putting it into the hands of a neutral third party. When a buyer makes a purchase offer in California, the standard purchase offer form is also a set of escrow instructions. If the seller agrees with all of the details, he or she signs the contract, and an escrow account is opened at the mutually-agreed upon escrow company (such as Placer Title).

The escrow officer gathers all the documentation from both sides of the transaction, plus the buyer's deposit check. This check is deposited in an escrow account, and all sides must agree before the money in the account is transferred. That is one reason why an impartial third party is so important.

Another role that the escrow officer takes is making sure the buyer's financing paperwork and the seller's loan payoff information is all in order. Then they will prepare all the necessary documents and closing statements needed to transfer the property from the seller to the buyer. This also includes handling any title paperwork with the city and county, as well as arranging title insurance.

Sometimes disagreements arise during the escrow process, and the escrow officer is there to facilitate getting all parties in agreement. Sometimes the contract and paperwork needs to be amended. But, sometimes, an agreement cannot be reached and the transaction is cancelled; in which case, the escrow officer will oversee the transfer of any monies in the escrow account.

This is just a simple overview of the escrow process, and there are many more aspects to it than this. Of course, it can also become complicated and sticky, but we are always thankful when it works out smoothly. If you have questions on the escrow process and how to make it go as easily as possible, just let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Friday, November 9, 2007

San Francisco Bay Area Oil Spill--What You Can Do

Almost 60,000 gallons of oil have spilled in the bay, after a large container ship scraped up against one of the Bay Bridge towers. Most beaches are closed. Surfers have been getting covered in oil, and even getting sick. Waterfowl and other wildlife are being injured and killed by the spill. If you are looking for a way to help, here are some resources to check.


Volunteer efforts have not yet started, although many people are eager to help. Check the Oiled Wildlife Care Network website, run by UC Davis or call (800) 228-4544. They will be posting information later today or this weekend on how you can help. If you come across oiled wildlife that needs help, call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at (877) 823-6926. And, do not try to handle or clean any oil-soaked birds or animals yourself.


You can also help the clean-up by simpling reporting on the movement of the spill by calling O'Brien's Group, the private cleanup company that is already getting started. They can be reached at (985) 781-0804.


You can get additional information and updates at the California Coastal Commission website and the San Francisco Chronicle website. And here is a Google Map of the affected areas:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

You Have to Spend Money to Make Money

Remember the old adage that you have to spend money to make money? Well, it certainly is true if you are planning to sell your home, especially in this market. They key word there is "planning". If you plan ahead, you will have a better sense of the scope of work and spending that will be required to sell your house. So, what are some categories of planning that you should budget for?

Inspections. You should have several inspections to make sure your home hasn't developed any problems that need to be disclosed. Some inspections to consider are pest/structural, general home inspection, sewer lateral, chimney, and roof. Keep in mind that you will need to include any inspections in your home's disclosure package. Inspections can cost you a couple thousand dollars, depending on what you schedule.

Repairs and Updates. Based on what the inspections turn up, you may need to have some repairs done. Perhaps you will need some work on the sewer or roof, or perhaps an update to the electrical system. It is hard to budget ahead for this until you get the inspections done. You may also want to consider updating features in the home, such as an out-of-date kitchen or perhaps adding dual-pane windows. A good Realtor can help advise you on what will make your home more attractive to the market, and how to do it in an affordable manner.

Staging and Landscaping. This topic has been discussed several times here before, but a home with attractive interior design and clean landscaping goes a very long way toward improving your curb appeal. Depending on the size and needs of your home, this can cost in the range of $2-4,000.

Commission. It might seem self-serving to bring this up, but this is how Realtors get paid. And, having a healthy commission available to the buyer's agent will likely cause more agents to bring clients through your home. The typical commission rate in this region is 5-6%. You might also want to consider an incentive to the Buyer's agent, such as a bonus. Commissions are paid at the close of escrow after the house has sold.

Closing Costs. There are many costs associated with the legal transfer of property, including transfer taxes. The standards for which side pays which fees varies from region to region, and this will typically come out of any proceeds.

The costs of selling a home vary drastically from transaction to transaction. If you would like help planning a budget & schedule for selling your home, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Berkeley Solar Update


As an update to yesterday's post about Getting Started Going Green in the East Bay, the City of Berkeley has just made it a lot easier and more affordable to add solar power to your home. Here are the details.


Basically, the Berkeley City Council has approved a financing plan in which the City will pay for the installation of solar panels to a home, and the homeowner will pay the City back over 20 years. Even better, the homeowner reaps all the benefits, from tax credits and incentives to lower energy costs. You might even be able to sell your excess generated energy back to the grid and make some money.


