Friday, August 10, 2007

East Bay Fun

A Day Trip to Port Costa

Okay, enough talk about the mortgage market and real estate. Time to have a little fun here in the East Bay. And what is a better than a day trip here in our own backyard. Ever been to Port Costa? Ever HEARD of Port Costa? Let's go!

Port Costa is a small outpost in the north end of the East Bay, just before you reach the Carquinez Bridge, and then east towards Martinez. And, I mean small. The population at the last census was 232! The town was founded in 1879 as a railroad ferry landing on the intercontinental railroad. It soon became the busiest wheat-shipping port in the country. Once the railroad bridge was built in Martinez in the thirties, the once thriving and colorful community started to slow down. Now, it is a fascinating step back into the past.

Vintage buildings line the old commercial district, and is home to two restaurants and a great old hotel. And it is a great site for antique spotting and shopping. The more popular events there are the annual car show, craft show, and talent show. The Port Costa Conservation Society is currently working with a team of volunteers to refurbish the old Port Costa School building.

As for dining, visit Port Costa and have a great meal at The Bull Valley Inn or The Warehouse. Both are old time architectural marvels. And the food is great! The Bull Valley Inn has an impressive wine list....and make sure to try the prawns.

Have a fun weekend!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Mortgage Mess

What Does It Mean To You?

I am sure most people are aware of the major changes in the mortgage markets this past week. Some are calling it a crash, and others are calling it a correction after a few years of out-of-control loan practices. But what does this mean to regular consumer or the buyer on the market right now? After checking in with several mortgage brokers and my colleagues, this is what I have to recommend.

First, the rules are changing fast. Loan guidelines are getting tighter. Much tighter. If you are pre-approved for a loan, don't assume that pre-approval is still valid. Check in with your mortgage officer to re-run the numbers. Chances are that your access to money has been restricted.

Second, if you are getting ready to hit the market, know that you better have very good credit and some serious money ready for a down payment. It looks like the days of 100% financing are least for know. Some of the mortgage brokers that people are still calling them saying that they know that the market is changing, but how do they get 100% financing now. Well, the answer is: you don't get 100% financing.

Third, if you are making an offer, make sure to get a loan contingency. These have been out of favor in the East Bay real estate market for years, but you will need this now to cover yourself.

That said, this can be a very strong buyer's market right now. There is a lot of inventory and also a lot of price reductions. Sellers are getting a little worried. That means the power is shifting to the buyer when it comes to offers and negotiations. If you are ready to hit the market, let me know. I can be reached at 510-547-5970 x57 or

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Neighborhood Focus

Oakland's Temescal District

Temescal is one of my favorite East Bay neighborhoods, plus I believe it is a great place to buy real estate in this turbulent market. This district is right at the beginning of growth spurt, and it should really be hopping--culturally and economically--in the next 2-3 years. This is exactly the kind of growth that has been promised in many East Bay areas, but it is really happening in Temescal.

Situated along Telegraph Avenue in Oakland just south of the Berkeley border, Temescal stretches from 40th to 55th Streets. The old Temescal Creek flowed through here on its way to the bay. People love it because it is right in the middle of everything happening in the East Bay, being just minutes from Rockridge, Piedmont Avenue, Lake Merritt, Downtown Oakland, Emeryville, UC Berkeley, and more. And, with two BART stations very close by, San Francisco and the entire Bay Area is virtually steps away.

Why is Temescal so happening? Many people would point to the food! Bake Sale Betty's has some of the best pastries and sandwiches on the West Coast. The Genova Deli has been serving up great Italian food for decades. Dona Tomas has classic Mexican platters with a modern twist. And who could resist a slice of Lanesplitter Pizza on their way home?

Don't forget the new Farmer's Market, which is already one of the best of the bay. The brand new Scout Hardware store, for everything from a hammer to designer paint. Once a year, the community converges for the thriving Temescal Street Fair. And, families love the neighborhood's Temescal Pool.

Right now is a great time to get in to Temescal, anything from a brand new "green" condo like Gate 48 or one of the classic bungalows and craftsmen homes available in the neighborhood. This is a neighborhood on the rise, which also means rising property values. If you would like a tour of the neighborhood or the check out homes for sale, just let me know. I can be reached at or 510-547-5970 x57.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Real Estate 101

What is a Revocable Living Trust?

When you buy a house, probably the last thing you want to think about is death, but it is important to think about what might happen should you pass. Most people think having a will is enough, but you should also consider a revocable living trust when it comes to your home, because it is such a huge asset.

If you have a will when you die, your estate and your heirs will have to go through the probate process, in which the courts verify your will and allocate your assets, including your home. This can be a very lengthy, complicated & expensive process, though there are ways to write your will that streamline the process, making it easier for your family.

The most efficient way to transfer your home and assets is through the revocable living trust, which does not involve the courts after your death. A revocable living trust is a property and estate management plan written up by a lawyer that appoints a trustee to manage the estate. When you set up the trust, you place the home and other valuable assets in the trust. This means that the deed to the home is actually placed with the trust and not you as an individual. You act as the trustee, and name someone to be the trustee in the event of your death or other incapacity. And, it is still advisable to have a will for other issues that the trust will not cover.

While having a revocable living trust can be complicated, it will provide much simplicity down the road when it is needed most. If you would like more information on revocable living trusts, let me know. I can be reached at or 510-547-5970 x57.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Mortgage Mess

The New York Times Explains It All to You

If you pay even the slightest attention to the housing market and the economy, you know the market is on a rollercoaster right now because of the mortgage market shake-up. I wrote a little bit about it last week, but wanted to also present a more concise explanation of how this overly-complicated system works. And, The New York Times presents just this today.

Things are not how you might imagine them to be. It would be easy to think that you borrow money for your home loan from a lender, and you pay that lender back. But, the secondary market for mortgages really muddies the waters and makes it difficult to understand how it really works.

The Times explains reality--

"The process begins with the entity that originates the loan, either a mortgage broker or lender. The loan is assigned to a company that will service it — collecting borrowers’ payments and distributing them to investors. Sometimes the servicer is affiliated with the lender, creating potential conflicts if a loan goes bad."

"A Wall Street firm then pools thousands of loans to be sold to investors who want a steady stream of cash from loan payments. The underwriters separate them into segments based on risk."

"Securitization has made it so complicated that everyone in the process is able to say that they don’t know what’s going on. The effect is, no poor person can afford to litigate this type of matter to bring it to a resolution, and therefore they lose their home."

In other words, the rich get richer and poor get poorer. The entire article is a must read if you want to understand this situation, which affects us all, whether or not you are actively buying or selling. If you would like to discuss the mortgage mess more, feel free to contact me at or 510-547-5970.

*graph courtesy of the NY Times