This is terrific news, as the up-front costs of going solar can be prohibitive, despite the long-term benefits.


Here are the highlights of the plan, according to SFGate.com:


-- Property owners would hire a city-approved contractor who would be paid for the system and its installation, minus rebates.


-- The city would tax the property owner for the remaining cost, to be paid over 20 years. Future owners of the property would inherit any unpaid tax, along with the solar system.


-- Property owners would save as much in energy costs as they would be paying in taxes while reducing the amount of greenhouse gases created by generating electricity using natural gas and hydroelectric generation.


Now, this new plan is not effective immediately. The City will now spend the next 6 months or so working out the nitty gritty details. But, stay tuned, and get ready to Go Solar!



Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Getting Started with Green

Time to look at the Greening of America once again from a real estate point of view. I get the sense that a lot of people really want to get started on making their homes and lives MORE green, but don't know how to move beyond basic recycling and/or using public transportation. So, time for a crash course on where you can look for guidance to jump-start the greening of your home and life. You'll be making the world a better place, and quite possibly saving yourself some money in the long run.

First, the City of Berkeley provides an up-to-date list of companies that provide green and energy consulting. Peruse this list to see all of the options that are out there, such as green home interior design products from EcoHome Improvement and green building specialists Build It Green. Visit the City's complete list right here.

Ready to go solar? Check out the Northern California Solar Energy Association. They have practical tips and lists of companies to help you go solar. While your initial costs to go solar can be high, there are many government incentives available, and you might even be able to offset your costs by selling the energy you generate back to PG&E.

Ready to give composting a try? Why not if you have a yard! Composting will greatly reduce the amount of waste you contribute to landfills and dumps, plus you will be getting a very powerful fertilizer for your yard for just pennies. Get a crash course in composting at the Compost Guide and get local resources at Garden for the Environment.

There are so many options, especially living in the Bay Area. This is just a quick start, so go get started! If you have any questions about going green in Berkeley, Oakland, the East Bay and Beyond, just let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

From Granite to Soapstone--A Look at Countertops

Granite countertops have been all the rage in real estate and interior design the last few years. You would recognize its speckled brown look, and granite is a terrific material for countertops, but there are many types of stone available for use as countertops.

Countertops have become one of the first details that homebuyers look for when selecting a new home. If you are considering new countertops for your home--either for your own use and enjoyment or for prepping your home for sale--I would recommend looking at the many varieties of granite and stone available. The old fashioned tile and grout countertops just won't cut it in today's market (and that grout was always so hard to clean!).

The appeal of granite is its diverse array of colors and patterns and the durability and strength. Granite also tends to be quite bacteria-resistant and stain-repellent, but you have to make sure to take care of it correctly. But since almost everyone has the now-traditional granite counters, what other stones are there to consider?

Marble can add a lot of sophistication to a room but it isn't recommended for kitchens, and the elegance of limestone is appealing to many. I have been seeing more and more soapstone counters, which usually comes in dark solid colors and is even more non-porous than granite. No matter what you choose, a single-unit countertop is generally preferable to small tiles.

The key is to find a look and functionality that works best for your kitchen and design. Majesty Marble & Granite in Pennsylvania has a terrific Q&A website on the basics of stone countertops. There are so many options and suppliers now, so 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, October 31, 2007

Ghost Busting Tips


In all seriousness, and in the spirit of Halloween, it is time to share some ghost busting tips. As a real estate agent, we have to deal with all aspects of homes and the needs of homeowners. And, sometimes, a homeowner might believe that their home might be inhabited by a spirit. A few years back, I had to research some methods for ridding a home of ghosts, and thought I would share them with you as a treat on this Halloween day.


First, of all make sure that you have a ghost. Rule out all possible explanations for those drafty corners and squeaky doors. This means, call a handyman or contractor first..not a ghost buster.


The easiest way, according to ghost experts, is to speak to the ghost. Supposedly, ghosts are present due to unresolved issues from their corporeal life. Speak to them--even shout to them--that what they are looking for is gone, that what they need is taken care of, that it is time to move on. You might feel silly speaking into thin air, but it is supposed to be the most effective method.


Other tricks of the trade include using holy water, garlic, incense, hazelnuts, tricky mirrors and more. Of course, you can always welcome the ghost as well. Maybe you've got Casper the Friendly Ghost hanging around, which might be kinda fun. Or, an innocent poltergeist could be great for livening up a party.


A couple of websites to check out if you want more information are Hollow Hill or JeffDwyer.com, the website for the Bay Area's own ghost hunter (who was also very entertaining on KFOG this morning). And, if you seriously have a ghost problem, let me know. As I always say, I'm happy to help. Even with ghosts! I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.


HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Tax Advantages of Home Ownership

We all know that real estate and home ownership can be a terrific investment, and one reason for that is because there are many tax advantages to home ownership. So while you are building equity for the future, you can also get some nice tax savings in the present. A nice trade-off for all the hard work you put into it, right?

The big one is writing off your mortgage interest. At the beginning of your mortgage term, most of your payment goes towards the interest, so this is a significant amount when April 15th rolls around. You can also deduct the cost of your real estate and property taxes from your income.

Did you refinance? You might be able to deduct the points you paid. Also, if you paid extra points to lower your initial interest rate, those might be eligible for a deduction.

Then there is the capital gains for your primary residence. You can deduct up to $250,000 of your profits when you sell your home if you lived in it for at least 2 of the previous 5 years before the sale. Plus, you can get $500,000 if you are married.

In addition to these biggies, there are all sorts of nooks-and-crannies in the real estate tax codes, like reducing your taxable gain with receipts for home improvements, deductions for home offices, and more. Always consult with a tax professional who knows the ins-and-outs of real estate taxes. If you need a referral or just have a question, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Yes, You Do Need a Home Warranty

A lot of new homeowners get confused on the differences between a homeowners hazard insurance policy and a home warranty plan. And, many think that a warranty may not be necessary, assuming that they are like those questionable extended warranties they offer you on electronics and small appliances. Well, let me weigh in that a home warranty plan is some of the best money you can spend in protecting your home.

Generally, the homeowners hazard insurance policy covers major damage to the structure of a home caused by natural hazards and accidents, whereas a home warranty plan covers the cost of unexpected repairs or replacement of major systems and appliances that break down due to normal usage. My own home warranty has come in very handy, and I have a relatively new home!

For instance, say you move into a house and you have a plumbing problem a few months later. Perhaps the pipes under the kitchen sink develop a leak and need to be replaced. Instead of calling a plumber and paying several hundred dollars for the labor and parts, you would just call your home warranty representative and then pay a small fee of about $50. It is like having dental insurance and paying a set fee for cleanings. That simple! (To extend the comparisons....the water damage caused by pipes would be covered by your homeowners hazard insurance.)

A home warranty plan will cost you a few hundred dollars a year, and it is well worth it. You will be saving money if you make just one or two repair calls a year. Standard home warranty plans cover items such as the following: heaters and furnaces, dishwashers, ovens, garbage disposals, plumbing leaks, water heaters, sump pumps, electrical, and much more...even some pest control issues. And, if you have special items that need coverage--like that fancy built-in wine cooler--you can get additional coverage.

There are a lot of companies out there, and I highly recommend Old Republic. Not only do they have great rates and coverage, their customer service is unbeatable. If you live in the Bay Area, I can hook you up with Alex Quinzon, their top-notch sales rep.

Home warranties can be difficult to get a handle on, especially if you are a new homeowner. If you have any questions or need guidance let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Computer and Electronics Recycling

Time for another GREEN update. One of the toughest things to Reduce/Reuse/Recycle is old computers and other electronic items. Well, I just discovered a terrific resource in Berkeley that should take care of all of your needs--the Alameda County Computer Resource Center.


The ACCRC will take your old computers and laptops for free. They will even "degauss" (aka clear the hard drive) for a small fee of just $10. They use this impressive instrument with massive electromagnets to clear all your old files and information. Then, they take the old computers and get them up-and-running on a basic Linux system so they can then be donated and re-used by a school or a non-profit or some other needy organization. (Do you need computers for your org? Give them a call!)


Most electronic items with a plug--from cell phones to TVs to toasters--will be accepted free of charge. If you live in Berkeley, they will even pick-up the stuff for free! But, being a non-profit, they will happily accept any donations you can make. The only thing they can't accept is large household items like washing machines, air conditioners, dishwashers, and things of that sort. Visit their website to find out what they do with all this stuff.




There is a ton of great information on their well-written website, but there is one more thing you should know. ACCRC founder James Burgett has just been chosen by CNN as an environmental hero for their current Planet in Peril series.

If you have other questions about recycling and going green, let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Another Look at the MMAP


Normally, I try very hard not to repeat myself on this blog, but I think the MMAP program is worth another look right now. First, it is one of the most viewed pages on my blog and I get asked about it quite a bit. Second, with the recent changes in the market, I think it is worth another look.

MMAP stands for Monthly Mortgage Assistance Program, and it can help reduce a buyer's payments from $250 to $1000 per month for up to two years. And, all it requires is a simple agreement between the buyer and the seller.


MMAP could be a very valuable tool right now for sellers in this market. Right now, the market is changing from a sellers market to a buyers market, which means that sellers need to do more than ever to make their homes attractive to buyers. Buyers have every reason to be fickle right now, and an attractive feature like MMAP just might be the trick to encourage them to make an offer on your home instead of the one down the street.

So, instead of a price reduction or credit, consider using the MMAP. Basically, the seller agrees to set aside an agreed-upon amount of the purchase price into a trust account (via the MMAP grant program), which is then used to reduce the buyer's monthly mortgage payments anywhere from $250 to $1000 per month for up to 24 months. It is a pretty simple process, and you can get more information by visiting the MMAP website.



If you would like to discuss the MMAP program in depth and find out if it is right for your listing, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Consumer Guide to Real Estate Contracts

Most consumers know that a real estate transaction is a very complicated process--from negotiating the price to lifting contingencies to arranging the financing before finally closing escrow. But what a lot of real estate consumers do not realize is that the transaction is also a legal process. The standard purchase offer used in the state of California is also a legally binding contract. So, it is important to understand some of the ins and outs of this innocent looking 8-page document.

The standard California Residential Purchase Agreement is a contract. And, a contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties that creates an obligation to do or not do particular things. In this case, the agreement is to purchase a house at an agreed upon price, usually with many conditions.

First, after agreeing upon a price, the contract usually states the amount of the initial deposit, down payment, and loan amount. There is often an initial deposit, followed by an increased deposit if certain conditions are met, such as the successful lifting of an inspection or loan contingency. In addition to the signatures, it is the deposit that makes the purchase offer contract valid.

It is important to keep the deposit in mind because the buyers can lose the deposit if they pull out of the contract. The deposit is a good faith display of consideration to the sellers that you intend to complete the purchase of the home at the end of the escrow period. So, if you pull out, you also can lose the deposit. This is covered in depth later in the contract in Section 16 regarding "liquidated damages." And pulling out of a contract is considered damaging to the sellers because they have lost time and other potential buyers and need to be compensated for this damage.

The next important section is regarding contingencies. The buyer has the right to a short period at the beginning of the escrow period to make sure their loan and appraisals are in order and to further inspect the house. This period is a safeguard to the buyer to make sure they are ready and able to make this major transaction and to ensure that home has no hidden defects. Perhaps there is a massive amount of dry rot or a faulty foundation that might cause the buyers to reconsider their interest in the home. By pulling out of the contract before lifting these contingencies, they can also safely get their deposit back (in most situations).

Most of the standard contract is considered "boilerplate" but make sure to read each section and make sure you understand it. There are sections that outline who pays which transfer taxes, who pays for home warranties, which major appliances and other items are included (or not included) in the sale.

One interesting legal fact pertaining to contracts that not a lot of people know is that a counter-offer renders the original contract null and void.

Now there is a lot more to the standard real estate contract here in California than I have covered here. I always advise that you contact a lawyer if you have a questions about the contract or a legal issue arises. If you would like to know more about the purchase offer contact, please let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Time to Organize your Home

A lot of us start to cocoon in the fall as the temperature cools and sun sets earlier and earlier. This is a perfect time to tackle those organization projects around the house. Less is more, and a clutter-free life makes for a happier life. Here are some tips for quickly getting yourself organized:

--Pretend You are Moving. Do you really need 20 rolls of duct tape and 4 different kitchen tongs and that stained sweater that doesn't really fit anymore. Get rid of what you just aren't using or don't need.

--2 Year Rule. If you haven't really used it in 2 years, you probably aren't going to use it ever again. Out it goes!

--Get Rid of those piles! You don't need to keep every piece of paper that enters your house. Most things can be found on the internet or the local library. Use those resources regularly and lighten the load on your house. Pay your bills online. Recycle junk mail as it arrives

--One Room at a Time. This doesn't have to happen this weekend. Think of this as a long term project that will keep you busy through the fall. Set a goal for yourself--declutter the house before guests arrive for the holiday.

--Recycle & Donate. Don't contribute to the land fill problem. Donate usable goods to local non-profit groups, and recycle as many things as you can.

Remember...less stuff equals less cleaning, less worrying, less dust...and more time and more space. Get organized and stay organized!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

2 Weeks to Halloween


Two weeks from tonight, I will be handing out candy to all the kids in the neighborhood. So, it is time to start getting ready for Halloween. See, we don't have to talk real estate 24 hours a day! I thought I'd share some pumpkin carving tips and ideas, and direct you to the terrific website--Extreme Pumpkins!




First you have to get your pumpkins, of course. Think about the design you want to do, then spend some time finding appropriately shaped pumpkins. Or, consider some other gourds. Or maybe even...a watermelon?!?

You are going to need a blade to do the carving with, and your blade should be thin, strong and flexible. A big kitchen knife is not usually your best option, and neither are the cheapo carving kits at the supermarket. Try a boning knife, or a handheld jigsaw if you have it. Make sure to secure the pumpkin so the knife doesn't slip, and do the work in a place where you can get really messy. And, if it is a complicated design, do a practice pumpkin first.

I like to carve the eyes and mouth into the top of the pumpkin, using the stem as a funny, scary nose. You might want to try a stencil, and the Extreme Pumpkins website has some great ones to download.

And, here some of the great winners from last year's pumpkin contest at Extreme Pumpkins . I love the Tiki pumpkin! If you need a pumpkin fast, check out the annual pumpkin patch at Piedmont Avenue and Pleasant Valley in Oakland, but if you have time for a day trip, check out the pumpkin farms in Bolinas, Fairfield or Half Moon Bay.






(All photos courtesy of --Extreme Pumpkins)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Berkeley Landmarks

Did you know that Berkeley has designated over 300 buildings as architecturally important? That is a lot! I wanted to make a smaller list of some my favorites--some that are on the list and some that may be there someday.


The Fish House--This elaborate Victorian was built in 1889 and is covered in shingles that resemble fish scales. A real beauty! Picture courtesy of Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA).

The Elmwood Pharmacy--A great old fashioned five & dime with a soda counter. A step back in time on the north end of Berkeley's Elmwood neighborhood.


The Julia Morgan Center for the Arts--It used to be St. John's Presbyterian, but know it is a great local stage. The photo is how it used to look (courtesy of BAHA).



The Bancroft Hotel--This used to be the College Women's Club for UC Berkeley, but now it is a cool hotel. And, I'm going there this Saturday for my nephew's wedding!

Amoeba Music--The incredible music and DVD store got its start on Telegraph by the campus, and has spread to the Haight and Hollywood. Some of the best browsing and terrific fun design.


Berkeley Rose Garden--This beautiful amphitheatre was part of the Civic Works Administration in the 30s and continues to inspire to this day. Photo courtesy of BAHA.



There are so many to list, and so many great architects have worked in Berkeley, like Julia Morgan and Olmstead. What are some of your favorites? Research other designated landmarks at the Berkeley Heritage website.

The Steps of a Foreclosure

After last week's post about short sales, it begs the question about what the difference is between a short sale and a foreclosure. And, with all the media attention to the rise in foreclosures, especially here in the Bay Area, I thought it would be helpful to look at the steps of a foreclosure.

Now, bear in mind that the foreclosure process is very complicated and varies quite a bit in every situation. This is just a rough overview of a typical foreclosure in California.

One main difference between a short sale and a foreclosure is that a short sale is initiated by the homeowner, usually in an attempt to avoid the foreclosure process. A foreclosure is started by your lender because you haven't made good on your promise to pay them back. Remember when you got that home loan? The security for the loan was the home. So, if you don't make your home loan payments on a regular basis, they have the right to "foreclose," or take the home since they aren't getting their money back.

The first step in the process (other than NOT making your payments, of course) is the Notice of Default. The good news here is that the lender must give you 90 days at this point to make good on your debt. They also must publish the Notice of Default (usually in the classifieds of a local newspaper) and file the Notice with the county recorder's office.

If the 90 day period passes, and you have not caught up in your payments or made other arrangements, that triggers the Notice of Sale. This legally allows the lender to sell the house, and it gets harder and harder for you to get caught up on your payments. The lender can sell the house 21 days after the Notice of Sale.

If the lender makes any missteps along the way of the process, it has to start over from the beginning. And, due to negotiations that may happen between you and your lender, this whole process could actually take anywhere from 4 months to 48 months. Like I said above, every foreclosure is unique and complicated.

Should you be worried about the wave of foreclosures? Probably not too much, unless you are in a bad loan situation and can't make your payments. While the San Francisco Chronicle and other media are talking about the rising number of foreclosures (And they are indeed going up), here is a bit of perspective on foreclosures. In the month of September there were 157 foreclosures in Alameda County, but the other day there about 4900 properties for sale in Alameda County. So, barely 3% of that is foreclosures, which is not very significant.

I said it before and I'll say it again, foreclosures are complicated and every one is different. If you have questions about the foreclosure process, or maybe about buying a foreclosure property, let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

So, What's a Short Sale?

In this changing real estate market, everyone is talking about "short sales," but the regular consumer might be left wondering what exactly a short sale is. While we Realtors know all about them, this is something every homebuyer on the market should be aware of. So, here is a quick introduction to the world of the short sale.

A short sale happens when a homeowner:
  • Can't make their mortgage payments
  • Is facing foreclosure
  • And the market value of the house is less than the loan amount
So, a short sale is basically selling the house for less than the amount owed on the house. This allows the homeowner to avoid foreclosure and make good on their loan obligation. It will affect the homeowners credit, but it is typically not as bad as having a foreclosure or bankruptcy on your record.

Of course, any short sale is subject to the approval of the lender. But, they will often approve the short sale because banks are not in the business of foreclosures. They do not want to take possession of the house and then have to sell it. They just want their money back.

Preparing for a short sale will require a lot of paperwork, communication and patience for all paperwork. It is not a typical real estate transaction, and the close of escrow can take longer than normal.

Short sales can be complicated, but smart buyers can find some good deals. Other sticky issues to be aware of concerning short sales are taxes, disclosures, the lender approval process, and more. If you have questions about short sales, just let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Oakland's New Seismic Retrofit Incentive Program

If you are an Oakland homeowner, you simply must consider taking advantage of Oakland's new seismic retrofitting incentive program. And, if you are buying a home in Oakland, there is no reason not to retrofit your home. The City of Oakland is making it very easy and very affordable for you to save your home in the next earthquake.

First, the permitting process for retrofitting has been made cheap and simple. There is now just a flat fee of $250 . This includes the cost of the permit and sending an inspector out to approve your plans. Previously, this could have cost you an extra couple of thousands of dollars, depending on the scope of your project. But, now it is $250 whether it is a simple bracing or a major seismic retrofit project.

Also, to make things simple, the City is providing a set of pre-approved basic plans that can be used or altered for most homes in Oakland. This will save you even more money, because you will not have to spend as much on engineers and architects.

Finally, and here is the biggie, you can get a rebate of up to $5000 on your seismic retrofitting when you buy a home in Oakland. If you submit your $250 permit application in the first 60 days after recording the property transfer, you can qualify for this rebate. You then have 180 days to get your retrofit plan approved, and another year to complete the work. At that point, you can be reimbursed half of your city transfer taxes, up to $5000. (What makes this deal even better, is that you probably only paid half of the city transfer tax as part of your purchase).

So, I urge all Oakland homeowners to look into this great new program. Spending some time and money now on this matter, could make your life a lot easier (and save you tens of thousands in repairs), when the next Big One hits. Find out more from the City of Oakland's website.

If you live in Berkeley, that city also has a very good incentive program. If you have any questions about seismic retrofitting and civic incentive programs, just let me know. I'm always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

EcoFabulous!

From time to time, I like to write about the green movement and how it applies to real estate and home design. So, today I want to point you in the direction of a fabulous blog--Ecofabulous.com.

Ecofabulous is run by Zem Joaquin (and what a great name is that?), a design professional with a background in green technologies and philosophies. She is also the "green editor" at House & Garden Magazine. And, in the current issue of H&G, they take a look at Zem's own ecofabulous home here in the Bay Area, which she has fashioned into a green dream home without compromising aesthetics or quality.



Here are some great tips that can gleaned from her greening:

*Buy a classic house with "great bones" that you can work with.

*Retain as much original flooring and construction as possible, so as not to create waste for landfills.

*Use as many reclaimed and recycled materials as possible. She used a cork flooring made from a winery's unused materials!

*Use vintage and antique design pieces instead of newly manufactured pieces.

*Use use non-VOC, non-toxic paints and finishes.



Read Zem's blog entry and link to the House & Garden article here at the Ecofabulous website. If you would like more information or guidance on greening your own home, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.


*Photos courtesy of Ecofabulous and House & Garden.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Buyer's Market=Seller's in Mourning

So the market seems to be settling down somewhat. The last few months have been a bit crazy. And, as I've said before, the market is not plummeting or caving in...it is simply correcting itself. A lot of questionable practices led us to where we are now. And, where are we now? It looks more and more like a buyer's market every day. So, where does that leave the sellers?

On this point, I would like to defer to the wisdom of real estate guru Joe Niego, one of the top presenters with Buffini & Company (the real estate coaching service I use, as many of you know). Joe says that sellers are currently going through the classic five stages of mourning.

Many sellers bought real estate in the last 5 to 10 years, saw their neighbors real estate profits go through the roof, and expected the same will happen for them. In fact, many of them think they fairly deserve it. Unfortunately, the market dictates price, and that leads to sellers in mourning, as Joe says.

So what are the five stage of mourning you might expect to go through if you are getting ready to sell your home?

  1. Denial--"This won't happen to my amazing house"
  2. Anger--"Why aren't I getting top dollar, like my neighbor did last year?"
  3. Frustration--"But I want and deserve a threefold profit...make it happen!"
  4. Disappointment--"It is what it is, but I'm not happy about it"
  5. Acceptance--"The market dictates price, and this is the price someone is willing to spend on my home."

This is also a very strong reminder of the emotional part of selling your home. It is not just a gigantic financial transaction, it is also your home. No wonder emotions can take control. If you are looking for assistance in better understanding the financial and emotional sides of selling a home, please let me know. I am always happy to help. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net

Monday, October 1, 2007

New Listing--4262 Gilbert


Well, I just got back from Russia (...more on that later...), and have a new listing on the market. This is a beautiful Cape Cod-style farmhouse near Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. It is on the rear lot behind another home, so it is very private. The address is 4262 Gilbert Street.

The home features 3 bedrooms and 1+ baths, and has tons of storage. With over 1800 square feet, this place is very spacious. The upstairs bedrooms feel as if they are floating in the trees that surround that house. The living room and dining room feature these very unique Venetian-style plaster walls. The kitchen has been updated with new butcherblock counters and ceramic tile floors. Plus, there is a very convenient utility room (for laundry and more storage) between the kitchen and the lush backyard. The backyard even has a treehouse and a work shed.


Such a fine home so close to Piedmont Avenue won't last long. If you would like more information or would like to arrange a tour of the home, please let me know. And, there will be an open house on Sunday, October 7 from 1-5pm. Or visit the property website. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or MSmartt@jps.net.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Problem with Mold

Say the word "mold" in a cheese shop, and people's faces light up with visions of a pungently tasty blue cheese. Say the word "mold" anywhere near a real estate transaction, and people will flip out. Why is mold so controversial? Read on!

You might think mold will only be found in decrepit old unkempt homes, but you would be wrong. This is a problem that can affect any home, old or new, clean or dirty. (Check out the plight of these owners of new condos in Emeryville, as reported in the East Bay Express).

Mold can grow anywhere in a home, and I mean anywhere--from air conditioning ducts to baseboards to the leaves of house plants. Also, check for mold in abthroom & kitchen caulking, carpet padding, vents & ducts, behind bookshelves, and any humid damp areas. Sometimes a visual inspection is not enough and an expert must be called in to inspect.

The problem with mold is that some forms can be very toxic and could cause disease. Some of the health risks of mold exposure include: allergy attacks, asthma, bronchitis, headaches, nausea, rashes, and more.

It is best to monitor any possible mold situation and take care of it as soon as possible. A regular inspection and early remedies should be quite affordable. But, ignoring a mold problem can cost you a lot of money (like the story in that article link up above). The East Bay can get quite damp, so make sure to protect your investment in your home by keeping mold in check.

Then, go to Pt. Reyes for some great blue cheese!

If you ever have any questions about mold problems, just let us know. We are happy to help.






That luscious blue cheese pic is courtesy of Pt Reyes Farmstead Cheese. Mmmmmmm.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Getting a Real Estate License

Corey here while Mary is storming the Kremlin! Today, we'll take a look at what it takes to become a real estate agent. Perhaps you would like to become an agent, or perhaps you've just wondered what qualifies us to do what we do.

During the recent real estate boom, everyone and their dog became a real estate agent, and at one point there was one licensed agent for every individual looking to buy or sell a house in California. (How are they all supposed to make a living?)

The licensing requirements from the State of California are changing a bit as of October 1. California has historically been one of the easiest states to get licensed in, and these changes make it a little bit tougher. But not much.

The most basic requirements are that you must be over 18 years old, be a US citizen, and be able to pass a background check. The background check is supposedly quite stringent, so thankfully I didn't have any blemishes on my record.

Before you apply to take the licensing exam, you now must pass three classes. The first two classes are required: Real Estate Principles and Real Estate Practice. Principles covers the basic real estate laws, and the Practice class deals more with the day-to-day career of being an agent. And, third, you must take an elective class, which can be anything from Escrows to Appraisals to Real Estate Finance and more.

Once these classes are completed, you can take the Real Estate Salesperson exam, which gives you 150 questions in 3 hours. Study hard! Between the classes, the exam fees and the license fees, it will cost you about $750 to get your license.

Then comes the tough part...finding a good brokerage to hang your license at and getting those first clients. Thankfully, I'm working with Mary, who has been with Lawton Associates for over 13 years and she has many, many wonderful long term clients to work with.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Travel Tips

Hello, Corey here. Mary is on vacation and I'm doing some blog entries in her place. She has jetted off to Russia. No, not to fix the government, but to tour the country, see some Russian opera and ballet, and get away from it all.

Seeing her get ready for the trip made me think it might be nice to share some travel tips for vacationing in other countries. I know it has nothing to do with the East Bay or real estate, but perhaps someone will find these helpful. We'll be back to the regular topics soon!
  • Make sure you have the right outlet adapters to take with you. Check with a local travel or luggage store for guidance.
  • Take a mix of cash, traveler's checks and credit cards so you are always covered. Keep your money well-hidden. And, let your credit card company know that you are going overseas and which country your account might see activity from. And, just don't take anything valuable, like jewelery, that can't be replaced if it is lost or stolen.
  • Make 2 sets of copies of your passport, itinerary, and related travel documents. Leave one set with family or friends, and take the other with you and keep it in a separate place. If you lose anything, this will be invaluable.
  • Travel light. Take clothes that all match each other and can be worn several times. Take books or magazines that can be left behind.
  • Check with your cell phone company if you will have service in your destination country. And, if you do, how much it will cost to use it. It is a vacation, so try to ditch the cell phone if possible and carry a calling card for emergencies.
  • Avoid jet lag by going to bed early for a few days before your departure, staying hydrated on the plane, and giving yourself some time to adjust when you get to your destination.

And, have fun!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Weekend Fun

We not only get to work in the incredible East Bay, but we also get to live and play here. So, I like to chime in with some fun things to do in the East Bay from time to time. This weekend, lets visit some Hollywood History right here in the East Bay.

Did you know that the silent film industry was based here in Fremont from 1913 to 1916? The area was called Niles back then, though. "Bronco Billy" Anderson and George Spoor, already silent film veterans, came to Niles in 1912 and ended up opening up the Niles Essanay Film Production company. Anywhere from two to five "one-reelers" were shot at the studio and the surrounding neighborhoods each week. In 1914, they even got Charlie Chaplin on a contract. When Chaplin's popularity exploded, the new studios down in Hollywood snapped him up for big money, and by the beginning of 1916, the Niles Essanay studio was shuttered.

But it wasn't shuttered forver! You can still visit the museum, tour the grounds, and watch silent films every weekend. This Saturday night, you can go see Underground, directed by the great Josef von Sternberg and a collection of short films, including Harold Lloyd's I Do. It is such a deal and it only costs 5 buck each. And, what a great trip for kids and grandparents.


The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is located at 37417 Niles Blvd in Fremont. It is a terrific trip back in time. Have a fun weekend!

(photos courtesy of the Niles Essanay Film Museum website)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Greenspan Weighs In


Throughout the mortgage industry mess of the last few months, I've been wondering what former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has to say about all this. For years and years, through Clinton and Bush, his word had been gold. But I couldn't help thinking that some of the policies he put into place led to the current situation--of lenders giving to people who weren't qualified and consumers accepting loans they couldn't handle or couldn't understand.

Well, Greenspan weighs in today as part of an interview that will be airing on 60 Minutes this Sunday night.

The Associated Press reports....

"Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan acknowledges he failed to see early on that an explosion of mortgages to people with questionable credit histories could pose a danger to the economy.

In an upcoming interview, Greenspan said he was aware of "subprime" lending practices where homebuyers got very low initial rates only to see them later jacked up, causing severe payment shock. But he said he didn't initially realize the harm they could do.

"While I was aware a lot of these practices were going on, I had no notion of how significant they had become until very late," he said in a CBS "60 Minutes" interview to be broadcast Sunday. "I really didn't get it until very late in 2005 and 2006," Greenspan said.

An excerpt of the interview was released Thursday."


To read the whole article, click here. What do you the good folks of the Bay Area think about this?




Fun fact--Greenspan's wife is NBC's Andrea Mitchell.







(Photos courtesy of AP and Harry Walker)